I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts and among the ones I really like is “How to Fail with Elizabeth Day”. Elizabeth Day (author and journalist) interviews successful people (often mini celebs, on the internet if nowhere else). Not being a twitter user and not being British and just generally living largely under a rock, I haven’t heard of most of the people she interviews. But anyway, she talks to them about things they consider to be “failures” in their lives and what those failures did for their lives and what happened since.
So many of the women she interviews talk about “the patriarchy” and until today, I thought of this “patriarchy” as being men (due to the word patriarchy, if you follow my drift). I imagined this “patriarchy” as a faceless group of men. But although the patriarchy may once have been men … it isn’t anymore… not specifically. It’s simply a term women have adopted because in being “the oppressed” we had to assume that our oppressors were the other half of the population. But these days, I think “patriarchy” is simply another term for “the powers that be”.
Perhaps in the time of Cave People, men had control because they were physically stronger. I can’t really speak to that in an educated way, but it seems logical.
But more recently, history has been about control – control of the masses – and for a lot of the last few thousand years, religion has been a main driver in that aim. In a time when literacy rates were very low, religion was a fantastic way to guide the behaviour of people. The poor were lead to believe that if they put up with their hardships meekly and patiently, they could look forward to a better time in the afterlife. The “morals” of religion are great life codes but they were also a kind of law which was imposed by a higher power. Fear of hellfire and damnation is no small threat to hang over the masses.
But women aren’t well represented in the Bible and I don’t think any of the books of the bible claim to be written by women (I will stick with the Bible because I’m more familiar with it than with other holy books). And so it hasn’t been hard for men to take control of churches and to “interpret” the Bible as best suited their own needs.
But in modern times (especially in Australia and I think in a lot of western nations) money and big business have largely taken over from religion. Now, for sure, a lot of the decisions may be made by men (within the businesses) but the decisions are made because of money. Women continue lose out in those business transactions but I’m not sure we should assume that this “patriarchy” is a bunch of men specifically setting out to screw women over. I don’t think women are any more screwed over than children or the elderly or any minority group… or the environment or progressiveness. So if all these groups are losing out, it’s not about men because many of those groups include men.
I listen to women talking about make up and diets and manicures and hating the pressure of it, hating how much time it takes, but how they feel like they have to look a certain way. And I feel, inexplicably, like I missed something.
I think I missed it because of my mother.
Mum rejects consumerism and always has. She never conceded to our demands for “fashion” – never understanding the need to comply just because “everybody else wears it”. She rejected television because it had been distracting when she was trying to study. She ate well because she cooked well and it was safer (on her health-related diet) and more budget conscious to do so. She says she married for adventure and my memory is that she bought things because they appealed to her (like a house with lopsided archways). Our overseas holidays focused on “seeing the real Indonesia” or on cultural attractions because they were interesting (I was never once dragged through a multi-storey department store in a foreign city on a holiday and was bamboozled when I heard others enjoyed that sort of thing). We rarely stayed in fancy hotels or ate at restaurants. And Mum has always hated shopping, I don’t remember her ever wearing make up and she has never dyed her hair.
And so, although I felt an outsider at school (and I am not really sure of the root cause of that – it was probably a conglomeration of many factors) I also missed the pressures that apparently a lot of women feel. I tried wearing make up and decided it was too hard to apply effectively. I tried dyeing and perming my hair and a couple of bad experiences made me decide I would just put up with my natural colour. I am lucky enough to have a good metabolism and so have never been noticeably overweight but I also inherited Mum’s attitude to food and an appreciation for how good a home cooked meal can be. I too dislike shopping because I don’t have the money to buy the stuff I am attracted to, and when I do splash out I am almost always disappointed. Most of our clothes come from St Vinnie’s and I love it because there’s no pressure. No fashion. Just a rack of cheap clothes that you like or don’t like. Simple.
So my point is… I don’t consider myself a strong or rebellious person. I have never “stood up” to the patriarchy. I have never been a stalwart feminist. I have never had a career and therefore have never felt like being a woman has held me back in my field (which may be used in evidence against me).
But I think I missed all this pressure because I missed a lot of the messaging about how I “should be”. And the messaging is from big business. Even our politicians (I have been convinced – especially with SCOMO’s continued and totally illogical obsession with fossil fuels) are largely at the whim of big business. I still think there’s a long way to go before men and women are “equal” in the eyes of any big organisation. But I think patriarchy is an unfortunate term because it’s so divisive. Historically it may have been appropriate. But now I think women should stand with other oppressed groups and fight against the Moneyarchy. A friend once pointed out to me that feminism in Australia is so western. It doesn’t even begin to consider race or hardships foreign to our own little shell. Oppression is more widespread and more institutional than the term “patriarchy” allows for and to set it up as a fight against men, is no longer appropriate or inclusive. Are gay men fighting men? Are black men fighting men? Are koalas fighting men? No. They’re fighting an institution where money wins every argument.
So thanks Mum. I am glad for the rock that you provided which sheltered me from the mad old storm out there which I grew up seeing as a choice, not an expectation. Thanks for protecting me from the moneyarchy.