In my summer school history class the instructor wanted us to read Hayden and King’s, “Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement.” For those that have not read it, it is by two college aged women in 1965 who are expressing their dismay with, what they feel, is the Civil Rights Era leaving women behind. How, even in their supposed egalitarian SNCC, they were relegated to the roles that, traditionally, had been the only fit for women; clerical/secretarial duties and “cleaning the freedom house,” while not holding many (or any at all) leadership roles.
We were supposed to discuss within the small groups of those that we sit nearby. Somewhere during the chat the young lady I sit next to dropped the P word.
Yes, she bemoaned the Patriarchy. This took me by surprise, this was the first time in any face-to-face interaction I have ever had that someone actually, and quite seriously, cursed the patriarchy. This is odd because you see, I am the embodiment of the patriarchy: white, cis-gendered, heterosexual male; 3 for 3, batting average is 1.000, let’s go home.
All kidding aside, I knew she was seriously going there with our discussion, but I was unsure as to the right way to proceed.
Here’s where it gets fun. She is a very early 20-something, middle of the middle-class, definitional wasp white girl. During the regular academic year she attends a very small, women’s only liberal arts college in Allentown, PA. I imagine it is an understatement to say that she’s been indoctrinated to think that women in the U.S. are living under the scourge of systemic oppression.
This is not to say that instances of sexism do not exist. I think that would be a foolish thing to say. The difference is that there exists no such structural, systematic, or institutionalized level of sexual discrimination in the way that there does in Saudi Arabia, for example; or, generally speaking, a society that applies Sharia Law.
Sharia Law Around the World
Back to it. I mentioned Saudi Arabia to my classmate as an example of where this patriarchy may exist, and that claiming that the U.S. is somehow like Saudi Arabia is misguided at best. Her response was hard to follow, she talks quietly and out of the side of her mouth, and she will often turn her head away from the conversation while speaking. She ended her response with how the STEM field is a male dominated, and how her mom, many years ago, was the only woman in a large audience at some STEM related conference (she also has someone in her family that participated in most every topic we ever discuss). Thankfully, someone else in the group spoke up which kept me from potentially opening the can of worms that was me asking what exactly she was majoring in. Turns out, she is studying genetic engineering & biotechnology, which is way more than I am capable of. It is also good that she is at least consistent with her complaints of the STEM field, and is changing the demographics of it by participating in it.
My criticism of the STEM field argument is that, as far as I know, there are not people actively restricting women from participating in the field. There is no governmental agency or action standing in the way of women getting into the STEM field. If people are telling girls and women they cannot or should not get into the STEM field they should stop, and instead encourage them to study in the STEM field if they want to.
But I digress; my final point in our discussion was that today, women are more free, have more opportunities, and have the most equal of rights under U.S. law than at any other time in the history of world and United States.
Is there work to be done in order to tamp out sexism and sexual abuses of women? You betcha. But, does the U.S. even come close in comparison to countries like Saudi Arabia? Absolutely not. The parts of the world that live with Sharia Law as a meaningful part of their legal system are by far some of the worst offenders of women’s rights. It is an insult to the legacy of those that fought hard for women’s rights in the U.S. to claim there are parallels to the repressive regimes under which hundreds of millions of women are forced to live.
I do not understand “The Patriarchy” and would like to be informed of what I am missing.