Questioning the Patriarchy from Within

Until relatively recently, the history of writing has been overwhelmingly a history of men’s ideas. (One need only compare the number of known ancient women writers to the number of known writers in the ancient world to get a sense of the gender disparity.) Ancient literature represents plenty of misogynist attitudes (looking at you, Hesiod, Euripides, et al), but I’m intrigued by the fragments of ideas left by other male authors — writing in hyper-patriarchal societies — who ventured to second-guess the inequality or assigned roles of the sexes.

An interesting theme in the so-called tradition of ‘Western literature’ is reconsidering the role and place of women through the observing women’s roles and places in other cultures.

For example, Herodotus, the fifth century BCE historian, informs his Greek audience about a Libyan tribe that turns the masculine narrative of sexual conquest and the stigma of promiscuity on their head:

Next come the Gindanes. The women of this tribe wear leather bands round their ankles, which are supposed to indicate the number of their lovers: each woman puts on one band for every man she has gone to bed with, so that whoever has the greatest number enjoys the greatest reputation because she has been loved by the greatest number of men. (Herodotus 4.176, trans. Selincourt 2003[1954]:301)

The 1st-century reconstruction of letters by Crates of Thebes to Hipparchia of Maroneia (third century BCE) build on the Cynics practice of emphasizing nature above social convention:

Women are not naturally the weaker sex. Look at the Amazons; they were as physically tough as any man. (Letters 28) … You are no weaker by nature, any more than bitches are weaker than male dogs. Female liberation will then be justified on the grounds of nature, since it is acknowledged that slavery in general, not based on proven inferiority, exists by mere convention. (Letter 29) [trans. Dobbin 2012:70)

Passages like these raise an interesting question: what are the earliest texts you have encountered in the timeline of history that critique the de facto supremacy of the patriarchy?

Share · Tweet

Who is served by the reconciliation agenda?

On Friday, March 24, 2017, I heard a lecture by Glen Coulthard at the Organizing Equality conference.

Coulthard’s thesis is that the contemporary colonizing nation-state (in this case, Canada) lives in a contradiction. On one hand, the state is sovereign over its the people, resources, and land. On the other hand, the state simultaneously recognizes the presence and rights of indigenous peoples, its historical role in colonization, and the treaties it has signed along the way. Now the nation-state, the Crown, has a dilemma: how does it continue to extract the resources it wants or requires to compete in the global arena of nation-states? At the end of the day, posits Coulthard, the state can march in and overtly take the resources it wants by force, or it can manufacture a narrative of reconciliation that functions as a political distraction to its inherent economic/resource agenda.

From another talk (November 16, 2011) by Glen Coulthard on YouTube:

Since at least the early 1990s a global industry has emerged promoting the issuing of state-orchestrated apologies, advocating ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ as an important precondition for resolving the devastating social impacts caused by intrastate violence, state perpetuated mass atrocity, and historical injustice.

Coulthard and others argue that the proliferation of so-called ‘Reconciliation Inc’ has a systemically negative impact on indigenous rights. Referring to the work of Leanne Simpson, Coulthard writes:

In the end, the optics created by these grand gestures of recognition and reconciliation suggests to the dominant society that we no longer have a legitimate ground to stand on in expressing our grievances. Instead, Indigenous people appear unappreciative, angry, and resentful… (Coulthard 2014:153-4)

Coulthard et al argue that the politics of indigenous recognition, as trumpeted by liberal democracies the world over, ultimately serve the political interests of states, not indigenous people.

All this raises some provocative questions we all need to wrestle with, like whose agenda is served by reconciliation? Perhaps the only way to begin answering the question is to investigate who is driving the reconciliation agenda. Power is power — and the principal interest of power is maintaining its power — even when it shows up tenderly announcing its heartfelt concern for your identity and apologies for its legacy and history. What better way to keep power centralized than to remind everyone dispensing reconciliation is the prerogative of whoever owns the power in the first place?

Share · Tweet