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Sunday, December 23, 2012

What Is Patriarchy?

Patriarchy names in the first place those sociocultural systems in history in which authority and control over property, and especially the generational transmission of property -- and therefore authority -- from fathers to sons, requires that women be owned as property as well to ensure male control over female reproductive capacity.

Patriarchy names in the second place a whole system of norms and institutions that preferentially benefit men in respect to women, both to facilitate the control of women by men that is patriarchy in its primary sense, but also those norms and institutions that tend to arise as results, expressions, or symptoms of this ongoing control. It is crucial to grasp that vestiges of these norms and institutions will tend to linger on, denigrating and disabling women in respect to men, or denigrating and disabling that which is associated with what is construed as "femininity" in respect to what is construed as "masculinity," even in societies and cultures that have overcome some or even most of the violence and injustice represented by patriarchy in its primary sense.

Patriarchy names in the third place those discursive operations through which bodies and lifeways are imagined and attended to and so produced as "sexed" and "gendered" in ways that are only legibly taken up and valued and hierarchized by sociocultural formations that are patriarchal in the first and second senses above. It is crucial to grasp that patriarchal sex-gender vocabularies not only prepare and facilitate bodily experience and desire for the denigration and disablement of women in respect to men, and femininity in respect to masculinity, in patriarchy's second sense above, but that the patriarchal in its third sense generates possibilities as well for still-circumscribed resistances to these denigrations and disabilities, contingent valorizations, ambivalent celebrations of femininity and womanhood within patriarchy's sex-gender terms. It is no less crucial to grasp that patriarchal sex-gender vocabularies open the way for new denigrations and disabilities of bodies and lifeways than those highlighted by patriarchy's first and second senses as when, for example, an intersex body is surgically policed into conformity with a normative sexual dimorphism whatever injurious consequences may follow from this operation, or when a wanted transsexual lifeway premised on the pleasures of the transitional itself rather than on a primary aversion to the legibly sexed "pre-operative" body or an ideal identification with the legibly sexed "post-operative body" is pathologized, criminalized, or otherwise dehumanized. In these cases the patriarchal assignment of facts and values functions not so much to denigrate women in respect to men, or femininity in respect to masculinity, so-called, but to denigrate and disable any body, experience, desire, or lifeway that is not legibly male or female, legibly masculine or feminine, or legibly reprosexual, beyond but still in service to the damage the patriarchal goes on to do to the bodies, experiences, desires, and lifeways that are legible in its terms according to patriarchy's first and second senses.

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