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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blogging Summer Teaching -- Patriarchy

The subtitle of my version of the course refers to "Patriarchal Convention and Conviction." Beyond the wordplay on the relations between our contingent conventions and the ways in which we are convinced by them or find ourselves made convict by them, it should be clear that the historical specificity I demand we bring to bear on the terms "ancient" "modern" and even "rhetoric" we use so glibly in these enormously definitively prescriptive initial framings of the course must also apply as we take sex gender sexuality and their interimplications into account in any accounting of "patriarchy" in the course.

One might define patriarchy generally as the systematic exploitation of women by men, or the systematic denigration of all who are and all that is constructed as "feminine" as against all who are and all that is constructed instead as "masculine." Structural definitions abound, including the proposal that patriarchal societies are those in which property is controlled by men and/or transmitted from fathers to sons, and in which women must themselves be controlled as property so that their reproductive capacity is controlled by men and hence that generational transmission of property secured. Patriarchy on such construals will also denote sexist, heterosexist, cissexist gender-sex-sexuality norms and forms that facilitate this control, or reflect this control, or are vestiges of the historical fact of such control even after its terms have somehwat changed or ameliorated.

It is easy to find endless exemplifications of these formulations in the texts we will be reading in the course, but this ease is as much a cause for alarm as anything. It is wrong to assume too glibly that Homeric or Sapphic or Periclean Greeks did patriarchy the same way, or Republican, Imperial, Eastern, or early Christian Romans did, let alone Spartan Greeks or Provincial Romans under the "Good" Emperors. Even if the sexed-gendered political body of "democratic" Athens -- the radical democracy of plutocratic militaristic slave-holding foreigner-denigrating elite males, of course -- was reprosexual and phallogocentric, its sex, its gender, its sexuality was not our own, even as we say the same of our own, if we do. Not only is it clear that these texts were written in and for worlds that corralled different norms, expectations, practices in the field of their sexuality than our own, it is not even clear that the use of our own word "sexuality" to describe the operation of such a field in relation to the sociocultural constitution of legible subjects in the world is not one that obscures much more than it illuminates. These ideas have been scholarly commonplaces for well over a generation by now, but that doesn't mean the gravity well of their normative discursive assumptions and aspirations have become easier for us to resist, especially tackling texts like these for the first time as many of my students will be.

Quite beyond that, I will admit that I identify as a feminist and that I have organized this course at least in part as a reflection of that feminism -- and so there is a non-negligible sense in which what matters to me about teaching and reading these texts are the ways they speak to this present and its politics (however differently from the ways they may have spoken to the politics of their presents). What matters to me finally is that these texts provocatively complicate my application of sexed gendered norms and forms to their interpretation in a way that is salutary to a present feminism attentive to the unexpected and urgent stratifications of the experiences of sexism heterosexism cissexism in the world, and so the contrary methodological impulses of my grasp of Greek of Roman patriarchies find a loose untrustworthy truce at the level of practice.

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