Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

From Suffagist to Apologist: The Loss of Feminist Politics in a Politically Correct Patriarchy

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

From Suffagist to Apologist: The Loss of Feminist Politics in a Politically Correct Patriarchy

Article excerpt

This article emerges out of a series of observations of how feminist studies have been eroded away in academic institutions the world over, partially through the systematic closure of gender studies courses, partially because of the claims that feminist ideologies have been incorporated into syllabi and are, therefore, no longer necessary as a separate area of study, and partially through the vaguely defined, yet thoroughly maintained, argument that in an era of sensitivity to the ways in which power is distributed in various societies, feminist politics are no longer "necessary." In the course of this article I will dismantle these types of arguments, and will suggest instead that such opinions do not emerge out of an increased social and political awareness, but rather out of a more insidious form of patriarchal distribution of power in a variety of societies.

The accusation by the Western world that it is in the Third World and the orient that patriarchies continue to exist in the most severe forms, is not only an example of continued Western arrogance, xenophobia and racism, but also a very serious refusal to analyze and engage with the complex workings of patriarchy within Western societies themselves. Furthermore, Western societies' assumptions that the areas in which patriarchy exerts its oppressive force are now predominantly restricted to domestic violence and rape attempts to reduce patriarchy to the realm of the personal and thereby refuses to acknowledge the broader socio-political manifestations of patriarchy that often underlie such personal violations, and, in my view, often seek to condone such behavior. A pertinent example of this is the construction of masculinity in popular culture and the press. The ease with which the blame for patriarchal oppression is apportioned to "cultural difference" is a highly problematic issue and "restricting" patriarchy to the realms of sexual violation and rape is yet another mode of ensuring that responsibility for continued patriarchal modalities of power is assigned to the space of social "other," whether that be the criminal rapist or the culturally defined other. This article seeks to investigate the patriarchal modalities of power that infuse mass Western culture, the reasons why these modalities are negated as being patriarchal, and the problems this poses for contemporary feminist politics.

We are all familiar with the modes through which patriarchy defined and entrenched itself in the early part of the twentieth century in the Western world, most notably through invoking discourses of nature and Christian morality. (2) However, the modes through which patriarchies adapted their use of such discourses, seemingly as a response to increasing demands by suffragists, feminists and those sympathetic to the call for equal rights, but in reality as a guise to perpetuate patriarchal systems of power, is seldom considered. A salient example of such an expedient form of adaptation can be seen in the poster campaigns to recruit women for the First World War effort in Britain. Immediately prior to the war, severe anti-suffrage campaigns employed the discourses of ethics, religious faith, and nature as unquestionable justifications for women's passive and domestic places within society. (3) However, the campaign to recruit women for the war effort, particularly for the women's land army and the munitions factories, suddenly represented women as strong-willed, adult, noble, physically able and adept in work places previously considered the exclusive domain of men. The ethical and god-fearing woman was now expected to move from the private to the public sphere. That this politically shrewd depiction of women clearly emerged to suit the greater needs of the nation is an effective example of the adaptability of patriarchy, of which there are countless other examples that are beyond the scope of this argument.

The focus of this article is a more contemporary context in which patriarchy adapts to its most subtle and insidious form: a form that uses a variety of sophisticated disguises, one of which is the discourse of political correctness. …

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