Let me tell you something about unplugging from the patriarchy.
I don’t know how it happens for others, but I can tell you how it’s happened for me.
It’s taken over 40 years. All the way from the shock and awe and twinges of guilt I felt for reading Ms. magazine, furtively, down by the river in California’s Sonoma County, to openly writing “fuck you” on social media, in all caps, to Joe Biden more than 25 years later. That act, obviously, represents neither the height of decorum nor the pinnacle of my power, but it illustrates the white-hot rage you feel when coming up for air after decades of slowly being drowned, only to have a wealthy white man—or any white man, or any man—put his hand on your head and blithely push you back down.
That’s what Joe Biden did recently when he joked onstage about making women and girls profoundly uncomfortable. He laughed, as he pushed us all right back down.
Unplugging from the patriarchy takes a very, very long time, because patriarchy is life itself. That’s how deeply it’s embedded in our culture. It is present every second of our days and in every single thing we take for granted. It is behind our love of war and guns and our deep addiction to violence; it fuels the rapes and assaults and catcalls and public masturbation; it is there in the locker room talk, the air-brushed models and the clinics for anorexia and bulimia; it is the reason the Equal Rights Amendment has still not been passed; it powers the gender disparities in health care; it is behind all our notions of women and how to put them down and in their place; it is never being believed; and it is damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Trust me.
The patriarchy is being told to smile. It is Botox and plastic surgery and our obsession with youth. It is the ubiquity of porn, which is so far from real intimacy and so steeped in pleasing the male gaze and brain. It is the worldwide public health crises we are seeing in teens due to their primary introduction to sex being the fake, vacuous and hardcore porn industry. It is being chronically, relentlessly talked over and ignored. It is becoming invisible and no longer desirable as you age. It is your desires being shamed, your gender being shamed, your body being parsed, parsed, parsed to no end. It is the male gaze fatuously and automatically consuming you alive, as if you are not even human. It is stalkers and peeping Toms and incels and men who never hear “no.” It is physical death in an alleyway, and psychic death on Jeffrey Epstein’s island, and Epstein never doing any real prison time after molesting and sex-trafficking countless young girls.
It is hundred of thousands of rape kits lying untested across our nation because we don’t fund agencies to test them, and it is the guy in law enforcement who actually tried to tell me that “for it to even be considered sexual harassment, the accuser has to say something, and if it happens again, then it’s harassment.”
It’s as if I’ve been living on a different planet. And, well, I have. So has half of the human species.
It’s only sexual harassment, says the cop, if I confront that group of construction workers that catcalls me, mimics fucking me with their hip gyrations, wags their tongues between their fingers as I walk by in a shady part of Los Angeles with few other people around. It would only have counted as sexual harassment if we had said something to the 10 men in the Yucatan who debated whether to gang rape us while we were stuck at the train station for eight hours.
But are we done with #MeToo yet, some ask?
Is it 500, 1,000 or 5,000 times I’ve fended them off, bit my tongue in a gambit to protect my life, crossed streets, left too-dark parking garages, made a point of never parking next to a van, made sure I locked all my doors and windows, checked the whole house before relaxing, witnessed men in meetings talk right over me, been asked to get the men coffee when I was the only female Ph.D student in the room, had to elude followers and stalkers, had to play nice long enough to get away from some guy, talked my would-be rapist out of raping me, had to decide how safe I was calling out the man who grabbed my ass in the bar, gambled on it and then got knocked to the ground for doing it?
Another fucking planet indeed.
Listen, Joe, you men do not get to tell me the difference between affection and sneaky-ass touching and groping.
You do not get to tell me that walking up behind me and grasping me by the shoulders is even remotely OK.
You do not get to tell me that inhaling my body’s scent is normal, rather than intimate, behavior. And you certainly don’t get to tell me how I should feel about the man with whom I am not connected actually doing it.
You do not get to define the nature of my personal space for me.
Jesus Christ, this is not hard.
But you make it so.
Because we don’t want to challenge the patriarchy, do we? “We” being the proverbial we, obviously, because if it were up to me, it would have been dead yesterday. Or 48 years ago. Or how about 5,000 years ago?
You see, Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh all exist on the same continuum. Say that again, say it out loud, and say it until you get it. Until it sticks. Until it finally breaks you down in the nauseating shock of it.
It doesn’t matter that Biden isn’t bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. He just metaphorically pushed my head back down under the water of 5,000 years of patriarchy. He did that, while laughing.
It’s all performance and gratification for him. This powerful, entitled, uber-privileged white man, under the guise of being “affectionate Joe,” touches women and girls without their permission, stroking them, grasping them, smelling them, kissing them, holding them, getting right in their faces, and he thinks nothing of it.
So little does he think of it, in fact, that there’s nothing for which he has to apologize! He doesn’t think he did anything wrong; he’s sorry all those women had a problem with how “nice” he is, so he’s going to gaslight an entire damn nation, because that is his right and privilege as a powerful, rich, white man. Don’t tell him otherwise. He doesn’t have to listen.
And to prove how true that is, after doing a video saying he would be more respectful, he’s going to make a joke out of it!
No matter that one of the women who came forward—one he forced close to him, to touch his forehead to hers, inches away from her mouth—was attending a sexual assault survivor meeting to talk about her attack on a college campus. Nah, that was “nice,” not completely skin-crawly! According to commenters on social media, she is “overreacting” by talking about it, as are all these women. They are “overwrought,” “hysterical,” “political operatives,” “ruining #MeToo” because they didn’t feel great about Joe Biden sniffing and groping and stroking and grabbing them.
I mean, they should be thankful, right? It’s Joe Fucking Biden!
Biden fundamentally considers women and girls second-class citizens. And he has not only been telling us that outright for decades, with his groping and his behavior at Anita Hill’s hearing. In case we weren’t sure, he made it crystal clear recently when he joked about trampling our sovereign personal space, touching our bodies, our hair, our faces, in work settings, in a position of radical power asymmetry, where women and girls can’t say “no” right then and there, and really can’t say “no” later, either.
What is so hard to understand about this?
Women are absolutely damned if we do and damned if we don’t. All you have to do is read the attacks on Biden accuser Lucy Flores—from Democrats, no less, and the thousands of men who reflexively disregard, undermine and attack her—to understand that there is no reward, no incentive, for going through hell to tell the damn truth. Save, perhaps, your sanity, and your dedication to ending a world where men like Biden and Trump and Kavanaugh can reside on the same continuum with absolutely zero accountability for their actions.
How does one unplug from the patriarchy?
It’s a complicated answer, and it requires an insane amount of courage.
It means climbing mountains, ceaselessly.
It means possibly losing your job, or your career, or your academic funding, or your social circle, or your social status, or sometimes even your close relationships.
It means being called “man-hater” and “harpy” and “bitch” and “cunt” and “crazy” and and “ugly” and “unable to get a date.”
It means often feeling lonely as most of the people around you find it easier to not rock the boat and to accept the status quo.
It means having people assuming you’re angry all the time, when, yes, you’re angry, but you’re angry because every cell in your being is dedicated to justice and evolution, and you love men, and love life, but you no longer want to be a second-class citizen.
It means having a whole bunch of liberals try to convince you that Joe Biden is “really a decent guy,” even when the would-be leader of this nation laughs as he pushes women and girls right back under the water. “There’s nothing to see here, nothing to do or change, certainly no hard work or apologies involved, because, well, I want to be president! If I want to stroke the faces and ribs and hair of young girls right in front of their parents onstage, I’m going to do it, and you’d better call it ‘nice.’ “
Unplugging from the world we’ve made happens painstakingly, and often in long, halting stages.
It actually helps when you’ve had a life that has pushed you to the margins—in my case, becoming chronically ill and getting the chance to see the noxious lies of capitalism, productivity, career, status and power for what they truly are: carefully crafted, deeply embedded, fiercely protected illusions.
When one of the big illusions begins to crumble, its brother can’t help but crack, too.
I went from being an anorexic reading Ms. magazine in my teens to one day transmuting into a woman who doesn’t buy the lies anymore.
My rage is the natural, healthy, authentic response to having the Joe Bidens of the world putting their hands on the heads of me and the women around me and pushing us back down while they laugh. Whether it’s this gentle or violent drowning, whether it’s a boot on the neck, a yoke of debt or an uninvited, unaccountable hand on the small of the back—this kind of power demands that uncountable others be sacrificed.
Fuck you, Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, and any man who insists on being so relentlessly small while effectively pretending otherwise.
We deserve a better world, one so many of us, especially every targeted woman who comes forward, are working toward.
From the Truthdig Archives.
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