August 22, 2008

Honesty

How All Feminists Profit Off Of Patriarchy

It's time to admit that I profit off of patriarchy. And not just because I was born into a family where my white(ish) father made a lot of money he was legally obligated to share with us growing up. Yeah, I totally got amazing privileges out of that. Yes, that accident of birth gave me private school, ballet lessons, opera training, after-school drama classes and travel opportunities galore, but that's not what I feel most uneasy about today. I mean, I personally couldn't control being the child of wealthy parents who gave me things when I was a kid anymore than I could control being the child of poor ones; however, being a feminist academic means, to an extent, that I profit when things aren't going well.

Obviously, in our society, if women had so little status Women's and Gender Studies didn't even exist in the academy, I'd be screwed, but for every advancement past this pretty basic one that allows us to talk about and study ourselves in a classroom setting, I lose a little bit of ground professionally. If I woke up tomorrow, and all women everywhere had equal pay, equal representation in government, complete reproductive rights and there was no violence against women and no race-based or class-based discrimination and the entire world lived in a perfect welfare state, what the hell would I do? It would be like being a feminist who lives in Sweden! My education and I would be verging on useless. Sure, I could be like an historian, telling people how bad it WAS, but I'd have nothing contemporary left to fight for or publish on. I'd be way less relevant that I am today. Plus, I've always kind of hated doing historical research....

Yes, I want change. That's why I have devoted my life to studying issues that affect women, the queer community, low-income groups and racial minorities, but if I'm being truly honest, I have to say, if I got all the change I'd like to see, it would render me almost unemployable. This is part of our social location that feminists rarely discuss when discussing the limitations of our research and the biases possibly present in it. We rarely discuss how we profit by examining patriarchy. We don't discuss how we sell books, teach classes, get tenure (though not as often as we should) and work for Women's Organizations that fight patriarchy all because patriarchy exists! If it disappeared, I'd be like Al Gore if we folks in the Minority World all started to turn the AC down and drive electric cars! Sure, it would be great that I changed the world, but now there's no reason for me to make a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth...

I derive my sense of productivity (and hopefully one day, my paycheque) from fighting patriarchy. And while I'm not so naive to believe that it's going to disappear completely in the next twenty years, I have to acknowledge that if patriarchy did,I'd be greatly inconvenienced - I'd have to come up with a new thing to fight for, a new reason for getting up in the morning, which would be possible but it would be hard. So, yes, as a woman,I have so much to gain from an end to sexism and gender-based, race-based, and class-based oppression, but I also have something to lose. I need to be aware of it to keep myself in check - I don't want to be complicit in propping up patriarchy by writing a little less well or fighting a little less hard because its total disappearance could well put me out of a job....

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