A Difficult Problem
Slavoj Zizek discusses the concept of "The Big Other" in The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. "God" is one obvious example of the anthropomorphicization of the global human sense of order, justice, and reason. Personalized, we feel that we may "confess" to this "other" and have our suffering validated, and that somehow it will result in receiving what we consider to be "justice". Zizek asserts that the Big Other does not in fact exist, that there is no meaning in suffering, and I further assert that clinging to the Big Other concept and its concomitant illusion of the power to complain is in fact infantilizing and diverts us from the path to any real solution to our predicament.
Zizek goes on to assert that Christianity is in fact a path to an interesting vision of "atheism" in which Christ frees us from the constraints of the Old Covenant and leaves us to seek salvation on our own in faith in the Holy Spirit and in the Love of the community of fellow believers, which is precisely what the New Testament(1) tells us. In other words, Christ's death is the "death" of the Big Other, and it is Good News, not bad, and it opens the door to a new freedom and Eternal Life.
The Tragic Death of Patriarchy
The recent Pixar film, Inside Out, immediately became one of my favorites for a variety of reasons. I was introduced to the delineation of the human psyche into:
Why couldn't the main character have been a young (American) boy?
One thing that leaps to mind is circumcision. A baby boy is immediately assaulted, which submerges Joy, Fear, and even Anger, sexualizing them and putting him into conflict with both parents, particularly his mother. In the film, the life of the young girl is depicted from birth, and her first emotion is Joy, which would be seriously twisted and complicated in an (American) baby boy. The boy is violently and painfully taught that his life and happiness are of little or no importance. Moreso than in other countries, and at a much younger age, a young boy is told that he cannot show emotions(2) and that he must perform. A woman is a woman(3), but "being a man" must be earned, usually through hard work(4) and overcoming fear. The expression "be a man" is universally negative in that it is only used when one is about to do something "unmanly", which is unforgivably bad. The Yiddish term, Mensch, is only slightly more generous. Of course, all this ideology is deeply misogynist, albeit indirectly. It's also homophobic, of course, and homophobia is an expression of misogyny.
But I digress. The point is that a little boy as the main character would make for a very ugly and disturbing film, one that could not lead [spoiler alert!] to the reconciliation and emotional reconnection with the parents. The devastating assault of circumcision, the devaluation, the dehumanization, and the harsh expectations which put happiness and enjoyment second can not be just set aside -- they remain in place, both in terms of past memories and going forward. The fact that the film works as a narrative demonstrates the truth in this, i.e., we can believe the life journey of the young girl. We would have to skip over so much of the early life of the young boy, or see him as a latent homosexual, or if he were not circumcised or subject to all the other male baggage, then all of the (American) male viewers would be unable to suspend disbelief or would feel envy, and the female viewers might find the character and story two-dimensional.
The life of the young girl is joyful. We mourn the loss of joy from her life, and rejoice when it is recovered. The life of a little boy would be resigned to the tragic, as we see in our glimpse inside the mind of the young girl's father in the film.
What I'm driving at is that Jesus Christ had to be male. It is not that a woman cannot be the center of a religion, or a priestess, or a queen, or what-have-you, but that the tragic sacrifice and the suffering leading up to it would only be believable were it to happen to a male. A woman is valuable in and of herself, she cannot be separated from that, she cannot sacrifice or relinquish her womanliness (nor can she affirm it). Also, a woman is inherently valuable as a mother, a grandmother, a lover, and so on, and she is all of these things whether she makes the effort to be or not. So a woman who sacrifices her life automatically creates a self-centered conflict in those she leaves behind, e.g., the loss of one's own mother, one's first and best friend and teacher (or she should or could be), one's lover or potential lover and potential mother of one's children or grandchildren, or simply as Edgar Allan Poe termed it, the death of a beautiful woman is the quintessential tragic subject.
In other words, unlike with the male Jesus Christ, for the believer the contemplation of the martyrdom of a female Messiah could never be a truly passive experience. And thus the death of Christ is the death of God(5), we are able to rejoice and not mourn Him, and we are left alone to our freedom and the concomitant personal responsibility.
The Resurrection of Patriarchy
I've long had trouble with the crypto-pseudo-feminist notion of "The Patriarchy". It's no question that women have been (and are) oppressed(6) in American society, and elsewhere, but I worry that inventing this concept of "The Patriarchy" as this invisible, difficult-to-define Big Other doesn't help, and that it in fact mires efforts toward liberation and makes things worse.
Critics of contemporary 3rd-wave crypto-pseudo-feminism say that it infantilizes women, and they're right. But how, exactly, does it do this? The very concept of "The Patriarchy" may be a fundamental factor. Much like with the "Satan" MIAO and attendant memeplex in the "God megamemeplex", "The Patriarchy" is an evil quasi-entity which is blamed as the root cause of everything bad(7) that happens. In other words,
The Patriarchy made me do it.
One problem is that most people are not able to think in terms of abstractions such as God, "The Patriarchy", the Economy, the People, the political differences between "us" and another nation with a different political system and/or religion, etc. So we invent things like witches, greedy fatcats, fate, fortune, luck, etc., and we conjure up racist images of imagined people and beat up real people of different religions, nationalities, political affiliations, and so on, because we assume that they somehow embody this Big Other we have been told we have to hate. Jesus Christ is the anthropomorphicization of God, and the President is that for the United States, and so on, to give our brains something to latch onto. MEN are the embodiment of "The Patriarchy". Men are ultimately to blame.
This is clear if you go to see The Vagina Monologues. A good half hour is spent before and after the show with panels complaining about men(8), and of course the entire show is about how women are oppressed by men(9). Everything women say about their own experience in the show, and in the commentary around it, is absolutely true, and it's moving and often heartbreaking. The what is incontrovertible, but what about the why and the how? The individual actions of men (and women) are to blame for women's oppression. One could say the same thing about God, and yet we worship God. Jesus offers us a new God, a God of liberation. Instead of complaining to God and asking for what we want, less suffering, more joy, more things, and so on, we embrace our freedom and our responsibility for our own actions, so the rewards are ours, and the pains are our own as well.
How is the worship by women (and men) of "The Patriarchy" any different? Crypto-pseudo-feminists spend their time complaining to and about this Big Other that is responsible for their suffering and asking that "He" stop oppressing them and let them express their "womanliness" to its maximum potential and so on. They blame men collectively and individually for all of these "wrongs" done them, even if they were not done them personally but to someone else, e.g., "I heard from somebody who read about a woman being assaulted on a bus in India...", thereby denying themselves individually and collectively valuable allies who could help them live better and ultimately change the system. We are told that we should love the heathen, love other cultures, and so on, but this is not what's happening. This effect of entrenching the problem is one issue I have with "The Patriarchy" -- it prevents the problem from being changed in many ways. CPFs admit tacitly and openly that a lot, maybe most, of the change must come from men, and yet they do not engage men nor hold out the chance for men to be allies. You could say that CPFs also fail to own the things that they themselves could do, either to change themselves or to push men to change -- at any rate this never seems to be discussed.
Infantilization and Disempowerment of Women
Is seems that the notion of "The Patriarchy" as an abstract Big Other which is proselytized by crypto-pseudo-feminsists, like any other megamemetic system and its associated MIAOs, grows stronger the more it is "worshiped", i.e., the more that it's priestly class creates more and more memes to make it more and more complex, more all-encompasing, and more of a totalizing ideology, in addition to recruiting followers. As with all other religions or political movements, those who do not rally to the banner are heretics and must be converted, destroyed, or marginalized.
It's not so much that crypto-pseudo-feminist pseudo-dialectics are flawed and illogical (if not mean-spirited), but that they make up a collection of dogma for the faithful to rally around, and those "true believers" ability to swallow nonsense makes them all the more strongly committed, not less. Note that there is nothing different here than with any other superstition-based belief system -- it's just another example. The flaws in the arguments also guarantee that there will always be an opponent, i.e., someone who disagrees because they think you're wrong, or they simply have some other irrational belief system of their own (and these are perhaps the hardest to convert(10) ).
So "belief" and "worship" of "The Patriarchy" (by incessantly talking about it and attributing everything to it) gives it more and more power, ironically guaranteeing that it will never be eliminated. Furthermore, as the very name, "The Patriarchy", makes clear, it is a "father figure" and worshiping it infantilizes women (and men, too, by the way). A woman is trapped in an immature Freudian state where she is both helplessly complaining to "daddy" to relieve her frustrations and give her what she wants, but also resenting "daddy" as the cause and source of those very frustrations. She is caught between reaching for independence and at the same time wanting to be treated like a little princess, resenting "daddy" for the very fact that "He" is supposedly able to grant her wishes, even fulfill her sexual fantasies (11), but at the same time capriciously and cruelly chooses not to. When she grows into healthy womanhood she sees that her real father is just another man and that she can find the real experience of her childhood fantasies with other men (or women) and run her own life. By contrast, the Big Other of "The Patriarchy" never goes away, never lets her move on, never ceases to dominate her psyche.
So, aside from being a conflicted mass of often mean-spirited pseudo-dialectics that fails to offer any solutions or indeed clearly define what the problem is, the notion of "The Patriarchy" leads both women and men down a garden path of endless conflict. More sinister, however, is the cruel psychoanalytical trick it plays on women to trap them in a state of frustrated childhood.
(1) Matthew 10:34
(2) Apart from the "Football Emotions" of Anger, Exultation (not quite Joy), and Lust. All of these can carry with them a certain burden of shame as well.
(3) She may be "virtuous", "giddy", "sexy", "shrewish", "bossy", "loose", "pretty", "slim", "skinny", "fat", etc., but she is always a woman (rather like the Billy Joel song...)
(4) The Chinese character for "man" 男, is the combination of "rice paddy" 田 and "work" 力, while the character for "woman" 女 is a character by itself, and used as a component in a plethora of other characters (not always flattering) such as 怒 "anger", 妊娠 "pregnancy", 接 "connection", 要 "need", etc. Apparently at some fundamental level, men are only men by the work they do. Is that objectivization?
(5) Is this what Friedrich Nietzsche meant by "God is dead and churches are the sepulchres of God"?
(6) It's also interesting to look at ways in which women are not oppressed, and societies and time periods (16th Century Holland, for one)
(7) Also some things which are arguably good. American women expect that men will pay for everything and undertake dangerous tasks from killing pests to performing household repairs, fixing automobiles, defending them against attackers, going to war, etc. I paid in cash for a doctor's appointment recently, and I dropped a pile of bills on the counter to which the receptionist replied "Oh, what a lot of cash!" Another woman, a member of the office staff said, "That's one good thing ["good thing"...?] about the Patriarchy -- people throw money at you." As a male who has had to work hard my whole life to get money, my thought was "Wow! Sign me up for that system of oppression!" In fact, a thought I've had for many, many times. Alas, ésprit de l'escalier.
(8) Unfortunately, many if not most of the things said about men are about men's supposed motivational and belief systems, which is pure conjecture, and almost all of it is quite wrong in terms of fact as well as logic. Of course, no men are consulted in person or cited for their viewpoints.
(9) Not so much about how women oppress each other, unless it is only implied.
(10) Ironically, women and men who are the most predisposed to join the cause simply because they feel the cause is right and/or they are sympathetic to individuals in it seem to be the least likely to be welcomed and the most likely to be personally and directly targeted, as opposed to people who are thoroughly inurred of a totally incompatible memetic system and would have to change their entire belief structure (or be killed) in order to be converted.
(11) c.f., Freudian Electra Complex, counterpart to the Oedipus Complex