Tag Archives: Patriarchy

Book review: ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men’ by Robert Jensen

Book review: ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men’ by Robert Jensen
by Ian Sinclair

Peace News
April-May 2017

A Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, Robert Jensen has a long history of activism focussing on US foreign policy, progressive journalism, climate change and pornography.

With The End of Patriarchy he makes a strong, often deeply personal case for radical feminism, which he believes has lost significant ground to individualistic liberal feminism and postmodern feminism in the broader culture and academia, respectively. For Jensen, the central tenant of radical feminism is the “understanding that men’s subordination of women is a product of patriarchy”, a hierarchical system of domination/subordination based on “power-over”, rather than “power-with”.

Jensen argues that although “each individual man in patriarchy is not at every moment actively engaged in the oppression of women… men routinely act in ways that perpetuate patriarchy and harm women.” Moreover, patriarchy’s harsh system of hierarchy and domination harms many men too – something Jensen highlights by writing about how Western society’s dominant, toxic masculinity has had a detrimental effect on much of his own life. Today, having spent decades engaging with radical feminism Jensen explains feminism should be seen as “not a threat to men, but a gift to us.” More broadly, he believes radical feminism’s critique of patriarchy is central to challenging larger systems of domination/subordination such as white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism.

The majority of the book comprises discussions of some thorny topics for feminists and activists alike, such as prostitution and pornography (“sexual-exploitation industries”), rape culture in the United States and, most controversially, transgenderism. On the latter Jensen is at pains to highlight that he, of course, condemns discrimination and violence directed at trans people, though arguably his radical feminist position on the subject isn’t helpful to the wellbeing of the trans community.

Written in an accessible and self-reflective style with male readers in mind, the book includes an afterword written by Professor Rebecca Whisnant, along with good references and a useful ‘further reading’ section for those who wish to delve deeper.

Like UK activist Finn Mackay’s 2015 own book on the same topic, The End of Patriarchy is an important and challenging introduction to this influential strand of feminism – and would make a great discussion tool for both men and women activists.

The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men is published by Spinifex Press.


Patriarchy and radical feminism: an interview with Robert Jensen

Patriarchy and radical feminism: an interview with Robert Jensen
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News blog
13 March 2017

Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, has a long history of activism focusing on US foreign policy, journalism, climate change and pornography.

Ian Sinclair spoke to Jensen about his new book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, published by Spinifex Press.

Ian Sinclair: How does radical feminism differ from other forms of feminism?

Robert Jensen: First, by radical feminism I mean the understanding that men’s subordination of women is a product of patriarchy and that the ultimate goal of feminism is the end of patriarchy’s gender system, not merely liberal accommodation with the system. Second, radical feminism is central to the larger problem of hierarchy and the domination/subordination dynamics in other arenas of human life; while not sufficient by itself, the end of patriarchy is a necessary condition for liberation more generally.

Because the core of patriarchy is men’s claim to control—even to own—women’s bodies, particularly women’s reproductive power and sexuality, radical feminism puts at the core women’s reproductive rights and the end of men’s sexual exploitation of women. In practice, this has meant that radical feminists have sought the abolition of the sexual-exploitation industries of prostitution and pornography, the ways that men routinely buy and sell objectified female bodies for sexual pleasure. That’s one of the most contentious issues within feminism, and liberal/postmodern feminists often don’t share that analysis of those industries.

IS: What is patriarchy?

RJ: The term describes various systems of institutionalized male dominance, with a history going back several thousand years. The sociologist Allan Johnson suggests that a society is patriarchal “to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered.” I quote the historian Judith Bennett, who points out that “Almost every girl born today will face more constraints and restrictions than will be encountered by a boy who is born today into the same social circumstances as that girl.” That recognizes that all men are not always dominating all women—obviously other forms of power affect life outcomes—but women face obstacles and threats that men in similar circumstances do not face.

IS: Who benefits from patriarchy?

RJ: In some ways, all men benefit in short-term material ways from being a member of the dominant sex class, though of course the fate of men depends on those other factors, such as race and class. And in patriarchy, as in any system of power, some members of the subordinated class find ways to serve the system of power. But as a man, I focus on the responsibilities of men to challenge patriarchy, and if we can see past our own short-term interests I believe it’s in men’s interests to embrace radical feminism to move toward a fuller and richer sense of our own humanity.

IS: How is patriarchy maintained?

RJ: In various times and places, the women’s movement has been successful at eliminating the formal, legal rules that upheld patriarchy, though those struggles continue. But the cultural norms that support patriarchy, such as the assumption that women will present themselves as sexual objects for men’s pleasure, have proved to be tenacious. And, of course, the struggles to ensure women’s reproductive rights and to hold men accountable for sexual violence continue, and victories won are not necessarily permanent.

Patriarchy has conservative and liberal forms. Conservative men typically want to give fathers and husbands control over daughters and wives. Liberal men often want to maximize their access to as many women as possible. Religion and pop culture play a role. Like any other system of power, patriarchy is complex and changes over time, differing around the world. In my writing, I focus on the society I’m part of: the United States in the last half of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries.

IS: When feminist ideas are raised in certain circles, the response is often “The central issue is class, not gender – class inequality, including powerful women, causes more suffering to women than patriarchy.” What is your response to this line of argument?

RJ: My glib response is that we can walk and chew gum at the same time; we can analyze and attack more than one illegitimate system of hierarchy at a time. There will always be difficult decisions about strategy and tactics in a particular political moment, but the idea that men’s domination of women is less relevant to people’s lives than the exploitation of people in capitalism is silly. And, as is encompassed by the focus on an “intersectional” analysis, there’s no sensible way forward that doesn’t take into account the interplay of all these hierarchical systems, primarily sex/gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, and class. Given that patriarchy is the oldest of those systems in human history, it would be folly to treat it as being only of secondary concern.

IS: Your book, along with other feminist texts, points to a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today.

RJ: The masculinity norms that are routinely imposed on boys and men in contemporary U.S. culture are rooted in the idea that men must seek to control the world around them, to focus on conquest, which requires high levels of aggression and inevitable violence. Some of us describe this as a very toxic conception of masculinity. This isn’t the only way to understand what it means to be a male human being, of course, but it’s the common understanding that most boys learn. In patriarchy, to “be a man” is to demonstrate the ability to dominate women and to challenge other men.

IS: You discuss “rape culture” in your book. What is this?

RJ: Decades ago, radical feminists challenged the assumption that rape is a rare occurrence, and disputed the claim that these few sexual assaults are perpetrated by deviant men who can be handled in the criminal justice system and through psychological treatment. Instead, these feminists pointed out that rape is normal, both in the sense that is common and an expression of patriarchal conceptions of men’s right to use women sexually. So, rape is both illegal and routine. A rape culture doesn’t command men to rape but does blur the line between consensual sex and non-consensual rape, and also reduces the likelihood rapists will be identified, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and punished.

Pop culture and pornography provide a flood of examples of this conception of men’s sexual domination of women. Turn on the television, go to the movies, play a video game, or download pornography—you’ll see what a rape culture looks like.

IS: What concrete steps can men take to support women?

RJ: As is the case in fighting any system of oppression, there are countless ways to be part of a movement that seeks justice. Men can support—whether financially or through commitments of time—the existing institutions that seek to advance women’s liberation and aid the victims of patriarchy, such as reproductive health clinics and rape crisis/domestic violence centres. Men can join the movements to abolish prostitution and pornography, as well as publicly state their commitment to not using women in those sexual-exploitation industries. Men can hold other men accountable for sexist behaviour and speak up for gender justice in places they have power and privilege.

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census

Interview with Karen Ingala Smith about the Femicide Census
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 March 2017

In early January 2012 Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of the London-based domestic violence charity NIA, noticed an upsurge in the number of news stories about women killed by men. She started to make a list of the names, and then read a police statement that referred to the killing of one woman as “an isolated incident”.

This, she tells me when I visit her in her east London office, made her cross – and also motivated her to continue counting: “So many women in so few days. How can this be not seen as part of a trend? How can this be seen as ‘an isolated incident’?”

Gaining support from the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and another generous donor, Ingala Smith’s Counting Dead Women blog became the basis for the ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’. Published by Women’s Aid and NIA at the end of last year, the landmark report shows how, far from being “isolated incidents”, 936 women and girls over 14 years of age were killed by men in England and Wales between 2009 and 2015. Most women who were killed were found to be killed by a man known to them, with 64 percent killed by men identified as current of former partners.

Though she has years of professional experience of Intimate Partner Violence, 49-year old Ingala Smith says several findings surprised her, such as the number of older women killed in burglaries and robberies. “I would also say the number of women being killed by sons was also something I hadn’t expected to see”, she notes. “And the ages that women continue to be killed by intimate partners. That, again, is sad to see. You think of the years and years of abuse that a woman has lived with before she is finally killed in her 70s or 80s by a man who she has been with for years.”

Most shockingly, Ingala Smith explains how the report highlights what is called “overkill”, which she describes as “when men submit women to a level of violence that killed them several times over. So not only has he killed her once, he continues to injure her with an injury that would have been fatal had she not already been killed.”

Does recording these horrendous crimes take an emotional toll? “Yes, in a word”, she replies. “I’ve sort of developed a pattern now where at the end of every month I review the month and total women for that month, and update my blog on a monthly basis. And when I used to do that at first I literally did have a cry after every time I did it, sit in a darkened room and want to be on my own for a little while. Now I just get on with it.” However, she is concerned she doesn’t always get as upset as she used to. “I don’t ever want to be unshockable”, she says.

Though the media often represents violence against women and girls as perpetrated by a stranger down a dark alley or a predatory taxi driver, Ingala Smith says the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.

Surely we are talking about an epidemic of violence against women, I ask, thinking about the 2013 Crime Survey of England and Wales’s estimate that 28 percent of women have experienced domestic abuse? “We are talking about a massive scale problem”, she confirms, though she prefers not to use the word ‘epidemic’ because that “implies a medicalisation” of the issue. She argues this violence “affects all women even if we are not directly affected. I think all women are controlled by male violence and all men benefit from male violence even if they themselves never perpetrate it.”

There is, it seems, a deep-seated problem with the dominant type of masculinity men are expected to embody today. Ingala Smith agrees: “It’s about the social construction of masculinity and the social construction of femininity. So it’s about gender rather than about biology.”

“I think you have to look at the relationship between women and men and everything that creates the inequality between women and men”, she continues. “So entitlement, patriarchal laws, sexism, the objectification of women – all these create a context where women are seen as less than, and men expect control and dominance. I think that reproduces itself in some intimate relationships.”

Turning to solutions, Ingala Smith says reforming the criminal justice system and policing is important, though she believes they won’t solve the problem on their own. “If we look at the things that make men men and make women women, if we tackle those, so gender inequality, objectification of women, sexism etc. – that is where the big work has to go.” The Femicide Census itself argues for “statutory sex and relationship education covering healthy relationships, domestic abuse, consent and challenging sex role stereotypes as part of the national curriculum” because “better education about healthy relationships will help to prevent domestic abuse, and ensure that victims and perpetrators know where to go for help.”

She notes the Tory’s austerity agenda has led to more women being endangered, with local authorities passing on the cuts imposed on them to the services they fund, such as refuges for vulnerable women. For example, women’s services in the UK suffered a huge blow in 2015 when Eaves, a specialist service for women victims of violence, was forced to close. Frustratingly, the specialist services that survive are often at the mercy of grant funding based on contracts and competitive tendering, which means the services can end up being run by the lowest bidder and organisations which are not led by feminist women.

Is she hopeful about the recent feminist resurgence associated with women such as Laura Bates and Kat Banyard? “I really hope that women continue to find feminism”, she says. “I hope they don’t find liberal man-pleasing feminism. It does give me hope but not hope enough. I’ve found that as often as feminism reinvents itself there comes a backlash against that feminism.”

“I want to be hopeful but I’m not really”, she laughs ruefully, though later apologises for her negativity in an email.

Talking about her own feminist politics, Ingala Smith says her brand of feminism “tends towards” radical feminism. “I think inequality is structural, I think patriarchy exists”, she explains. “The things that identify radical feminism is that you talk about patriarchy and the male dominated society, you see that men’s violence against women is part of creating that patriarchy and maintaining it.” Another common tenant of radical feminism is the importance of women-only organising and women-only spaces. Ingala Smith doesn’t think men can be feminists, though believes men can make a difference and can be part of the solution. “I am saying that when we have feminist spaces they can butt out and make the rest of society a more feminist space.”

What concrete actions does she think men who support women should take? “Shut up and listen to women”, she laughs. “Fundraise for your local refuge.”

“I believe in decent men”, she says, “but I think men are a big problem as well. Masculinity is a big problem.” Again she is keen to highlight that she doesn’t think biology is destiny. ”There is a question, isn’t there? Why are men more violent than women? Men do most of the killing. Mostly they are killing other men more than women but you don’t see the reverse of that. Why is that?”, she asks. “It’s either nature or nurture or a combination of both. For the good of all of us as a species I’m hoping that it’s more nurture the nature.”

The ‘Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed By Men’ report can be downloaded from https://www.womensaid.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning-and-influencing/femicide-census/. See also http://www.niaendingviolence.org.uk/.


Roundtable: Where now for Feminism?

Roundtable: Where now for Feminism?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
February 2014

With high profile campaigns such as Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3 gaining significant media coverage, what is being called ‘fourth wave feminism’ found its feet in 2013. Ian Sinclair spoke to five feminist campaigners about the current health of feminism in the UK and what its priorities should be in the year ahead.

Cath Elliott, Feminist Activist

I can’t remember which wave of feminism we’re supposed to be in now – the third wave, the fourth, the fifth? – but whichever it is we’ve certainly seen an upsurge in feminist activism over the past few years, and an increase in the numbers of younger women being prepared to define themselves as feminists. Sadly though this inspirational resurgence of the feminist movement hasn’t yet led to any of the original aims of the women’s liberation movement being met.

Equal pay, decent and affordable – preferably free – childcare, none of these issues have gone away; meanwhile the prevalence of rape, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violence against women overshadows any gains we think we might have made. Similarly, while abortion was made legal in this country in 1967, ever since then there have been concerted attempts to deny women their reproductive rights, and so the fight for access to safe, legal abortion goes on.

I suppose that’s the long-winded way for me to say that I think feminism’s future has to basically be a repeat of feminism’s past, because while women’s oppression may be packaged differently nowadays, the harsh reality is that the substance of that oppression remains the same, and the battles we were fighting back in the second wave are still to be won.

Scarlet Harris, TUC Women’s Officer

We need feminism as much, if not more, than ever. I don’t subscribe to the idea that feminism has been dormant for decades ­and only just been re-born by a new generation of young women. Whilst I admire young media-savvy, campaigning feminists, we are all indebted to my mother’s generation who have been campaigning for gender equality since the 60s. The tenacity and drive of trade union women in fighting for equal pay, affordable and accessible childcare, challenging discrimination, sexual harassment and violence against women, defending women’s right to free and safe abortions, and breaking down gender stereotypes in the workplace, has never dwindled.

Feminism has made great strides but we have a long way to go. Years of a slow, steady progress on closing the gender pay gap have gone into reverse. Women working full-time still earn, on average, around £5,000 a year less than men. Over one in four women are paid less than the living wage, while 30,000 lose their jobs every year due to pregnancy discrimination. Sky-high childcare costs continue to make work unaffordable for many women.

We shouldn’t accept the false choice between an ‘old’ feminism that focuses on women’s labour market position and a ‘new’ feminism that focuses on violence against women, sexual harassment and representations of women in the media. Feminism does and should encompass all of these things.

Charlie Woodworth, Fawcett Society

Despite many years of progress, the UK remains deeply unequal. Women are typically poorer than men, taking home an average 16 per smaller pay packet and dominating the ranks of the low paid. We are under-represented in positions of power and influence across public life, most startlingly in politics – almost 80 per cent of our MPs are male, the proportion of women in parliament has increased by just 3.7 per cent since 2000. Violence, or the threat of it, is still an everyday reality for many women – two women a week are killed by current or ex partners. The age of austerity is worsening the situation, as women are forced to act as shock absorbers for dramatic and unprecedented cuts to public spending – around three quarters of the money saved from capping and cutting welfare will come from women’s pockets.

Challenging these and other persistent inequalities requires action on several fronts. In the run up to the 2015 election, where women’s votes will have a decisive impact, we must hold the different parties to account on how their plans will affect women – our safety, our financial security, our general power and influence. The recent surge in online activism, in particular the groundswell of feminist noise, must work to ensure women’s rights are front and centre of the political debate in this crucial window of opportunity.

Alison Winch, Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Middlesex University and author of Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood.

Feminism is a collective movement – however contested – and this is critical in a culture that promotes the myth of the competitive individual. Relationships are central to feminism, both in the way that feminists forge alliances with each other, but also when looking at the way that women regulate and police each other, especially around the body and sexuality. Neoliberal patriarchy has a female face, whether this is the hyper successful of companies like Facebook or Yahoo – or the fictional media representations of powerful women. It is also expressed in the language of empowerment, enablement, agency, choice. But often women’s success is dependent on the exploitation of other women. Consequently, feminisms that promote a neoliberal agenda inevitably deepen divisions between women. Feminism has a memory and a history of contesting capitalism. The conflicts that feminists experienced need to be revisited, but in a different frame. Rather than seeing them as failures, we need to see them as necessary to politics which, for it to work, must involve debate and acknowledge differences. The way that we relate through class, race, sexual identity and disability need to be taken up again, learnt from, developed, talked about (and this is happening). Coming from a position of dis-identification (rather than using the tired metaphor of a sisterhood) would be useful to open the space for more feminists to have a voice and to be heard. Conflict and disagreement can be generative, creative and productive when taken outside familial frames such as sisterhood and used to challenge capitalism.

Rahila Gupta, Southall Black Sisters

It has never been clearer, than at this historical conjuncture when neo-liberalism is unravelling, that feminism cannot win its struggle for women’s rights without also undertaking a social, political and economic transformation to restore fundamental equalities and rights to other disempowered groups. The recent resurgence of feminist activity is recognition of the fact that some of the freedoms achieved by women were illusory; this was crystallised by the austerity measures introduced to deal with the financial crisis, the impact of which fell disproportionately on women. The vacuum left by a much diminished state, although paternalistic and patriarchal, is being filled by religious forces stepping in to provide services within an ethos that is detrimental to women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Many of the issues are the same but the contexts have changed, possibly for the worse. At Southall Black Sisters, we have been pointing out the dangers of religious fundamentalism for women and sexual minorities since the early 90s against the backdrop of the Salman Rushdie affair then and the War on Terror today. Where once we struggled to get the state to act on issues such as forced marriage, today, the state uses these same issues to criminalise migrants and justify inhumane immigration controls. Race, class, and sexual identity are still the faultlines that scar feminism. But feminism needs to guard against atomisation – which is what neoliberalism thrives on.