Sunday, October 16, 2016

On the Spectrum of Patriarchy

As a teacher at an elite all boys school where I also coach football, when I heard audio of Donald Trump boasting about weaponizing his wealth and power to violate women without consequence, I immediately felt a pre-exhaustion with the damage control ahead.  Trump essentially told my students, "do what you want to girls because you can."  We teachers have a hard enough time battling the negativity of the misogynist trash-rap on the radio to have a presidential candidate add the legitimacy of the highest public office to the cesspool of sexist mental pollution out there.  

But then, when Donald Trump made the excuse that his rape culture swagger was just "locker room talk," I was deeply disturbed.  I wasn't surprised that he would make this excuse or that he talked about grabbing women's genitals like an unabashed rapist, but I was surprised at how many women seemed to think that men actually talk like this in locker rooms.  Does my wife think I talked like that?  My friends?  No, not me, love.  Not us.
But when I spoke with my wife about it in order to clarify for her that normal men do not assault nor brag about assaulting women, she pointed out that we might still be communicating on a spectrum of patriarchy that bends toward Donald Trump.  The objectification of women that I certainly did partake in is part of the deal.  There's no way around it.  The mythic "strong man" pathos that Trump uses to charge up his throngs of male and female supporters emerges from the myth of patriarchy (male supremacy) itself; a myth that underpins rape culture.  

And as mythic as the narrative that men are superior to women is, the violence of patriarchy is real.  Patriarchy is the social, political, and economic ideology that justify systems of oppression that keep power in the hands of men and out of the hands of women.  Patriarchy is deeply rooted in the pillars of Western civilization, from the Bible to business schools.  And as much as I have learned this intellectually, the American open sore that is Donald Trump has helped me feel how Patriarchy actually works in the world, in real time, and in my own life.  If I'm honest, I have been on a spectrum of patriarchy that includes a vile cesspool of men like Trump and their apologists. 
I grew up under the spell of patriarchy.  I never had a woman head of school or a woman at the head of a church I attended.  I never had a woman mayor, governor, or president.  And though a woman headed my household, I was taught by most of the men in my life that men are better leaders, clearer thinkers, and stronger in every way that really matters.  These beliefs are pervasive and they have devastating impacts in society. 
Michelle Obama makes this crystal clear.  

Growing up as a young man, we had a name for a tall, powerful woman like Michelle Obama.  It wasn't a title of respect or adoration.  It wasn't a name that would have captured her awesome intellect or that would have described her warm soul or wholly dignified spirit.  No.  Growing up, we would have called Michelle Obama a "stallion."  We would have objectified her body with the ridiculous and ironic metaphor of a male horse.  And even if we thought it was complimentary, Michelle Obama now shows how ass-backward this label was (and is).  Back then, I would have ignored the majesty that is Mrs. Obama for being lost in the male privilege to, even if only visually and verbally, possess a woman's body.
But maybe these actions were more about insecurity than power.  Maybe men like Donald Trump, and boys like us, were so intimidated by the female essence that we had to belittle it by minimizing it to a body that we could judge like some show horse.  Maybe we did it because we beleived we could subdue a woman's body, but knew we could never overpower a woman's soul, mind, or spirit.  I wrote a poem about it as a part of a series of verse novels, called the The Misbelief Tree, about mistaken beliefs and how they shape us.  Like to read it?  Here it goes:

Excerpt from The Misbelief Tree p. 49-52
We all paused in awe with slack jaws 
as if we saw the kingdom come.  
In walked a magnificent thing, 
what we used to call a stallion,
stalked by a stuttering battalion of babbling youths. 

Her body flowed in slow motion.  
Breath pet her parted lips.  
Her honey brown legs pressed up on cut pear hips, 
which switched in locomotion 
under her knee high sundress.  
That thin cloth might have been rocked right off 
had she not gripped the hem between her nail tips 
and tugged it down.  
But then how the color hugged her mounds of melon-round bottom 
could turn a pillar of salt into a man 

and make him run back to Sodom as fast as he can.

As she ambled the narrow lane of the aisle,
there was a bit of a hitch in her gait
that seemed to be an apprehension to engage 
the agitated state of males jockeying 
to whip her attention their way.

I wondered when she first felt the heat of men’s eyes 
vying to try her skin as if she were meat.
Was she thirteen, 
curious behind the spurious worry
of an uncle twisting his tongue 
to say “So young. So grown so young?”
Was she eleven,
whisking up a cousin’s concern
as he watched her body
wiggle and whirl in ways that made him squirrel
“come here girl.”
Is she even twenty now
and already somehow a triple crown 
(a trophy of face, breasts, and bottom)
for sporting crowds of loud men
(thirsty, graceless, and prodding)
endowing themselves 
with the right 
to say what they like on sight?

It dawned on me,
the absurdity of calling a woman a male horse,
and the paradox of the fact that it is such an accurate metaphor. 
To men, she is a stallion,
a prized creature
that men dream they can break and hold, 
that they bet they can ride and control,
while the shame burrowed in their souls
cowers at her power 
because they know 
it is greater than they can even perceive
or ever conceive.
Man knows he is weak.
And he knows 
woman knows.
It is time to solve the mental illness of patriarchy and the violence, aggression, and discrimination against women that it promotes, protects, and justifies.