Thursday, 11 October 2012

Down with the patriarchy. Please?

The news this week has made me want to weep. As allegations about Jimmy Savile – and now, some of his colleagues – have come out in a terrifyingly long list, Justin Lee Collins has been found guilty of harassment of his ex-girlfriend, a case which has also contained some bizarre and plain nasty details. In Pakistan, the Taliban have shot 14 year old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about women's rights.

These three cases are on the outside very different. Sexual perversion, domestic violence and attempted murder are, legally speaking, three entirely different crimes. Make no mistake, though – this is the week that the patriarchy made itself thoroughly felt on the headlines. It makes me feel a bit sick, to be honest.

Before you all start protesting that these are radically different crimes, allow me to assure you that they have one thing in common. That thing is the need to have power over women, to keep them in their place, to use violence and coercion to prove that power. Jimmy Savile allegedly chose teenage girls, the kind who would be coming into the awkward stage of adulthood but still be vulnerable. Justin Lee Collins psychologically and physically abused an ex-alcoholic who by her own admission was in a vulnerable place. The Taliban shot a girl on a bus, on her way to school.

All of the women involved in this will forever bear scars, some more literal than others, and I sincerely wish for the recovery of Malala, because she is the kind of young women we need more of. All of these women have suffered because men – and frankly, ones that sound insecure, unable to deal with strong and confident women in any way other than violence – have decided that men deserve power, that women are inferior and there to be used.

The patriarchy isn't a very trendy word. Suzanne Moore has a great piece in the Guardian about it today, actually. The concept is quite tricky to explain without sounding too strident, although on a week like this one I'll sound as damned strident as I please. Basically, though, the majority of the world lives under the rule of men. There are rules, invisible rules, designed to protect the ruling men. These rules damage men too, have no doubt about it, but the patriarchy is the thing that judges women for getting old and praising men for looking 'distinguished'. The patriarchy is the glass ceiling. The patriarchy is the anti-choice movement. The patriarchy says you get raped because you were drunk, or in a short skirt, rather than because you happened to be in the path of a rapist. The patriarchy exists where we let it exist, and it leads to men like Justin Lee Collins, insecure in their control.

It has not been a great week, in short, for happy feminist thoughts. And before anyone talks about Julia Gillard's speech, just stop a moment and think about how depressing it was the leader of a country had to stand up and say any such thing in the first place. It's a great speech, and I love the passion behind it, but my God, I wish we didn't live in a world where such a speech has to be made in the first.

Stop and think about your actions this week, and think about the patriarchy too. The next time you pass something off as 'not really mattering', like a Pimps and Hoes fancy dress night, or the Daily Mail tutting about Lady Gaga's 'shocking weight gain', think of the bigger picture. Fight it, if you can, because the other side of the coin may be uglier than you ever dared imagine.

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