On Heide Goettner Abendroth’s book, Matriarchal Societies

Let me start by saying I was really excited to start reading this book. If matriarchies truly have existed, I thought, then they can surely exist again, or at least what is left of them can be protected and preserved while the rest of us continue to flounder about as we progress perilously through the advanced stages of patriarchal cancer, blogging obsessively, if we choose, on the topic of the Great Matriarchies that Once Were, as if in doing so we could turn back time.

But being an optimist at the time I started reading this book (more accurately being under the psychological control of a male with Blackfeet ancestry who had been named an indigenous elder at some multi-tribal pow-wow at Stanford University and who claimed to have interest in building, and in fact running, a revolutionary new matriarchal society, which I’m sure will make a great story when I am fully recovered from his abusive programming), and being an excessively abstract thinker almost wholly intellectually satisfied with the theoretical brain candy presented in the Introduction, I had been evangelizing about the virtues of indigenous matriarchal societies to anyone who would listen. I spoke of a wonderful world in which women have real decision-making power, there is no rape, and the life-creating power held by females is honored by men and centralized in every facet of the culture. To me, the existence of such societies was proof that patriarchy is only one possible social arrangement of males and females, that masculinity is socially constructed, and that there still may be hope for us all to turn this man-made trainwreck around before humans go extinct.

In between reading the Introduction to the book and digging into Chapter 1, I had a series of disturbing/enlightening conversations with friends and in the blogosphere on the topic of gender as a social construct vs. biological essentialism, through which I had been invited to think more critically about the prospect of females ever living in harmony with males. Yes, I conceded, patriarchy is made by men… but… but still, I insisted, it’s all in the book!!!

So then I had to actually read the damn book.

The author, like many advocates of a return to matriarchal society, makes it clear in the beinning that matriarchy is not the reverse of patriarchy – patriarchy is a system of power over and matriarchy is a model of non-hierarchical power centered on life itself, rather than weighted towards either sex.

When I first heard this description of matriarchy, I remember feeling proud:

“Yay! I DO have value! I am not just a dirty, stupid, worthless bitch who needs to be told by men what to do every second of the day in order to avoid falling out of favor with God.”

Deeply internalized misogyny is obviously not a good place from which to arrive at the negotiating table.

But thanks to having had a solid week of radfemming it up with a new friend in between reading the Introduction to the book and Chapter 1, the very first example given by Abendroth of a matriarchal society made my eyes bleed in horror and sadness at what suddenly and irreversibly struck me as the enormous level of psychological denial required to maintain this mass hallucination that men have any value whatsoever.

Ok, details: So the author introduces the Khasi of Northern India. To summarize, Khasi women take responsibility for all of the important economic, cultural, political and spiritual functions in society because, it is implied, men just can’t be trusted with them… Wait a second, that sounds familiar:

“But honey, it’s just that you’re so much better at running ceremonies and distributing goods fairly amongst clan members. You are just so impressively strong, I admire the way you carry a child on your back while hauling unimaginable burdens over mountains and across rushing rivers to the market… why, I bet you’re as strong as any man! And, as the youngest daughter, you’re also naturally really good at raising the kids while providing for our dying elders as well as for any clan member who is ever in need, anywhere, at any time, even if you are dirt poor.” 

I shit you not, all of this was in the fucking book. The dramatization is obviously my own, but I have accurately represented Abendroth’s description of Khasi society. And this is supposed to inspire us. To give us hope. To guide us. But it just made me angry, because I am supposed to accept that in matriarchal societies, honoring women = manipulating them with flattery. How is this any different from patriarchy, in which men write Mother’s Day Hallmark cards, praising woman slaves for their sacrifice and virtue?

It is true that Khasi women do hold the final authority in the clan, own all the property, are in charge of all the food, and can even kidnap males for procreation. And the men say they are all cool with it. This is indeed reflective of the greater power women have in matriarchal societies relative to men, and men’s consent to such an arrangement proves the necessity of depriving men of such power. But instead of making me feel all empowerfuled and excited for women, it just made me ask: If only women can run a functional society, and men can only run a dysfunctional society, then isn’t matriarchy just a big apology and cover-up for men’s inherent inferiority as human beings? And who benefits from these awkward arrangements that keep this basic reality of humanity a secret? Who has the most to gain from silence and complicity in the global Testigate scandal?

Men, duh.

Matriarchy is for men. Men are inapable of functioning as equal* members of society and as such, can only be a drain on women. Women. Do. Not. Need. Men. In a society of only women, even one in which males are periodically pulled from the swamp for reproductive purposes (which, based on current polulation levels, is not even necessary for women to exist), the word matriarchy would be redundant because it means “a system of society or government ruled by a woman or women” and donating sperm is not a sufficient definition of social membership. So aside from its inclusion of Amazonian women, who were more straight up separatist than “matriarchal,” the whole field of matriarchal studies is an excuse to justify men’s parasitic existence at women’s expense and I’m through with it. That concludes my book review.

*Since I have made use of the word “equal,” it’s worth pointing out to anyone who may not previously have considered it, that women who want equality between the sexes have been majorly duped into begging for the return of crumbs when males have stolen from females the entire batch of cookies. Men are not equal to women in value, on a biological level, and so offering us equality is a concession and a bunk deal loaded with what men must consider in private company to be hilarious and ingenious levels of irony. 

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Making Mothers: A No-Fail Recipe

How did I get here? I feel like I’ve failed at everything I’ve ever tried. It’s all lead nowhere. Motherhood has literally been my only option for fulfillment because every other path in life I have set out on has been thwarted by the patriarchy. There has been literally no avenue open for me to be as big as I have wanted to be, as powerful as I could be, as successful as I have dreamt. So now I’m a fucking mother. You all pushed me into this, even those I expected more from because of your stated ideology, political stance or social position. You made me into a god damned mother. And yes, I am a fucking victim and not ashamed to say so. I thought it was my fault but it is not. I tried to be “more.” I could maybe have tried harder, but was discouraged beyond self-motivation. How humiliating. How depressing. How confusing. I have no idea how to reconcile the person I envision myself as with the person I am allowed to be. I do not identify as the person patriarchy has painted me, sculpted me, directed me to be. And now I’m going to have this kid and everyone is going to guilt-trip me into being a full-time mother with no life, no interests, no initiative of my own. Another way life happens to women in the patriarchy. I never even knew for sure what my desires were, until they became impossible. I am still coming out of denial about what motherhood in the patriarchy means for my future. Still trying to negotiate with the powers that be so that I can still be a human being when I have a child. I could have prevented this. And yet, it was inevitable. Motherhood itself is not a prison; the patriarchy has constructed walls around the mother to imprison her. Turning the most beautiful creative act into the basis for the ugliest oppression.

How to psychologically coerce an otherwise capable, bright, passionate female into motherhood:

  • When she speaks, interrupt her as frequently as possible
  • Ignore her for as long as possible
  • Deliver her detailed instructions on how to live
  • If she initiates or originates anything, criticize the hell out of it
  • If she leads, refuse to follow
  • Dismiss and minimize her accomplishments and contributions
  • Only approve of her when she is servicing others’ needs
  • Make sure she knows her feelings and perceptions are invalid
  • Ridicule her for keeping company with other females

When she falls into pieces on the floor as a result of this socialization process, get her to believe it is all because she is crazy, at fault, or just born that way.

Then say to her:

CONGRATULATIONS!!!

What are you having?

Codependency Recovery & Anti-Patriarchal Solidarity

I have a major objection to women being told that they have codependency issues in recovery groups where no context is given to demystify the true cause of this so-called mental illness, which is patriarchy, pure and simple. In fact, women are specifically told NOT to worry about why they are codependent, and condescendingly instructed just to focus on the individual task of self-transformation. “‘Why?’ is not a spiritual question,” say our sponsors sternly, and then, with a rubbery smile, “it sounds like you’ve been doing that stinkin’ thinkin’ again!” Why is, of course, an important political question, but we are told we must keep our groups free of political discussions to prevent controversy. Which means, of course, that women must be kept ignorant and quiet about their oppression as a class, lest men in the group be offended or “hurt,” or (God forbid) women actually consider taking power in the public sphere. So many women are in such a vulnerable, desperate state when they go into 12-step recovery and psychotherapy after decades of suffering in silence from the system of male domination that they often accept this abuse just because they have had it so much worse. It makes me sad and angry that people these women come to trust, sometimes the very first people they have ever met who are actually willing to listen to them, give women only just enough validation that they still continue to hide and protect the man behind the curtain.

I belong to a codependency group on facebook where one woman expressed that she felt pathetic about being “diagnosed” as codependent. How sad is that – we are forced to take on a set of personality characteristics in order to survive in a man’s world, and then we are shamed for having those traits. We are not pathetic, we are oppressed! If anyone is pathetic, it’s a group of people who systematically overpower, control and enslave another group of people in order to meet their own narcissistic needs, greed and selfish desires. It is no coincidence that the psychiatric industry would rather have us on anti-depressants (created by the 300 billion dollar pharmaceutical industry) prescribed by male or male-trained psychiatrists (paid $150 an hour), and visited by male police officers (salaried $90,000 a year) with tasers and guns (400 billion dollar arms industry) in our homes when emotion-phobic, deluded and male-identified friends and relatives determine we have a “mental health crisis.” Rather than expose to us the shameful system of male-domination in its entirety, men take the opportunity to re-invest in our suffering for a profit. We are divided and conquered, misinformed and misled for decades, and then told that the way out of this mess is for each of us to grab ahold of a flaming ladder of ignorance, sold to us at a premium by the same assholes who threw us in the pit to begin with.

One of the challenges in making it clear that male domination is at the root of codependency is that there are also men in codependency recovery. So how could men be the problem? The reality that men are also oppressed by this system is mistakenly understood to be proof of the non-existence of male domination. Men are subjected to the structural violence of other men through capitalism. They are ordered around by mostly male bosses, their time and energy is extracted by a male-controlled government or a corporation in exchange for a relatively measly paycheck, and the meeting of their basic needs is withheld until they satisfy the techno-industrial earth-destroying machine’s lust for their labor. Most men are not part of the 1%, the ruling class that dominates 99% of the world’s wealth (or whatever the statistic is); but most of the 1% are male and so most men in the world are also subservient to other men. Capitalism is a pyramid scheme promising males privilege over other males, all of whom have privilege over women through patriarchy. This is true even though not all men are world rulers, or because some women have higher socio-economic status than some men, or because some women are CEOs and some men aren’t. A system built on domination and subordination would never, and could never, have been created by females in the first place, and every man on Earth within this system has power over at least one woman, or easily could, whereas the reverse is not true. Men exploit other men, as well as women, because that’s what men do. The nuclear family is a creation and microcosm of patriarchal society as a whole. Everyone in the family has a role within it to enable capitalism, thus the family system oppresses and grooms everyone in it – females most of all, but also male children. It doesn’t matter whether the wife or the husband makes more money or cheats or whether the wife as well as the husband beats or sexually abuses the children or whether a single mother emotionally incests her only child who happens to be male. The system still serves the larger system of male domination because it is a unit of the capitalist system which is the economic structure of patriarchy. So that’s where male codependents come from. Male violence.

In my experience, some women want to see the man behind the curtain, and some just aren’t ready, even when they have not been brainwashed specifically by the victim-blaming culture of 12-step programs. More often than I would like to admit, I’m still not ready. We are so used to blaming ourselves for our own misery, because that’s what men have intentionally gotten us to do, whether through traditional patriarchal religion or the rising popularity of the “it’s all your fault because negative thinking” new age movement (patriarchy’s way of oppressing women through post-it notes that it ingeniously convinces women to affix to their own bathroom mirrors). Some of us take masochistic pleasure in obsessing over our so-called “character defects” simply because we aren’t aware of any other choices. If we could just be good enough, and could believe in ourselves enough, they wouldn’t hurt us anymore, right? And if we could just recover enough from our dysfunctional family “issues,” we would be deserving of the new lives and perfect futures that await us in the beautiful world just outside of the meeting room…. Right? This is another part of the victim-blaming dynamic of 12-step groups – the whole premise is that there WAS a dysfunctional system that affected us as children, or within a marriage, and that we now somehow have the option of escaping those dynamics entirely. The psychological traits of codependency are cultivated within us because of the trauma bonding that requires us to accept a role in our own subjugation in order to believe we live in a just world. This process starts when we are children and are psychologically and materially dependent on our caretakers – children have a stronger need to believe their parents are sane than to love themselves, even if the adults they live with are abusive and otherwise completely bat-shit crazy. But even after the dysfunctional family system and its effects on us are externalized, recognized and despised for what they are (oppression, if anyone dares mention the word to us), we are still living in a patriarchal society and so behaviors of codependency such as people-pleasing, approval-seeking and self-sacrifice are still required of us in order to pay the bills. This hurts us whether we are doing it sincerely and eagerly, or detached and cynically. So much for “recovery” as a once-and-for-all healing process.

Unfortunately, patriarchy is everywhere, and we can only gain power in our lives by accepting a more privileged or tolerable position within the system. I can be free from my abusive father by marrying a less abusive man who nevertheless dominates our children by pressuring them to be sports heroes and who financially supports patriarchy by following the World Cup. Or I can get a job and work for some guy who profits from the exploitation of mine and others’ labor. Or I can start my own business and receive the blood money more directly. Or I can claim to be the picture of anti-patriarchal perfection as a lesbian separatist while collecting disability insurance from a government that works on behalf of multinational corporations to systematically exploit women both in my home country and overseas. We must not rest under the illusion that to escape some part of our own oppression is to escape, change, or resist the system of patriarchy in its entirety. Not because we are to blame for benefiting from system, but because nobody is to blame for their subjugation within it. We are all part of the system in some way, though not by choice, and to convince ourselves otherwise is to tighten the chains binding our lives and those of our sisters in slavery to men. Codependency can not be fully overcome as long as patriarchy exists, because someone in the system will always be forced to value another person’s feelings, thoughts, values, goals and priorities above their own in order to survive. And let’s be clear: not just someone, but some woman.

Where to go from here? Attend codependency recovery groups (if we can stand to do so) and take every opportunity to highlight the bigger picture of male domination woven throughout each of our problems as women? Start our own groups that explicitly connect codependency with patriarchy, and for that matter, all psychological diagnoses with the structural forces that cause them? Write books and articles on the subject? Become psychotherapists and bring a radical feminist analysis into the office? Whatever we do, let’s remember that solidarity with all women requires us to have an analysis of the entire patriarchal system, and not just the parts of it that hurt us personally and individually. Not all women are feminists, and many will drag us through the dirt behind the vehicle of their own oppression, as we have likely done to other women before we began to awaken. If and when we confront other women, as we must continue to confront ourselves, the language of codependency will do us little good unless we also create opportunities to collectively challenge the material reality of patriarchy. We are facing much more than a bad psychological habit occurring within an apolitical vacuum. All women have been hurt by men, whether at home, at school, at work, on the street, or in jail. On the basis of each of our individual experiences, and through awareness of their connection to the larger system of male domination called patriarchy, we can all come to understand and support the struggles of all of our our sisters. Whether the instrument of our sisters’ oppression or our own be a fist, a knife, a gun, a voice, a locked door, a price tag, or a pair of handcuffs, may we stand alongside one another in fiercely determined resistance, knowing that any woman’s oppression is our own, that any man’s power is every man’s power, and that one woman’s liberation comes only through the liberation of every other woman.

Curse the Reign!

Let’s talk about the weather. Guess what? It’s raining men today. Again. Just like every other day since the rain (reign) began. My jacket is wet because of this rain/reign. So is yours. And hers. I always try to dry it out but sometimes the rain is too much and I feel permanently soaked in men. Yuck! But underneath, I am dry. I am me. I get really mad about it sometimes, and then I remember that it’s the weather, not me, that is causing my discomfort. Sometimes that makes me even more angry, because I have no control over it. Oh, how I curse the reign!

But I still have to go outside every day. And when I see other women being pelted by the reign, the warm fire of my heart reaches out to all of us because we have a better chance of making it through the reign if we remember who we really are underneath it all, because we will only ever overcome this terrible weather together, even if right now some of us *appear* to be enjoying it, and because even when I extend the warm fire of my heart to another woman who says she would rather stay out in the reign, or that she must, I still get to feel the warmth myself and I am reminded that it will always be here for me and my sisters, always and forever, no matter how long we may get caught out in that miserable, never-ending, soul-soaking reign.