Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The patriarchy principle

Just because it isn't said in polite company doesn't mean people aren't thinking it. A Home Office study has found that:

16% of people in England and Wales think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she nags; 13% think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she flirts with other men; 20% think it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife or girlfriend if she dresses in sexy or revealing clothing in public; 11% think it okay to beat if the wife or girlfriend doesn't treat the man with respect; 8% think it okay to beat if she is caught cheating.

Further, 36% think a woman should be held co-responsible for being raped if she is drunk; 26% if she is wearing revealing or sexy clothing; 43% if she flirts heavily beforehand; 49% if she does not clearly say 'no'; 42% if she is using drugs; 47% if she is a prostitute; 14% if she is out walking alone at night. (My summary)

Gender constructions apparently mean so much to so many that literally millions of people (including millions of women) are willing to see physical and sexual violence toward women as being some sort of punishment. As being justified or at least partially excusable if the woman in question does not behave completely as someone else's possession, or as a passive ornamentation for a well-kept house or an outing. I suspect that similar attitudes might be expressed, maybe by fewer people, about men who deviate from a certain paradigm of masculinity, who love other men, who are not violently assertive, who refuse to beat their partners, and who do not in general worship their own phalluses like Norman Douglas' man from Nantucket. Walk around acting like one of 'them', you can imagine it being said, and you're asking for it.

If I may satirise a certain commonplace way of arguing, the scope within which to argue that British values are essentially benign and not a threat to our way of life is diminishing by the day. All very well, but the underlying moral sanction of this horrifying authoritarianism is the empowerment of fathers and husbands in the name of 'family values'. Such values resonate with charm and homeliness, and it is constantly averred that they produce stable communities and disciplined children (as opposed, say, to obedient wage serfs and cannon fodder). There is barely a social problem that has not been blamed on their absence. The underlying political economy, on the other hand, is that patriarchy reproduces the very stratification-by-gender in the sphere of production that reduces the aggregate cost of labour for capital, enhances the surveillance of and control over female labour, and reconciles a number of men to aspects of the system which they might otherwise find onerous. I just mention the vulgar material basis for such ideas because it isn't going to be mentioned anywhere else, and the Home Office for its part will no doubt respond to its findings with a poster campaign or some other hearts-n-minds initiative, if they respond at all.