The kyriarchy leaves no mind untainted. If we examine our minds, our attitudes, we will all find biases, prejudices, stereotypes, stigmas, even self-hatred that is all coming from the oppression that we have been surrounded by from the moment our lives dawned on this world.
So what does that mean for us? On the one hand, it means that everyone interested in the cause of abolishing oppression can do a massive thing; challenge their own bias and oppressive ideas. That’s hard, but it’s also wonderful. It doesn’t require grand gestures, or publicity – just introspection, humility and a willingness to apologise for and learn from our mistakes. On the other hand, it complicates everything massively. Most people we interact with day-to-day don’t try to challenge their oppressive attitudes, and the old proverb about leading a horse to water holds firm.
Legal and political definitions of equality are vital; the right to work, to vote, to hold office. Fighting for the legal and political side of things a very important part of the work of feminism and of all anti-oppression movements – pay equality has still not been achieved, there are some groups who are not even acknowledged to exist, control of people who do not fit our norms is still legitimated. Politicians claiming to represent us can still launch attacks on vulnerable sections of the population such as those who do not fit our society’s norms of ability.
The relationship between official and social equality is complicated. Often, it is hard to get measures for legislated equality passed without social attitudes changing in favour of those measures but then there is also the fact that legislation can cause social attitudes to change, as happened with the death penalty.
(TW – discussion of rape culture) However, what we often see happening is that the kyriarchy finds ways to oppress us without legislation. (This makes it sound like a sentient, malevolent creature – sometimes that’s what it feels like!) For example, rape culture is propped up, not primarily by legislation (although in the USA some politicians are attempting to do so), but by the attitudes of both the people who enforce legislation and the people who we coexist with day in day out. And the danger is that those attitudes will lead to legislation again coming down on the kyriarchy’s side.
At the moment, we are seeing something of a backlash culture. It’s seen as socially acceptable to make oppressive jokes, both about groups who have always been reviled and groups who have made progress towards equality. Misogyny is casual and all-pervasive, among all genders. Misohomy is likewise a normal part of society, as are virtually all -isms/miso-s – and still people think that they are not being oppressive. That’s leaving aside the kinds of oppression that are so little talked of or so greatly legitimated that people often don’t realise they exist such as ableism, sizeism and binarism.
In the USA, a study of men born in 1960 and 1990 has revealed that those born in 1990 are more sexist than those born in 1960. This could be explained as part of their youth – they have not yet learned the value of women as equals etc – but it’s still deeply worrying and problematic. A study carried out earlier this month found that there is widespread fear of the Other in society.
One attitude that is incredibly widespread is that that devalues femininity and all things associated with it. Why do CAFAB people experience less censure when they express themselves in a ‘masculine’ way than when CAMAB people express themselves in a ‘feminine’ way? Why is the colour pink so hated? Why are ‘caring’ jobs less well paid? I have a small, but awful, example of this; I was told recently by a teacher I know that he had heard examiners looking at ‘feminine’ (rounded, neat) handwriting and saying, ‘that looks about a C,’ before reading it. The devaluation of things associated with femininity, with the female.
And these attitudes matter. Because people vote. People become politicians and lawyers. People raise children. People teach. People write books. And they do all these things with their ‘harmless’ oppressive views still on board. Through this, oppression is propagated, revived. The kyriarchy breathes another day.