Why I Don’t Believe in the Patriarchy (But Still Consider Myself a Feminist)


When Lisa Wilkinson explained on ‘The Project’ television program that Eurydice Dixon was murdered by a man who was the pointy end of a patriarchal culture which is driven to murder women as it sexualises them, I was outraged.

That young woman’s tragic death was the result of a severely mentally ill man who stalked her and murdered her in a park. Finding a woman sexually attractive is not the natural, logical precursor to raping and murdering her.

Rape and murder is not normal, common male behaviour. However, when Clementine Ford asserts that Australians live in a rape culture, because some men and women choose to blame a woman for a man’s action, I have to agree with her.

The book, ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’ worries me. To begin with, its aggressive title, which is obviously a warning shot at men, is actually directed at a (primarily) female readership. Personally, I’m not asking for pretty. I’d really like it if we could start with respect and kindness as default positions and go from there.

I need to read it, mainly because a number of young women I know have read it and are keen to discuss what it contains. One of the subjects they have raised with me is the male gaze.

After one such discussion, I googled ‘male gaze’ to see if it was, in fact, the phenomenon discussed in Laura Mulvey’s academic article, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, an article I studied as part of my university degree.

Simply put, Mulvey advances a proposition originally made by John Berger, in his television series, Ways of Seeing. The basic gist is that women are constructed on-screen to be looked at by a male viewer, for his viewing pleasure.

Art history abounds with examples that bear the theory out. And I do not disagree with Mulvey’s thesis as expressed at the date it was written. However, I am of the belief that the  gaze has mutated as social forces have shifted.

I consulted Wikipedia for insight, and the article credits Jean-Paul Sartre with identifying the gaze as an empowering act because it allows one human being to objectify another. To objectify someone is to reduce them to some ‘thing’, which is to turn them into an ‘it’ which can be used, abused and disposed of, without consideration for the effect of such usage on the person.

In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf writes that the tragedy of the beauty myth is that it comes up as an invisible wall between men and women, preventing them from truly knowing and loving one another. I have experienced this time and again myself, and it has proven to be one of the most pernicious vexations of my adult life.  

I don’t hear men complaining about the weight or appearance of their wives and girlfriends. I see it, and hear it, coming from their mothers and their peers. And that’s what I see on Instagram.

I do believe that arguing who is at fault will not solve the problem, however, and no amount of militant obnoxiousness is true empowerment. The key to the problem, as Rumi says, is locked in the cell with you and the door opens outwards.

Which to me means that it is high time to switch off Instagram and start looking for that key. I strongly believe that the love of the men – and women – who love you will help you to find it.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: