Vexy Thing and the Matrices of Domination

By Annie Zlevor

As part of the Abbott Memorial Lecture Series, Dr. Imani Perry’s presentation sought to resurrect the patriarchy by exploring mechanisms of oppression from the Enlightenment to now. As written in her book, Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation, Dr. Perry reexamined the ordinary conception of the patriarchy in an attempt to distinguish between a common place understanding and how it actually manifests itself.

She identified three main pillars that help form the legal and economic relations which make up the foundation of the patriarchy: property holding men, personhood, and sovereignty. All these pillars have essentially been written into law in the United States, especially a person’s ability to be recognized as a rights bearing person. To better understand this, Dr. Perry described the “reasonable man doctrine,” which has been the standard for law making. The “reasonable man doctrine” symbolizes a dispassionate and measured man, who consequently allows for the flattening of human complexities. The conduction of legal interpretation based on this standard ignores the particularity of the individual experience and forms a banner of legitimacy under a legal institution.

In Dr. Perry’s critique of feminism, she examined the controversial “entrepreneurial woman,” or the woman who is considered to formally be a part of the citizenry. They symbolize the appearance of inclusion based on apparent political and economic power, however this signifier for feminist progress is often misguided and false. These women continue to uphold conventional masculinity and do not contribute to the unhinging of mainstream feminism. Dr. Perry’s goal is to see past the idea that feminism is simply bringing women up to par with men. Instead, she attempts to study the subject of relation between men and women as opposed to resorting to simplistic forms of representation. She encourages people to read beyond seeing men “on top” and hoping for a time when women join men in this superior position. She attempts to ask what it means to be “on top” and what the implications of that include.

Although broad in her analysis of the patriarchy and feminism and receiving criticism that her form of feminism is the analysis of everything, she argues that liberation feminism must include the reading of everything around us. Dr. Perry encourages feminists to read the layers and pay attention to the matrices that exist in our world. As a result of seeing these structures as a matrix, we can develop a sense of intimacy and ethical remapping. We can stop viewing ourselves as outsiders trying to solve a problem, but instead assess our relationship to these issues. Dr. Perry argues that although an intersectional approach is important, in order to understand forms of domination, matrices are more applicable. Specifically, they allow us to see past the notion that we all have a clear conscience. She hopes that we can make liberation irresistible by seeing the complexities in which the patriarchy exists and identifying how we can critically engage ourselves and the world we live in.

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