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.

Reproducing Patriarchal Power Structures in the Name of Feminism

By Katie Trinh

Dr. Imani Perry believes that feminists need to grapple with the complex structure of the patriarchy. Patriarchy includes the exclusion and suffering of women due to the domination of men. She claims that legal and economic relations in society are the foundation of patriarchy. There are three components that define patriarchy in the past and present: property holding men, legal personhood, and the privilege to appeal to the sovereign authority. Legal personhood refers to the fact that an individual is recognized as a right-bearing human being. One of Dr. Imani Perry’s main points is that women only have access to these benefits when they are attached to a patriarch. The system of the patriarchy is written into the law. Every aspect of feminist theory involves dismantling the patriarchy, and the patriarchy demonstrates how legal and economic institutions hold the most power and privilege. 

Perry also discusses how although entrepreneurial women signify female progress, these women are perceived to be successful because of their “masculine” traits. There is a narrative that men fail professionally or economically because of the economic success of women. According to Perry, feminism is a complicated concept that many people do not grasp. Many people believe that feminism means having women replace men as the dominating gender. However, Perry takes the stance that women, especially feminists, should not try to dominate men; instead, feminists should take on ethical positions that are based on their understanding of oppression. 

One of Perry’s main points is that patriarchy manifests as an entitlement that needs to be protected. She says that sexual allegations against men in power demonstrate how patriarchy is an entitlement. Many people argue that sexual allegations against men in power will “ruin their lives,” implying that their patriarchy and the privilege that comes with it needs to be protected. Perry also notes that any type of privilege acts as an entitlement for people. She provides the example of a white woman who accused a young black boy of groping her. Because the woman had the privilege of being white, she felt as though she was entitled to accuse a young black boy of sexual misconduct. Perry argues that we need to “read the layers” and look at how other factors besides gender, such as race, can contribute to relations in power. Perry’s point about adopting a language of intersectionality directly connects to Feminist and Gender Studies because this study revolves around the changing relationships between power and different factors of identity. 

Overall, Perry asks us to recognize our own positions of privilege. She acknowledges that none of us have “clean hands.” Everyone is at a certain position of privilege at the expense of oppressed and marginalized people. Sill, Perry asks everyone to examine how their position of privilege can play a role in affecting change. To Perry, feminism means looking closer at how economic and legal institutions enforce this patriarchal system, and how we must take ethical positions to address these systems of oppression.