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. 

Video

Breaking Patriarchy

PatriarchyThis video, written and produced by Andra Metcalfe, Hunton Russell, and Emma Singer during the First-Year Experience (FYE) section of FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College with Professor Heidi R. Lewis during Block 1 2018, explores how youth can better understand and address patriarchy.

 

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Top and then Bottom L to R: Abigail Turner, Skye Guindon, Jane Hatfield, Professor Heidi R. Lewis, Hunton Russell, Emma Caligor, Sam Lovett, Skylar Owens, Emma Singer, Andra Metcalfe, Jasmine Linder, Avia Hailey, Nathalie Reinstein, and Sakina Bhatti

Tosh.N0: Challenging the Hegemonic Humor of Tosh.0

Original Print A“‘Rape jokes are never funny,’ shouted a woman in the audience at a comedy show in Los Angeles in 2012. Daniel Tosh swiveled his body and gazed at her, then looked back at the audience and asked, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped by, like, five guys? Like, right now?” Daniel Tosh, the host of Comedy Central’s popular show Tosh.0, frequently toes the line on sexist, racist, classist, and overall exploitative commentary.”
—Ally Nagasawa-Hinck, Ariannis Hines, Jules Feeney, and Njeri Summey (Block 5 2016)

Original Print B“Tosh’s success in the industry can be explained by David Nylund’s assertion that ‘the media industry, therefore, often mobilizes measure around conservative ideologies that have oppressive effects on women, homosexuals and people of color’ (232). Tosh’s jokes often adhere to traditional gender roles, classist attitudes of superiority, racists stereotypes, and narcissism […] The images that advertise Tosh.0 consistently portray Daniel Tosh as a funny, powerful male through conventionalized (normalized) indicators of masculinized body language.”

[NOTE: Due to difficulties with embedding, please click here to view the Tosh.0 clip.]

“While the vast majority of Tosh’s comments on the show are problematic, we focus on three specific examples that highlight his sexist and classist rhetoric. [This clip] illustrates Tosh’s use of assumption-driven, belittling, and problematic humor. When commenting on the YouTube video “Worst Prank Ever,” Tosh remarks on the family in the video’s living space, family structure, and the maternal figure’s appearance through embedded sexist and classist ideologies.”

New Print B“In order to accomplish our counter-hegemonic goals, we re-appropriate his jokes by mimicking their format and timing in a way that flips the power dynamic. By designating Njeri, a Black and Queer woman, as the Tosh.N0 host, we challenge Tosh’s authority and symbolically give power to a marginalized voice.”

“By replacing Tosh’s white male body with two Black female bodies, we invert the concept of ‘whitewashing,’ a phenomena that Lori Kito Lopez claims represents whiteness as ‘both invisible and dominant'(639). In other words, race in white male identities is often unacknowledged. Further, white men are overwhelmingly represented in mainstream media, while women of color are marginalized. The act of photographing Njeri and Ariannis in this way granted their identities true representation.”

 

Dress Codes in the Senate?

Mitch Holmes

Senator Mitch Holmes (R-Kansas)

By Josie Stern (‘19)

This month, Senator Mitch Holmes (R-Kansas) imposed a strict dress code on female legislators who testify in front of his committee. Holmes issued the dress code to deter women from distracting the committee by wearing clothing he deemed “revealing.” Holmes claims, “Put it out there and let people know we’re really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself.” Specifically, the Senator’s dress code for women prohibits those who are testifying on bills from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts. However, he did not specify what was considered a low-cut blouse or miniskirt. Reports indicate that Holmes considered issuing another dress code specific to male testifiers, but decided that men were able to dress themselves without guidance. Female senators, his own colleagues, were rightfully outraged at Holmes’ guidelines. Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Kansas) claims, “I am more interested in what they have to say about the direction our state should go than what they’re wearing that day.” Subsequently, Holmes apologized for his demeaning language, saying, “My failure to clearly specify that all conferees, regardless of gender, should strive to present themselves professionally is unacceptable.” However, it is unacceptable on probably more levels than he had intended.

Today’s culture is caught up in the idea of what constitutes a “professional woman.” By proclaiming that a woman’s outfit is “too distracting,” Holmes, like much of society, is putting the blame on the women, rather than those who are supposedly “distracted.” That being “said,” dressing “professionally” in a workplace does influence the way a colleague views a co-worker. However, this dress code, like ones enforced at schools and workplaces, tells women to cover up in order to not be subject to male gaze, but refuses to hold men and boys accountable. The dress code supposes that women are not able to determine for themselves what acceptable, professional dress is. On another level, it is interesting how Holmes’ apology failed to acknowledge that women are often considered subordinate to men. Along these lines, in “Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams,” Laurie Ouellette problematizes this subordination when she claims, Helen Gurley Brown, Editor-in-Chief for Cosmopolitan from 1965-1997, “clearly understood women’s subordination in the office, but she did not directly challenge it because in an ideal world, we might move onward and upward by using only our brains and talent, but since this is an imperfect world, a certain amount of listening, giggling, wriggling, smiling, winking, flirting and fainting is required in our rise from the mailroom” (267). Perhaps the women who testified in “revealing” clothing felt that, like Brown, the world in which we exist does not allow for them to only use their brains and talent to be heard and taken seriously. Perhaps they thought that they must also use their sexuality to advance and have their thoughts and ideas heard.

McGinn

Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Kansas)

Dress codes allow for women to be objectified and not taken seriously, if they are not dressed in what men see as socially and professionally acceptable. Dress codes like this give women the idea that how they dress is how they are going to be perceived in the professional world. However, men do not have to deal with this type of control. There is a lack of consistency between the guidelines for men and women. As Jane Caputi points out in “The Pornography of Everyday Life,” “Patriarchal cultures such as our own also associate nakedness and sex with shame and sin, and identify women with the essence of sex” while men are seen as above this negative identification” (374). This double standard in our culture opens the door for a flurry of negative associations with regards to the choices women make in this case with regards to appearance. Women wearing short skirts and low-neckline blouses are automatically assumed to be purely sexual beings and not serious in their work. This assumption is further troubling, because it completely objectifies the wearer of “provocative” clothing.  In short, Caputi claims, “Men can be viewed as sexual but are seen as having other attributes as well, such as intelligence” (374).  Women, like objects, cannot possibly have other attributes, right? Not in my opinion.