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. 

Who Knew Flesh-Eating Kids Could Be So Radical?

By Alethea Tyler

Upon first viewing The Girl with All the Gifts, I was overwhelmed by the premise of the movie: a unique zombie film featuring Melanie, a young child who possesses both zombie and human qualities. While the movie presents a dystopian storyline utilizing gratuitous violence, it also contains radical representations of complex inequalities and confronts stereotypes. Through examining the portrayal of age, gender, and race, the confrontational narrative and radical alternative representations within The Girl with all the Gifts become apparent.

Melanie is a young girl, an identity commonly associated with weakness. The theme of youth and incompetence is disputed as Melanie is not only the central character, but by the far the most powerful character in the film. As a “second-generation hungry,” the zombies do not see her as prey as she too, is prone to consuming flesh. And unlike other “hungries,” she possesses the ability to resist zombie cravings. This defies ageist assumptions by making her a superhuman who exists as an immune, omnipotent leader.

Melanie’s identity as a girl is not particularly emphasized in the film, but it nonetheless serves to challenge gendered stereotypes. Melanie’s clothes and haircut remain uniform, replicating a traditionally male or gender neutral presentation. If it weren’t for her feminine name, she could easily pass as one of the boys. This ambiguity, combined with Melanie’s insatiable curiosity and superior intelligence, confronts the common correlation of intelligence and masculinity. According to Judith Lorber, “The social construction of gender not only produces the differences between men’s and women’s characteristics and behavior, it also produces gender inequality” (2012). As a result of remaining outwardly gender neutral, Melanie challenges assumptions pertaining to gender. Her character is many things at once: fierce, intelligent, selfish and selfless. She is an independent protagonist who remains fearlessly female.

The most important stance this film takes is on race. The cast is predominantly white, marginalizing the few characters of color. The film uses this marginalization to radicalize the plot. The end of the film illustrates Melanie not only as a hero, but also as the destroyer of the old world. Intentionally, Melanie sets the zombie pods on fire, causing the virus to become air-borne and infect all living people. This act of defiance positions Melanie as a savior to the zombies and a destroyer of white culture. This racialization of the main character serves as an emphasis on the shocking ending: white people do not always win. As Lorber (2012) writes, “The subordinate group is always less influential unless it can turn the dominant values upside down” (pg. 233). Through Melanie’s act of defiance, she turns the “dominant values upside down,” addressing the question of why someone else’s life is more important than her own. Through this provocative narrative, Melanie directly confronts the idea of valuing White over Black.

Due to the provocative nature of The Girl with All the Gifts, the film presents a truly radical narrative. The film seeks to confront traditional narratives by diverging from stereotypical roles regarding age, gender, and race. As claimed by Lorber (2012), “Change does not come easily, because many of the foundational assumptions of the gendered social order and its ubiquitous processes are legitimated by religion, taught by education, repeated by the mass media, and enforced by systems of social control.” When media is used to present radical narratives, the perpetuation of social control is directly challenged. Through the presentation of empowering, intersectional identities, the foundation of racism, sexism, and ageism are questioned, therefore invalidating the very existence of inequalities.