Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marilyn French on Inability of Patriarchal Systems to Hear Women

As a complement to what I posted yesterday about the attempt of male-dominated institutions to suppress critiques of patriarchy and marginalize those who offer such critiques, effectively treating these critics as if they do not exist, here's Marilyn French talking in the final year of her life about what moved her to write her classic novel The Women's Room

Further, that women are not paid for their work in a world that values money and worldly power above anything else suggests that women are unworthy of respect.  Thus, men can ignore the worldview women develop in the course of  lives spent taking care of others--children, men, the sick, friends, relatives.  Men can complacently continue to exalt rationality, power, possession, and hierarchy, and to justify domination as a necessary and natural principle, unhampered by the criticism of women or men who entertain a different value system.  Men in power do not even hear radical criticism because they have pre-labeled it invalid, softheaded, or insane.  Because the dominant class controls the discourse, only the independently thoughtful even perceive the insanity of our present culture.

"Preface," The Women's Room, Marilyn French (London: Penguin, 2009), pp. xxvi-xxvii

As I noted yesterday, the powerful and persuasive critique of patriarchy by women and men who entertain a different value system is often received by the powerbrokers defending the patriarchal system of Catholicism as if these critics simply do not exist.  The critique and those offering it have been pre-labeled as invalid and irrational.  And yet those doing the labeling and guarding the gates to the conversation by which meaning is made in the church insist on speaking of themselves as defenders of embattled Catholicism (a term that points, etymologically, to full inclusion in this conversation)!

Despite the considerable progress women made in the 20th century towards achieving autonomy and full personhood, French ended her life pessimistic about the status of women globally as the 21st century begins.  As she notes, at a global level, there is strong backlash against the movement of women to autonomy and full personhood.  And that backlash is driven pre-eminently by religious groups.