One of my mom’s favorite bits of advice was the cliché, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” The problem with such advice, as I see it, is that each and every one of us was born into a pool of lemonade created by the thousands of generations which came before us. Our natal micro- and macro-cultures are all the result of how each group defined their societal and organizational challenges and created solutions which would be passed down to the next generation. Civilization as we see it today is a composite of the varying solutions our ancestors created, including: the methods to provide basic human needs, such as food and shelter; educational and legal systems, defining acceptable knowledge and behavior; belief systems, defining our character and morals. All have evolved over millennia as our population grew, moved and changed. Some present day solutions retain elements of their origins, but most would be unrecognizable to our ancient ancestors. Yet patriarchy, the foundation of human civilization, persists.
Early on, men claimed the right to define the challenges society faced and then to create the solutions to those challenges. Through asserted superiority and power, they forcefully subjugated women. Their solutions inevitably perpetuated their assertions of superiority and the right to enforce their choices. When challenged, they fought. Eventually, according to Professor Lerner, patriarchal success led to the subjugation of weaker men and of children. Slavery was born.
Patriarchy itself has evolved of course. Women through the ages have manipulated their manipulators, rebelled, yelled, and marched for their freedom and equality. But not until women became capable of controlling their own fertility did they realize a modicum of true success. In 1960, the first birth control pill became available for use by married women. It took another twelve years before the Supreme Court ruled birth control methods could also be used by unmarried women.
In 1991, Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, published Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. In about 500 pages, Ms. Faludi describes in excruciating detail the patriarchal denigration of feminism and the fight for women’s rights concurrently and in recent history. Now in 2020, the “Me Too” movement and the “Supermajority” are taking up the very same causes of fifty-plus years ago. Meanwhile, the “Right to Life” group are claiming a moral high ground, stating their goal is to “end the murder of the unborn.” Their actual end-game is to once again legally control the sexual and reproductive lives of women.
Yes, patriarchy is alive and well around the world. Consider the control over women in countries ruled by dictators and royal families. The very core of our civilization has irreparably damaged us as a civilization. By subjugating more than half of us, it has limited our education and wisdom, our imagination and creativity. The solutions to the challenges we face will thus be flawed and inadequate. They will also be skewed to benefit the minority who claim authority to choose them.
It is time we deny that claim.