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PATRIARCHY AND POWER By Burton Sankeralli

posted 23 Mar 2017, 06:31 by Gerry Kangalee
Violence against women has become very much a major issue in the public domain and discourse. This is a very important development because our record as Caribbean men in this area has not been particularly good. And we do need to take stock and re-learn some key relationship patterns.

What bothers me however is that it is very easy for us, men and women, to believe that this is enough. To deal with the issue of “violence against women” alone and not engage the key underlying issue of power.

What makes men engage in such violence? Yes there is the raw brute force that so manifests itself because men are for the most part physically bigger and stronger. But this is the tip of the iceberg. The experience of such physical power is in reality articulated in terms of an overarching power relation where the male is defined as the source of power, violence, control and command. The fancy word for this is “patriarchy”.

It is this question of power that needs to be addressed and we must be careful that this issue of violence against women is not cleverly used by certain elites as a distraction. So that certain men (all too often working class men) are readily demonized but the core issue of power remains hidden.

So violence against women becomes a safe middle class issue. And we can put it together with other safe middle class gender issues, like gender-based discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere or sexual harassment etc. Yes I would sincerely hope that all right thinking decent people would oppose all this (unfortunately I cannot make this assumption) but we are not going to effectively engage patriarchy by remaining in this comfort zone.

Moreover it is not in the middle tier that patriarchy really shows its teeth. To begin with we need a sharper understanding of what patriarchy is. And here I find the tools of analysis of “critical theory” to actually be quite helpful. This analytical approach would in my view correctly maintain that we must understand the oppressive power-relation in terms of the intersection of race, class and gender. Thus we avoid in the process any simplistic view of women versus men or a reductionist viewing of the workings of power.

There is oppressing and oppressive elite at the intersection of race, class and gender. When examined this elite, that in actuality presides over the capitalist system, possesses or tends to have a certain race/ethnic/colour/culture profile (I can say a great deal about this but I will stop here). They are principally men (though there are wives, daughters and other associates who belong, who benefit and who are complicit). And they are just that – an elite class; this in an essentially oppressive class structure.

This is the structure that characterizes the patriarchal system. And as I said the full weight does not fall on the middle tier. Actually in certain key middleclass areas – like education and employment – women may even be ahead of men. And while I want to make it clear that even here issues of violence and discrimination are to be taken seriously, it is the working class woman who remains most vulnerable across the board.

But as also ought to be clear the middle class success of women in terms of education and employment in absolutely no way diminishes the nature of patriarchal oppression. Men clearly preside over the elite tier and it is the oppressed lower class that bears the brunt. We have not begun to dismantle the system; if anything it is getting worse.

Moreover, working class men are also the victims of patriarchy in terms of poverty and criminalization and in being shot and incarcerated by the capitalist state apparatus. Indeed, a great deal of working class male violence against women is to be viewed in this light (though it in no way justifies such violence). And here such working class males may readily be caught and processed through the system. Of course elite men don’t abuse women!

Having said this it is very often women who most profoundly experience the effects of systemic violence, of poverty, dislocation, privation and raw brute force. Moreso as it is they who are locked into the roles of family and caregiving.

Finally, I humbly suggest that if we follow this issue of violence against women honestly we would be led to the same place as if we follow all the other burning social and political issues to their logical conclusion. We would be forced to conclude that there is need for fundamental, radical, thorough and permanent change in the dominant power-relation.

There is a word for that!
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