The feminist focus on ‘patriarchy’ ignores cultural differences.
Own work via Wikimedia Commons -
On the International Day dedicated to the Elimination of Violence Against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day, Canadian writer Barbara Kay confronts the emergence of honour killings in Western countries and calls out feminists who refuse to distinguish between such culturally sanctioned murders and domestic violence.
The following is the concluding part of a speech she gave earlier this month to the Canadian Association for Equality in Ottawa, entitled “A Question of Honour: Feminism and Multiculturalism in the Political Crosshairs.” The full text of her talk can be read here.
Can feminism and multiculturalism learn to co-exist in harmony?
According to feminist theory, which is Marxist in its template, all women everywhere suffer from the evil of The Patriarchy, just as in economic Marxism, all workers suffer everywhere from the oppression of Capitalism. If feminists were to admit the obvious, that male-female relations are a function of culture, rather than a universal principle of oppressor and oppressed, they would have to admit that we here in the West are not living in a patriarchy any more, and that women have achieved the major goals that feminism set out for them to achieve. Women made demands, and men met them. Institutional misogyny has ended in the West.
The Patriarchy is not an ineluctable force in human affairs. It arose organically from conditions in tribal life, and while it persists in certain parts of the world, it has withered in ours. If feminism had remained a reform movement, it would have dissolved by now – just as, say, the literacy reform movement in Britain disbanded with the passage of the Universal Literacy Act in 1885. The Act did not guarantee every child would become fully literate, but it guaranteed every child would have the opportunity to become literate. Reform movements are content with institutional progress.
Instead, feminism doubled down into a revolution. Revolutionary goals tend to be utopian – mere progress is never enough – and tend to produce an industry of stakeholders who spring up in the academy to nurture it. When too many grievances have been redressed to justify continuing activism, career-invested revolutionaries move the goalposts, finding new grievances that are often trivial or based entirely in theory, not reality.
Male-female relations will never be perfect. There will always be a small minority of misogynists (all of whom, it seems, troll social media, making them seem more numerous than they are), a small minority of abusive men, a small minority of controlling male partners. But these men are not the norm in our society, nor is their behaviour ever condoned by their families or their communities or by any of society’s institutions. But if feminists were to admit that what is systemic in one culture is contingent in another, the feminist revolution would have lost its scapegoat – here at least – and feminists would have to admit that while the Patriarchy exists and women are suffering from it, the Patriarchy as a norm is elsewhere, and only here when elsewhere brings it with them.
Thus, in order to help women from patriarchal countries, feminists first have to acknowledge that their situation is vastly different from our own. Intimate partner violence – the updated term for domestic violence – is demonstrably violence of a completely different order from honour motivated violence (HMV). What we call “rape culture” on university campuses – frequently better defined as regretted drunken hook-ups rather than rape by Criminal Code standards – is light years away from a real rape culture – that is, a culture in which the rape of women is disturbingly common, is considered a stain on the victim rather than the perpetrator, and where the punishment meted out for the stain, while ignored or unaddressed by official law enforcement, is met with approval by kinsmen and society in general.
They must acknowledge that sex selection abortion, always femicidal, reflects a systemically high valuation of males and low valuation of women. (In the West, sex selection abortion is rare, but when it happens, it is usually andricidal.) In short, they would have to acknowledge that western culture is today, with individual exceptions, friendly to women, and most other cultures are, with individual exceptions, unfriendly to women. Such acknowledgement would, they believe, open them to charges of racism, and they simply can’t go there. What is more, they are the most vocal in condemning as racist those who do go there.
After she started attending classes at York University, Aruna [Papp, a Christian Canadian born in the Punjab with whom the writer collaborated in a book] met many feminists, and at first she enjoyed taking part in their animated discussions. But then, when she told her new friends the particulars of her life and they refused to pass judgment on the honour/shame dynamic her experiences reflected, slowly a certain truth dawned on her. As we wrote:
It seemed to me that the two most actively promoted orthodoxies at York University were instructing me to think in two opposed ways.
Feminism made me question my whole upbringing, encouraged me to be judgmental about the patriarchy, and challenged my loyalty to the men in my life. Feminism told me I had to be strong and forthright and autonomous.
But at the same time multiculturalism, an equally prominent philosophy that Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau had decreed would be Canada’s guiding principle for a just society seemed to be telling me that judging the behaviour of people from other cultures other than western Christian ones was patronizing and elitist. Multiculturalism seemed to be telling me I should continue to live exactly as I always had, because inequality of value between men and women was part of my culture, and all cultures were deemed to be of equal value.
What a paradox it all was. My recently-acquired education had given me the critical tools to compare my life with the lives of women from other cultures, evaluate the differences and pass judgment on my past experiences. So it seemed to me quite ironic that those [women] more educated than I were telling me on the one hand to throw off the shackles of my past, and on the other to accept them with serenity and even pride.
I would have more respect for the feminist position of nonjudgmentalism regarding other cultures if they applied the same principle to alternate life choices by women within their own culture. But here we find a double standard that demonstrates the soft bigotry of low expectations at the core of multiculturalism. The feminists did not judge brown South Asian Aruna and attempt to convert her to their program, but they did judge and try to convert white western me.
As Terry Corcoran, editor of the Financial Post, noted in a recent column about feminists like writer Margaret Atwood and former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, who defend the niqab as a form of sexual liberation, “How odd. How totally contradictory for a movement that has been largely intolerant of any suggestion that women who bore children and stayed home during the 1960s were doing so freely as a matter of personal choice.”
He is spot on. We homemakers were told we only thought we were choosing home over careers freely. In fact, we were allegedly experiencing what is known in Marxist circles as “false consciousness,” i.e. we had been brainwashed, and it was the duty of our feminist sisters to awaken us from our political slumber. The founder of modern feminism, Betty Friedan, told us we were living in social “concentration camps.” I can assure you, as a “survivor” of the homemaker track, such an invidious comparison is beyond contempt. If my home was a concentration camp, what, pray, are the homes of women living under the regimes of the Taliban or the Saudis?
The philosopher Hegel famously wrote, “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” At the end of the day, we will all be wise enough to understand that the ideologies of feminism and multiculturalism cannot co-exist in harmony. But will such wisdom come too late? Gang rapes have happened in our own culture. But when reported, they were prosecuted, the perpetrators punished, the victims comforted and the crimes deplored by society. Gang rapes followed by honour killings of the victim were never part of our culture, but while we report them, and ordinary Canadians have no difficulty in seeing them for what they are, feminists and feminism-inspired liberal elites have difficulty calling them out as cultural anomalies.
Will we one day, as is apparently happening in Europe, see gang rapes followed by honour killings that go literally unreported, let alone unjudged for what they are, so that they do not, in the words of the Shafia murderers, “culturally stereotype” the rapists and the killers? What does the fact that I can plausibly speculate on such a possibility say about our own culture? Nothing good.
Feminists must choose between, on the one hand, an inflexible ideology and service to the ever-narrowing interests of their western peers, and on the other fidelity to reality and the expanding plight of women from misogynistic cultures. Tolerance of misogyny in the name of multiculturalism will inevitably lead to intolerance of tolerance in the name of a single culture. And it won’t be ours, or what’s left of it.
Barbara Kay is a columnist for the National Post and the Governor of the Prince Arthur Herald, where her speech was first published. Read the entire speech.