Ending Patriarchy As We Know It
The socialization of women is so complete in patriarchal societies like our own that most women are not apt to abandon it except in highly unusual circumstances. It is interesting that such rare events are now unfolding and the results may be quite unexpected. When you have been told from birth who you are and how you are expected to act, and when your ability to survive in society depends upon your believing that you are the type of person you've been taught to be, and acting accordingly, it is only when society changes in such a way that survival can no longer be achieved by traditional means, that you are forced to change. Survival itself is a matter of adaptation and we are an extremely adaptable species. It is very likely that we may continue to adapt and survive, even if this means the end of patriarchy as we know it. The strange thing is that the liberation of women is apt to be accomplished through the efforts of males to ensure our continued subjugation.
We already know that biological sex and social gender roles are not naturally or inextricably linked. We are female or male because our bodies produce either eggs or sperm, and this has nothing to do with anything other than reproduction. But patriarchy has used violence to subjugate females on the basis of sex for so long that our subjugation has become part of our identity. The role we are socialized into from birth is called a gender role, and like any role it is based on our value to society. In a patriarchy, of course, the value of females is lower than that of males, so we are socialized into a subordinate role. All roles are enacted with the use of character names, costumes, and appropriate mannerisms, and gender roles are no different from theatrical roles. But even though we know that in the absence of females, some males will subjugate other males by forcing them to wear sexually attractive clothing, to submit to being referred to with socially subordinate names and pronouns, and to become sex slaves and perform whatever work their oppressors find demeaning, most women today still think that the names, pronouns, costumes and mannerisms of our subjugation are a part of our identity and heritage, and therefore something that we should take pride in and defend. Yet throughout patriarchal history there have been women who found themselves in positions where they could not survive in the traditional way, and therefore had to renounce their socialization and take their place in the world of men as equals to men, with equal names, pronouns, costumes, and, of course, equal pay and respect.
Today, as the job market shrinks, pay rates get lower, competition gets fiercer and women find it more and more difficult to find a supportive husband, a job that pays a living wage, or a way to survive by means of social programs, more and more women are finding that they have only three viable choices: to become homeless and risk death through violence, disease, starvation or exposure to the elements, to commit suicide, or to conceal their sex. As one of those who chose the latter option, having already experienced homelessness for many years, and knowing that no matter what happened, the option of suicide would still remain, I can recall the initial terror I felt in usurping the sort of name, pronouns, costume and demeanor that patriarchy reserves for males. And I recall my subsequent astonishment in finding that when nobody knows you are female, you are treated with such respect that you suddenly realize you have never really been treated with respect before. We have become so inured to belittlement and trivialization, that until it disappears totally, we cannot realize how unequal we are.
As more and more women find that they cannot get good jobs, find husbands to support them, or subsist on welfare, some of them will find that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain in overcoming their improper socialization into a subordinate role. It is important to remember that the gender role change is not a sex change or a change in sexual orientation. The woman whose sex is concealed for survival purposes needs no medication or surgery and still has the option, should an appropriate male present himself, of forming a heterosexual relationship. The male who fetishizes women and is attracted to the gender role rather than to the character of the individual woman, is obviously not an appropriate partner anyway.
It is interesting that there is a woman running workshops where women dress up as men to experience the difference. The problem is that they do this in a way that confuses sex, orientation, and gender roles, without making the necessary distinctions for true equality. I was quite amused to learn that women in these workshops make stuffed cloth penises to pin inside their pants, when I have been concealing my sex for many years and have no need for a penis of any sort. The male penis is usually invisible when a man is clothed and it is rude for people to stare at a man's crotch.
The male gender role does not depend on having a penis or any other physical attribute. People decide whether to treat you as a social superior, equal, or inferior, by sizing you up at a glance, and the decision is usually based on whether or not you are wearing anything that could be construed as having no other purpose than sexually attracting men. When you are not costumed so as to appear sexually attractive to rapists, sexual harassers or any violent males who might be looking for a female victim, you are less self-conscious, less defensive, and more comfortable so people assume you are male. Because males have higher social status in a patriarchy, it is unusual for people to scrutinize males closely or challenge them. Experiencing equality is like having a ton of oppression lifted from your shoulders, and most women who have been there absolutely refuse to return to their previous socially subjugated role.
By cutting welfare, making it extremely difficult to enforce sexual harassment laws, and denying women sufficient alimony and child support to enable them to survive after most divorces, men are taking away every single bit of value that the female gender role had in the past. As more and more women are forced into equality, they are likely to find, exactly as I did, that it is enjoyable, preferable, and something that all women should have. The irony is that it is conservative traditionalists who are bringing about social changes more radical than any feminist could have imagined. They may be very startled when they begin to reap what they've sown.
Suzanne J. Stark, U.S. Naval Institute, 1996
The story of women who concealed their sex to go to sea in ships. While we will never know the story of those women whose sex was not discovered, we do know about those, some lesbian, some not, who were exposed only after they had successfully managed to become part of the world of sailing men in the days when the only other women aboard ships were wives and prostitutes. The life of a sailor was hard and dangerous, but often it was easier than a life of homelessness, prostitution, or being a battered wife. How could a woman live in crowded quarters with an all male crew without being discovered? These women did, and their stories stand in fascinating contrast to the lot of females today who go aboard ships overtly only to face harassment, persecution and the danger of being labeled lesbians for refusing to submit sexually to males.