The patriarchy is always other people

Graham Linehan hosts a scorching retort by Victoria Smith to Rebecca Solnit’s smug glib mess of a Guardian open letter, starting from an essay of Solnit’s about male violence.

On this, you are totally right. Male violence is a global outrage. Why, then, have you written a piece which dismisses women’s fears as “really weird”, writes off actual occurrences of male violence as “lurid what-ifs”, euphemistically characterises sexual assault as “unpleasantness”, tells women which male people they’re allowed to be wary of (the ones who aren’t your mates) and accuses women of “posing a threat” if they are insufficiently accommodating? Do you have any idea what you sound like?

But of course, Victoria goes on, Solnit would say she’s not talking about people who are male, she’s talking about this much more sophisticated thing “because “science has gotten smarter in the decades since [the 1970s] and we now know it’s a complex interplay of chromosomes, hormones, primary and secondary sexual characteristics and other stuff”” blah blah blah.

Let me be clear: even if you can bodge together a sort-of argument to defend it, it’s disgraceful to tell a subset of female rape victims that their experiences don’t constitute male violence, that, on the contrary, they don’t constitute experiences at all, just “lurid what-ifs”. Disgraceful, too, to suggest that domestic abuse victims who require female-only shelters just haven’t understood that “complexity and fluidity can be a blessing”. Truly, what was your thinking here? That if these women hadn’t spent drab childhoods in Nowheresville but had spent more time in “the loudest, proudest queer town around”, they wouldn’t have become such bigots? Are you sure it’s your superior open-mindedness, and not your privilege, that’s talking here? 

What I’m seeing here is not a challenge to patriarchal thought. On the contrary, you’re supporting its endless repackaging. Don’t you realise that those of us who grew up beneath the shadow of domestic abuse, however “traditional” its presentation, rarely thought this was what was happening to us? The patriarchy is always other people, hence the ease with which you tell other women which male people they’re permitted to fear (not your friends, just everyone else’s).

We always want to make exceptions for our friends, Victoria goes on, which is why Harvey Weinstein got away with it for so long.

You know perfectly well, as The Longest War shows, that in condemning male violence we do not condemn all male people. This does not mean that we should pick out subsets of the male sex class – priests, respectable family men, friends of Rebecca Solnit — and grant them a free pass.

Another such subset: men who say they are women, men who say they identify as women, men who say they have a woman’s brain in a man’s body, men who say they have the soul of a woman.

You do know better than this. You just don’t want to because it would cost you too much in terms of social standing amongst your peers, who’ll cheer as you point the finger at the easy targets – the far-right politicians, the Christian fundamentalists, the incels – but start screaming bigot the moment you question whether male socialisation and entitlement lurks amongst them, too. Honestly, you, me and every feminist on Earth could have a lovely communal rant about what an evil patriarch Trump is, but some of us will still have to go home to allies who beat the crap out of us, and to violence which you insist requires no definition, no political context, no words at all. This thinking – this strategic ignorance – is what patriarchy depends upon. Without it the whole thing would fall apart. 

A scorcher. Read the whole thing.

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