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Back when second-wave feminism was a new and exciting movement, we used the word “patriarchy” unabashedly, not at all self-conscious about naming the structures that were deliberately designed and kept in place always to the advantage of one segment of society. “It’s a man’s world” was no joke and it was the premise we had all grown up with.

It came with another word: entitlement. Entitlement was so deeply embedded that to even suggest — never mind demand — changes that would bring those outside the advantaged group some measure of equality was met with fearful hostility.

It was as if some people gaining a few rights meant that others had to lose some — as if there were only so many rights to go around.

There has been a backlash against some of the strong language we used as feminists in the ’70s. Nowadays, patriarchy is mostly used — condescendingly — in speaking of Afghanistan or other cultures that we need to demonise and look down on.

But in our own society, patriarchy hasn’t gone anywhere. Physical and sexual violence against women and children — up to and including murder — continues unabated. Popular culture is rife with images and stories that exploit the sexuality of young people. Planeloads of North American and European men still fly off to Southeast Asia where they have made specific arrangments to have sex with children — children as young as six.

Catholic priests live in the heart of the patriarchy. Why would it be shocking to anyone that they too are swept along in the privileged belief that adult males are entitled to act out their sexual urges no matter the hurt and broken lives they leave in their wake?

Of course it is a horrible betrayal of trust to be raped by your priest — as it is to be raped by your father, your stepfather, uncle, brother, Boy Scout leader, hockey coach. Yes, some are worse than others although comparing betrayals doesn’t seem wise to me. But this rampant abuse is all rooted in the same place and it has shaped the society we live in.

Men no longer “own” women and children but in large swaths of the world — and in too many religions — men still seek to control the minds and bodies of women and children, both those they know and those they don’t know.

During my reading on this subject, I came across a website called Male Survivor. It’s the kind of website I usually avoid because I expect it to be heavy on men’s rights and feminist bashing. But this website has neither. Instead, it pays tribute to the feminist movement and urges those who are working on child abuse issues to take a lesson from rape crisis centres and other feminist organizations.

For years, professionals grappled unsuccessfully with how to understand and prevent the physical battering of a woman by her husband or partner. The standard question asked by the professional focused on the (female) victim: “Why doesn’t she leave?” That question was based on numerous theoretical models and treatment interventions designed to resolve the problems of battering by treating the “victim’s pathology.” However, advocates of battered women, many of whom had been physically assaulted themselves, eventually confronted the professional establishment and posed an important re-framing of the question. Quite simply, by shifting the focus from the victim to the (male) perpetrator, the primary question then became: “Why does he hit?”

It goes on to say, ” the abuse of children cannot be adequately addressed without acknowledging the fundamental political and social dimensions that govern our society. Existing social norms create a climate that fosters physical and sexual abuse of children.”

To suggest that priestly celibacy is the problem implies that child sexual abuse doesn’t exist in all other segments of society — most notably in families.

The problem is patriarchy and its upholding of the social norms of adult male entitlement and the often not-very-subtle subjugation of women and children.

I recommend much of the material in Male Survivor. I also recommend this column, written by my friend, Ralph Surette.

2 Responses

  1. #1
    Susan MacPhee 

    Hey Sharon,

    Good thoughtful writing as usual. I assume you know about the horrid, horrid murder trial going on in Kamloops…the guy accused of murdering his three children to “get back at his common-law wife.” Makes one weep.

    Your website is beautiful…Suds and I love the colours, flowers and over-all design.

  2. #2

    why is ur website so bland? why are there no games? wheres the violence? this is no fun … im hungry. can i have dinner soon … ?

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