Until lately, if someone had mentioned patriarchy in the developed world, I would’ve thought we were about to embark on a somewhat archaic conversation. But recent events, crystallized by Target’s decision to open its sex-differentiated bathrooms and fitting rooms to the personal narrative of its customers, have me thinking that patriarchy is alive and well.
Hear me out.
Throughout history, women have been denigrated and oppressed by men. While I don’t always agree with some feminist activists, I certainly acknowledge that I would not have had the opportunities that I have without feminist efforts to right so many wrongs.
Despite these advances, today’s “trans movement” (particularly the transwoman sector) inadvertently takes us back to a time when women were valued based on their appearance, and whether they fit someone else’s preconceived notion of femininity. In essence, all it takes to be a woman today are [fake] breasts and good hair.
As a culture, we are telling women that the feelings and sentiments of a particular group of men – in this case, men who regard themselves as women – matter more than they do. That’s patriarchy by definition, even if women happen to agree to it.
Yes, some individuals suffer from gender dysphoria, but I am very hesitant to say that their struggle gives them the right to identify with the sex of their choice. As a woman, I cannot concede that being female simply means that one wears makeup, sexy lingerie, and a hair-do.
In fact, I was raised in a post-feminist environment where my femininity was not measured by my bra size and whether I could arouse a man. Rather, my female identity was confirmed by science, which demonstrates that every cell of my being is female no matter how I look or what I do.
My being a woman literally has to do with my being, not my doing. Hence, I can live out my life without fitting some ideal of a woman, whether it’s Mad Men’s or anybody else’s.
Let’s be clear here: No one cares about a woman using the men’s restroom. The Target debate has focused on men using women’s restrooms, because most people understand that women and girls are physically vulnerable in a way that men are not.
Whether we’re talking about Target, or states that have passed legislation along the same lines, the practical result now is that any man, whether he’s identifying as a woman or looking for his next victim, may use the women’s restroom because he feels like it.
So much for women’s rights.
Nevertheless, the bathroom discussion is couched in the language of civil rights and discrimination. Talk about a culture-war trap. In fact, on Monday the Justice Department filed a civil-rights suit against the state of North Carolina because it refuses to rescind a bill that requires individuals to use the bathroom correlating with their biological sex.
Some forms of patriarchy include attempts to protect women from other males, but that’s really more of an excuse to protect women for a particular man or group of men. Worse types of patriarchy utterly disregard the dignity and significance of a woman.
Rather than a civil rights issue, I would argue that the bathroom wars indicate that we’re entering an entirely new phase of patriarchy which declares victory every time it destroys a safe space for women, including bathrooms, fitting rooms, locker rooms, and so on.
This new patriarchy scored a breakthrough when Bruce Jenner, in his April 2015 interview with Diane Sawyer, casually commented that he looked forward to becoming a woman so that he could paint his nails and drink wine with his girlfriends. Jenner equated being a woman with the most trivial accidentals, while mainstream media outlets, including awards from Glamour and ESPN, celebrated his courage.
Never mind that he couldn’t even stand for his Vanity Fair debut, lest we see that his male anatomy remained.
Another defeat for women came after Jenner’s transition to a new identity as Caitlyn, when he (perhaps channeling his inner Dionne Warwick) famously stated that the hardest part about being a woman was deciding what to wear each day. Patriarchy triumphed again.
Time after time, the new patriarchy reinforces that being a woman is simply about the externals, what you look like. Cue Hugh Hefner.
Again, some individuals suffer greatly from gender dysphoria, and they should be treated with respect and dignity. But their struggles cannot justify yet another era in which women are reduced to nothing more than body parts and their ability to satisfy a man, even if it’s one and the same person.
Pia de Solenni is a moral theologian and cultural analyst. She serves as the Associate Dean of the Augustine Institute – Orange County.