Fuck the Patriarchy

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and GirlsMona Eltahawy starts every talk she gives with “fuck the patriarchy.” The words are powerful, and made more so when spoken by a woman, particularly a woman of color and a Muslim.

Her approach is the same when she’s writing. Her excellent new book, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, is not nice or polite. It minces no words.

She doesn’t change her words based on where she’s speaking or who her audience is. And she responds to arguments that women and others resisting patriarchy, white supremacy, and autocracy should respond politely by asking, “Who does civility serve?”

It sure as hell doesn’t serve me, or other women, or poor people, or people of color, or all the others who keep being told to be nice. I read those words and I recognize just how tired I am of being nice.

In Chapter 3, Eltahawy makes a strong case for using profanity, calling it “the verbal equivalent of civil disobedience.” But her defense of fuck is not the only powerful (and perhaps controversial for some) statement in this book.

The Seven Necessary Sins is a powerful manifesto that makes it clear that women, together with others ill-treated by a patriarchal structure that rewards a few powerful rich men and, to a lesser degree, their hangers on, must claim their power to end the misogyny that cripples our lives and keeps us in check.

I found myself ready to cheer at every page.

The “sins” are anger, attention, profanity, ambition, power, violence, and lust. Many of these subjects have been covered in works by others. Anger in particular has been the subject of a number of feminist books in the last couple of years, and attention, ambition, and power are key elements in such excellent books as Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny and Ana Fels’s Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives.

But this is a book powered by Eltahawy’s anger, making it more uncompromising, more “uncivil” than all the others.

Arguing for stoking anger, she writes:

We will never upend the norms that we force onto girls that teach them constraint and fear, and which extinguish their pilot light of anger, if we continue to advocate a slowly-slowly feminism that does not scare men or that respects ‘culture’ and ‘tradition.’ A feminism that doesn’t want to scare men is a feminism that will never challenge patriarchy.

She makes a strong case for violence.

Not only are women socialized into submission, but we are told, essentially, not to be violent even as a form of self-defense but to wait until men can stop being violent toward us.

And, making us — even herself — uncomfortable, she takes the argument for violence farther: “If violence is the language that patriarchy understands, isn’t it time more women speak it, if only for their own safety?”

As someone whose life was changed by martial arts training and who teaches self defense with a feminist emphasis, I consider it very important for all women to discover their own physical power and know that they can fight should they need to.

Eltahawy quotes from a law review article by Professor Mary Anne Franks entitled “Men, Women, and Optimal Violence”:

The more realistic and salient the possibility of women’s violent retaliation or preemption of male violence becomes, the less male violence there will be.

Yes. Right now far too many women and men believe that women can’t fight men. Dispel that myth and things will change.

Or, in Eltahawy’s words: “We must make the patriarchy fear us.”

We’re not going to get the changes we want in the world by being nice or by pleading with others to be nice to us. We get them by claiming our power and demanding our rights.

This book will inspire you to do just that.



Fuck the Patriarchy — 9 Comments

  1. No. Just no. Increasing violence is not a solution, and not in general a good path to a solution.
    Aggression tends to call forth more aggression, escalating problems into near-irresolvable situations full of tit-for-tat violence or violent repression of the weaker party.

    I can see that in some circumstances (both small and large) violence can be necessary, like for the people who attacked and stopped the recent attacker in London, and for the Allies attacking Hitler’s Germany.

    I do not see that calling for an increase in violence by women will increase the equality of women in society.
    Persistence is needed, and sometimes self-defence or the rallying of protection; more violence distracts from the goal.

    And at the smaller personal scale, I’ve not read anything that claims that getting a battered wife to fight back will lessen the battering – from what I’ve read it increases her danger; helping her get out of that situation is a much better way to stop it. Teaching the abuser to deal with his anger and frustrations without violence is generally more effective than threatening him with (police) violence in return. If he isn’t willing to do so, getting out is generally better than escalating the violence.
    If you have different information, I’d like to read that.

    • Learning how to fight gives women options. First of all, it teaches them, and their bodies, that they can, in fact, fight and succeed, which changes both attitudes and bodily language. And, paradoxically, people who know how to fight rarely have to.

      I generally don’t call this violence; I call it defense against violence. But Eltahawy is being provocative on purpose, because she wants women to recognize that we need to take strong stands and be prepared to defend ourselves if we want rights and power. Pleading for men to change without having the power to back it up doesn’t work, in both her opinion and mine. The men who understand the need to change patriarchal systems already get it and the ones who don’t will not respond to civil calls for change.

      The domestic violence situation is very complex. Getting a woman out of that safely is often very difficult, even if she has support, and there is rarely enough support. I would not tell a woman in that situation just to “fight back,” though there is strong evidence that later training in self defense helps those who have been through these situations recover from trauma. That is, encouraging people to learn fighting skills taught in context of violence against women not only protects them from any future situations, but it helps with healing.

      I’ve spent many years in Aikido, and my approach to most situations is to look for ways to resolve a conflict rather than to escalate one. That generally means that even in a situation in which physical defense is necessary, you do the minimum to make yourself safe. But understanding what your body can do and what you’re capable of is essential to all that.

      I strongly recommend this book, even if the section on violence makes you uncomfortable and makes you want to argue with it. There have been several books out on women and anger this year, but I think this one, by incorporating discussions of fighting and power, gets at the heart of the subject. BTW, my partner, who is pacifist by nature, read it and found it powerful as well, even with the language about violence. He finished it before I did, because I was reading it slowly at first.

    • A woman who feels strong and able to protect herself in some situations may be better able to handle others when physical defense isn’t the smart thing to do. Confidence is vital for all people.

      The best advice I ever heard is what my husband taught my sons about fighting, and I have taken it to my own heart as words to live by. Don’t start a fight. But if you’re in a fight, fight back. It doesn’t matter whether you win or not, as long as you make the other guy walk away knowing he doesn’t ever want to take you on again.

      To put it in my own, feminine terms, being attached by a mugger who is twice my size might make me crumple into a protective ball and hope he stopped before he killed me, because I know I can’t overpower or beat him. But inspired by my husband’s advice and going by the advice given to wome in self defense classes to fight back [and use your fingernails and try and get DNA evidence under them while you’re at it] — I don’t have to beat the guy. If that was the goal I’d be defeated before I began and there I am in that fetal position again. LOL

      But knowing that I just need to make it as hard on him as I possibly can, that I must look for ways to hurt him in the usual spots of his anatomy, and bite, scratch, kick, and scream–that I can do.

      I’m not talking about domestic abuse here. And yet, a woman who is enabled and if possible trained to protect herself from muggers is possibly more empowered to leave a situation she felt frozen in before.

      • That is very true. Knowing you can fight if you have to makes it much easier to handle a confrontation.

        And to add to the advice: do what it takes to get away and then run like hell. Also, get some training. You don’t need a lot.

  2. Thanks, Nancy Jane and others for more important food for thought and action! As soon as my injuries heal, I really want to take one of your self-defense courses!