Patriarchy: A State of War

The Class of Nonviolence
Lesson 5, Reading 5

By Barbara Hope

Why weren’t we prepared for this – the imminence of nuclear holocaust. The final silencing of life. The brutal extinction of the planet. Surely there have been substantial clues throughout history. Male supremacy. Wars. Witch-burning. Male religious myths. Institutionalized greed. The enslavement of half the human race. Centuries of violence.

Why weren’t we prepared for this? We have lived with violence for so long. We have lived under the rule of the fathers so long. Violence and patriarchy: mirror images. An ethic of destruction as normative. Diminished love for life, a numbing to real events as the final consequence. We are not even prepared.

Mary Daly, in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, writes, “The rulers of the patriarchy – males with power – wage an unceasing war against life itself. Since female energy is essentially biophilic, the female spirit/body is the primary target in the perpetual war of aggression against life. Women must understand that the female self is the enemy under fire from the patriarchy.” She further writes that “clearly the primary and essential object of aggression is not the opposing military force. The members of the opposing team play the same war games and share the same values. The secret bond that binds the warriors together is the violation of women, acted out physically and constantly replayed on the level of language and shared fantasies.”

We needn’t look far for evidence to support her theory. Recall the U.S. Army basic training jingle: “This is my rifle (slaps rifle). This is my gun (slaps crotch). One is for killing, the other for fun.” The language of war is the language of genocide. Misogynist obscenities are used to train fighters and intensify feelings of violence. War provides men with a context to act their hatred of women without the veneer of chivalry or civilization. War is rape.

In the male world of war, toughness is the most highly-prized virtue. Some even speak of the “hairy chest syndrome.” The man who recommends violence does not endanger his reputation for wisdom, but a man who suggests negotiation becomes known as soft, as willing to settle for less. To be repelled by mass murder is to be irresponsible. It is to refuse the phallic celebration. It is to be feminine, to be a dove. It means walking out of the club of bureaucratic machismo. To be a specialist in the new violence is to be on the frontier. It is no accident that patriarchy related history as the history of war; that is precisely their history. In remembering their battles, the fathers recall the deep experience of their own violent proclivities and relive the ecstatic euphoria of those ultimate moments of male bonding.

The history of war speaks volumes about national will in a patriarchal culture. Wars are nothing short of organized killing presided over by men deemed as the best. The fact is – they are. They have absorbed, in the most complete way, the violent character of their own ethos. These are the men who design missiles and technologies as extensions of themselves. These men are ready to annihilate whole societies. These are the men honored as heroes with steel minds, resolute wills, insatiable drives for excellence, capable of planning demonic acts in a detached non-emotional way. These are the dead men, the hollow men, capable of nothing but violence.

It is significant that, after the accident at Three Mile Island, women were more concerned about the danger than men; women felt they were being lied to about the real-life effects of nuclear technology. Women were resistant to the repeated declaration of the makle decision makers that everything was under control, that there was nothing to be alarmed about, that nuclear engineers could solve any difficulties. Women felt the lies. Women know and feel the lies that maintain nuclear technology because we have been lied to. We are the victims of patriarchal lies. We know the deceit that grounds patriarchal colonization of women. We know, feel and intuit the deep truth that falsehoods, deceptions and lies form the very character of male rule. Women are the first victims of the patriarchal state of war.

Violence to our bodies: A women is raped every three minutes. A woman is battered every eighteen seconds. Women are physically threatened by a frightening social climate structured in male might. Women are depicted in pornography as objects to be beaten, whipped, chained and conquered. The myth prevails that women like it.

Violence to our hearts: The positing of male comradeship as the model of human relationships. The systematic separation of women from one another. The degradation of women’s culture. The erasure of women’s history. The sanctifying of the heterosexual norm with its rigid understanding of the giving and receiving of affection.

Violence to our spirit: The dismemberment of the goddess and the enthronement of the male god. The ripping of women away from a life in tune with natural patterns of rhythm and flow in the universe. The ongoing patriarchal work of rendering women unconscious to ourselves.

Violence to our work: The exploitation and devaluation of women’s labor. The regulation of women to supportive, maintenance roles. The deliberate structure of women’s economic dependence. Violence to women. Under the patriarchy, women are the enemy. This is a war across time and space, the real history of the ages.

In this extreme situation, confronted by the patriarchy in its multiple institutional forms, what can women do? We can name the enemy: patriarchy. We can break from deadly possession by the fathers. We can move from docility, passivity and silence to liberation, courage and speech. We can name ourselves, cherish ourselves, courageously take up our lives. We can refuse to sell our bodies and we can refuse to sell our minds. We can claim freedom from false loyalties. We can band with other women and ignite the roaring fire of female friendship.

This much we have learned from our living: life begets life. Life for women, life for the earth, the very survival of the planet is found only outside the patriarchy. Beyond their sad and shallow definitions. Beyond their dead and static knowledge. Beyond their amnesia. Beyond their impotence. Beyond their wars. Wars which unmask the fear, insecurity and powerlessness that form the very base of patriarchal rule.

To end the state of war, to halt the momentum toward death, passion for life must flourish. Women are the bearers of life-loving energy. Ours is the task of deepening that passion for life and separating from all that threatens life, all that diminishes life. Becoming who we are as women. Telling/living the truth of our lives. Shifting the weight of the world.

Will such measures put an end to war? What we already know is that centuries of other means have failed. In the name of peace, war is raged, weapons developed, lives lost. Testimonies are announced. Treaties signed. Declarations stated. Pronouncements issued. And the battle still goes on. The patriarchy remains intact. Women are not free. Nothing changes. This time the revolution must go all the way. In the words of the poet:

This is what we are watching: watching the
Spider rebuild – patiently, they say,

But we recognize in her
Impatience — our own —

The passion to make and make again
Where such unmakings reigns

The refusal to be a victim
We have lived with violence so long.

 Adrienne Rich, Natural Resources

Peacework: Twenty years of Nonviolent Social Change, edited by Pat Farren, American Friends Service Committee, 1991


This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202.537.1372

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