Is the patriarchy on the way out

Antje Schrupp online

Why the patriarchy has ended

I would like to tell you two stories that I recently came across while researching the American feminist Victoria Woodhull and that impressed me. They are stories from the patriarchy. Story number 1:

In 1868, 22-year-old Hester Vaughn emigrated to America from England. She wants to marry her fiancé there, but it turns out that he has already married someone else. Hester manages to get by as a scrubbing market and finally finds a job as a milkmaid on a farm. One night she is raped by the farmer. When her pregnancy becomes apparent, the man gives her $ 40 and sends her away. She goes to Philadelphia, where she works as a seamstress and sleeps in doorways. Only shortly before giving birth does she rent an unheated attic room with her last money. She hasn't eaten in three days. During the night, Hester goes into heavy labor. She calls for help, but a snow storm is raging outside, nobody hears her. Only the next day does the landlady hear the faint calling. When she opens the door, Hester is lying on the floor in a pool of blood, her dead baby next to her. The police arrive an hour later. Hester Vaughn is sent to prison and sentenced to death for child murder.

Story number 2: In the spring of 1870, the two sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin want to have dinner at Delmonico’s, a posh New York restaurant. They ordered tomato soup for two. At that time, however, there was an unwritten law according to which women were not allowed to go to restaurants in the evening without a male companion. The waiter, unsure what to do, calls the owner. Lorenzo Delmonico goes to the two women’s table and whispers to them: “There must have been a mistake when you were given a table. We assumed that another gentleman would join them. Please pretend you're talking to me and I'll take you to the door. Then it looks like you just wanted to talk to me, and we're not causing a stir ”.

For some time women have been speaking of the end of patriarchy. Italian feminists from Milan and Verona started with it in 1996, but in the meantime this expression has spread more and more in Germany. However, when they first hear this phrase, many women are skeptical. What do you mean with that? Isn't there still disadvantage, discrimination, injustice towards women?

Luisa Muraro, an Italian philosopher, wrote that it is not about "discussing or proving the end of patriarchy, but simply giving this thought a place." What do I think of when we hear stories like that of Hester Vaugh or Victoria Woodhull and at the same time try to give space to the thought of the end of patriarchy?

The first thing that occurs to me is that times have changed. Today, with us or in the USA, Hester Vaughn would no longer be sentenced to death and it has long been a matter of course that women are served in restaurants without a male accompaniment. Luisa Muraro chose the phrase: "to pay attention to the suffering saved". I find that very important - to be aware of how much suffering we and other women are spared compared to other women - who lived in the past or who now live elsewhere, in different circumstances.

Of course, even today there are stories that are cruel or discriminatory. The times are still bad. Why do I still say that patriarchy is over? Isn't it just that, although there is less discrimination against women in some countries, the problem remains fundamentally? I mean no. To explain why, let me tell you how these two stories went on:

Story number 1: In prison, Hester Vaughn is examined by a doctor, Susan A. Smith. She tells her her story: Susan Smith takes it to Anna Dickinson, a famous speaker for women's rights who lives in Philadelphia. Anna Dickinson travels to New York, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony publish the women's newspaper "The Revolution". They organize a protest event at which Anna Dickinson moves even male reporters to tears with her well-known speaking talent, and critical reports about the death sentence appear in various newspapers. Elizabeth Cady Stanton files a pardon to the governor of Philadelphia. For a year "The Revolution" wrote regularly about the case, women all over the country lobbying, using personal and family influence to make it clear to influential politicians and journalists that this judgment is wrong. A year later, Hester Vaughn is released.

Story number two goes like this: Victoria Woodhull says to the restaurant owner Delmonico, “Don't cause a stir? What does this mean". “I can't let you eat here without a man. That would set a bad precedent, ”Delmonico replies nervously. "We don't want to embarrass you," says Tennessee, gets up, leaves the restaurant, and the next moment comes back with her livery driver, who has to sit down at the table with obvious discomfort. "And now, waiter," says Victoria, "bring us tomato soup for three."

»Women's love for freedom has changed the world« - with this sentence begins our pamphlet »Love for freedom, hunger for meaning. A leaflet on women’s economy and the beginning of politics ”, which I published almost two years ago together with Ulrike Wagener, Dorothee Markert and Andrea Günter.

Women's love for freedom has changed the world. It was not the understanding of men, it was not the requirements of capitalism or the progress of democracy that brought about the end of patriarchy, but the love of women for freedom. The Italian women write in one of their pamphlets, the red Sottosopra, that the patriarchy is over because the women have withdrawn its credit, its credibility.

That is, the end of patriarchy has a historical dimension - a lot has changed over the last hundred, the last thirty years - but that is not all. There is no fixed date, no specific time. Because when patriarchy is over because women deny it credibility, then it is always over: It was over when Tennessee Claflin and Victoria Woodhull simply called the coachman and thus ridiculed patriarchy. It all ended when women campaigned for Hester Vaughn's release. It ended when Jane Austen wrote books on female authority when Teresa of Avila invented new rules for women's convents. Patriarchy ends when women no longer believe in it. It doesn't depend on the men, the circumstances, the laws. It is about the fact that women do not orient themselves to the standard of patriarchy, that they oppose it with other standards. Women who orientated themselves to their own desires and who brought it into exchange with other women and with the world. That's why it's nice and fitting that we have an exhibition here - women create female figures. The memory of women before us, the knowledge that there is female authority, a female story of ideas, is one of the most important reasons for the end of patriarchy.

Andrea Günter expressed this in her new book "The Feminine Side of Politics" in such a way that the thought of the end of patriarchy must be accompanied by a second, equally important thought, namely the beginning of something new. The women's movement has brought something new into the world, namely the recognition that it is relationships among women that create female freedom. When something new arises, the old can be over without there having to be a fight and destruction. Or, as Victoria Woodhull, the American feminist I spoke of earlier, said: It's like inventing a new pulling technique. For a while, both trains, the old and the new, run at the same time, side by side, on two tracks. At some point, however, the old tracks will be superfluous and will disappear. The end of patriarchy is not primarily the destruction of something old, but above all the beginning of something new.

What is this new? It is the practice of relationships between women, an invention of the women's movement in the 1970s, but which can also be found earlier in history. How can women learn from each other? How do you deal with inequality among women, with the fact that some women have a "more"? There has been a development here. Initially, many women adopted the image of male social movements, that of solidarity. For a while you could have the impression that all women had the same interests and desires. It was thought that feminism means to find a common "we" of all women, and then, according to the motto "women are strong together", give influence to this women-we with demands on society and men. This then resulted in all the equality laws, quota regulations and plans to promote women. But for many women this wasn't enough, or it wasn't what they wanted. In the meantime it has turned out that this "policy of demands" is boring more and more women, that we run the risk of entering a new symbolic dependency - namely that of "Father State", who first patronized us for some women's projects. but the money cuts back very quickly when he is short of cash himself.

For a while it therefore seemed as if the women's movement was at an end - on the one hand there were those who were now, so to speak, professional feminists and were supposed to promote women and equality in authorities or other institutions. They found their work increasingly exhausting, boring, depressing. In addition, it was not clear who they work for: for the women or for the institutions - I think we should realize that of course they work for the institution that pays them, which doesn't have to be bad, it shows that the institutions can also learn. That's nice, but not a reason, not a requirement for female freedom. Another reason that people often talk about the end of the women's movement is, of course, that many women turned away from feminism for a variety of reasons.

However, that has been changing in the last few years, at least that's my observation. Women are enjoying feminist theory again. And this feminist theory is no longer fought out as ideologically as I remember it from the 1980s, when being a feminist meant taking very specific substantive positions, for example on topics such as abortion, rape, pornography and so on. The argument: "If you disagree with this or that, then you are not a feminist" I have often heard in the past, but not very recently. What I used to find a hollow phrase when it was said that what matters is diversity and that diversity among women is fruitful has now become a practice. Not everywhere, of course. But in more and more places. This, too, is a sign that patriarchy is over. Because only in patriarchy were women all lumped together - and it only plays a subordinate role whether this happens through a biological determination of what is supposedly naturally female, or through the fact that some spokespersons determine what is supposedly that Interest of women is.

Women have no common interests - unless they are viewed through the glasses of patriarchy, as opposed to men. If we leave out this perspective, then women are as different as people are: old, young, rich, poor, sick, healthy, politically right or left. But what is a women's movement, what is a feminist theory, if there is no agreement among women on substantive issues?

The Italians have put forward theoretical considerations that help us to understand this situation. A first important point is: start from yourself. Look closely at what is happening to me, what I want, what I am doing, where I am. And listen to my inner needs, to my desires. To ask myself the question: What do I want? Luisa Muraro recently spoke about the desire to act in the first person and not to have myself represented and not to represent the other women. The differences between women, she says, are so important that I cannot represent another. You could also put it this way: In the patriarchy, women were always talked about - not only by men, but also by many women, including in the women's movement. It ends when we no longer talk about women, but as women. When I speak, I, a woman, and hear what you say, you, a woman.

I look at the women sitting here who have come to us from the past. They don't represent me either. It is not, as many of us who deal with women's history long believed, that it is a matter of finding “pioneers” for our own goals. Just recently I read again in a book that the author chose women she writes about, quote, "whose positions can be described as feminist from today's point of view." But what kind of criterion is that? It's not about recognizing us in the women from history, it's about hearing what they say. If we select them from the point of view of feminist correctness, and only concern ourselves with those who pass this test, then we will ignore and silence a great many women just as patriarchal historiography has done. And those we deal with will not get it wrong. We deprive ourselves of the opportunity to broaden our horizons.

The differences between women, says Luisa Muraro, are so important that I cannot represent anyone else, and she continues: Not even myself. There is also a part of me that I don't know. Perhaps that is the important thing about this path. We cannot necessarily rely on ourselves either. Because it's not that I am not part of the patriarchal culture myself. I went through school and university and absorbed the male cultural values ​​and information there. I oriented myself towards male values, made a career, refused to have children. I rejected the female role assignment - and still do today. I don't know what is feminine. The only thing I know for sure is that I am a woman. But I don't know myself. I need relationships with other women in order to express myself as a woman, namely with women who are different from me. Those who do not represent me, but who open up paths for me, open the doors to the unforeseen, the unexpected, the impossible - not only from the patriarchy, but also from myself! Out of lack of imagination, ignorance, lack of courage, inattention. Something that a part of me, my desire, may strive for, but that my own mind easily and often keeps suppressed and calm.

These women from the past, who are sitting here among us, are important to me, not because I recognize myself in them, but because many of them have done this - opening up paths into the new, the unheard of. If they succeeded in this, it was not because they represented some ominous "women's cause", but because they followed their own desires and did not allow themselves to be restricted by what the customs and laws of their time supposedly claim to be have prescribed only correct and possible ones.

That brings us to another important point: female authority. In trying to understand the difference between women, Italian women discovered the symbolic order of the mother. In a somewhat simplified way, one could say that women are different from men. It would be more correct to say that the theory with which the history of male philosophy has tried to understand and explain the diversity of people is wrong. This theory, invented by men, says that people are autonomous individuals who therefore have very different views and interests. And then they devised a series of mechanisms by which these many independent individuals gather in a society - through treaties, political structures like monarchy or democracy and so on.

But if you take a look at the first and original relationship that a person has in life, namely that with their own mother, then it quickly becomes apparent how nonsensical that actually is. I do not come into the world as a ready-made person with my own interests and views, but I am born by a woman, my mother. That means that I do not face the world autonomously from the beginning, but can only find my way around it because I am in a relationship with someone who conveys the world to me. This means that the decisive factor in this original relationship is not that two equals sign a contract with each other, but that the decisive factor is that these are two different people. It is a relationship of dependency, but one that is not based on power, but on love, on mediation.

The diversity of people is not primarily a problem, but the basic requirement for being able to be in the world. And therefore it is also obvious that we should take this original relationship, the relationship of a daughter to her mother, as a model for what it means that women are different. Then the talk of the abundance that lies in diversity is no longer just an empty phrase. The difference between women becomes fruitful when we turn it into feminine authority.

This is not about a one-sided relationship in which one only gives and the other only takes. Sure, one person has more experience, more knowledge, more expertise, but the other brings along her great desires, her enthusiasm, her desires. Only when both sides come together can something new arise.

The feminine desire that relates to other people and thereby changes the self, the person who desires, the love of freedom that does not wander lost and lonely in the world, but finds guidance in female authority, this everything changes the world. Or better: All of this has already changed the world and is constantly changing it. Something has changed in women's lives. We call this change the end of patriarchy. We understand that this change is because something new has started. This new is a feminine symbolic order that arises from the fact that a woman's desire is no longer isolated from a patriarchal world that considers it crazy, excessive, illusory, but that it finds an answer in female authority. The point is not to provide guidance on how women should act and live, but rather to understand how the world works. Female authority is already there. We just have to perceive it, make it visible, use it, strengthen it.

The end of patriarchy is a mark of time and, at the same time, it is not. There is a before and an after that is definitely temporal: For example, there is a moment in my personal biography when the patriarchy came to an end for me. That's when I realized that my freedom doesn't depend on this or that law being passed or on men changing. And also not from the fact that I go an individual, inner path of self-realization in which I make myself independent of all external influences - these are the two alternatives that male philosophy normally offers in connection with the term freedom - that either the world changes or that I detach myself from the world. But when I realized that my freedom depends on putting myself in the frame of a female symbolic order that gives me orientation, that is a challenge for me, against which I can rub myself and which I can grow. The one answer to my desire, which the world conveys to me.

But now one could object: What good is all of this to us if the women have no power to change the situation, to pass new laws, if the men continue to use violence to uphold the injustice? The following distinction is important here:

The end of patriarchy has two sides: a social and a symbolic one. As for the social upheaval that will mean the end of patriarchy, there will still be a lot of power and energy and time to put into it. Just like the women in the stories I have told, we and others need to keep bringing up that energy and saying things and doing things to save suffering. And we will probably never get to that paradise where none of this is left.

As for the symbolic side, patriarchy has already come to an end. The fact that women - too many women - no longer believe in it is evident, and given the globalization of the world, this will spread across the world as well. Patriarchy - as a system of thought, as a value system, as a yardstick for interpreting the world and human relationships - can no longer create order, it creates disorder, and women, more and more women, are expressing this all over the world and acting accordingly. I agree with Luisa Muraro: this is not a crisis, this is the end.

Why is this the end? Because the symbolic side of a change is the more important. As long as and wherever the patriarchy symbolically continues, social changes are of little use in favor of women. They are not profound, long-lasting, and will soon be undermined. The right to vote or the right to work is not progress towards female freedom when it is part of a patriarchal symbolic order. But if patriarchy is over on the symbolic level, then it cannot really hold up on the social level either. We cannot put our hands on our laps, we have to fight politically to improve the situation of women, but we can only do that because the patriarchy has already come to an end. Because that is the only reason why what we do has a chance of success.

There is also something else that I do not want to hide: the end of patriarchy not only saved suffering, it also created problems. Because the patriarchy was a bad order, but it was an order in which things worked, for example caring for the elderly and sick. At some point women refused to do this work free of charge, with the result that it is being done badly today and society is dearly. Other points are individualism, the often lamented brutalization of society, etc. The devaluation of housework, in which the women's movement also played a part.

The end of patriarchy also means that women accept the challenge that their freedom means. In patriarchy, they were kind of in a cage, it could be gold or rusty, but their main focus had to be on getting out of there. Now the cage is gone and with that there are all the problems that are out there in the world. We have to solve these problems. This is of course not a moral appeal. Women have been doing this for a long time, and they always have. What I want is to give new meaning to what we are doing anyway.

From this point of view I would like to come back to the current social situation and what needs to be done.

One problem that I think is currently facing is the great adaptability of women. After being systematically excluded from a patriarchal culture for centuries, that culture is now almost desperate to include women. Women are encouraged, and often downright pushed, to apply for office, to take on leadership functions, and to get involved responsibly in political parties and churches. This is good on the one hand and bad on the other. It is bad if it only serves to ensure the continued existence of these institutions without actually changing them. If it means that women have to suppress their desires, for example to have open and honest conversations and resolve conflicts instead of behaving strategically or calculatingly, as is required in many management positions. I often observe that what men enjoy, such as playing boss and fooling around, makes women uncomfortable. I think it's not because women are better people, but because women are being asked to adapt to a culture that is not their own. And women can do that. Of course, women can be Federal Chancellor or Foreign Minister or CEO of Deutsche Bank. The only question is: do you want that too? Would that be good for the world, for our future? And if not - what would have to change in order for you to want that?

To avoid misunderstandings: I do not want to speak to a biological ideology of the natural otherness of women. But I want to call on women not to think that they should comply with any rules here if their own, individual desires and the values ​​and standards that they develop together with other women say something different.

Luisa Muraro said that women's culture is from another world. We cannot understand what female freedom is, what a female symbolic order is, with the means that we have adopted from patriarchal culture. The patriarchy is over, but it is the origin of almost everything we find: for the political systems, for our scientific methods, even for our questions.

The only thing we have left is our desire, the female desire that does not mind such things - and perhaps the greatest danger is that we could lose this desire. In male culture, which seems to be becoming more and more the culture of women, female desire is usually considered crazy, excessive, absurd. Just think of the historical women who sit here with us in church. Probably each of them was considered by the society of their time to be insane and excessive for their outrageous desires. But can we even understand their wishes? I don't think so, because we women also tend to misunderstand them, to incorporate them into our thought patterns.

This danger is also a consequence of the end of patriarchy: now that we are out of the cage, we must behave big and sensible. We are no longer allowed to flirt with migraines or simply call in sick with female malaise when we have our days. We must no longer be hysterical, no longer withdraw from the fact that women are different, a secret, difficult to understand, illogical. In this way, however, female desire survived in patriarchy. It was thought to be sick, crazy, and abnormal, but it was there. It had a place.

I think that is our most important task today: to keep a place free for female desire even after the end of patriarchy. We must not keep our desires small by submitting - supposedly sensible - to practical constraints, structures, efficiency pressure and behavioral norms. We have to distrust our minds, our common sense, our adaptability, our desire to belong. And if that means, as the philosopher Chiara Zamboni recently put it, we stamp our feet like an angry little girl and say very excitedly: "I want to!" Stubborn, stubborn, but with unwavering confidence that nothing is impossible. Even after the end of patriarchy, we need female desire. So that in the future it will also open paths that lead beyond this world: Paths into the new, the unforeseen, previously - even by ourselves - considered impossible.


Lecture on June 14, 2001 at the German Evangelical Church Congress, published in: Women's steps in the future, documentation of events of the women's workshop at the German Evangelical Church Congress in Frankfurt am Main, to be ordered from [email protected]

Classification of the thesis of the end of patriarchy in the issues of the women's movement