Towards a Critical Theory of Patriarchy: Origins of Women’s Oppression – Part 2

Towards a Critical Theory of Patriarchy: Origins of Women’s Oppression – Part 2

Means, Motive and Opportunity

Not the true parent is the woman’s womb
That bears the child; she doth but nurse the seed
New-sown: the male is parent;

And proof hereof before you will I set. 

Birth may from fathers, without mothers, be:
See at your side a witness of the same,
Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,
Never within the darkness of the womb

– The Oresteia by Aeschylus, 408 BC

Patriarchy, in all its history of being on this earth, everywhere begins with matricide [19]. First they destroy us (expropriate us from our land, kill us, terrorize us, strip us of our history and our culture) [20]. They then ‘re-create’ us, splitting us into two camps: good and bad. The women on the bottom are how Woman is actually conceived by male supremacists: dangerous and alien. Any form of resistance she engages with is ‘unnatural’ since the dominant group redefines ‘true’ women as naturally subordinate. The women on top are by definition handmaidens, and are afforded limited protections at her (and all women’s) expense. This is all because despite the efforts of the men of a certain society to become independent of women’s procreative power, they can still never solve the problem of needing to be born themselves, of needing to come from somewhere, and of needing living labour power that only women can produce. Race, sex and class, from the standpoint of racially marginalized and economically disenfranchised women, are an inseparable unholy Trinity [21]. If we want to demystify a system of male dominance, then we need to look at the connections and inequalities between women. [22]

As this process of deconstructing women in order to reconstruct us, I believe, is happening again now [23].

“We stand on the threshold of a new caste society. The course of history is not an evolutionary striving for linear progress, but a cyclical, wave-like movement.” 

– Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy

Because despite (and perhaps because of) a system of male dominance, reality continues to exasperate patriarch’s: they still cannot conjoin the theory (man makes himself) with material reality.

“Between the conception and the creation…falls the shadow.” – T. S. Eliot

From Idealism to Materialism

“[The] transition from patriarchal idealism to patriarchal materialism – which first occurred in Western Europe – is what truly distinguishes capitalism from all other forms of patriarchy and all other modes of production. However, this transition is still not to be misunderstood as a rupture in patriarchal history. To the contrary, it brings it to its end and full realization by proving once and for all (in “reality”) that it was indeed the ruler, father, man, god, who has created the world and is the true creator of life. Capitalism is the utopian project of modern patriarchy. Its aim is to make an ideological justification of domination unnecessary.”

– Claudia von Werlhof, No Critique of Capitalism without a Critique of Patriarchy: Why the Left is No Alternative

Despite men’s protestations to the contrary, their belief in ‘God the Father’ remains. The only thing that has changed is that they have declared the death of God as idea, in anticipation for male motherhood in reality. “Postmodernism”, as Somer Brodribb writes, “is the cultural capital of late patriarchy. It is the art of self-display, the conceit of masculine self and the science of reproductive and genetic engineering in an ecstatic Nietzschean cycle of stasis.” Redefining “woman” (in order to destabilize who is and is not a “legitimate” mother) is the “necessary ideological mystification for those who want to gain control over this last area of human autonomy.” [24][25][26]

“Patriarchy, seen from this perspective, must be understood as a process which continually extends its borders and which, at the same time, goes deeper and deeper. This process obviously tends towards becoming a system but, as basically never-ending, cannot come to its conclusion. Its present phase of capitalism as a global system (“globalization”) appears to be its, so far, last and most violent period in which many patriarchal tendencies of history come to a peak or accumulate.”

– Claudia von Werlhof, Patriarchy as Negation of Matriarchy – the Perspective of a Delusion

Athena’s Redemption

It is for this reason that our current political climate seems to be defined by two things that are directly correlated with one another: transparency and self-destruction. From God the Father, mother of mankind, to the ultimate self-made man of bourgeois heroics, i-woman, the central dialectic that underlies patriarchal praxis is being shaken to its core. For what men are making implicit in these efforts is “the fact that there has never [yet] been any true patriarchal creation” in history, revealing the dead core of patriarchal impotence [27].  In making the lie real, they will destroy the basis on which patriarchy stands: the theory of paternity and the concomitant framework which informed its cultural productions.

From the book’s preface: “Can we make a human being?”

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has come to occupy a place in literary history that might well be compared to the moment of awakening from a dream. Her novel has become a kind of nodal point connecting biblical, classical, Miltonic and popular versions of the story of the fabrication of human life by a male creator. Moreover, Shelley’s novel both connects these texts and marks a crucial break between the earlier and the post-Shelleyan ones, because Shelley’s novel alters the relation between the natural and the paternal that is central to all versions. […] Shelley’s subversion or parody of the biblical creation myth probably strikes most modern readers less as an estrangement of natural order than as a kind of awakening to it—that is, a way of exposing or emphasizing the prior symbolic violence of attributing the birth of the first human to a father rather than a mother.

— John Rieder, Frankenstein’s Dream: Patriarchal Fantasy In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein


[19] Maria Mies interviewed by Jeanny Gering. Visit her website here.

[20] Maria Mies, “Colonization and Housewifization” in Patriarchy and Accumulation: Women in the International Division of Labour (1986)

[21] Kimberle Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics (1989)

[22] Dorothy E. Roberts, Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood, The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 1, no.1 (1992): 1-38.

[23] Maria Mies interviewed by Ariel Salleh | Women, Nature and the International Division of Labour. “Because of the distinction made by some feminists between gender and sex, it is easy now for reproductive engineers to say that the realm of sexuality and reproduction is only biology, hence it is their domain. Meanwhile the symbolic manifestations of these areas are called gender and are said to belong to the social, cultural, or truly human sphere.” [x].

[24] [x]. See also: Maria Mies, Sexist and Racist Implications of the New Reproductive Technologies, Alternatives 12(3): 323-342, (1988) [x].

[25] Vandana Shiva, The Seed and the Earth: the Colonization of RegenerationCanadian Woman StudiesVol 13, No 3 (1993)

[26] Janice Raymond, “Connecting Sexual and Reproductive Liberalism” in Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed (1996)

[27] Claudia von Werlhof, No Critique of Capitalism without a Critique of Patriarchy: Why the Left is No Alternative (2007)


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