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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

The patriarchy, the religious right and the threats to human rights

Cobus Fourie - 2009-08-07

In 1993 the 4 Non Blondes had a huge international hit with their song titled "What’s up?". Linda Perry, the vocalist and songwriter, sings in the first phrase, “I realised quickly when I knew I should that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man for whatever that means …” The song’s chorus further asks the pivotal question: "What’s going on?" The question is obviously rhetorical but is, moreover, a statement of discontent.

Linda Perry became a songwriter mostly after her band split up and she was the person behind Christina Aguilera’s hit song "Beautiful", which in its music video had the theme of self-acceptance and portrayed the two gay men kissing and the transvestite. The conclusion is obvious – acceptance of the fringe, acceptance of the "other".

I fear that in terms of acceptance we are starting to take one giant leap backwards. And by "we" I mean the so-called men’s movement.

There seems to be a phenomenon rearing its evil head. All around the world men led by other self-appointed preachers and moral leaders are revolting against feminism and claiming back their god-ordained place in society as head of the house etc, all under the auspices of religious dogma. They call this the so-called men’s movement.

This resurgence and revolt against feminism is proliferating at a rapid speed and I fear that in terms of human rights we will be back in the dark Middle Ages.

The patriarchy thinks in terms of binary oppositions, or dichotomies, depending on which nomenclature you prefer: male versus female or the "one" versus the "other".

I was always flabbergasted when heterosexual people always wanted to know the butch and femme in homosexual relationships. It is just a manifestation of the obsession with dichotomies and the patriarchy’s utter disregard for equality and the notion of the subservience of the female. Certain heterosexuals, and of course the patriarchy par excellence, continue to impose these constructs upon everyone else to simplify their lives. This is also known as old-fashioned stereotyping.

As James Dobson was quoted in the New York Times, “Tolerance and its first cousin diversity is almost always code for homosexual advocacy.” It seems the patriarchy has a huge gripe with tolerance and diversity. It just doesn’t quite fit into their strict dichotomies.

Now more about James Dobson. He is the founder of the Focus on the Family Foundation and has been spitting out conservative drivel since 1977. Note that James Dobson is no reverend/priest/minister or religious scholar but a psychologist with a very clear ulterior motive. Note also that the Focus on the Family Foundation produces ready-to-play radio programmes, an almost prêt-à-porter of the broadcast industry. And also note that the vast majority of South African community radio stations naively broadcast this conservative drivel, much to the astonishment of the liberal community.

Our nation is built on tolerance and diversity; our coat of arms says "unity in diversity", after all. Now why do these radio stations propagate division?

James Dobson also went on the most illogical tirade about the innocent and very likeable cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. He was widely quoted that said character was a product of the pink agenda (inferring gay mafia connotations) and maintains that SpongeBob SquarePants will pollute the minds of the young and feed them pro-homosexual messages.


The feminists and the LGBT community had a common enemy in the patriarchy and its utter disregard for the rights of the "other", this "other" being everyone except the heterosexual male.

I did a simple Google search on "the evils of the patriarchy" and to my astonishment most results led to websites that proclaim the evil of feminism, and the foundation of their dislike is "the bible tells us so".

Ever since the advent of the modern constitutional democracy there has been the vital and clear separation between church and state. Otherwise politically we would be back in the Middle Ages.

The problem with the patriarchy is that it is the basis of many cultures and it is sanctioned by religious texts, hence it still being in practice today. The Patriarchy imposes their strict dichotomies on everyone else, thus subverting the rights of everyone but the heterosexual male. The Patriarchy also has no tolerance for equality and firmly believes in the subservience of the "other" (historically the female); they thus also regard women and the LGBT community as lesser persons and would not grant them equal rights.

Then there are also the tragic stories of Sizakele Sigasa, Salome Masooa, Zoliswa Nkonyana and Eudy Simelane. They all were brutally murdered, some raped and tortured for no other reason but their sexual orientation. What they have in common is that they were all female homosexuals, thus a double NO from the patriarchy.

Here we have the dichotomy of the "one" versus the "other" again, and obviously the rights of the "other" have fallen by the wayside; moreover the "others" have been the victims of attack as exemplified by the xenophobic attacks of 2008 and the brutal murders of these four women.

Louise Reardon, activist, writes the following: “Adam and Eve. Two of our oldest and most intertwined human roots are organised religion and patriarchy. The most evident and convenient way to ensure a man's position in the patriarchal family image was to dictate and confine a woman's sexual behaviour. Thus, man fulfilled his basic biological need – to 'invest' in his own children. This control was justified by the suggestion women were inferior, not to mention, sexual temptations designed to corrupt men.

"This 'moral justification' was – and is – masked and enforced in organised religion, disguising it as sacred and divine laws, stating a woman's proper place is quietly at home, hidden from the 'man's world', out there. These patriarchal, religious structures inevitably spill over into how our societies function today. What has been created is a male-dominant culture biased in its thinking and actions. Thus, such an environment restricts and inhibits the equally important beliefs, roles and contributions of women.

"'Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.' – 1 Tim. 2:11-14.

"Should we blame Eve entirely for stepping out in a search for truth, independence, knowledge and free will? And, should Adam be absolved of all wrongdoing because he was a mindless and submissive follower?”

Marilyn Twink, a devout LGBTIQ rights activist writes: “Isn’t that how religion has always worked? Read the book, obey the book, believe the book, and hit other people over the head with the book if they don’t believe it too? If they don’t believe it, hate them and even kill them? Life by the book, death by the book. Very intelligent indeed.”

Rosemarie Putnam Tong, author of Feminist Thought, writes: “Simone de Beauvoir provided an ontological-existential explanation for women’s oppression. In The Second Sex, one of the key theoretical texts of the twentieth century feminism, she argued that woman is oppressed by virtue of her otherness. Woman is the other because she is not-man.”

Tong also further states: “They claim woman’s otherness enables individual women to stand back and criticise the norms, values, and practices that the dominant male culture (patriarchy) seeks to impose on everyone, particularly those who live on its periphery.”

Amelia Jones, author of Feminism, Incorporated. Reading “postfeminism” in an antifeminism age, has the following to say: “The recent resuscitation of this patriarchal fantasy by the right – under the guise of ‘family values’ – is a symptom of the massive anxiety of the patriarchal system, a reaction formation against the threatening incursion of women into the work force and, more recently, the political arena.”

Jones continues: “With the cultural authority of anglo masculinity becoming increasingly bankrupt as gay, feminist, and non-white cultures insistently articulate counter-identities to this imaginary norm, the patriarchal commodity system urgently seeks to reinforce predictable stereotypes of femininity ... The properly postfeminist woman shores up the crumbling infrastructure of conservative American ideology during a time of economic crisis and confirms the ‘rightness’ of Republicanism, with its moralizing intervention in personal relations and the destruction of the civil rights of women, lesbians, gays, blacks, and others.”

Jones then explores the heart of this topic: “The other side of the postfeminist coin is the so-called ‘men’s movement’. Inspired by Robert Bly’s book Iron John (1990) the men’s movement appropriates and perverts the rhetoric of feminism to urge the contemporary American male to 'find a voice of [his] own' as a 'Wild Man'. Bly laments the feminization of the American male at the hands of his female caretakers, and calls for the extirpation of this spineless femininity through primitivist histrionics and rituals of male bonding. The 'Wild Man' immerses himself in mother nature and beats the appropriated drums of his 'primitive' brothers with big sticks to prove to himself that, while he may be a 'minority' – as one xenophobic Time article argues, referring to competition for jobs from non-white, non-male workers in 'Get Set: Here They Come! ... White, US-born males are a minority' – his ability to dominate is intact. As with the frantic declarations of the supposed death of the feminist subject, the fact that masculinity (again, aggressively heterosexual and almost exclusively anglo and upper middle-class) needs to be shored up proves again how intense is the threat the vast numbers of working women of all sexual, racial, and class identities currently pose to the patriarchal system (not to mention the threat posed by the increasingly powerful identity politics of the non-heterosexual male).”

Just as these excerpts explain the situation in the USA, so these notions have shown up here in South Africa as well. Think of the “Mighty Men” conferences. Sad and immensely frightening and utterly detrimental to the egalitarian society we want to build here.

And lastly, now I want to ask that anthem of a question that Linda Perry asked about fifteen years ago: "What’s going on?".



Jones, A. (ed). 2003. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Routledge.
Tong, RP. 1998. Feminist Thought. A more comprehensive introduction. Westview Press.