584: Weekly Position Paper #12: Patriarchy: “A Totality in Process”

In Chapter 4 of Beyond Identity Politics: Feminism, Power & Politics, Moya Lloyd explores the tensions between poststructuralism and theories of domination the rely on systemic theories, arguing for a “global strategy” understanding of domination that focuses on “women’s multiple and disparate subordinations” (87). She does so by offering an exegesis of Teresa Ebert’s theory of resistance postmodernism, which works from a materialist feminist definition of patriarchy; and critiquing it for privileging the economic structure of patriarchy and “casting multiplicity […] as primarily cultural” (81, emphasis in original). For Lloyd, domination cannot be understood in terms of a single theory and must be understood as “the effect of the mobilization and transformation of a multiplicity of dispersed, localized, polymorphous mechanisms of power” (86).

While I agree with Lloyd that we must understand domination as localized and multiple, and that Ebert’s theory is problematic, I am concerned that Lloyd might also too quickly dismiss Ebert’s understanding of patriarchy—though my understanding of Ebert comes solely from Lloyd’s exegesis and critique. Ebert’s theory of resistance postmodernism sees patriarchy as a systemic economic system that subjugates and exploits women and “is ‘necessary’ to the very existence and prosperity of the majority of socio-economic systems in the world and is fundamental to the global expansion and colonization of capitalism” (Ebert, qtd. in 80). Ebert’s theory, as Lloyd conveys it, admits itself to differences throughout time and location, meaning that patriarchy is not the same in every context. While all women are oppressed under patriarchy, they experience that subordination in various ways (80-81).

Lloyd claims that Ebert is working under some “questionable assumptions,” including the possibility for objective critique, the conflation of the economic with the material, and the belief that the cultural is not material and not as important as the economic (81-82). These critiques seem valid to me. However, unlike Lloyd and in line with Ebert, I do see patriarchy as a part of “the majority of socio-economic systems in the world” (80). For example, I see those “instances” cited on page 87 (legislation preventing women from entering certain occupations, compulsory sterilization of African-American women, etc.) as “necessarily originat[ing] as part of a system organized to subordinate women” (87). Of course, I am not saying they solely originate from that system, for other systems are at play as well. My point is that I do think we need to understand patriarchy as “a totality in process” that plays out differently in different contexts (Ebert, qtd. in 80).

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