Here’s two statuses I saw shared by friends on facebook recently: “Every piece of career advice for women is either gaslighting or victim-blaming.” and “I often get asked how to get more women interested in STEM. Step one: smash the patriarchy.”
I’m glad someone’s saying it like this, but I still strongly disagree with it.
I very much sympathize with the motivation. You feel like you’re being “helpfully” offered solutions to problems which are caused by the very people who are offering you the “helpful” solutions. The natural response to that kind of help is definitely, fuck you, how about no? It’s good to get that response out. But that can’t be the only response. Imagine your boss hates you. You clearly don’t deserve to be hated by your boss, so this situation is unfair. It’s important to recognize that it’s unfair, and not to internalize that hatred. You’re making things worse if you start thinking you deserve it and hate yourself, too. But at the same time it’s also important to have practical strategies to overcome the problem, because it’s a situation that you have to deal with, whether it’s fair or not. “My boss shouldn’t hate me because that’s not fair” is true, but it isn’t a solution to your boss yelling at you. Or say you need a job and you go to get some advice from like a career counsellor or whatever. And he says: “the problem isn’t that you don’t have a job, the problem is the system where your survival is predicated on needing to work is a bad system and needs to be changed!” That’s true! But it’s really terrible and useless advice for getting a job, which is the immediate concern you have. Same with smashing the patriarchy. The patriarchy exists, but it’s a concept and not an object, right? I often get a kick out of saying in this context that one of my relatives was actually a Patriarch, but the point is there isn’t a Patriarch sitting in a room somewhere guarding the precious patriarchy. You can’t go in there, punch the dude, grab the patriarchy while he’s writhing in agony, and smash it. So if you’re suffering because of the patriarchy, you should work on dismantling it, but you also need other advice. As to changing the system, I think Rabbi Tarfon’s words on changing the world for the better are extremely wise here: you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. Work to make the world better, but recognize that a societal problem is not going to magically go away tomorrow. Smashing the patriarchy can’t be step one, because that sort of sounds like we can do nothing else until it’s smashed.
Zolltan, you ask, haven’t you just written a defence of victim-blaming? Do you ever to stop to think whether maybe you’re the bad guy here? My response to that is to say that we should separate the idea of bearing ethical responsibility from being able to affect the situation. For instance, I can donate money to charity which would save lives. But I think it’s wrong to think of me as being personally responsible for the deaths of people who could have been saved if I had donated more money. The same situation applies in victim-blaming contexts.