Since the age of about 17, I’ve enjoyed reading non-fiction works on gender studies by feminists. As a passionate feminist, I’m always intrigued by new approaches to the subject, new ideas and arguments, intersections – all of which using cause a light-bulb moment in my head: “Yes – that’s exactly it”. Last night was the book launch for The Big Push, a new book focused on patriarchy by Cynthia Enloe. I wasn’t familiar with her work before encountering this book (naively), which I read both out of personal interest and in preparation for it’s launch. Cynthia writes with clarity which makes her criticisms easy to approach and understand.
As for the launch itself, what an inspiring evening of conversation it was. Joined by Helena Kennedy and Melissa Benn, Cynthia Enloe engaged in feminist debate and discussion, specifically around patriarchy. Why does patriarchy still play a key role in society today? How has it managed to keep alive and sustain itself? The answer is that, as Enloe argues, patriarchy is made “seductive”, and even those who think they are not the problem and identify as feminists still play into its hands.
What does it mean to “give up patriarchy?” – the answer isn’t a straightforward checklist unfortunately. But it did give myself and my colleague, Rachel, food for thought; in certain situations when do we feel that we are benefiting from gender presumptions, and does patriarchy – as anti-women as it is – give opportunities to women that are based solely on gender? My initial example, when a colleague the next day asked what this means, was the classic case of a mother being awarded her children in a custody battle because there is a natural bias: patriarchy ensures that women are viewed as domesticated care-givers, so in that situation patriarchy does actually offer the female an advantage. However, this isn’t just a women’s issue, and this interesting part of the discussion was just a touchstone for bigger ideas that highlight patriarchy to be a men’s issue too. Let’s not forget that in light of recent events concerning Harvey Weinstein.
Another important part of the discussion was a focus on “tipping points”. Are we at a tipping point? “How do we stop it from becoming a slipping point?” We need to keep talking. We can’t let conversations like this die out, and we need to engage more people as Cynthia rightfully claims. Disappointingly, the audience was largely female for the launch, though I am not surprised. It’s not all bad news though – this launch sold out, which my colleague confirmed she had not seen before in her time working in the book industry. People are clearly engaging with this topic, and this is how it’s going to grow.
The panel noted a whole number of previous instances (involving Jimmy Savile and Dominique Strauss-Khan for example) that seemed at first like tipping points, but soon lost momentum and became forgotten by the mainstream press, though living on like a faint ghost in the feminist memory. In all of these circumstances, patriarchy seemed to win again and get an upgrade. It seems that feminists still haven’t managed to figure out a way to prevent patriarchy surviving, and I think that’s because we need more than just feminists to do the work – we need to grow who the term ‘feminist’ includes.
The evening ended on opinions about whether we should feel depressed or uplifted about the current state of gender issues and feminism achievements. As Cynthia notes, if we feel uplifted, we can’t think “that’s it, we’re done”, and bask in that false joy – we must carry on. Let’s remember: momentum.
Hearing Cynthia explain concepts of her book made me both understand aspects in greater depth and opened up new avenues of thought not first considered. I now want to go back and read it again.
The Big Push is published by Myriad Editions
£9.99 | p/b | 9780995590007