Re: Swyer's questions on Power

Peter D. Junger (junger@PDJ2-RA.F-REMOTE.CWRU.EDU)
Fri, 15 Mar 1996 10:26:33 -0500

Ruby Rohrlich writes:

: Professor Thornton: I do not understand how you can say we
: should leave the term "patriarchy" behind.Staying with the United States
: alone, look at Congress: men are very dominant politically.
: Economically, in every type of business and profession, women have gotten
: up to the middle levels, but not at all to the top. Religiously,less
: important, but the ministers, priests and rabbis are still mainly men.
: How would you describe this situation except as patriarchal. If you
: don't like this word, you'd have to find a synonym for it.

This passage illustrates why many people are irritated by Ruby
Rohrlich's postings. In the first place it proclaims her inability to
understand what people are saying and then proceeds to attack their
use of their language, in a way that lies somewhere between nagging
and a niggling sort of verbal--though inarticulate--terrorism.

I don't think that the claim--that I have seen once or twice on
Anthro-L--that Ruby Rohrlich hates men is correct or fair. What she
hates is language with its ability to convey ideas other than those
that she is pushing at the moment.

The situation that she describes could be called a ``male dominated
society'', but it most certain is not a ``patriarchy'', so, despite
Rohrlich's nagging, Thornton is not under any obligation to find a
synonym for a term that Rohrlich misuses. A ``patriarchy'' is a
society dominated by patriarchs, a very few old men who are the heads
of families or tribes with many members of both sexes. Considering
the way that the old, male or female, are pushed aside in mainstream
society and herded into retirement homes or insalubrious portions of
Florida, it is a gross misuse of language to describe that society as
patriarchal (or matriarchal) for that matter.

: Moreover, the
: fact that we here live in what I and many others call a patriarchy, that
: is, men holding most of the power politically, economically and religiously
: means that even men who don't in reality have much of that kind of power,
: actually share in it symbolically; that is, they are men, and it is men
: who have the power.

This passage illustrates why Ruby Rohrlich has such a thing about
language: words are symbols and so if a word is applied to you you
share in the manna of that word. If you are a man--even if you are a
twenty-year old black with a fifth grade education on death row
because your assigned lawyer was incompetent--you have symbolical
power, and power is power, you Patriarch, you.

: Just to bring it down to the situation on this list,
: do you think it is happenstance that the three antowners and five members
: of the board of governors of Anthro-L are all male, even though women
: constitute almost 40% of the list. I have mentioned this several times,
: but none of the "governors" have even bothered to do anything about it;
: no one except Holloway, my most ardent admirer, has even responded, and
: what a response that was! If it doesn't really make any difference, what
: would you all say if there were eight women running the show, with 40% of
: the membership being men.

It would be fine with me just so long as they did not try to butcher
the English language. (Not that I think that the govenors do run the
show. I mean, what show?)

: Even if the governance here doesn't much
: matter, the symbolism matters, and folks are accepting the situation
: because they're used to having men run the show.

Once again we see that all Ruby Rohrlich cares about is symbols.

So, to keep her happy, why don't we just refer to the erstwhile
``govenors'' as the ``matriarchs'', quite without regard to their sex,
age, race, color, or shoe-size?

Peter D. Junger--Case Western Reserve University Law School--Cleveland, OH