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Member since: 2001
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The Discrimination Too Big To Matter

Finding the right forum for this topic was a dilemma. I'm fairly sure some folks will feel it should have gone into one of the Gender & Orientation groups. And indeed, it would likely stay on page one there far longer than it will in GD, where I anticipate it dropping like a stone, with barely a ripple. Nevertheless, although it's about gender discrimination, it's fundamentally about all of humanity. So, here it is. I'll tie a bobber to it by adding it to my journal, what the heck.

Social animals tend to develop ways to organize their groups. Some of us (I'm looking at you, order cetacea... and you, species pan paniscus) are better at it than others (yes, that's our cue, homo sapiens.)

We smooth and clever apes seem to have, at some point in the last 10,000 years, invested heavily in hierarchy, probably when we began to tip the balance from hunt/gather to agriculture and extraction. And one of the byproducts of that investment is the tendency of those at the top of the hierarchy to devise ways to protect their status.

The most effective way for a small elite to protect their status is a twofold strategy of co-optation and subjugation. Co-optation is the sharing of minor benefits, with the implication (but rarely the reality) of upward mobility, to keep a barrier of supporters and protectors between the small elite and the disempowered majority. Subjugation is the fostering of fear and division among segments of the disempowered majority, and the creation of obvious disincentives for supporters/protectors of the elite to side with any part of the disempowered majority.

Which is how the patriarchy came into being-- the first, the oldest, the strongest, the most powerful and oppressive institution our species developed.

If you've read any of PG Wodehouse's delicious Jeeves and Wooster stories, you probably remember the Drones Club, Wodehouse's refined skewering of the quintessential symbol of an elite group-- the classic "Club" of well-to-do Anglo-Saxon society.

Maybe it will help to imagine the patriarchy as a species-wide meta-clubhouse.

Now, by definition, everyone with a Y chromosome starts out with basic provisional membership status. That's half the species, right there, co-opted.

The fact that the membership status starts out as provisional-- well that's a subjugation tactic. Someone with a Y chromosome who fails to measure up to the Club standards? They can be blackballed when it comes time to confirm their membership, and tossed out to outer darkness, where there are none of the comforts of the Club.

It's also possible, of course, to revoke the membership of anyone with a Y chromosome who egregiously and/or repeatedly breaks the Club rules.

The Club has more degrees of membership than the Masons-- and, like the Masons, they shroud the higher degrees in a certain level of mystery and ambiguity.

The lowest degrees of membership are reserved for people who have Y chromosomes but who are otherwise relegated to low-status segments of the disempowered majority--those whose skin color, religious affiliation, social background, etc., render them ineligible for higher levels of membership. They only get two real benefits from their Club membership-- first, admission to the Club itself, albeit only to the stuffier basement rooms with the cheap beer and battered darts boards and tacky pin-up calendars on the walls.

But they get to hang out with one another, and they ARE in the Club, after all, which brings us to the other benefit-- they are automatically entitled, by their status as Club members, to regard all non-members as their inferiors in every way, whose value is defined only by their service to the members.

These low-degree members are also subjugated by a shifting status "lowerarchy" subtly encouraged by the elite. Members from the room at one end of the hall are encouraged to regard the members from the room under the stairs as unworthy to advance to higher levels of membership at all, and vice versa. But there's always some small incentive allowed-- the hope that by rigid adherence to Club rules and extra-meritorious services, they might be inducted into a higher degree of membership.

Above the basement, but on the lower floors of the Clubhouse, are the many rooms designated for the various middle degree members-- more comfortable, better amenities. Then there's a couple of upper levels, with the deep pile carpets and the hushed waiters bringing expensive drinks, for higher-degree members, who consider themselves the elite-- although in fact, they aren't.

The real elite is the Club Board, who meet in the luxurious Boardroom, with all the windows and the scrolly gold leaf on the ceiling moldings, around a long and perfectly-polished table of rare wood. These are drawn from the members of the highest publicly-acknowledged degree. And everyone assumes that it's the Board who run the Club.

But once they're elected to the Board, they're initiated into another, not-so-public hierarchy of degrees. Here they can play vicious power games among themselves for prestigious committee appointments and chairmanships, and ultimately aspire to the very highest and least public degree of all-- the Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee is well named-- among their responsibilities is deciding who gets executed, after all. They allow the Board to manage all the showy bits, like the Annual Club Gala and the Catering Committee, to make decisions about the color of the carpet for the redecoration of the library, whether to repair or replace the leaky hot water heater in the basement (it periodically floods the clubroom next to the storage cellar,) stuff like that.

But it's the Executive Committee who control the real power-- the Club bank accounts and books, the proposal of members for the higher degrees, and the nomination of Board members. They have no "official" meeting room, although if you know where to look you'll find the comfortable, well-upholstered lounge and the handball court and locker room reserved for their exclusive use.

At some point it became clear to the Club membership that the half of the species that was excluded from the Club could also be more effectively managed, manipulated, and controlled by the same combination of co-optation and subjugation applied to members.

Hence the institution of the Ladies' Rooms. Non-members who embrace the purpose of the Club (and/or who embrace Club members with sufficient clout) are admitted to the Ladies' Rooms, where they receive a variety of benefits. They're encouraged to form Committees and elect chairwomen, just like the members, providing them with an illusory power and influence. And of course, they're encouraged to maintain the submission of other non-members to the power of the Club. There's always the incentive that if one serves the right Club member diligently enough, she, too, might be admitted to a Ladies' Room and asked to serve on the Flower Arranging Committee.

For thousands of years, the Patriarchy Club has been the underlying foundation of almost every social and economic organizing system our species has devised. This system has allowed a small elite to invest half of the species in the system that sustains their power by disenfranchising and disempowering the other half of the species, obtaining their labor, their creativity, their reproductive services, etc., largely without any compensation beyond sustenance.

It has endured through the evolution of monarchies, oligarchies, dictatorships, and "representative" political systems, through the formation of dozens of religious institutions, and through the trial-and-error of various economic systems. It undergirds virtually every human culture and cultural institution of recorded history.

Lately, there's been a lot of unrest on the lower floors of the Clubhouse. The Board has even made the decision to allow members access to many of the main Club facilities, regardless of degree-- a historic victory for some members. Which is not to say that they're actually getting equal benefit from their titular access to the main facilities-- there's still plenty of resistance and dissension.

The Executive Committee is enjoying the show, as the Board struggles to keep the peace among the lower-degree members trying to restrict each others' access to particular dining rooms, committee meeting rooms, etc. In the long run, this, too, will serve their ends, shaking things up a little and keeping the members on their toes and wary of one another-- too busy to notice that the Executive Committee has once again cut the Catering Budget, so they can have a better grade of champagne in their own lounge.

And just recently-- and this is BIG, people. Make no mistake, it is important-- just recently, a group of blackballed candidates, members of the species ineligible for membership, and even a few ex-members have camped in front of the Clubhouse, and begun demanding that the Club give them access, too. Some have even suggested that the Board and Committees be elected by EVERYONE, not just a self-perpetuating oligarchy among the higher degree Club members. It's a Very Big Deal, indeed, and it has the Board and the Club membership in a real tizzy.

Of course, across the street from the Clubhouse, behind palings that keep the Clubhouse driveway clear and its nice landscaped grounds pretty, there's been a rabble of non-members gathered for the last couple of centuries or so, making foolish demands that they, too, be made full members of the Club-- in fact, that the Club itself be abolished, and the species start reorganizing along more functional, less lethal and oppressive lines.

Silly girls. Co-opt a few into the Ladies' Rooms with promises of a Serious Discussion of membership, send out some platters of goodies and bunches of flowers labeled "rights" to the ones loosely attached to moderate-status members, and send out a few parties from the basement to do some beating up and raping among the lowest-status ones to keep the rest in their places.

Because really, it's totally unrealistic to think that a 10,000-year-old fundamental organizing principle for the species can be overturned. It's too damn' big. Think of the chaos! Think of the risk! Why, some Committees might have to completely restructure! Board members might lose their seats! The squash court might have to be turned into a yoga studio, FFS!

No, sorry. This particular discrimination is too BIG to matter.

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