Sisters in Patriarchy

Last year I was shunned from a feminist film panel, The Athena Film Festival in NY, about a subject on which I literally wrote the book. Sour grapes would be a good enough reason for even me, as author, to relegate this blog to the trash. But there is a pearl in the story I instinctively recognized; one that has nagged at me in writing about women’s empowerment for the last thirty years; one not very PC to bring up in leftist women’s circles. Women, and a good deal of the time self-proclaimed feminists, co-op the tenants of patriarchy when it affords them the benefits and privileges they would otherwise not share.

The Athena Film Festival, which describes itself as a celebration of women and leadership, announced the partnership of one of its films with The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Although the Academy had nothing to do with either the production or development of the film, Minerva’s director explained to me that, “We…have been trying to create a relationship with the Academy for some time, and this was the area that we all felt would make the most sense. Having the Academy involved will help elevate your wonderful work and contribution to [all] our history.” I wasn’t involved, or even invited to the festival for the film in question, a film in which I also appear, so I couldn’t figure out this might elevate my work? I never felt the need for the approval of a patriarchal organization to do the work I do. Most likely, what the festival’s director meant, though perhaps not consciously acknowledged, is that such an association would do wonders elevating her own career. Minerva’s public relations for the film spotlighted more attention to a best-selling author that would grace its panel (also a member of the Academy), rather than the lesser-known, young women filmmakers who actually made the movie.

Male benefit. Male privilege. This is why women sell out each other, and ourselves. As long as there is patriarchy, women will never be equal. The longer women slumber about our own active participation in a way of life that affords us benefits by keeping us subservient, the longer we will wonder why we keep hitting a glass ceiling.

My two-book series

along with my film,

Reel Herstory: The REAL Story of Reel Women, hosted by Jodie Foster, highlight the visions of women who pioneered a craft, before that craft was fully co-opted by male capitalism. Why won’t women ever be equal? All one has to do is to observe history under patriarchy. Before film, for instance, became a huge money machine, women and men enjoyed the playing field equally. But by the mid 1920’s, as film transformed into a lucrative enterprise, the women who had shaped the industry were promptly shown the way out.

By the 1940’s, when it became clear that film was not some passing fad, historians recognized it was accruing a history that needed to be recorded. When those first film histories were written down, they inadvertently left out early women who helped pioneer the craft. This blimp was no small omission. Up until that time, women had written more than half the content made into films. That means that the cinematic vision in the collective consciousness stemmed primarily from the brains and sensibilities of women…women not clouded by capitalistic concerns.

Capitalism is structured from the top down. Its very sustenance is competition. It is married to hierarchal order. Hierarchy is foundation of patriarchal thinking. Such thinking puts a damper on the creative, female life in every one of us. Of course, this is not limited to the film industry. It is everywhere we walk.

Gender should not be confused with consciousness. When I lecture at colleges, I often hear: But look how many women are in powerful positions in Hollywood! Isn’t it great? And I always have to stop and point out, If a women who has the power to green-light films has the same consciousness as a Judd Apatow, what’s the difference? Unconscious women in power are even more dangerous than having no women in positions of power at all. When patriarchal thinking has commandeered our consciousness, gender has very little to do with it.

It is no accident that pant-suit Hillary became the first woman to climb to the top of the political heap. She’s a terrific example of inculcated patriarchal thinking planted in the body of a woman. Did it make a difference that she was a woman? Not really. Could anyone actually tell the difference between Hillary and Bill other than the obvious division of their physical gender, (and Bill’s superior beside manner?…we won’t go deeper into that…). Hillary got to where she did in the patriarchal order, in the same way that Katharine Bigelow became the first female Oscar recipient: they proved to be better than the boys at the boys’ own game. Not to say that Bigelow isn’t a terrific filmmaker, (or that Hillary isn’t a brilliant woman and politician…Look, patriarchy became so frightened of her that we chose a moron to run the country instead. Apparently anyone is better than a woman.) Had Bigelow made a different genre of film other than a war film, one needs to wonder if she would have garnered the top prize?

A friend of mine suggested that if patriarchal-thinking women like Hillary get their foot in the door now, perhaps it will make way for women who are not primarily motivated by patriarchal thinking? Hopeful, I told her. But is it realistic to think that patriarchal consciousness will be a stepping-stone to matriarchal? Not likely. I had to remind her again about history; this was the hope that stemmed from of those “second wave” of Reel Women pioneers of the 1980’s and 90’s who were green-lighting movies like crazy. We all assumed that thirty years hence, we’d have a more gender blend, male/female, consciousness emanating equally out of Hollywood.

What went wrong ?

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