Beyond Patriarchy

Editor’s note: Our Winter 2019 issue is going to address how we can move beyond patriarchy, and some visions and ideas of what a world beyond patriarchy might look like.
Tikkun is a non-profit and we are legally prevented from endorsing candidates or political parties. The article below is not a statement of Tikkun‘s position, but a reflection of one of the founders of Ms. magazine, and is published here in honor of her long contribution to the development of 2nd wave feminism, and not as a reflection of an editorial position by Tikkun.

In April, Tikkun magazine asked: What would a world beyond patriarchy look like? The question hooked me. My brain took flight, imagination soared, hope sprang nocturnal. But after six months, I still hadn’t written the piece. How come? Writer’s block was an unlikely culprit since I’ve been churning out pages for a new memoir. Finally, I realized what the problem is: I could no longer envision a world beyond patriarchy.

This election boils down to a simple binary choice. Photo by Mirah Curzer

In 1975, for the anthology, Women in the Year 2000, a bunch of activist optimists, among them myself, Gloria Steinem, David Saperstein, Nora Sayre, Alvin Toffler, and the then Congresswoman Bella Abzug, were asked to imagine what the world would look like for women twenty five years in the future. In 1975, everything seemed possible. Second Wave feminism had already beached a wide tide of progressive change. We had Title VII, Title IX, affirmative action, and dozens of states had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. Nixon was out, Ford was weak, a pride of Democratic lions who claimed to be “pro-women” (Jerry Brown, Mo Udall, Birch Bayh, Fred Harris, Jimmy Carter) had their eye on the Oval Office, and Time magazine bestowed its 1975 “Man of the Year” award to “American Women.”

In that heady climate, it wasn’t hard to look ahead twenty-five years and see nirvana, which is exactly what I did in the essay I contributed to the anthology. Entitled “Born Free: A Feminist Fable,” my piece envisioned the destiny of a little girl, Millenny, born at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000, into a world beyond patriarchy. I imagined that, between 1975 and the brink of the new millennium, America would dismantle policies, attitudes, and institutions based on male supremacy and biology-is-destiny and create a new reality that would enhance every aspect of Millenny’s life.

Among other things, I predicted medical advances that insured “everyone could conceive and anyone could prevent conception.” An oral contraceptive that gave male bodies the capacity to prevent pregnancy so men could assume equal responsibility for birth control, including its health risks. Contraception distributed free in public places including schools, banks and post offices. Safe, legal, low cost, easily accessible abortions. A required six-month course in midwifery for men. Social service agencies that matched parents with quality 24-hour child care options. Universal family leave policies, flextime and a 25 hour workweek that let both women and men spend more time with their kids.

You get the picture. And you know what actually happened. After Carter, we got eight years of Reagan, the death of the ERA, the rise of the fundamentalist right, the end of affirmative action, and the evisceration of Roe v. Wade. By the time 2000 rolled around, my essay read like the delusionary musings of a naïf.

Now, based on the 20/20 hindsight of a veteran feminist who has been to the mountain and seen almost everything we fought for slide backwards into a surreal abyss, I’m feeling close to defeat. Living in Trump’s world – where the president pays no price for abusing and ridiculing women, where pundits demonize Hillary Clinton and screaming hoards yell “Lock her up,” where #MeToo survivors are mocked and disbelieved and perpetrators transformed into victims — the very notion of a world “beyond patriarchy” strikes me as magical thinking. Or, wishful thinking on the part of those traumatized by the status quo and eager to dream it away.

I’m writing this essay a week after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Still reeling from the feral right-wing backlash against Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the hypocritical, stomach-turning outrage of Senate Republicans, including Republican women, I confess to a deep despair. The euphoria I had been feeling — about girl activists leading the struggle against racism and gun violence, about the number of progressive women, especially women of color, running for office this year, and about the success of newly energized voter registration efforts, especially Taylor Swift’s on Instagram –was rudely deflated by polls that showed a Brett bounce, evidence that Kavanaugh’s victory has activated the Republican base to the point where their enthusiasm matches that of us “woke” Democrats.

No wonder I don’t have the heart to conjure a futuristic vision of a nonsexist, non-racist, humanitarian society. Enough with the dreams; it’s tachlis time; otherwise known as vote or die. Unless we rev up our resistance, mobilize the Democratic “mob,” make sure young people, women, and minorities get to the polls and vote the bums out, there will never be a world beyond patriarchy, or maybe any world at all.

An old Jewish joke is pertinent here:

What’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?

The pessimist says, ‘Oy, oy oy, things can’t get any worse!

Replies the optimist, “Oh yes they can.”

For deflated optimists and radical pessimists, both, this election boils down to a simple binary choice. Though many of us voted for different candidates than those who won the primary, and many of us want more progressive societal change than the winning candidates have espoused, the 2018 election does not give us the luxury of political purism. This is the year to elect Democrats, period. We can hold their feet to the fire once they’re in office. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do between now and Election Day to get out the vote, sweeten the prospect of voting, or increase the personal cost of not voting:

  • At my polling place, after we’ve marked our ballots, everyone gets a sticker that says, “I voted.” If yours does the same, you might line up neighborhood cafes to trade the sticker for a free cup of coffee or ask retailers in advance to agree to accept the sticker as a buck toward any purchase.

  • Hold an election night party with great food and music but make the price of admission proof of having voted.

  • If you’re in a love relationship and your partner is one of those cynics who blithely claims that elections “make no difference,” you can pull a Lysistrata: withhold sex unless and until they swear to exercise their franchise. You wouldn’t sleep with someone who refuses to protect you from STD so why would you sleep with someone who refuses to protect you from the GOP. In both cases, your health, and maybe your life, is at stake.

  • In retaliation for Susan Collins’ yes vote on Kavanaugh, angry Americans have thus far raised $3 million for her 2020 Senatorial opponent (whomever it is). You, too, can start a CrowdPac site to punish other incumbents (Republican or Democrat), who have sold out our democracy to curry favor with Agent Orange and his Conservative minions.

  • Give as much as you can right now to help Democrats pay for last minute ads, lawn signs, and Get Out the Vote efforts. Forego the next three weeks worth of lattes or Netflix rentals and donate the money you save to any candidate who has a good chance of beating his or her GOP opponent.

  • Organize family and friends to join you for a few hours duty at a Get Out The Vote phone bank.

  • Become an Election Day chauffeur for housebound or handicapped people. Let everyone know that Uber and Lyft are not charging people to get to the polls that day.

  • Use your social media platform to remind every woman in your life that our right to suffrage is barely a hundred years old and thousands of women endured savage ridicule, abuse and jail time in their fight to win that precious right for all of us. Our feminist foremothers marched, lobbied, demonstrated, went on hunger strikes and were force fed with metal tubes so that we, in 2018, could enter the ballot box and vote. We dare not dishonor their century-long struggle by staying home on Election Day.

  • Finally, every child in this country should be treated as a voter-in-training.

Take your kids (or a friend’s kid) with you into the voting booth or discuss your absentee ballot with them as you fill it out. Make the voting experience meaningful and memorable. Explain why you think voting is both a privilege and a duty of American citizenship. If the child is old enough to understand the issues, describe in simple terms why particular candidates have earned your support. Buy the kid an ice cream cone or a hot chocolate afterward. Until they’re old enough to mark a ballot of their own, make voting with you a ritual they look forward to every year.

And if you’re a believer, say a prayer.This election is our last hope to make America America again.


Letty Cottin Pogrebin has published eleven books, most recently the novel, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate. She is currently at work on Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy.

3 thoughts on “Beyond Patriarchy

  1. One more suggestion that’s not limited to election activities, but always useful, but sadly, gravely neglected: When someone is approaching you aggressively or threateningly, YELL OUT LOUD: “NO!!”
    Yell as loud as you can! Scream! Don’t worry about protocol or political correctness; stop being polite – and expose them ON THE SPOT.
    That was our first lesson in a women’s self defense course I took long ago and never forgot. (Statistics show that most assaulters will be shocked by that sharp response and will run away fast!)
    After practicing that for a while, we went on to additional and varied ways to ward off attackers.
    But this FIRST RESPONSE advice is rarely taught and is so so basic and important, it should be taught to all girls along with the other basics for living. (And all kids for warding off bullies.)

  2. Letty Pogrebin’s article is passionate and persuasive and unfortunately bang on. It is depressing that Republican patriarchs want the government off our backs but are consumed with the uterus. It is depressing to hear that “‘I like beer” Kavanaugh is a “bump” to a political party, or an asset to justice. Woman have come a long way but patriarchs have receded. Hypocrisy, dishonesty and vulgarity are on the rise. Thank you Letty for articulating our despair and pointing the way out — vote and support democratic candidates.

  3. Why the assumption that anti-abortion is patriarchal. More women oppose it than men. Don’t have sex with Republicans I think is an absurd suggestion and will cause more people to discount feminism than already do. I think we need due process in all charges of sexual assault–especially in colleges and universities. Drunken sex should not be called assault. Medical advances so that men could conceive? You don’t believe in evolution. Well those are few thoughts.

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