The Upside Down of Patriarchy

Most of us have been there: A guy says, writes, does something and we’re not able to grasp why. “WTF?” Is the phrase that could sum up our mind process in these situation.

If you, by any chance, need an example of such a WTF moment, take a look at my conversation with a man to whom I’ve written a message on OkCupid. This is our first (and last) contact.

Me: Hey! That’s a lovely dog. Yours? :)
Guy: Hey, no, unfortunately. Great profile! You’re really pretty. If I was closer, I’d call you out..
Me: Nevermind. I only wanted to meet the dog anyway. :)
Guy: He’s a great dog. I only have street dogs in Antalya. But I can’t wait to see them. … (something illegible)… eating.
Me: Don’t eat your street dogs!
Guy: When I come back, I’ll eat you up alright!

Before blocking him, I wondered: what just happened? Did he have a stroke? Was his brain infested by an extraterrestrial worm, who feeds on embarrassment? How did the guy go from being a normal human to this kind of creep in a single second?

I haven’t asked myself these questions for the first time. The sudden creepiness can happen whenever: you walk down the street, being a person, minding your own business, and suddenly, a man feels entitled to comment on you. You want to catch a plane, and hear a drunk man making lewd remarks on your appearance, standing right behind you. You go to get a breath of fresh air in a forest, and lo and behold, a naked guy in sneakers casually strolls your way.

Gerda Lerner as the fly

So, what the actual fuck is the cause of these “Upside Down” moments? And yes, that is a Stranger Things reference. Why? It is clear some men live in a different dimension than I do: The Upside Down, The Vale of Creeps, you name it.

If you want to be the fly in this metaphor, be sure to read Gerda Lerner’s book The Creation of Patriarchy. There, she explains how and when the Tear in Time and Space that caused the opening of Gate to the Vale of Creeps could have happened. And now, enough of Stranger Things metaphors. In normal language, how and when men started to rule women.

So, when? According to Lerner, more than 6000 thousand years ago. That’s a long time, right? No wonder so many people believe that women’s submission is “natural.” It certainly feels natural.

And, how did patriarchy come into being? Lerner argues it started by the realization, that incest has weird consequences. To prevent close relatives having children, neighboring tribes began to exchange women of procreative age. Why were women, and not men, the objects of exchange, is still unclear.

Eye for an eye, woman for a woman

It is surely worth a WTF when a person treats another person as a thing. As a gadget, that can be bought, sold, exchanged, thrown away, kept in the dark, or destroyed at will.

Gerda Lerner offers us a great look at the history of such treatment of people by other people. She claims that men were only able to invent slavery thanks to the fact that they had previous experience with the subjection of women. On women, they have successfully tested out a hypothesis, that it is possible to persuade a huge group of people of their inherent inferiority.

She also offers a revolting and revealing look into the laws and practices concerning women in ancient civilizations. In Mesopotamia, as well as elsewhere in the same time period, the women and children were totally submitted to the will of the man. A father could kill his children without penalty, and offer his daughters as wives in exchange for money.

Also, if a man raped another man’s wife, you know what the punishment was? The husband of the raped woman could in turn rape the wife of the rapist. Another “neat” punishment for the perpetrator was that his wife was made into a prostitute.

Obviously, in the case of attacks on married women, the actual crime in these ancient societies was the damaging of a person’s property. In other words, you harm my goods, I harm yours. Also, if the male master was in debt, he could offer his children and wife to his creditor, until he was able to pay off his debt.

Women as a form of property in later civilisations

Women were considered a de facto property not only in Sumeria, Babylon, Mesopotamia and Assyria. The objectification of women has continued well into our times. To offer an example from the earlier times, take a look at the Old Testament’s Exodus 20:17. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

I don’t want to get into the whole history of women’s legal rights, so let me just mention a quite recent law showing the notion of women being de facto property was present in our legal systems not such a long time ago. Until the 70’s of the 20th century, in most “western” societies, if a husband raped his wife, it wasn’t considered a crime. The wife was HIS, afer all, am I right?

If you’re jubilant about the fact that we’re now living in different times, hold your donkeys for a moment. Although our laws are now mostly egalitarian, the reality, unfortunately, still hasn’t quite catched up. We see it in the punishments, or lack of thereof for rapes, for domestic violence (it was HIS wife, right?), in sexist ads, in catcalling and in everyday conversations. In Stranger Things terms, we can still see the WTFs of objectification leak from the Upside Down to the dimension in which we try to live as persons.