“I’m not a feminist” she says, and I stare down into my coffee, my heart sinking. I have just been reading about how, in the U.S. state of Alabama, a fetus which no longer exists has been granted the right to sue the woman who carried it for consenting to an abortion. I’d say you couldn’t make it up, but unfortunately Margaret Atwood already did, some time ago.
I look into the beautiful, brown eyes of my young woman friend and implore her to try to understand that all the rights that women have gained, can be rolled back. She says she doesn’t want to be agressive and masculine. She wants to be feminine. Her mother and aunts worked so hard, both outside and inside the home, they never had time to relax. She wants a different life.
Of course she does. We never want the life our parents had, do we? And she’s right. In wanting ‘it all’, women got sucked into doing ‘it all’. Is that why we’re so exhausted all the time? But then, if I think about the generations before, women were also exhausted, except then it was from carrying endless babies. At least now we outlive men.
I feel tired of explaining feminism. Tired of how it has become such a dirty word. “It simply means you believe women should have equal rights”, I say. Perhaps we need a new word. One that young women can relate to. “You need to know the term “patriarchy”, I say, feeling like an elder. “You need to know it so that you can name it when you see it and hear it.”
The young woman looks sad. She thinks she’s upset me and in a way, she has. A couple of years ago, in a different cafe in a different country, I had a similar conversation with a male friend, who insisted there was no such thing as patriarchy. I explained that it was an historical thing. A system of handing power, wealth and privilage down the male line. He nodded and changed the subject. “Sure, but women can have what they want these days.”
I disagreed, of course. Reminded him that wages were still not equal, that many more men than women occupied top jobs, places in the judiciary, in government. “Yes but…” he said, and changed the argument again.
His wife told me later that he laughed afterwards, and said he shouldn’t get into discussions like that with me because I’m intelligent and I know stuff. But he never told ME that, or acknowledged any point that I scored, but rather made me argue a fresh case each time, slipping and sliding to avoid giving an inch.
My young woman friend was different. She listened, nodded, agreed that though she would like for couples to have a choice whether they work or take care of home and children, the fact that women are not rewarded equally for their labour makes it an uneven field. “True freedom of choice is not possible”, I say. She looks pensive.
Before we leave the cafe, we compliment each other. We hug and I recall with a wince how my male friend watched me leave the cafe where we were having breakfast, in tears.
Later that day, I receive a message to say that my young friend has been talking to a feminist pal of hers and has been recommended some books to read. Gloria Steinham is mentioned and I add Laura Bates as a writer of her own generation. For myself, I reflect how many times in our conversation I used the word patriarchy, and how I’ve spent many years advocating the development of positive alternatives. Rather than only resisting what doesn’t work, we need to work to create new paradigms. New ways of being.
So, I propose that we support the matriarchy, and a quick search suggests others — including men here on Medium — agree. Let’s promote collaboration over competition, and power-from-within instead of power-over. And if you happen to need a matriarch, call me. I’ll help if I can.