The Strange Alchemy Turning Criticism of Patriarchy into Bigotry

Suppose a society in which women feel compelled to have surgery because of a standard of beauty imposed by the prevailing culture. The surgery are sought because they make women look more like the cultural images of women distributed by the culture industry. Suppose further an argument that this culture norm is oppressive and should be changed, that is it reflective of patriarchal conceptions of gender that should be overthrown.

Now suppose that those who have had surgery or who want to have surgery counter that, however wonderful eliminating the norm may be, it is not practically possible, that our society is marked by cultural notions of femininity and masculinity, therefore their choice to have the surgery is legitimately embraced, understood, and even part of a type of politics based around gender identity. Suppose they contend that criticisms of their politics is therefore a type of loathing and victim blaming, a form of bigotry.

Are we supposed to be content with a counterposition that takes offense at being confronted with the problem of culture and choice? Is it right that we should be accused of being bigots on the grounds that we raised an objection to an oppressive culture norm? Yet persons who have surgery to look more like the gender images produced by patriarchal culture will get angry with you if you criticize the culture that compels them to go under the knife and problematize the defensive politics rationalizing that choice.

Through a strange alchemy an argument that we should build a culture where people are not judged by the norms of the patriarchy is transformed into bigotry and, on this basis, marginalized, effectively inoculating from criticism the political expression of the internalization of an oppressive culture norm. 

The act of decrying rational criticism of culture and politics is a massive barrier to developing a politics that seeks to dismantle oppressive social and ideational structures.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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