The Wizard of Oz should be studied as a cautionary tale against the patriarchy.
The entire journey is centered around Dorothy travelling down the yellow brick road to find her saviour, the wonderful wizard, who will be able to use his great powers to send her home.
Except, when she gets there, we learn that the wizard isn’t powerful or magical at all. He’s just a small man with a few levers and a microphone.
The real twist was that the power lay with Dorothy all along! She just had to believe, and give the sparkly shoes she stole from a corpse a wistful click of the heel.
I know, I know, the themes are more about friendships, family, self-worth… and that’s lovely. But, the real takeaway for me as that Dorothy didn’t’ need a wizard, lion, scarecrow or tin man to get home… She needed a two-bed semi and a weather event.
Tale as old as time, tune as old as the patriarchy
As cynical as my take is, the truth is that this scene is one played out regularly. Not just on the silver screen and in the weathered pages of classic lit, but in our realities both past and present.
The impact that the patriarchy has had on humanity has been as profound as it has been damaging, and it’s a dancefloor filling, classic jam that plays on repeat – even today. But, while it affects both men and women, it’s women that the patriarchy has impacted the most.
The narrative around our sexual agency, independence, empowerment and liberation has long been controlled by the patriarchy, and the man behind the curtain is the poster boy – and he’s been around forever.
A curious history: how the patriarchy has shaped female sex organs
One of my favourite reads of 2020 was A Curious History of Sex by Dr Kate Lister. In it, Lister explores sex and how, despite the act never changing, the manner in which society has dictated how sex is culturally understood has varied significantly.
In fact, humans are the only animal on the planet who have stigmatised sex to such an extent, that every single one of us have been subconsciously bestowed with our own sexual hang ups (regardless of how adventurous you reckon you are between the sheets).
For women in particular, the stigma around our sexuality has been amplified. Our sexual independence and empowerment have been consistently controlled by the patriarchy, and women who aim to subvert these patriarchy-imposed norms have been vilified and demonised, with the specific intention of blanket-shaming us into relinquishing any power we may have reached for in society.
Let’s take the word ‘cunt’ as an example
‘Cunt’ is the oldest documented word for my favourite body part in the English language. Yet, its definition in modern times reduces the cunt to nothing more than a taboo or (allegedly) deeply offensive slur, and its etymology may explain why.
Lister explains that the cunt is linked to Proto-Indo-European root words, such as ‘creator’ or ‘queen’. These words are dripping in empowerment and have connotations of strength, dominance and power – so what happened?
Ultimately, despite the cunt being a powerful enough organ to create, sustain and birth actual life, in the hands of the patriarchy, it has simply become nothing more than a vessel to hold a cock… A nasty name for a nasty thing.
The clitoris has also received its fair share of victimisation throughout history
Another powerful organ and the seat of female pleasure.
Throughout history, the clitoris has been the victim of such a genuinely lousy press that, even today, there is still debate around the role the clitoris plays in getting women off.
We all know the joke: men simply can’t find it, the scamps. But, really, this playful suggestion of inadequate sexual prowess, based on navigational error, highlights the sad reality that men are also victims of the patriarchy, and historically, their sex lives have suffered too (sorry lads).
Men have been conditioned to believe that the root of all female pleasure lies between their legs, and because the clitoris plays no role in their sexual pleasure, it simply doesn’t exist – or, if you insist, it only plays a secondary role in female pleasure.
The insidious reality is that the clitoris was always doomed. Because the patriarchy can’t control it. The clitoris, like the cunt, gives women too much power:
- The power to say no
- The power to choose a partner based on their own desire
- The power to bin everyone off and choose masturbation for life
And so, the patriarchy reached for a PR message they subsequently clung onto for centuries: women are psychos – hysterical ones.
In A Curious History of Sex Lister writes that the general consensus was that if a woman showed interest in her clitoris it would potentially provoke an:
Excessive libido in women, which had all manner of health problems attached – both somatic and psychosomatic.
This excessive libidio was alleged to lead to insanity, and the definite ruin femininity, virtue and, of course, society as we know it.
However, the real reason behind these attacks are made clear in Dr Lister’s work. The lousy press was less about curbing female pleasure, and more about ‘protecting the primacy of the penis’.
In other words…
If the clitoris is a pleasure point that doesn’t require penile penetration, what are the menfolk to do to guarantee a shag?
Command and conquer, my friends: you destroy female pleasure with good old fashioned warfare.
Female pleasure through the ages: the patriarchy has spoken
In Ancient Greece, cunnilingus (the act of a man both performing, and Olympus forbid, enjoying it) made them completely and utterly – gasp – effeminate, and thus deserving of much ridicule among the Ancient Greek patriarchy.
What? Giving pleasure and getting nothing in return? What is this nonsense? We’re not women, Patrocolus, what the Zeus!
Female masturbation was dangerous – a sentiment echoed throughout historical discourse. For a woman to do so, meant that she would become a witch, with a huge, long, imposing clitoris that looked like a penis and made women behave like men; thrusting their clitorises at chaste, virtuous women in order to completely corrupt them.
I think there’s an allegory for rape culture in there somewhere…
Clitorectimies eventually became a medical norm, and the only real way to protect women and keep them virtuous. Learned men would write essays on how penetrative sex between a man and a woman was the only way to be truly feminine, virtuous and desirable, leading to a lot of pick me women and internal misogynists believing it was fashionable to slice off their clit. Otherwise, they’d go mad and would require institutionalising… for the sanctity of marriage, femininity and society.
Best just to slice it off completely and forget it ever existed. That won’t cause any problems in the future, I’m sure! Said some man at some point, probably…
Burn the bra and liberate our clits!
Slight segue here, but am I alone in thinking that it’s absolutely terrifying that our sexual liberation was only initially triggered in the 1970s?
It was only 50 years ago that the spark of second wave feminism offered some women a glimpse into sexual freedoms in a way that had never been truly possible or achieved before.
The stranglehold of the patriarchy had finally been broken for some, and women were able, for the first time in history, to join in and take ownership of the narrative surrounding their sexuality (among other things), without the fear of men declaring them all crazy, lesbian witches, hell-bent on the destruction of society.
While there were some permanent changes, the depressing thing about second wave feminism were the decades that followed, and how the hard work it took to get women to the point of sexual liberation was so quickly undone.
The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw women relinquish the control they had over their own liberation, until we were all wearing low-rise jeans and fetishising underage girls in schoolgirl uniforms again.
The patriarchy’s offensive tackle on the modern woman
Harking back to 1990 however, The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf) makes some interesting points that are still relevant 30 years on. Post-second wave feminism, particularly during the 80s, saw an exponential rise in eating disorders alongside cosmetic surgery becoming the fastest growing medical speciality, consumer spending double and pornography become the main media category – ahead of both traditional film and music.
Wolf also goes on to write that 33,000 American women told researchers that they would rather lost 10 to 15 pounds, rather than achieve a particular aim or goal.
Sounds familiar, right?
How can women go from having the freedoms, money and opportunities they’ve never had before, to feeling so low about themselves physically that they descend into a much worse position, culturally speaking, than the unliberated women who came before them? And how can it still be affecting us so profoundly today?
Wolf goes on to write:
At once, the diet and skincare industries became the new cultural censors of women’s intellectual space, and because of their pressure, the gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood.
In other words, before the 1970s, the concept of the ‘happy housewife’ was promoted through marketing and advertising campaigns to keep women in domestic servitude, placating the patriarchy alongside the capitalist structures that uphold it.
Post-sexual revolution muddied those waters and the patriarchy needed to find a way to get back on top to capitalise on female liberation…
Beauty porn: you’re nobody until the patriarchy loves you
How do you solve a problem like confident, sexually liberated womenfolk? You make them feel ugly, shit and unfeminine… In other words, you commodify beauty.
Beauty and sexuality became inextricably linked, enabling capitalism to invade sexual liberation and undermine women’s ‘new and vulnerable sense of sexual worth’.
Around this time, Wolf wrote that the weight of models plummeted to 23 percent below that of ordinary women, eating disorders rose once more and a mass neurosis was prompted, using food and weight to strip women of their sexual control.
What’s more – and what is reminiscent of Dr Lister’s work – new technologies focusing on invasive and dangerous cosmetic surgeries began to develop pace, re-exerting old forms of medical control over women, causing further damage to our bodies and minds… all for the benefit of the patriarchy.
Radical feminism & the refusal to conform
Radical feminism is a growing perspective within the feminist community that calls for a ‘radical reordering of society’. In other words, a call for male supremacy (the patriarchy) to be eliminated in all social and economic contexts to benefit both men and women.
Because of this movement, the feminist space feels louder, stronger and more fair than ever. With widespread and powerful movements, led by social media influencers, the foundations of the patriarchy are being shaken once more.
This is not without consequence, and we are living in incredibly divisive times, but this should only indicate the the patriarchy – and the people who uphold it – are well and truly rattled.
But the battle isn’t over just yet.
The echo chamber the patriarchy once held the keys to may have new, younger and louder voices challenging the status quo, but there’s still much work to do. The patriarchy is adapting and shifting the narrative once more – placing the blame elsewhere, and we’re eating it up.
Social media is now to blame. The influencer is now to blame. The imagery of confident women pouting deliciously into their cameras; the ones getting sponsored, outfits gifted, being handed advertising opportunities – these women…
We’re told that they’re harming our collective self esteem, and forcing us to do harmful things to our bodies and minds in the pursuit of perfection.
Naturally, I call bullshit. You should too.
This is another tactic; we’re still being gaslit by the patriarchy to keep us insecure enough not to challenge what’s happening around us. To continue funding the capitalist structures that empower the patriarchy and continue the oppression of our sexual, cultural and personal independence.
Think about it. If every single self-identifying woman on the planet woke up tomorrow morning and said “that’s it, I’ve had enough” industries across the globe would topple, and the patriarchy would crumble right alongside it – and it would happen overnight:
- The beauty industry: $500 billion+
- The fashion industry: $2 trillion+
- Cosmetic surgery industry: $50 billion+
It’s not the gorgeous girl doing TikToks in her room that’s the issue, here. It’s not the use of social media that’s causing women to feel increasingly insecure.
Get mad about it.
The patriarchy cannot change its spots, and like the reactionary tactics used in the aftermath of second wave feminism, our insecurities are still being targeted; we’re still being pitted against one another and are told that it’s SHE who is the reason you hate yourself.
Our liberation doesn’t lie in the destruction of our friends, or the influencer with the seemingly perfect life. Our liberation lies in dismantling the oppressive systems and structures that have been pushing out the same message for hundreds of years without consequence.
Get mad about it.