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Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, announced today, ought to be a clarion call to everyone uncomfortable with the patriarchal nostalgia that drives extreme conservatism in the United States. (It is also a time to learn how our system of courts actually works - too many people don't know much about that.) That would include me, simply because I believe that the attempt to emulate traditional ideas of masculinity in this country are as limiting and inhumane as Chinese foot-binding.

It is time to work for a disciplined, unified challenge to patriarchal nostalgia - a term that I suppose I had better define, just in case.

Patriarchal nostalgia is, first of all, just that: a wishful dream of a rosier past, in this case ("patriarchal') a world of industrious dads, stay-at-home moms, and obedient but amusing children. If the picture looks pretty to you, if you can't see how unattainable it is by the vast majority of Americans, how crippling it is both to men and women by enforcing Freud's ghastly dictum about anatomy and destiny, then re-education is in order. This dream-world is firmly mounted on a complex of notions about male sexuality that can only be palpated, never discussed. That's what makes it all so insidious: no traditionalist will ever acknowledge - may not be able to acknowledge - that sex works for him only if there are no questions to ask before pursuing the carnal. No questions for him to ask, and no objections for his wife to make. This is sexuality rescued from the shame of consciousness (and choice). It is a fortiori sexuality that is rigidly protected from the transposal in which a man might suddenly find himself in a woman's place, hoping to be longed for. It is, finally, a sexuality that precludes dissidence; dissidents are deviants. And nobody has a say in any of it, not even the men themselves. That's patriarchal nostalgia. It can never be attained, but the pursuit of it can wreck lives as easily as a disease.

PS: Don't be distracted by completely misleading chatter about "Christianity." That's a front and a feint.


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Bravo RJ. Incisive and far better articulated than I have seen before.

The horror of this summer...and the endless talking heads is the least of our worries. I keep thinking back to Clinton and how easily this all could have been avoided............

I agree- well said. I think "patriarchal nostalgia" is experienced by lots of women, too. I suspect that a big part of this desire is fueled by a longing to return to "simpler times", when only women wore earrings and only sailors had tatoos. It was easy and uncomplicated when you could look at someone for only a nanosecond and pretty well surmise how old they were, what they did, whether they were married with children etc. Stock phrases and jokes at the expense of a race, creed or group different form you could be used without fear of offending someone. So as long as you fit into the acceptable patterns and rhythms, your life was simple--in fact, you didn't have to think much at all. The concept that predetermined social rules might limit, or
even hurt, someone's capacity for expression, ability to get a desired job or find a loved one,was rarely thought about or discussed.

Women only longed or long for that "traditional" expression of sexuality and family when they have no other options. Give a woman the opportunity to feed her mind, escape the circumstances that bind her to neighbors who reenforce this mentality and (this is crucial) the ability to support herself financially, and see if she still pines away for years barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Now the question remains, who put women in a position without options?

Hmmm, something tells me it wasn't other women.

What terrifies the patriarchy more than anything else is that women will simply opt out and not even participate in their charade of "freedom."

And people wonder why I went to a women's college for four years?

It wasn't because I was afraid of men. I just wanted a break from society's expectations before I had to live with being the exception for the rest of my life.

My mother stayed at home. But I don't think the idea that she was barefoot and pregnant is acturate at all. Yes she did have 5 children and
did a lot of work around the house. But the day was her own to plan as she wanted. She visited neighbors, had the car so she could take trips to shop, go to the fields to pick berries for canning, work with the church and church camps, watch a TV program, work in her flower beds. Many of these things I'd find more enjoyable than the work I have to do ever day. I agree life was narrowly defined back then, and many want life to still be narrowly defined!

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