Critical Theory A
10 Aug 2007
Patriarchy: Planet of the Apes
To be regarded as human is to be recognized as having basic ethical liberties. Considering human mortality and morality, a person’s rights are natural and unalienable by their Creator as written in the U.S. Declaration of Independence—"all men are created equal". One would believe a statement of equalizing principles would encompass freedom and protection for all of humanity; however, throughout history in the U.S., this has not been the case. Being human has equivocal interpretations resulting in solid differences of human conduct where compositing evidence demonstrates how a system of balance cannot exist when humans are separated by prejudice, racism, sexism, pathologisation, infantilism, primitivism, and bestialization. All of which have occurred within the history of our own country. Since the time of slavery, familial patriarchies, mental and educational institutions, and racism, there have been advances of betterment between race, gender and species, but still splintered, and more convoluted in our current, contemporary lives, this system of beneficiaries and casualties built on oppression is most apparent to those who are classified outside of it.
Two authors share the effects of this marginalizing through their voices in feminist theory. Valerie Solanas’ S.C.U.M Manifesto exposes her violent appetite to castigate sexism within a patriarchal system of oppression over women. Whereas, in Carol J. Adams' Neither Man nor Beast, her stance asserts oppression and sexism is caused by racism from a white supremacist patriarchy. Extending the oppressive victimization to animals through her strong position in vegetarianism, Adams situates herself outside to offer a scrutinizing detection of its all-encompassing structure. Both feminists identify oppressive injustices of sexism placed upon persons of either race, sex, class, or species within a patriarchy, but their methods at describing oppression, sexism and their desired outcomes for humanity, differ dramatically.
In Carol Adams’ approach to the unbalance of sexism by means of racist oppression, the preface to her book begins with an excerpt from Wendy Brown: in Athenian times, the origin of oppression of women began with the concept of manhood having to degrade and deny “the status of ‘human’ to women.” Because of Aristotle’s belief that in the human species, women were “Creatures in a gray area between beast and man,” they were portrayed as “incomplete beings” and “less-than-human” which was inherited in Western philosophic tradition. Women were seen “as closer to animals” because of their “animal functions for the species (e.g. reproductive and child-rearing functions)”. (11) “Manhood” was determined by this sequestering of the female from what it meant to be included in “humanness” and pushed into a category of being “Neither man nor beast”—which her argument and the title of her book appropriately defines.
Valarie Solanas’ S.C.U.M. Manifesto goes right for the juggler vein by reversing the effect of what it means to be made less-than-human for men. Placing man “halfway between humans and apes”, she turns history around by putting men in the position to know what it feels like to be an oppressed woman, a dehumanized being, or non-being. This doesn’t exclude women entirely, but rather, the “Daddy’s Girl” affected by the male conditioning that reduces women to “Mama, mindless ministrator to physical needs” or “to an animal” because of her labor pains, breast feeding and staying home to take care of his babies. (5) Solanas’ argument not only diminishes men as shamefully animalistic, egocentric, passive, guilty, fearful, insecure, inadequate, and knowingly, “a worthless piece of shit”, she proclaims that he is “an incomplete female”. (1) In his passivity, she claims “The male spends his life attempting to complete himself, to become female.” And in another statement, an appealing distinction is made. Solanas claims, “The male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes.” (1) She goes on to say, “To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited, maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.” (1) Reversing the Athenian philosophy from women to men who are “incomplete beings” and conditioned of “deformity and weakness”, Solanas categorizes the male species as a contamination originating in his cells; as if to reveal the secret reason the problems of the world exist are because of a male, biological curse.
For Adams, her views are not so radically antagonistic when referring to sexist oppression. Adams recognizes the position men have held in power. History tells us this. But she also understands that this attainment was succeeded by certain measures of action. The boundary of human/animal dualism was created to put everyone other than themselves, into a category. She stresses that men (white men) “can exist as a concept and a sexual identity only through negation (“not woman, not beast, not colored,” i.e., “not the other”). (12) The “other” refers to “the opposite of the ‘self’ and therefore comes to be regarded as intrinsically of lesser value.” (72) White men have become who they are by dismissing women, beasts, people of color, and ‘the other’ who by establishing this difference, raises themselves in a hierarchy of power over them. Yet, for Adams, this sub-humanizing involves greater complexities of method. She observes how “oppression is a reality” (14) that benefits the privileged who maintain this oppression over those of different gender, race, species and environment. Affecting the social construct of reality, “gender becomes a marker of the oppression of animals too”. (14) Since segregation takes place among humans, it is her view––and a feminist standing, to include the treatment of animals, for this racializing creates “a vertical hierarchy of humans above animals” (12) and how rationalizing the misuse of animals—that began in the first place, was the origin for casting over the rest of humanity “those who have been made neither man nor beast in a white supremacist patriarchy—women, people of color, non-dominant men, and animals.” (16)
Ultimately, identifying through a feminist defense for animal-rights, Adams applies her cause to the rest of humanity oppressed by a hierarchical condition of white supremacist patriarchy.
This would infuriate Solanas! For Adam’s indirectness politely excuses men for what she believes they truly are, “a walking abortion”. (1) Although, she would agree with the establishment of a hierarchy benefiting a white patriarchy and that “The male needs scapegoats onto whom he can project” his self-elevated state of race and gender. (7) She would veer in motive when she says, it is because of “his failings and inadequacies and upon whom he can vent his frustration at not being female.”(7) She insists that men have “an obsessive desire to be admired by women,” (7) and that he is “trying to live through and fuse with the female, and by claiming as his own all female characteristics—emotional strength and independence, forcefulness, dynamism, decisiveness, coolness, objectivity, assertiveness, courage, integrity, vitality, intensity, depth of character, grooviness, etc—and project onto women all male traits—vanity, frivolity, triviality, weakness, etc.” (2) Unlike Solanas, Adams is creating a standpoint on which to create a case of influence by reason while Solanas wants to mirror the worst of male nature so as to eradicate and castrate what she finds abominable. To uncover the truth––as she sees it, Solanas blames the oppression she has personally felt, the worst of human atrocities (such as war, mental illness, prostitution, disease and even death) onto the male being.
By alienating him, her chromosomal theory of incompleteness assumes that through laboratories, there will be the option “whether or not to continue to reproduce males” (12) that when genetic control is possible—and soon it will be—it goes without saying that we should produce only whole, complete beings, not physical defects of deficiencies, including emotional deficiencies, such as maleness.” Offering this ideal is an unrealistic solution for the continuance of future generations by simply announcing death would be eliminated if females were elevated in the sciences because men have withheld the secrets to unlimited life so they could remain on top. “Why should there be future generations? When aging and death are eliminated, why continue to reproduce?” (12) Solanas asks these questions but seems to go off the deep end revealing her vengeful pain at center stage as opposed to providing a humanitarian solution.
Adams offers a world of enlightenment through perceiving racism as the cause of oppression and coincidentally, the sexism Solanas so fervently attacks. She says, “My goal is to place the animal defense movement firmly within movements that challenge the social oppression of humans.” (17) A very humanitarian pledge. By proposing a feminist ideal, if all of humanity were to agree that “animals have a right to their own lives”, (70) she believes this emancipatory act for the defense of animals would create a domino effect raising awareness to not only the ethical treatment for animals and their bodies, but this intersection approach would help in “understanding violence against women and violence against animals,” to “bring the peace home.” (18) Furthermore, if animals suddenly had rights over their own bodies, the bestializing and animalizing of races other than white would become apparent. The dehumanizing and negating of humanity would require no resistance toward its oppressive conditions because equality would finally be achieved. But would a white-dominated world succumb? In other words, if the world is in fact dominated by a white-supremacist patriarchy, would they allow another system to succeed them?
To conclude, every angle Solanas contrives––though radical to the core––exudes a position worth review because however excessive and ridiculous some of her examples appear, her position is born from the damaging effects of a patriarchal system that strike chords with those who have been either abused by the patriarchal system or willing enough to delve into their feminist side for traces of empathy. She elicits this response by bringing the ugliest side of man to the forefront in such a way that convention has not been exposed to. In doing so, I think the value is apparent. The other side of a white-male dominated world is taking a stand. Women have been denigrated for far too long. Although my first impression of her manifesto was of generalizing and absurdity because I felt that most of her argument does not apply to me, I discovered that her extremity caused me to realize my own position; that I must be a feminist if most of her dislikes do not apply to me and that I would consider their merit. However her means to an end is a means to escape for she offers no real prolific understanding when making her case to phase out males and produce only females because of a deficiency chromosome. “Why should there be future generations? What is there purpose? Why should we care what happens when we’re dead? Why should we care that there is no younger generation to succeed us?” As for Adams, she’s working hard at explicating a link between the oppressions of race, sex, class, species, and the environment, to infuse a level of awareness through her defense of animals that will in her hopes, bring change to all of these abuses. She says, “Defense of animals can be embedded in progressive ecofeminist, antiracist work. I envision a rejection of the human/animal dualism as well as a rejection of a dualistic politics that implies we may be for humans or for animals but not for both.” (83) Finally, she anticipates a reaction straight from the source of both authors’ main perpetrator, “Patriarchy would suggest we were adding animals on, and through this suggestion keep us from seeing the politics of domination.” (84) There seems to be an impenetrable base for which feminists are able to breach but what seems to have confounded my emergence in these two works is how Solanas implicates the male as the animal between humans and apes that oppresses her, while Adams courageously defends animals to convey her progressive plan to release all from the “interlocking system of domination at work”. Both pointed at patriarchy, you have to consider how each radical standpoint stems from a right to their beliefs in response to a patriarchal oppression but one must wonder how on the one hand, oppression and domination has not been eradicated from patriarchy, and on the other, how can it when we are still basically animals? Isn’t patriarchy a survival component in the animal kingdom? But then again, Valerie Solanas is not a part of that kingdom, nor does she care for its survival. She resides in a magical universe, and reminds us that matriarchy is just as important, if not more so.