Thursday, July 22, 2010
22. "The Gender Knot" by Allan G. Johnson
Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2005. Print.
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love
The Gender Knot was required reading for one of my classes when I was an undergraduate. I remember not liking it then but thought I would give it another try. This time around, I disliked it even more than I did the first time.
When contemplating where the world “is” in terms of gender equality, Johnson writes, “Where we are is stuck. Where we are is lost. Where we are is deep inside an oppressive gender legacy, faced with the knowledge that what gender is about is tied to a great deal of suffering and injustice. But we don’t know what to do with the knowledge, and it binds us in a knot of fear, anger, and pain , of blame, defensiveness, guilt and denial” (4). Most of this text is riddled with empty claims that lack research or evidence to support those claims. This would be one of those claims. Here he fails to acknowledge the many strides feminists have made in educating the public about gender issues, the wide range of policies and laws that have been written to create a more gender neutral society, and the integrative work being done by third wave feminists. We are neither “stuck,” nor “lost.”
Johnson defines patriarchy as “a kind of society, and a society is more than a collection of people. As such, ‘patriarchy’ doesn’t refer to me or any other man or collection of men, but to a kind of society in which men and women participate. . . . A society is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered. It is also organized around an obsession with control and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women” (5). This might possibly be a decent definition that I could work with as an instructor, but Johnson fails to acknowledge any other possible definition of the term, limiting the scope of his argument. He makes no mention of the root of the term (pater—meaning “rule of the father”) and makes defining patriarchy seem more cut and dry than it really is.
In the first chapter, Johnson works to break down these three parts of patriarchy, and in his section on male identification he writes about the traditional marriage in which the husband goes to work and the wife stays home and does the domestic work. Despite his inability to recognize changing marital structures among heterosexuals (things have changed since 1950!) he goes on to write, “Since women generally don’t have wives, they find it harder to identify with and prosper within this male-identified model” (7). Hold up! Say that again, please: “Since women generally don’t have wives…” (7). This was the point where I started to believe this book was utter crap. Yes, on page seven. Johnson’s text is exclusively for heterosexuals stuck in 1950’s American culture. It fails to acknowledge the work being done by third wave feminists on intersecting and fluid identities, on the instability of gender identity, and on the ways we can restructure relationships. When working to contextualize his work in the first chapter, he fails to recognize the way lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and transsexual individuals are affected by patriarchy. He sets up femininity and masculinity in a very strict, stable binary: Masculinity is this and only this; femininity is that and only that.
Johnson writes that women in power are automatically at risk of being raped: “To a rapist, the most powerful woman in the land is first and foremost a woman—and this more than anything else culturally marks her as a potential victim” (23). I am absolutely offended by this statement for SO MANY REASONS. I feel like I could write a book just debunking this ill-informed perspective. First, ALL women are at risk to become potential victims no matter how much power they supposedly have and so are men. Second, this sort of logic works to dissuade women from wanting any kind of power and recognition on the basis of fear thus further oppressing them. Third, this claim is fear-based and not evidence-based. He presents no statistics or research to support what he’s writing.
In conclusion, I would never use this book in the classroom, EVER.
I can’t decide what I want to do with it: trash or compost fodder? To the compost it goes. *rip*
0 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: TRASHED