Sunday, 13 April 2014

The rise of the Patronising Hegemony. 13.04.14

Most bad parents I’ve bumped into can be classified under two broad groups.  You get the domineering parents, who try to control the children’s behaviour by using their superior force.  Some may intimidate children by raising their voice and posturing; some may actually hit them; many do a bit of both.  The underlying mechanism is the same: they are imposing their will by the threat of a horrid retribution.  The retribution doesn’t have to be physical: “If you go out wearing that makeup don’t bother coming back home” is a pretty serious threat to the average child, particularly if screamed by a larger, stronger person who is clearly close to exploding and has the means to carry the threat out.  It may not have the shock factor of “Go wash your face or I will slap that lipstick off you”, or of physical violence, but it is still a cause for serious concern.  If the children behave is not because they agree with their parents or respect them, but just because they are scared of them.  The control factor here is sheer fear.  These parents are bullies.

The other major style of bad parenting is those used by self-defined victims.  They are the parents who control their children’s behaviour by emotionally blackmailing them.  Instead of raising their voice, they grow meek and pathetic or withdraw altogether.  Their verbiage is usually highly emotive: “How can you treat me like this?”  “After all I’ve sacrificed for you…”  “You are killing me!”  If the children behave is, again, not because of agreement or respect.  They have been shamed into toeing the line.  Maybe they just cannot stomach yet another two-hour guilt-trip, with hysterics sprinkled on top if you’re lucky, or the hours or days of silent treatment.  Again, the particular style of emotional blackmailing and consequences varies between parents, but the underlying mechanism is the same: these parents are passive-aggressive, using blame, shame and withdrawal as control mechanisms.  If the passive-aggressive parent uses open threats, they are threats-by-proxy: “Wait until your father gets home!” is one of the sentences of choice.

What many people overlook is the fact that, although these approaches are completely different in their methodologies, they are identical in other ways.  Most importantly, negotiation is impossible.  You can’t meet these people half-way, make a rational case for your point of view, or discuss any issue they don’t want discussing.  Often any attempt to even mention any touchy subject results in screaming and insults on one side or hysterical tears on the other.  You either do what they want you to do, or suffer the consequences.

If one wanted to open a can of worms, one could say that there can be a gender split between the two parenting styles.  Fathers may have a tendency to scream and threaten where mothers may have a tendency to cry and shame.  However, this is essentially an untruth.  In fact, the main reason I know a fair bit about both styles is that my mom fits neatly into the passive-aggressive group, while my grandmother was a bully unto her dying day.  I have seen enough exceptions to the gender split in other families that I can’t buy it as a valid theory.  At any rate, pegging faults on the genders is not the point I am trying to make.

The thing is that if you want a not-so-shining example of an aggressive, domineering personality, the picture of a large, screaming father threatening his frightened children with awful retribution is one most of us can relate to.  If you want an example of someone who aims to control passive-aggressively, a crying mother telling her children how awful they are for making her suffer also fits.  Yes, they are broad generalisation, hence incorrect and deeply unfair to both genders, but most of us can relate to them.

What the hell does any of this have to do with self-defence, self-growth or whatever it is I normally waffle on about?  Have I finally lost the plot entirely and fancy myself a parenting expert?  Errrr, no.  I just used the example of parents partly because most of us have some experience of good and bad family dynamics, but mostly because it is often only within our family that we dare to go full throttle.  The same styles of interaction can be seen in any other social setting, but they are often muted by social conventions and regulations.  There are plenty of bullying bosses (and subordinates, policemen, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. – the list goes on forever), but they are unlikely to show their fangs as openly as they do at home.  You may be scared of being late for work because of how you feel about your boss, but he’s unlikely to scream abuse at you, rip your trousers off and belt you repeatedly for lateness.  If he does, he is unlikely to get a chance to do it twice; he would be sacked and punished under the law.  The same social restrictions on behaviour apply to the self-defined victim.  Your colleague may get you to pick up all his slack by making you feel bad about how he is losing family time, but he is unlikely to get hysterical and tear his hair out in the middle of the office.  You may feel threatened by the one and guilt-tripped by the other, but chances are that the issues won’t be as obvious as anything you encounter in the privacy of a home.

So what?  Well, I grew up with the bogeyman of the Patriarchal Hegemony.   You see, in days only just gone by, women lived under male oppression.  As individuals, they were non-entities; they were merely chattels to be sold by fathers to husbands.  Men had all the control, provided they toed the line.  People were free to be and do anything they wanted, provided that it fitted within the incredibly strict parameters of the Patriarchal Hegemony.  If anyone stepped out of line, terrible retribution would follow.  As a minimum, they would be shamed or ostracised forever and ever. 

Please note that I said “bogeyman”.  I personally believe in the accuracy of above picture as much as I believe in the Tooth Fairy.  However, I was raised to believe in it, and I still know plenty of people who do.  Some believe that we have fought and won against the Patriarchal Oppressors; some are convinced that the fight is still on.[1]  I am more concerned about another issue: that of the rise of the Patronising Hegemony.

It started off as a malapropism.  I was talking too fast for my brain to keep up, as per usual and tripped over my own tongue.  However, the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s real and growing.  Like the Patriarchal Hegemony, the Patronising Hegemony controls society by pulling at the invisible threads that hold us together.  The Patronising Hegemony seeks to control people by passive-aggressive means.  Instead of threats or open violence, they use guilt-tripping and emotional blackmail.  This does not make them any less oppressive, just harder to identify and rise up against.

If you want to find a Patronising Hegemonist, all you need to do is post something on the internet along the lines of “to successfully reduce your weight you need to consume less calories than you are burning”, or “scantily-dressed women are increasing their risk of attracting the wrong sort of attention”.  Quicker than you can say “harpy”, they will swoop down on you.  You will be labelled a “fat-shamer” or “victim-blamer”.  You will, in fact, be shamed and blamed for allegedly shaming and blaming, even though you weren’t doing anything of the sort.  Your intentions won’t matter a fig – you might have hurt someone’s feelings with your utterances, however accurate or constructive they may have been, and that’s all that counts.  And god help you if you can be classed as having any of the “privileges”[2]; being “privileged” these days means that you no longer have any rights to have an opinion, let alone to participate in a discussion on the subject.

Both the Patriarchal and Patronising Hegemonies use appeals to authority in lieu of rational dialogue.  Where the Patriarchals will shut you down by saying that “it’s tradition!”, the Patronisers will try to convince you that you are simply ignorant of an issue.  It isn’t your fault, you poor thing, you just don’t know how the world really is and they do.  If you still don’t agree with them after you have researched the subject further, or – horror! – if you can demonstrate that their facts or arguments are flawed, then their attitude will shift to a harder line.  You are clearly incapable of understanding the subject because of some dreadful personal flaw, such as being born the wrong gender.  Any data or anecdotes you provide to support your claims will be poo-pooed.  They will seek to undermine your experiences, memory, perception, rational abilities and even sanity – which, incidentally, is a form of mental abuse known as “gaslighting”[3].  Of course, when they do it it isn’t abuse at all, because they are good people, just trying to show you the error of your ways.

If you persist in disagreeing with their view on a topic, you will be accused of agreeing with the opposite view.  For instance, if you believe that the rape statistics they are using are miscalculated or misapplied, then you are clearly pro-rape.  From a logical point of view, this makes no sense whatsoever: “if you are not an apple, then you’re an aardvark” is a statement that most people would laugh at.  However, the same sort of “logic” with a side dish of foul accusations, hysterics and emotional appeals can be very hard to fight against.

Instead of threatening you, they shame you.  When things get out of control, they have their own brand of insults: “racist”, “sexist”, “oppressive”, “any-kinda-phobic”, “privileged” and so on.  Some insults, if turned upside up, would be considered a form of hate speech[4].  However, because they are used by “the weak” against “the oppressors”, they become magically kosher.

The Patriarchal Oppressors may say that you must do what they tell you because they are stronger than you.  The Patronising Oppressors say that you must do what they tell you because you are stronger than them, and if you dare go against them then you are an oppressor and a bully.  Don’t underestimate them, though: they are just as controlling, unyielding and unwilling to accept negotiation or compromise.

When you reach the very end of their argument, if you don’t agree with everything they say and do, then you are clearly a cruel monster.  You are guilty of all the crimes every real monster carries out – bullying, rapes, child abuse, domestic violence, you name it.  It’s all on YOUR shoulders now, because if you CARED then you wouldn’t disagree with them, you wouldn’t muddy the waters, you wouldn’t interfere with the cause.  You wouldn’t argue with the good people!  You would just do…as…they…say. 

The scary thing is, a lot of us are buying into this.  Most of us do not like hurting or even just upsetting people, even people we don’t really know or care for.  Hysterics, even by a stranger, stop most of us in our tracks.  We are also so invested in being “good people” that we back the hell down the moment someone accuses us of being in favour of something awful, or of being awful people ourselves.  As a result, a lot of half-truths and not a small amount of total nonsense is being promulgated, and a lot of very valuable, knowledgeable voices are being shut down.  I’m sorry, but if you tell anyone who has the misfortune of being heterosexual, white, healthy, middle-class or male that they are so privileged that they no longer have the right to talk, then you are losing an awful lot of useful contributors to any debate.

I am lucky.  I grew up with this shit.  If you have to resort to gaslighting, shaming, blaming, name-calling and hysterics to defend your argument, then I KNOW that it’s invalid.  If you had a valid point of view, supported by valid facts, you wouldn’t have to descend to these tactics.  We could discuss the issue calmly, rationally and openly.  What is it that you are scared of?  What are you hiding?  Is the emperor naked?

It’s remarkably easy to point out their logical fallacies[5], factual inaccuracies and morally bankrupt methods. Once you cut through the emotional strategies, the flaws are there in plain sight.  Of course, if you do that it’s going to cost you.   As standing up against a bully puts one in danger, so does standing up against a passive-aggressive harpy.  A whole heap of verbal abuse is going to be heading your way.  However, what’s the alternative?  Let them win every argument because they are willing to fight dirty?  And anyway, once you’ve fought against one passive-aggressive Patronising Oppressor, you know them all.  Their mechanisms are remarkably similar, and you can only be called a “victim blamer”, “rape sympathiser” or “tool of the patriarchal hegemony” so many times before it becomes a joke.

So here is my call to arms.  I don’t do this sort of thing as a rule, so it’s going to come out clumsy.  But come onnnnnn, people; we need to do something about this.  This control mechanism is spreading and will keep on spreading while we’re allowing it to work.  Things can only get worse unless we are willing to stand up for ourselves and for decision-making that is based on facts and rational, informed dialogue to which anyone should be allowed to participate.

[4] I was recently publicly shamed for being a “cishet” (as in, cis-gendered and heterosexual).  Yes, because of my “privileges” it is ok to shame me for my sexual orientation.
[5] Here’s a free link to a very good book on logical fallacies.  It’s written in short chapters, so it makes a perfect toilet read.  You’ve got NO excuse.

No comments: