Where to Start
Capitalism and communism are both patriarchal.
The philosophy of social change which is wider and deeper than
either of them is feminism. I believe that feminism is a
collective philosophy, a body of thought and action based on the values
of women worldwide, which is presently revealing itself to
the consciousness of all. Patriarchy has infected women
and men for centuries, distorting our view of the world and warping our
socio-economic practices. The agenda of feminism is to
liberate everyone--women, children and men--from patriarchy
without destroying the human beings who are its carriers and the
planet where they live.
Trying to think outside of patriarchy puts women in
a situation similar to that of the ancient pre-Socratic
philosophers who were thinking at the beginning of Western
patriarchal culture. If we reject the patterns of thought that have riddled
and plagued European culture, there is a great deal of
untrodden ground before us. We need to reconnect with our innocence,
with the hearts that have not made war, that have moved us to
take care of children and old people in spite of great difficulties
rather than abuse them. We need to reject the patriarchal world
view and start over--naively looking through our own eyes.
When we stop believing what we have been told, we
find that the truth is there but our ability to recognize it has
been numbed and buried deep within by the strata of the history
of individuals, of cultures and of the species. It is the
re-awakened, collectively-formulated women's perspective that proves
the human species was not Mother Nature's mistake. By adopting
it, women, and the men who follow them, can reverse
the destruction of human beings and the planet.
In order to reject patriarchal thinking, we must be able
to distinguish between it and something else, an alternative.
The disciplines of academia have a tendency to mushroom into
worlds to which thousands of international researchers and
thinkers contribute. In spite of many 'advances,' they validate a view
of the world and a reality in which the perpetration of abuse
and domination is endemic at many levels. I believe that there is
a relatively simple fatal flaw which undermines all so-called
'First World' thinking, including the thinking of the academic
worlds. We usually begin our investigations into different
subjects downstream from this flaw and, therefore, we are already under
its influence. The naive point of view allows us to begin at
the beginning. Usually academics build upon the past and begin at
a place so far down the course of the river that the flaw can
no longer be identified. Indeed, it seems to constitute reality. It is
at the beginning that we can hope to find the alternative.
Because of the circumstances of my life, I have been able
to turn my own naive attention towards one area of
academic concern which has been particularly important in the
Twentieth Century: the study of language and other sign systems.
Whatever their other achievements, the disciplines of
linguistics and semiotics and the philosophy of language have brought
forward the fundamental importance of language for the human
character and condition. If language is important, it follows that the
study of language--in the disciplines of linguistics and
semiotics--is a good place to begin an investigation of patriarchal thinking.
Communication by means of language is now considered
by academics to be a separate and independent
rule-governed activity. Some linguists believe that the fact that all
human communities use language is evidence that language
is transmitted, for the most part, not culturally but
genetically. Syntactic rules and sometimes even elements of
vocabulary appear to be part of the hardware handed down from
generation to generation. It seems to me that such genetic
endowments would predetermine our linguistic behavior in a "Biology
is destiny" sort of way. In this, language would appear similar
to gender, the characteristics of which were for centuries
culturally considered to be biologically transmitted and,
therefore, unchangeable and unchallengeable, especially by the
'genetically inferior' gender.
Making language a gift given by our DNA, not a
cultural inheritance, locates it in an area which is beyond
human intervention. If we believe instead that language is a
social endowment which must be learned by flexible young
mind-body complexes in the making, our idea of the human character
varies accordingly. What is learned can be subjected to
collective revision; its mechanisms can be investigated by the learners;
its consequences altered.
Strange as they seem to me, considerations such as
the genetic transmission of language are taken seriously and have
far-reaching ripple-effects for other disciplines. An environment
is created in which some ideas fit together and thrive because
they are validated as permissible and respectable, while
their alternatives are discredited. The so-called
'free market' of ideas, like the economic free market, often promotes the benefit of
a (genetically superior?) few while appearing to be good
Whenever we are talking about the human condition,
we should subject our own discourse to at least two tests: "What's
in it for me materially?" and secondly, "What's in it for
me psychologically?" Criticism of ideology has shown that
whole systems of thought have served the dominance of some
groups over others. Every academic discipline should be suspect.
Systems of ideas which we have been taught as the truth back up
the political and economic systems of which they are a part.
Fortunately, I have been outside the academic world and
not dependent upon it for my material well-being. Thus, I have
been able to remain naive. I desire radical social change; as a mother,
I want my children and the children of all mothers to receive
a healthy and sane future, free from the collective
psychosis of patriarchy. Contributing effectively to this future is
my psychological reward.
I hope to show that there is a feminist explanation for language, and that much of our thinking can be re-framed as deriving from a woman-based practice. There is an entirely different paradigm which exists and is accessible beneath the abstractions of linguistics and semiotics. Feminists who have been rightly distressed by the male dominance of language have sometimes chosen to speak and write poetically as an alternative. They have even sometimes chosen to remain silent in order to subtract themselves from patriarchal discourse. I suggest that, by finding and consciously embracing the hidden paradigm, we can begin to liberate both language and social practice from patriarchal control.
In spite of endless discussions, philosophers have not been able to answer the question, "How are words 'hooked on' to the world?" This question is the end of a thread which is bound up in the tangle of patriarchal philosophy--a good place to begin a naive investigation. All the answers that have been given to this question have been influenced by the patriarchal stances of the mostly male philosophers who were doing the thinking. Their points of view grew up in denial of a women's model and have served to support patriarchal hierarchies throughout the centuries.1 I do not want to try to refute current or past theories of language one by one, which would make this book an endless academic undertaking, conducted on the territory of those I want to challenge. I will simply propose an alternative theory.
Let me identify some questions that need to be answered. Weneed to know how words, phrases, discourses 'mean.' Howare they related to each other and to the world? What is the significance of language for the nature of human beings as individuals and as a species? Why is it important for us to know this? Since language has been considered to play an important role in making us human, answering these questions in terms of an abstract system causes us to attribute our humanity to our capacity for abstract thought, with the consequence that those
of us who are best at abstract thinking appear to be somehow
more human than the others.
Women have been stereotypically assigned the province
of 'emotion' while men have appropriated the area of
'reason.' If we see language as an abstract system having the capacity to make
us human, men's 'superiority' would seem to be justified by
their presumed capacity for abstraction. Theories of language back
up theories, or at least popular conceptions, of gender.
At another level of complication, considering syntax as
a collection of rules imputes the rule-governed character to
the human being as well. Thus it validates our systems of
laws, making them seem natural because they are also collections
of rules and require rule-governed activity. What happens
in academia regarding language can have far reaching effects on
the rest of the world. Academic economic theories also
have important effects on the way goods are produced and
distributed everywhere. Even when the effects are not direct, the
assumptions underlying these disciplines influence individual and
group behavior in many areas of life.
Changing the basic assumptions would have a
far-reaching ripple effect. They form the motivation and backup rationale
for policies and behaviors in much the same way that the
existence of the military industrial complex forms the motivation
and backup for US foreign policy.
Co-creation of Patriarchy
It has become commonplace in the US New Age
movement to talk about the co-creation of 'reality.' It is said that, by
our thoughts, we cause certain things to occur and others not
to occur. I hope to be able to show how we are collectively
creating a patriarchal reality, which is actually bio-pathic (harmful to
life), and I propose that we dismantle that reality. Our values, and
the self-fulfilling interpretations of life that we make because of
them, are creating a harmful illusion which leads us to act and
to organize society in harmful ways. This is one sense in which
our thoughts do make things happen. If we understand what we
are doing, however, patriarchal reality can be changed. First, we
must have the courage to change the basic assumptions which serve
as fail-safes to keep deep systemic changes from occurring.
Although male domination exists in many (or perhaps
most) cultures, it is towards the domination of the white male that
I want to direct my attention. In fact, I believe that many
patterns of domination and submission have come together to create
a pattern of domination for that group at all levels. By this, I do
not mean that every white male dominates, or that only white
males dominate, but that the patterns of sex, race, and class fit
together effectively to allow and encourage white males to dominate
in many different areas of life. The patterns of domination
propagate themselves and the values upon which they are based.
In the history of Europe, the rise of capitalism
and technology, the slaughter of the witches, the invasion of
the Americas and genocide of indigenous peoples, the
slavery of Africans, and the Nazi holocaust are all extreme moments of
a culture in which sex, race, and class work together like a
giant mechanism to over-privilege some and under-privilege
many others. Unfortunately, this mechanism often sets the standard
and validates similar behavior in other cultures. Dictators
throughout the world climb the stairs erected before them by their
European brothers, perpetrating horrors.
At present, white males are still the most successful
purveyors of patriarchy. Through mechanisms such as the
free market, they continue to dominate the global economy. It is therefore
the responsibility of their caregivers, especially white
women, together with white women's allies among women and men
of color and white men, to turn against patriarchy and dismantle
it from within. We must all cease rewarding bio-pathic
behaviors and systems. Women and men must stop nurturing patriarchy.
Capitalism has had advantages for many women,
especially white women, in that it has allowed us to take on the
structural position which had formerly been reserved for men.
Becoming part of the work force and becoming educated for positions
of authority have allowed many women to acquire the
voice--the ability to speak out and to define situations--which is
very difficult for women who only have access to traditional
family roles where males have all the authority.
Many women are using their freedom to speak against
the system which 'liberated' them regarding its many defects,
which weigh upon them personally through low wages, lack of
child care, and the continued privileging of males. They also
condemn the system's exploitation of their sisters and their sisters'
children in the so-called 'Third World' here and abroad, its
enormous waste of resources through the arms business and
war, and its endemic devastation of the environment.
I think that all women in capitalism are in a particularly
good position to see through its apparent advantages, because we
are still being educated to bring up children at the same time that
we are being encouraged to climb the economic ladder.
The contradictions involved in the values which accompany
these two mandates draw our attention to the deep contradictions
in the system itself.
Therapies and drugs of various kinds tend to try to make
us 'adjust' by concentrating on ourselves as the cause of
our discomfort. However, many feminists are turning
outwards, against the bio-pathic system. We are not using the
violent methods of the system but are looking for other ways to change
it from within.
I believe we have not yet succeeded because we do not
realize that we have a common perspective and that the problems we
are facing are systemic. By showing the links among different
aspects of patriarchy, and by uncovering and asserting our
common alternative values, women can begin to dismantle patriarchy,
to re-create reality and to lead everyone back from the brink
of disaster to peace for all.
The Gift Paradigm
There is a fundamental paradigm, with widespread and
far reaching effects, which is not being noticed. It may seem
strange, in the time of space travel, computers and genetic
engineering, that anything really important could be ignored. However,
we may remember the idea of the "elephant in the living
room" talked about by Alcoholics Anonymous. People who are in
denial of someone's alcoholism do not mention it. In order to
maintain the status quo, they turn their attention to other things.
I believe there is a large part of life that is being denied
and ignored. Unlike alcoholism, it is the healthy normal way of
being, but we are indeed turning our attention away from it in order
to maintain a false reality, the patriarchal status
quo. I call this unseen part of life 'the gift paradigm.' It is a way of
constructing and interpreting reality that derives from mothering and
is therefore woman-based (at least as long as women are the
ones who are doing most of the mothering).
The gift paradigm emphasizes the importance of giving
to satisfy needs. It is need-oriented rather than profit-oriented.
Free giftgiving to needs--what in mothering we would call
nurturing or caring work--is often not counted and may remain invisible
in our society or seem uninformative because it is
qualitatively rather than quantitatively based. However, giving to
needs creates bonds between givers and receivers.
Recognizing someone's need, and acting to satisfy it, convinces the giver of
the existence of the other, while receiving something from
someone else that satisfies a need proves the existence of the other to
Needs change and are modified by the ways they are
satisfied, tastes develop, new needs arise. As they grow, children need
to become independent, and mothers can also satisfy that need
by refraining from satisfying some of the children's other needs.
Opposed to giftgiving is exchange, which is giving in
order to receive. Here calculation and measurement are
necessary, and an equation must be established between the products.
In exchange there is a logical movement which is
ego-oriented rather than other-oriented. The giver uses the satisfaction
of the other's need as a means to the satisfaction of her
own need. Ironically, what we call 'economics' is based
on exchange, while giftgiving is relegated to the
home--though the word 'economics' itself originally meant 'care of
the household.' In capitalism, the exchange paradigm
reigns unquestioned and is the mainstay of patriarchal reality.
Even many of those who wish to challenge
capitalism envision only an economy without money--a
barter economy--which is of course still based on exchange. I believe they
misplace the dividing line between the paradigms, making money
the responsible factor rather than exchange, so they cannot
clearly see the alternative that giftgiving presents. Aiding
the maintenance of the status quo and the exchange economy is
a view of 'human nature' as egotistical and
competitivequalities which are required and enhanced by
capitalism. The qualities required and enhanced by mothering are
other-orientation, kindness and creativity. Though they are necessary for
bringing up young children, these qualities are made difficult, even
self-sacrificial, by the scarcity for the many which is often
the consequence of the exchange economy. They are considered
not 'human nature,' not part of reality.
I believe that the gift paradigm is present everywhere
in our lives, though we have become used to not seeing
it. Exchange, with its requirement for measurement, is
much more visible. However, even our greeting "How are you?" is
a way of asking "What are your needs?"
'Co-muni-cation' is giving gifts (from the Latin munus--gift) together. It is how we form the
By satisfying the needs of the infants who are
dependent upon them, mothers actually form the bodies of the people
who are, and live together in, the community. They also care for
and maintain the implements, houses and locations where
the community interactions take place. We communicate with
each other through our gifts of goods, through co-munication. Each gift
carries with it something of the thought process and values of
the giver and affirms the value of the receiver. In fact, goods
and services that are given freely to satisfy needs give value to
the receiver by implication.2
Exchange, on the other hand, is self-reflecting. It
requires attention to be concentrated on equivalence between
the products, and the value that might have been given to the
other person instead returns to the giver in the satisfaction of her
own need. In exchange, the satisfaction of the need of the other
is only a means to the satisfaction of one's own need.
When everyone is doing this, the co-munication that occurs is
altered and only succeeds in creating a group of isolated,
unbonded, independent egos, not a co-munity.
In their isolation, these egos tend to develop new
artificial needs for nurturing and bonding and use domination to
procure for themselves the sense of community and identity they
lack, forcing others to nurture them. They use everything
from personal violence to manipulation of abstract systems to
achieve the satisfaction of their needs, satisfaction which they are
no longer receiving from participating directly in gift interactions.
In fact, we might look at our society as starving for free
gifts and the bonds that are created by them. Our compassion
is blocked, and it appears that only by denying
giving-and-receiving can we survive. Yet not giving is
killing those who could give just as surely as not receiving is
killing those who have the material needs. In order to maintain this aberrant situation, laws
have been established, and armed forces are paid to back them up.
Huge amounts of money are spent nurturing the
justice system, the government, the police and the military,
thereby creating the scarcity which makes giftgiving difficult,
exchange a necessary survival
mechanism.3 Abstract systems of laws and hierarchical organizations like the government and
the military are delivery systems for gifts, taking them away from
the needs of the many in the community and directing them
towards the needs of special groups of exchangers who have
been socialized with an ego hungry to have 'more.'
While we may be grateful to the exchangers
(entrepreneurs) for creating jobs, we should realize that the jobs are ways
of getting for the entrepreneur what Karl Marx called
'surplus value'--what we could call a free gift of labor time given by
the worker. In order to survive, the worker also has to receive
many free gifts from his or her nurturers. Gifts are distributed from
the bottom up in the hierarchy, from the poor to the rich,
from giftgivers to exchangers, while it looks as if the flow is going
in the other direction.
The interaction of exchange itself has seemed so natural
that it would not require investigation. However, it is
actually artificial, deriving from a misuse of co-munication. If we
no longer consider exchange natural or one of the mainstays
of reality, we can stop considering our participation in it as
the criterion of our worth. In fact, many women have believed
that the purpose of our liberation has been to allow us to
participate more fully in society. In the US, this society is
capitalist patriarchy. Women have also felt discomfort in it because
our values are different, and at times this keeps us from
being successful. The answer to our problem is not to change
ourselves to adapt to the bigger patriarchal picture, but to change
the bigger picture to adapt to women's values. This change
requires asserting those values as more viable than the values
of patriarchy. We must understand and deeply criticize patriarchy,
so that we can realize we already have the alternative in our hands.
Rather than attempting to achieve the respect of those
who have succeeded in the
system, we need to stand our
outside the system. Even 're-spect' has to do with looking
again, evaluating and being equal to, which are criteria deriving
from exchange, and are important only when caring is not
already considered the norm.
As we shift our focus towards validating the gift paradigm
and seeing the defects of the exchange paradigm, many things
acquire a different appearance: Patriarchal capitalism, which seemed
to be the source of our good, is revealed as a parasitic system,
where those above are nurtured by the free gifts of their 'hosts'
below. Profit is a free gift given to the exchanger by the
other participants in the market and those who nurture them.
Scarcity is necessary for the functioning of the system of exchange and
is not just an unfortunate result of human inadequacy and
1 In looking at the surface of language I question the psychological significance
of terms used by philosophers and linguists, especially those having to do with
giftgiving and need such as genetic 'endowment' or popular economic terms like 'haves'
and 'have-nots.' They are clues to patriarchal psycho-social hidden agendas.
2 It would be interesting to look at anorexia as a refusal not only of food but of the
value that would have been transmitted to the receiver through the reception of
nurturing. Perhaps the anorexic takes on the exchange paradigm too profoundly or too soon.
3World-wide, 19 billion dollars is spent on armaments every week. This would be enough to feed all the hungry on earth. Since this expenditure does not create any life-sustaining products, it acts as a drain on the nurturing economy. For a clear view of military expenditures see graphic on page 421-422.