Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Month: July, 2016

Scenes: The Maestro

My retinas were kissed by the amber-hue of the concert hall as I came out onto the stage. The house lights revealed the more-than-two-thousand seats that environ the orchestral “pit.” Soon, they all would be filled with over-enthused patrons, who have waited years for the return of the maestro. The first show since his… hiatus. People coming from all over the country, as well as Europe, China, Japan, India, to see the opening night of his return. Tickets were sold out in less than ten minutes. I had to personally tell several offices of presidents and kings that there were no more tickets available. Consequently, I am now banned from several of these countries.

The concert hall’s undulating fluidity of walls and ceiling, bleeding concave into convex and back, illustrates a visually inverse reflection of the sound, trapping the acoustics in their place so that no matter where one sits in the hall the experience is audibly the same. When he first stepped out onto the stage (the first time not only on that one, but any in fifteen years) he remarked: “Das Paradox ist im Spiel.” When the chairman and other board of directors asked what he meant, I took it upon myself to translate: “He is thinking about the interplay between the music that will be animating outward and the constructed pieces designed to keep it inward. That struggle is like a playful wrestling.” They looked around the hall and back at me, a hint of confusion in their smiling dumb faces, looking to me for more. So I added: “He likes it.”

Tonight, he’ll be playing Dmitri Shostakovich’s “5th Symphony,” portions of Sergei Prokofiev’s “The Tale of the Stone Flower,” and selected works from Jules Massenet’s “Eve” and Hans Rott’s “Symphony in E-Major” plus, as a surprise encore performance, his latest composition. He wants to “break their hearts, then slowly put them back together after the intermission,” to “show them the whole breadth of the human element.” He is excited. “Oh Camille,” he said the night before last over dinner. “They again have returned. Those wonderful butterflies.” Diese wunderbaren Schmetterlinge. Ich sehe sie wieder.

He was out on the stage. In two hours the doors would open. He was sitting in the third cellist’s wooden chair. He looked concerned, perplexed even, swaying from one side of the seat to the other. Scratching his hair, listening carefully to nothing, he leaned left, then right, back again, looked as if he was almost inspecting the air underneath the seat.

Last night he called me in a panic. “Camille! Darling! It’s impossible. Just simply impossible!” What? I asked. What was the matter? I was trying to remain focused while simultaneously tearing myself from the grips of a deep sleep. “The chairs! They’re simply awful!” Then he proceeded to tell me how he needs to replace all of the orchestra’s chairs. But it was three in the morning. “I don’t care! We can’t have a show with those shit chairs!” He instructed me on what he needed. Wooden chairs. Handcrafted. Preferably with at least ten years of use, and possibly birch wood, but under no circumstances oak.

The board members were not too pleased when in the morning they witnessed the maestro (gently) tossing the concert hall’s chairs out from the pit and placing the wooden replacements down. One looked at me with eyes that seemed to say: “Again?” Various staff at the concert hall were standing about watching the maestro along with the delivery men who had the wooden chairs I was able to find—they came gratis from a local school that was preparing to throw them out.

It was easy to understand the board members frustration, and confusion. The new chairs were ugly, worn, some had crude graffiti written on the seats and sides in marker or etched with pen or pencil: the most common unsavories were the word “Fuck” and phallic images—quite remarkable detail when considering these came from a 4th grade classroom. They were by far inferior to the usual ones. The president came up to me: “You can’t possibly allow this to happen! Those chairs he’s throwing around cost us more than two-hundred dollars each.” They were quite nice to sit in. Padded, stainless steal, coated in a black matte paint, heavy. The maestro was humming Ravel as he picked one chair, then another, and dropped them off the stage into the front row. “Will he stop doing that!?” the president raged. A scuffle broke out between the maestro and an employee of the hall who was following orders. The maestro’s mood changed like a flash as he struggled for control over a chair from the employee. “Du Idiot! Du widerliches Arschloch! Lass los!” An ugliness reverberated throughout the hall for the next minute, so arresting it doubled as a vacuum afterwards leaving the open space as a new muted environment. I did my best to calm all parties, though I was staunchly defending my mentor. After the president made a rather uncouth comment about the maestro’s behavior, I had no other option but to take it upon myself to explain that if the two-hundred dollar chairs were so important to her, she could have them, but there would be no maestro.

After the fight, he disappeared. We were searching for him for more than six hours, but he was nowhere to be found in the building or surrounding area. (I later learned the president had called several conductors in that timeframe to see if they would fill in, but to no avail.) I was in my room, in a state of melancholy, when one of the interns informed me the maestro had returned. He brought me through the back to the stage, and surely there the man of the hour was.

I slowly came upon the maestro while he moved from the cellist’s chair to the first oboist’s. He was in full composer regalia. I wondered how he managed to change, as my room and his were connected and I left the separating door open. How did he sneak in without me knowing? “Maestro,” I called in a gentle manner so as not to startle him. He turned to me with a smile, then back to the matter at hand of sitting in the chair, turning from one side to the other and back, listening, scrutinizing nothing. My heart began to jump. The thought of that board member’s eyes returned. “Again?” I asked him what he was doing. He smiled at me in a sort of paternal affability. “I’m listening.” To what? The reverberation? The silence? The hall? “No, Camille,” he laughed. “To the chair.” I was near tears as he moved to the second oboist’s seat. But why? Why in the name of the heavens would he need to listen to the chairs?

He stopped and briefly sighed. He understood now that I could not see just like the others.

“My darling. The chairs are important. I need the right ones to sing out just a little, so that when Mary,” he pointed to the violinist’s empty spot, “or Henry,” he motioned back to where the tam-tam player sits, “when they move in their chairs the slightest creak will sound. And with any luck, it will happen in the lulls between the triumphs of music.” But what was wrong with the previous chairs? “They were too good. They made no sound. In all the practices, something was amiss. I couldn’t understand why the music felt so hollow to me. Because when I would see these players shift in their seats, no sound would produce. It was haunting. Like I was trapped in some nightmare. Every single sound is part of the orchestra. The beauty is lost if the entirety is not realized. All of this,” he motioned around him, “means nothing if when Yoshino,” he pointed down at his lap, “squirms in her chair as she does, the audience does not hear it.” He smiled at me, so pleased by current events. “Do you see now?”  Siehst du jetzt? Siehst du die kleiner Schmetterlinge?

… I smiled back in silence. What else could I do?

Your Body is Not Your Own: Brief Thoughts on Patriarchy

Bad Thoughts

Late night at our house in Nashville, my roommates and I sat around the dinner table engaged in a lively brainstorming session. Two of my roommates were trying to develop the concept of their band’s album art. Our other roommate, Melissa, the band’s photographer and friend, sat in on the discussion. I was more or less there to eat my dinner (back then, probably mozzarella sticks) and chime in if the Spirit moved me. The basic concept was related to the more occult qualities (since the band played a modern rock twist with hints of the delta blues, and was inspired by the more gothic aspects of the South centered around the imagery of voodoo, witches, the supernatural) and lore of rock music (i.e. the story of how the Devil taught Robert Johnson how to play the guitar). It was a loose connection between the taboo, the sexual, and the feel-good. In hindsight, it was a confused, simplistic renunciation of mostly Southern Victorianism, and fear of black culture, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Though jejune, the purpose of the artwork was not the problem (not outright, at least). It was where the little group’s thinking ended up that is of note. Of the four of us, the three guys were really spearheading the conversation. The (de)evolution went a little something like this:

“We should have a woman on the front of the album, and like, we should convey that she is moving seductively. It’s like she’s tempting the listener.”

“Yeah. She’s like the sorceress that we’ve fallin’ under her spell.”

“Yes, and we have to free ourselves from the spell. Like the album is that for us.”

“Purging her from our souls. The album is how we do that.”

“Right. And we tell this story through the artwork.”

“I have this scene in my head. You know that old barn off 65? The one that sits in the middle of that field. In Brentwood? Yeah. If we shot near around there. Like us looking for her, and she’s running off in the distance. Then a moonlight shot of her along the fence-line out there, where the trees are, we see her silhouette and then ours chasing after her.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Maybe we could have like torches or something, or is that lame?”

“It’s a little cheesy.”

“You know, during the witch trials in Salem, they used to drown them to see if they were witches or not.”

“Right. We could like shoot something in the river.”

“Yeah, maybe we end up there.”

“Like we see a scarf of hers, or something, in the water. We highlight it. Go back to the front cover. Like it’s a black and white cover and just the scarf is in color, like red. And then in the river we see the red scarf again floating away.”

“And then the last shot, on the back of the album is like us with shovels. Standing around.”

The three of us were quite pleased by this final imagery. We kept asking one another what we thought, and we all were nodding our heads in agreement. It was a cool concept. Using a gloomy feel of the Nashville wilderness, mixing in the elements of horror, myth, and music to drive a narrative. The way it would be photographed would be cinematic in quality. What was there not to like?

It was at the apex of our euphoria that Melissa voiced her opinion: “I in no way want to cramp your guys’ creativity, and I’m not saying you have to change anything, but as the only woman in this room right now, hearing this conversation, this album art terrifies me.” This statement struck me. But sooner than I could form a thought, she continued: “You introduce fans to this woman. She’s beautiful, she’s dancing, she’s having a good time. She seems innocent. And then you show, through the subsequent photos, her being chased down by five guys through the woods at night, through a river, and eventually being murdered and buried out there somewhere.” She pressed her hand against her chest to help catch her breath. “That is just so disturbing and halting to me. As a woman, I would just be so struck by something like this.”

I cannot speak for my roommates, but from what I remember of their physiognomies, they felt just as shocked and ashamed as I did. Like them, I never considered myself writing a narrative of grotesque objectification and brutality. What disgusted me more about myself was not that I was just completely oblivious to this, but that I had willingly participated in the act. The room fell silent. Melissa felt as though she had done something wrong, offended us in some way. She quickly offered: “I mean that’s just my opinion. You can take it or leave it. I don’t want to shoot any idea down. It’s your album. It’s your music. But I just feel like I need to be honest with you. As a woman, as a friend.” The bandmates nodded their heads and thanked her, canceling any notion that Melissa should feel bad, or that somehow this was her fault.

It was truly one of those transformative experiences for me. In that moment, I became acutely aware of hidden biases and blindspots I held, and the capitulation to certain abhorrent narratives (or “common sense”) of a male-dominated culture. I was perpetuating the same kind of practices and ideas I myself found so despicable. The profundity came from the realization that I did not possess the type of insight I thought I had held for women. And equally important, I learned another example of human complexity. How my roommates and I, we were not “bad guys,” but we were easily making an incredibly poor decision. I’m only grateful Melissa was there to point out the inanity, the cruelty of our imaginations before it became worse. Still, to this day, I think of what must have been going through Melissa’s mind, watching her three friends talk about hunting down and murdering a woman with such enthusiasm. She had to bear the burden for all the those who might come across this album art and experience the same anxiety and heartbreak. For that, I still feel awful.

From here I’d like to expand this thought piece. I’d like to take notions that are grafted to the “bad thoughts” that occurred in the dining room area in Nashville, and extend them to other areas of realization. So that one can see just how these ideas become metastatic when applied to social relations—specifically here in relationship between men and women. Also, I hope to show how patriarchy and our (American) sense of moral actors play together on this topic.

X-Men: Apocalypse

I imagine something quite similar to our “dining room chat” happened amongst the marketers of X-Men: Apocalypse as they planned the outdoor campaign for the film. Only those marketers didn’t have the benefit of a Melissa to expose their blindspot.

Amongst the half-dozen outdoor posters or so, there were two that featured the strongest female leads of the movie: Mystique and Psylocke: in less-than-flattering form. In the standalone image of Psylocke (played by Olivia Munn), she is shown bending forward, arms swung back, hair flowing with her cleavage prominently in the foreground. For Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), she is being choked to death by an Apocalypse two times her size.



Set aside the fact that both Psylocke and Mystique have always been highly sexualized characters. In the comics, both women are drawn with impossible figures, skin-tight clothes (that don’t make a lick of sense for combat), and are clear projections of the basest visceral hetero-male desires (all of which is rich with its own issues steeped in patriarchy). Set aside that Hollywood was successful in saying: “I see your highly-objectified women images, and I’ll raise you.” So we transform Comic-Mystique, traditionally (or iconically) fully clothed in a white dress (and skull belt), into Film-Mystique, who is dressed, well… not at all. And although Comic-Pyslocke is quite salacious with her tight purple (what I can only assume is) latex outfit, Film-Psylocke ups the ante by cutting out all that unnecessary clothing atop her breasts, leaving them exposed for strategic value one must assume.

Set that all aside.

Focus instead on a very particular issue with these two specific images being displayed in the most public spheres: amongst the images of the most carefully selected models dressed in high, mid, and low-fashion clothes, amongst the shoe ads, promotions for lingerie next to calls for gym memberships, beautifully airbrushed actresses hawking perfumes, skin creams, shampoos and conditioners, eye-liners, jeans, and coconut water (just to name a few). See how these two images from the film, in this deluge of beauty objectification and stereotyping on billboards across the nation (and around the world), can provoke a sense of anxiety and frustration in protesters (who often end up being women). In this proper setting, through the eyes of female consumers, one begins to see these images in a different light: Psylocke is a grossly sexualized character, and Mystique is a woman whose received violence is so meaningless it is utilized as a form of advertising for a movie.

What makes this whole instance even more upsetting is precisely how avoidable it was. In a film where these two characters are on screen for a majority of the time, the marketers had a wide variety of still images to choose from (even from the very scenes these images were taken!) that would have portrayed the women in a more favorable sense. That the marketers did not choose any other scene seems to suggest either willful cynicism (i.e. They did not think the intended audience—read: young males—would recognize the offensive quality of the billboards, or flatly would not care, and ultimately not affect ticket sales.) and thus sexism, or they suffered from a painful ignorance (or more precisely, women suffered painfully from their ignorance). To drive this point further, in the outdoor campaign featuring Storm, the image shows the character shooting lightning out of her hands in every which direction and being a general cool ass-kicking mutant. That the Mystique and Psylocke posters were spared this approach is quite disappointing.


This poster replaced several “Mystique Choke Scene” billboards around the Los Angeles area after negative reactions.

Before I go further, though, there is one particular counterpoint raised as a defense of the marketing campaign. It is a line of logic that is regularly used in these types of discussions to a fault (quite often by those who want to pooh-pooh the idea of racism’s continued existence in favor of their colorblind claptrap). The argument goes a little something like this: “But if that was a man Apocalypse was choking, no one would even care. Hugh Jackman goes shirtless in posters when he’s Wolverine, and no one cares. DOUBLE STANDARD! DOUBLE STANDARD! #SEXISM! #SEXISM! #SEXISM! I WIN, I WIN, I WIN, I WIN, I WIN!” Or something to that effect.

It is a tempting argument to succumb to. After all, no one wants to consciously stand athwart equality. But this rebuttal is a sleight of hand. While it speaks of equality on the surface of things, it successfully strips the conversation of all context. Quite simply put: the reason people are not taken aback when Hugh Jackman goes shirtless, or if Professor X was to be suffocated at the hands of Apocalypse is because men do not share the same societal experience as women—not in billboard campaigns, not in entertainment/media portrayals, not in office spaces, on the streets, or at home. To bypass this context makes the counterpoint negligent and unnerving. Particularly, it is disturbing (and perplexing) that the argument purposely disregards the plight of women, and consequently the legitimacy of their concerns, and then uses the violence and objectification against men in a negative connotation as justification for the continual misrepresentation and mistreatment of women.

Lastly, what the above failed-refutation does not recognize is easily the biggest difference between men and women in the world of advertising, entertainment, and most anywhere when the human body is utilized as product, and is the true underbelly of the conversation at hand: fetishism. In hetero-male-dominant societies, men are not coveted. This sexual desire comes from the normative roles of patriarchal society: men are the sexual actors who seek out and perform sex acts (attributes that behave as main identifiers of “masculinity”) and women take on a passive role (as part of the “feminine” responsibility). [Note: Animosity towards homosexuals is often derived from these myopic gender roles, too. Oddly, though, the racialized aspects of these identities often work against people of color, especially the African American community. That’s white supremacy for ya!]

Fetishism is nothing new, nor is sexualized imagery in marketing, and the two seem to combine effortlessly in today’s media—some less so. In certain respects, they are the result of the sexual revolution. For all its apparent accomplishments, one failure of the revolution was to actually revolutionize sexuality. So what we are left with is rhetoric rich with calls to action for liberating the bedroom, or our sexual attitudes, and ultimately having more sex (because there is nothing wrong with sex, per se). This is all well and fine, but it does nothing to curb the perceived gender roles of men and women. The liberation still engenders an environment in which women should feel “free” to openly engage in more sex with men without any consideration to whether or not either side truly wants to. Continuing to define masculinity and femininity through the engagement of sex produces the fetishization of women as we understand it today and, combined with the commodity-obsessed capitalist consumer culture we have in the United States, leads to some odious results (as will be discussed shortly). Because if a woman is to step outside of the realm of normative roles dictated by hetero-male society, she is to be dealt with—often through violence. These two ideas: the woman as sexual object, and the disobedient woman punished: are on display in the posters, surrounded by a jungle of further fetishism.

So let’s return to our marketers for a moment. I’ll take them in good faith and assume they suffered from a similar blindness I had years ago in Nashville—only they put their thoughts into action. They must have looked at both posters and not seen the aforementioned styles of objectification and gender-specific violence. Instead, in all likelihood, they saw a bad-ass female mutant (Psylocke) landing some awesome move in the one case, and the powerlessness of one of the more recognizable, strong mutants (Mystique) at the hand of this next foe. I will go one more step and suggest they wanted to highlight the women in this film as much as the men in a gesture of equality. These marketers, like my buddies and I, were excited about telling this story, proud of their degree of female inclusion, and totally unaware of the potential consequences.

Allowing this type of marketing to continue unchecked is damaging for women both immediately and in the long-term. The whole imagery of woman’s relationship to man is seen in this dual sense: sex and brutality. Through the propagation of this type of advertising, the product is not just the film, but the codification of patriarchal logic. Continuously, we are treated to this logic so that it becomes seemingly innate, and feeds our action, which we then observe in real time as if natural to begin with. Granted, in some vague way, societal/cultural attitudes do have origins, but contrary to what some might have us believe, biological determinism alone does not explain the enormous, concentrated efforts espoused by large swaths of disparate people acting cohesively to subjugate, exploit, or obliterate another. Nor does theology, or any other host of singularly-driven narratives for that matter. Instead, a truth lies somewhere deep within the shrouded past across innumerable nameless people, places, and events that helped create our current predicament. What we do know is that there was some evolution to our current hyper-masculine ethos, and that its continuation thrives on this seemingly connate quality, and moreover, if the proliferation of this type of logic continues, again and again we will see it manifest itself in its most heinous, but predictable conclusion: rape.

Brock Turner

Rape (like patriarchy) is quite antediluvian. The two go hand in hand, as evident in ancient records of long-dead people, tribes, and civilizations. There is debate about whether one can place a “start date” on patriarchy. However, much consent is given to the notion that the transition from hunter-gathering groups into agricultural and eventually industrial civilizations marks the genesis of patriarchy, and rape a key ingredient to its formation. Societies were often realized through various methods of violence, and so too was patriarchy. This violence spread towards women in several fashions—the most obvious: rape. Whether it was through an “exchange” of women between tribes (often through raiding missions) as a form of debt payment, or population control, or the conquest (and enslavement) of women during times of war, rape was a constant in this form of male dominance. It is also hard to recognize the creation of patriarchy without acknowledging the relationship economic strife, the rise of militarization, and the formation of states had in its realization as a fully-fledged way of life. There is an undeniable connection between a failure in the market (often related to scarcity), the threat of the state’s legitimacy, and the rise of military power to regain equilibrium (often through conquest of one sort or another).

Flashing forward a few millennia to contemporary times in the United States, though much has changed (scarcity is not as much a result of nature, but human failure at sharing), we still see the same apparatuses and social customs in their latest regenerative forms: the market (neoliberal consumer capitalism), the state (quasi-republican government), the military (nuclear-powered and technologically advanced), patriarchy realized through the commodification of women and rape. That the contemptible effects of patriarchy still exist in a country like the United States, even in environments of the most affluence, speaks to the omnipresent and well-nigh “natural” essence of patriarchy.

To see how this exists in modern America, in its most disgusting real state, let’s take convicted rapist Brock Turner for example. The case of the former-Stanford student taking an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raping her until two men stopped him is full of various aspects of coeval patriarchy at play. I’m going to focus on just a few. The first focuses on the idea of scarcity and its relation to patriarchy in the modern era, then shame and the idea of honor, and finally a particular strain of thinking concerning the male and female bodies.

The origins of patriarchy might correlate to humanity’s initial struggle with scarcity, but it is not an effect of dearth today. At least, this is the case with much of the United States. It is certainly true when considering Brock Turner—a white man of considerable advantages. Using Turner to examine and understand concurrent patriarchy leads to a better contemplation of, and in some sense demystifies the deleterious phenomenon. For it was not scantness that led Turner to irrevocably destroy two futures—more so the woman’s. As patent in his father’s call for mercy, Turner came from a notable degree of privilege:

Brock always enjoyed certain types of food and is a very good cook himself. I was always excited to buy him a big ribeye steak to grill or to get his favorite snack for him. I had to make sure to hide some of my favorite pretzels or chips because I knew they wouldn’t be around long after Brock walked in from a long swim practice. Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist. These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.

[Full text here.]


Earlier, Turner’s father calls to attention the fact that his son was having trouble fitting in at college (descending from those Midwestern sentiments and sensibilities, a gentler, kinder breed of American, it was hard for Brock to adjust to the strange, uncouth ways of Stanford University—my reading) and balancing both his academic and athletic responsibilities. Eventually, under the tutelage of senior peer pressure, Brock turned to heavy drinking and partying as a form of relief. Set aside the fact that these are anxieties most college students deal with (especially student-athletes) and thankfully a large majority of them are not rapists; and postpone following this logic to its obvious conclusion (every out-of-state student-athlete at Stanford is a rapist-in-waiting, one college party away from shoving parts of himself into a woman who lay inert). Instead, just recognize this as not a real form of scarcity, and that patriarchy has survived into affluence where it is most exposed for how truly inane it is. To put it another way: starvation, destruction of the land, other calamities did not lead to Brock’s decision to unclothe and physically penetrate an unconscious woman right behind a receptacle where people deposit their trash, neither did some agreed ritual of exchange between his family and hers, nor was this woman a form of payment to him. More importantly, women have had to rely less and less on men (starting in the mid-twentieth century for our brave new postmodern epoch) and the gender normative habitats that were created by patriarchy during the conflicts over scarcity.

And yet, the result was still very much the same: Brock raped this woman.

We are then left to conclude we are living in some residual phase of patriarchy (again, at least in more affluent circles of society). Because patriarchy is as much an ideology as cultural thing, and ideologies are hard to kill, this current phase can easily retrograde, but as it stands it affords us the closest examination of the logic of male-dominant societies—now more than ever, less shrouded in the cultural grips of common sense and the status quo.

Many markers of patriarchy’s logic were on display in the case of Turner. One of the more prominent features was the idea of honor and use of shame. Now, rape has deeps roots tied to the social notion of honor, or more appropriately, it is a method through which women (or females of any age) can be stripped of their societal bond; honor has its ties to the idea of self-agency and generally to moral uprightness (in certain respects as it relates to debt—one of the key ingredients to the social fabric). So an act that is forced upon a woman that strips her of these notions helps form a sense of shame and alienation from society—it’s really no wonder then why “honor” used to be synonymous with a woman’s chastity—and it is doubly felt (and meant to) as a cast of dishonor in a patriarchal society for both the woman (who carries no freedom to decide how her body can or cannot be used) and the men in her life (who could not protect her from the violence, one of their main duties). [Note: From here the fetishization of the female body can also slowly develop and expand (women have no autonomy, they are only things to be protected by men from other men), and given time, it is not too difficult to understand why the before mentioned marketing exists around the world.] In addendum, shame is used to inculcate social norms, and as this awful tango of a priori and posteriori goes on, so does the reinforcement of patriarchy.

Apart from the great mental shame that goes naturally with having suffered an act of unparalleled violence like rape, the victim of Brock Turner also suffered from further shaming in an effort to convince the judge and jury of his innocence. Throughout the trial, the woman’s morals were called into question, constantly cast as a demimonde by Turner’s attorney. Whether it was her history of sexual experience or her loyalty to her boyfriend or her lust, the victim was portrayed as impure, and thus dishonest. She had sex before that night in January (!), she may have intended to engage in premarital sex with her boyfriend in her potation-induced state of mind that night (!) and must have settled on innocent Brock when her boyfriend did not materialize. In this double bind, she was simultaneously victim and violator of patriarchy. But as Turner’s attorney wanted the jury to believe (as is custom for a great many defenders of patriarchy’s honor code), the sin of breaking the bonds of patriarchal rectitude was worth scrutiny and disgrace, and the fact that she had been raped was of the utmost secondary consideration. To put it another way: the woman was a slut, and therefore had no honor to speak of, so what difference did it make that she was raped (“allegedly”)? Her humanity was already unworthy of consideration from the start, so why blame Brock?

Branching off from this comes the second argument made by Turner, his defenders, and more broadly speaking those who defend the state of patriarchy. It concerns the standards of the male and female bodies. Or more appropriately, it concerns the helplessness of both bodies. For it was the booze that did it! If Brock was guilty of anything, it was crapulence! Drinking and party culture was what led him to “20 minutes of action” (otherwise known as three counts of sexual assault). He could not help himself. He could not help but take this woman behind a dumpster, expose her breasts and genitalia, take pictures of her naked, still body and send it to his friends, and then begin to penetrate her body. At this point, his mind had slipped through the earthbound realm, unable to prevent himself from continuing on, yet remaining completely aware of the fact that he was definitely not raping a motionless woman. He was just a male body at that point, coerced by alcohol and festivities. So not only is a woman’s body not hers (more so a vessel through which pleasure can be derived), apparently neither is a man’s. And yet, in patriarchal structures, the burden of avoiding such mindless bodily violence from men unto women falls on the woman’s shoulders. One sees this logic throughout male-dominant societies—most grotesquely in cases where the victims of rape are punished with jail time or worse. Though the woman is dehumanized by effect of her body being violated, she must also take the blame for the attack because men have no control over their anatomy, and she should have known better! Known the gender roles (as stated before). That, by the nature of things, men do and have sex, where as women are done onto and experience sex (sometimes less pleasantly than others).

After all, Brock Turner was not an evil kid. His father, lawyer, even (female) friends from high school vouched for him. He had spent twenty years of his life being an all-around “good guy” and never harmed or wanted to harm anyone. So being a rapist just doesn’t fit his modus operandi. There must be some other explanation for such an event to have taken place. Must have been the witch—I MEAN—women!

Many who doubt rape culture, patriarchy, or that they too are a part of this systemic human problem cling to this notion of binary morality. That “good” people do “bad” things is a very difficult concept to accept—for them and us. The turbid quality of human behavior and complexity challenges our ethics and values each day. Failing to recognize this, failing to place blame where it is due, leads to severe misunderstandings, conclusions, and actions. It also furthers patriarchy.

In order to break the continuation, we must change our thinking. Not just about how men and women treat each other and their own, but how humans are capable of wonderful and horrifying thoughts and behaviors, and how decency has to be reified in that fragile nexus between “us” and “them.”

Nashville Revisited

I think back to that night in Nashville a lot. More often, I think about how great it was that Melissa spoke up, and also that we three listened. It was because the setting was affable that Melissa felt her opinion would be at least heard, and thankfully we saw her valid point and altered our course. This consciousness awareness was not only imperative to my growth as a man, but it is exactly what is necessary on a broader scale. More of these conversations must happen not just between men and women, but all permutations, in the kitchen, the boardroom, and certainly the bedroom if we are to grow together and improve how we treat one another.

And let me be even more unambiguous! Melissa is not a stand-in for women writ large. Patriarchy is not the subject of just one particular set of people (an evil mustache-twirling cabal of white men). It transcends gender, race, and sexual orientation. It is not an abstract concept perpetuated by men alone, thus only subverted by the noble efforts of women. This, too, is a narrative we must disabuse ourselves from because patriarchy is not subject to such a simple binary. Even though it tends to work to a man’s benefit over a woman’s, patriarchy is often aided by the efforts of men and women and can be found in most cultures around the modern world. This type of ubiquitous nature does not result from a single hegemony, but rather widespread communal ones. To complicate matters more, it is often perpetuated by actors behaving cluelessly, who are otherwise described as “decent” people. Too frequently, these members of the patriarchal societies aid its perpetuation unwittingly. In an adjunct, the counter-force behaves in a fractured and ephemeral manner—as minority oppositions tend to do. Combining all these factors illustrates patriarchy’s longevity both vertically and horizontally. Allowed to continue unabated, we eventually see it act out in its most brutal, morally repugnant, yet purest conclusions. The response to its existence does not come with simple, straightforward solutions. To counteract such a pervasive systemic issue, the response must be as wide-ranging and persistent with a malleability to match. There also needs to be a rigorous discussion and understanding of human nature and its relationship with societal behavior. This all sounds crude and abstract in many ways, but the key is to open up and carry forth conversations, constantly thinking about these situations at hand.

More and more anxieties about contemporary hetero-male-dominant culture are being expressed, and more ideas of fairness in the social, business, and domestic arenas are being shared, along with greater discussion about the multiplicity of (and at times contradictory) human thought and agency, and this is great. This needs to continue. Although conversations will not simply wash away generations of perceived behaviors, genuine constructive dialog can (and must) lead to ameliorative actions. People are talking about the ills of patriarchy and what we must do to rectify it, as well as dealing with human complexity. The question now is: will we listen?




A lot of the thoughts expressed in this essay were not possible without the aid of some key thinkers that have blazed a trail in gender studies long before me. I’m in deep awe and gratitude to a whole slew of feminist thinkers. Most prominently featured here are Gerda Lerner (The Creation of Patriarchy), bell hooks (Feminist Theory), Silvia Federici (Caliban and the Witch), to a lesser extent David Graeber (Debt: The First 5000 Years), and more generally Judith Butler, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and a whole bunch more I’m leaving out. Without these thinkers, there would not be much meat on the bones of this otherwise gaunt think-piece on contemporary patriarchy. Of course, any faults lie solely with me. My only hope is that I did some justice to this very serious matter.

Lastly, on a personal note, throughout writing about the Brock Turner case and surrounding conundrums, I could not help but regret the fact that the victim will forever be tied to this man and event for the rest of her life, and that for most of us who followed the case, she will only be recognized as “Brock Turner’s victim.” Not Mary, or Celeste, or Vanessa, or Amy, or loving sister, or daughter, great friend, hard worker, funny person, or even: pain in the ass, horrible dancer, traffic violator, etc. etc. In trying to bring her justice, we still manage to void her humanity. There is just something extra disheartening about that. This will not be the sum of her parts, she is undoubtedly strong enough to rise above it and continue on. Her own words lead me to this conclusion. I wish her well. I wish all the women who have felt her pain in one sense or another well. I will continue to try and help change the conversation and raise awareness for all women. You are not alone.