Kyriarchy

I feel a little late to the feminist table: why hadn’t I come across the word “kyriarchy” before? I don’t know, but now I have. This post does a good job of explaining the difference between kyriarchy and patriarchy. It may seem simply like semantics, but I think the difference in definitions is important to understand.

Kyriarchy is about examining all systems of oppression and privilege, and not just the system of patriarchy and the power that men hold over women. I love this piece from post I linked to:

“Kyriarchy is more descriptive of the approach I try to take to feminism. The word considers all parts of the oppressive structure we live in evenly – no one oppression is worse or better or more important than another. We are all subject to kyriarchy, and we all benefit from kyriarchy; we all share the burden and the blame in different measures and proportions.”

And, she goes on to quote a scholar, who mentions:

“When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid.  At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it’s more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they’re not the ones I find most dangerous. There’s a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down.”

Does that make sense? We all embody varying degrees of privileged and marginalized identities, and how we experience privilege and oppression changes depending on context. I’ve understood this phenomenon to be true, but I just never knew there was a word to describe it.

I love this concept because it helps, for me, to explain why I can experience oppression and privilege in the system of a strip club, and why I can experience both oppression and privilege walking into an academic setting or my work setting. It helps explain why a strip club customer embodies both oppression privilege. It helps me breathe a sigh of relief because our world is not so neat and tidy as being able to say “sex workers are oppressed people” or “white people are privileged people.” (Yes, I do think that most of the time in most contexts white people hold far more power than people of color- and I’ve never personally experienced a time in my life where I have felt noticeably less powerful than a person of color. But, I do think there are situations and contexts in which the power dynamic shifts).

For example, this post ventures down this path and I appreciate the writer’s analysis of kyriarchy. My beef with her post, though, is her extension into what kyriarchy means for sex workers. She immediately starts talking about workers in trafficking or abusive relationships with pimps, and discounts the experiences of workers who choose their line of work. So, I would agree with her that it is kyriarchical of her to analyze sex workers’ experiences as she does (“But, and maybe this is kyriarchal of me, when people claim that sex workers derive power from their work, it gives me pause.”)

I appreciate this article on The Guardian, and this particular passage:

“Perhaps most importantly, kyriarchy exposes a sin within the women’s movement itself: that of feminist-perpetuated oppression. (I can already hear feminists hissing at me as I type. But don’t worry – I’ll hiss at myself in the mirror later for perpetuating the stereotype of internecine cat-fighting.) When feminist commentators and charities working to “liberate” sex workers relate their tales for them, rather than letting them speak first-hand, that’s kyriarchy. It’s also kyriarchy when minority male feminists are forced to veto voting rights in equality action groups because they are male.

Kyriarchy has the potential to settle the age-old argument about “privileged” feminism once and for all. Perhaps that’s why it’s so frightening to those that balk at the term, and will dismiss this as yet another example of woman-eating-woman. It may feel counterintuitive, but recognising your own privilege doesn’t make the struggle for gender equality any less credible: it makes it more so, by allowing feminists to see that advantages – such as being born to a semi-prosperous family or being well-educated – don’t necessarily protect against, say, rape.”

Reading all of this makes me feel so much better since I have been stewing for the past month or so about the anti-Belle Knox coverage (you can’t be an empowered feminist and a porn star: the Belle Knox brand of feminism is so totally not feminism). It all seems like a bunch of bullshit (and probably because I identify with Belle Knox and think she is rad)- you certainly can be a feminist, recognize the power and privilege you engender as a young and hot woman, profit off that power, and also recognize the oppression that brought you, as a woman, to porn in the first place- and, say that you wouldn’t want to continue in porn forever. I really don’t understand why complicated motivations and identities are so scary to people. This kind of experience doesn’t hurt the feminist movement: it enriches and enlivens it,  allows us to delve into the complexities of our lives, and speak up for minority experiences.

What do you think?

kyriarchy

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