How does one see a woman in a position of power? As a mother, using her age, experience and the fact that her genitalia acted as a slip n’ slide for her children to exert some semblance of control over the family, possibly nagging a humbled spouse? As a businesswoman whose breakage of the glass ceiling can only be shared by a small handful of equally successful, ladder-climbing women, as they now fill the chairs behind luxurious desks made of the finest oak? As a shrill, outspoken, deprecating tyrant with authority so mighty it swells her head to the extreme (that really mean woman in The Devil Wears Prada. No, no not Anne Hathaway’s character. That…you know who I’m talking about.)? As a muscle-bound, hard-working, masculinized picture of female strength acting as a surrogate when the men are away?
You probably have a few issues with me, the biggest ones most likely being my use of superfluous questions and my incredibly misogynistic, jingoistic line of thinking. I assure you, ladies and gentlemen alike, that that is not my true perception or belief on women in power, women in authority roles or women dominating society. That is, however, representative of what many people think of when that first question (it’s buried somewhere there among the question marks and commas) is presented to them. Ideologically even women in authority roles become ostracized and diminished, left to the enclosed domestic sphere or else placed amid the glass plateau with little support. Iconically, they are sequestered to an essentially masculinized role, femininity and womanhood pushed to the background, or presented as villainous and harping figures (Meryl Streep! There you go!). And the reason for these binaries, these binaries within the binaries of woman against man, female against male, is because we in Western society live under a patriarchal structure of governance and culture.
In other words, mother is only acting that way because father is either not around, meaning she must fill an authoritative vacuum he leaves, or because he is not masculine enough to take authority of his children. Straight outta the black-and-white boob tube of the 1950s, yes, and straight outta the patriarchal mindset that has been in place for countless generations among many societies and cultures, wherein the man, the masculine, the everything this blog hasn’t really talked about, is the pinnacle of power. Any woman that attempts to come close to that is either reaping away her femininity or else acting simply as a placeholder, like Rosie the Riveter or Queen Victoria of England.
Of course, this was not always the case when it came to female empowerment. worldwide. In some indigenous cultures, like the Salish people of what is now Canada, women were in positions of control and authority when it came to the family, relationships and sex. Author and poet Lee Maracle describes the traditions of her ancestors that continued to the present day, as it was “the women who chose the partners and the Elder women who negotiated the marriage” (Maracle 4). Maracle continues to describe how Salish women would sexually dominate men and use ‘weasel medicine,’ colloquially translated to sexual trysts and seductions, to influence the actions and decisions of the men in their lives (Maracle 6). In modern day, Western, white-guy-writing-a-blog-about-Native-women society, this sort of behaviour would be seen as lecherous, lewd, and scandalously shaming. But the use of sex for benefits, for advantages and for influence and control was a part of the Salish way of life. The present cannot cast too harsh a shade over women who were trying to do right, as Maracle writes, by their families, or who were trying to maintain authority in a world that would quickly become dominated by the phallus.
Of course, maybe it’s too much of a blanket statement to say that using sex and sexuality for gain would be frowned upon to perpetuate female empowerment….hm…..
Also, if my Grandma’s reading this, I am so sorry for that picture the video shows. Goddamn I am sorry.
Now that that aside is out of the way, sexuality with regards to female empowerment, feminine prowess, and dominance remains a staple in Western culture. This is, unfortunately, to both the good and ill for men and women alike. Women who use their sex for profit, for gain, to recreate the events of Moll Flanders with a modern vibe, are slandered as ‘whores,’ ‘golddiggers’ and other, increasingly less appropriate four to five letter words. At the same time, women in positions of authority, or those who are labelled dominant, have their sex and sexuality come under scrutiny when more often than not (read: absolutely zipped doo dah never) it plays no role in their forward and upward authoritative advancement. Some researchers have dedicated themselves to discovering that dominant women have less sex, while other state that dominant women are more likely to give birth to male offspring. The stranglehold of patriarchy, and the continued demeaning of women in positions of power continues.
Maracle, Lee. The First Wives Club Salish Style. Online resource.