Sunday, January 16, 2011

kyriarchy: redundant word of the day

I got email pointing me to a word that was new to the writer, "kyriarchy". It was coined in 2001 by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, a Catholic feminist, in Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Its glossary has her definition:
Kyriarchy - a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for "lord" or "master" (kyrios) and "to rule or dominate" (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination...Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
It's meant to help feminists see the world in more complex ways. She defines the old view like this:
Patriarchy - Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms. The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).
My Ecdysis: Accepting Kyriarchy, Not Apologies expands on the meaning of kyriarchy:
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.

Who's at the bottom of the pyramid? Who do you think are at the bottom of the pyramid who are less likely to scheme and spend extravagant resources to further perpetuate oppression? I think of poor children with no roads out of hell, the mentally ill who are never "credible," un-gendered or non-gender identified people, farm workers, modern day slaves...But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom. And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom - here's my advice: don't bother. The pyramid shifts with context. The point is not to rank. The point is to learn.
I told the person who emailed me that I'd run into the term before and:
I think it's an interesting attempt to expand what feminism traditionally covers, but it falls short. Basically, they're creeping toward addressing hierarchy, and kyriarchy is their step in that direction. The examples they give are significant--they're not ready to think about Condi Rice or Oprah Winfrey benefitting from a system that has twice as many white people as brown ones at the bottom.
I was typing quickly without my morning coffee: There are actually twice as many non-Hispanic white people as black or brown ones at the bottom of the US pyramid. But if you include Hispanic and non-Hispanic white people, there are nearly three times as many white people as non-white at the bottom.

Feminists who use "kyriarchy" have reinvented an idea that was understood long before Marx: oppression is a pyramid. Today, the person at its top is a Mexican-Lebanese man, Carlos Slim, who would not be considered "white" by traditional white racists. While the world's five richest people are all men, only two are white. The five richest women are among the world's fifty richest people; four are white (two members of the Walton dynasty, a French woman, and a Swede) and one's Indian.

Feminists who talk of kyriarchy want a fair pyramid of wealth that is simultaneously proportionate in race and gender while accurately representing ability instead of privilege—they subscribe to the myth of meritocracy. As I said recently about other middle-class radicals, they don't dream of a world without hierarchies; they dream of being the benevolent hierarchs.

I'm an equalitarian. I'm not interested in quibbling about pyramids. I want to level them so we can all live in a fair world.

Possibly of interest: Life Inc. - China leads list of world's richest women