Patriarchy in Sheep’s Clothing

WTF?  From Penney Kome at Straight Goods:

[George] Lakoff maintains that we all think in metaphors, rather than in issues or even in words. And our earliest experiences with governance occur through the metaphor of family life. After months of studying political language, he had an epiphany that the active metaphor in American politics is the family.

George Bush and the Republicans appealed to the yearning many people feel for a “strict father” to protect them and tell them what to do. This strategy encouraged divisiveness and competition between regions and racial groups, and heightened public fears about terrorism, so that people would look to the strict father to take care of them, and to keep the family in line.

Conversely, Barack Obama’s campaign embodied the “nurturant parent” who encourages people to put their best foot forward and take care of themselves. He expressed confidence in the American people and welcomed the public’s participation in shaping his campaign. He talked openly about empathy and compassion, and reaching beyond divisiveness. Implicitly and explicitly, Obama’s campaign refuted all the scare tactics of the “strict father” campaign, and encouraged nurturing (that is, maternal) behaviour.

In other words — and this idea took a while to sink in, even for this committed feminist — Obama’s victory represents an overthrow of patriarchy, if only temporarily.

I confess, I’ve not read George Lakoff so I guess I shouldn’t critisize.  But just on the basis of what Kome has said he said, what kind of breakthrough was it that he had about “the family” being the metaphoric lens through which Americans practice politics?  This is a breakthrough?  He ought to have read some latter-day feminist work [see FN 7 here for good sources] on the traditional, nuclear hetero-family written a few decades ago.  Some of that work followed from Wilhelm Reich’s belief that “the family” was generally repressive and responsible for the formation of authoritarian character structure.  Anyway …

Lakoff’s claim (if this really is his claim) and Kome’s is utter nonsense.  There is more than one pattern for the traditional, heteonormative family.  Check out those kinder, gentler beneficent patriarchs who wear velvet gloves on their iron fists, whose power might sometimes be masked or sold softly, but nevertheless remains intact.  Yes folks, patriarchy can be subtle – in fact, things might work “better” that way – if you can get people to subject themselves to authority willingly, without physical coercion, you save a lot of time and energy and likely, weave stronger bonds.

If Obama was about overthrowing the patriarchy, even temporarily, how come he let Hillary Clinton drown in sexist, misogynist crap?  Why didn’t he pound a few heads for her?  As it turns out, Hillary is only allowed to be successful through Obama, as his potential Secretary of State.  Note – Secretary.  He’s the boss.  Maybe he’ll be a nice guy and not demand that she bring him coffee, but that doesn’t call for a celebration of the end of patriarchy.

I’m not sure if this is Lakoff or Kome – I guess it’s Lakoff through Kome:

Strict fathers do dare to discipline — that is, they are punitive, thus leading to the USA’s skyrocketing incarceration rate [under George W. Bush].

This is a completely nutty idea.  The USA’s skyrocketing incarceration rate began with the massive suffering, waste and injustice of Ronald Reagan‘s war on drugs.  Another iron-fists-in-velvet-gloves kinda guy. 


Obama achieved the goal of framing issues his own way. He doesn’t say, “progressive” or “liberal”, he says, “American”. He doesn’t say, “equality”, he says, “Yes, we can.” To counter some Republican frames, he qualifies his answers. For example, he said he was opposed to late-term abortions — except to save the life or health of the mother, which would be the only conditions under which most doctors would even consider such a procedure. He speaks softly and lets his actions tell the story.

Obama doesn’t say “progressive” or “liberal” because he doesn’t mean “progressive” or “liberal”.  He is neither.  He calls himself “American” because he doesn’t want to say he’s mildly to the left of Republican  [Besides, since so many people were saying he was un-American, he really needed to pound on that word]. He doesn’t say “equality” because he doesn’t mean “equality”.  What the hell does “Yes we can” mean when it comes to equality?  And Obama betrayed women when he said he would only favour third trimester abortions in cases where a woman’s life was in danger.  That is not the only circumstance in which doctors perform third trimester abortions.  Obama said that abortion should be a matter between a woman, her doctor, her family (read “husband” unless you think he meant women should consult with their fathers as well) and her pastor.  That is a deeply patriarchal position and one that was and is deeply disturbing to most feminists I know.

This just blows my mind.  Since when does being good Daddy = the end of patriarchy? 

I’m off to read some Lakoff.

2 thoughts on “Patriarchy in Sheep’s Clothing

  1. Wow, I’d never even heard of Robin Lakoff – for a terrible moment I thought I’d goofed and this was about her – but no, it’s George. Robin looks really interesting and I look forward to exploring.

    Thanks for loving my blog. 🙂

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