From Like There’s No Tomorrow: Meditations for Women Leaving Patriarchy by Carolyn Gage (1996)
“But the reality is that there is no privilege in a life that is a lie… The lie is always in the way, the lie always obscures intimacy and possibility.” - Victoria Brownsworth
On this, Carolyn Gage asks, “If passing does prevent intimacy, and doesn’t bring privilege, then why do so many people do it? Because it creates the illusion of belonging.” She writes of how there is not only the lure of privilege, but the desire to remove oneself from less than desirable family origins or other things that we consider “wrong” about ourselves, such as the neighborhood we grew up in or the type of hair we have. She points out that these things are loaded with negative values, like stupidity, ugliness and a lack of self-worth.
However, she says, “Giving this kind of life-and-death power to the outside world is a fatal strategy, because even if we can manage to ‘arrive’ on these terms, our struggle to retain our foothold in this slippery world will remain a desperate one. Acquisition is not the same as claiming qualities as part of our intrinsic nature.
“So many, many lives are wasted in the pursuit of worthless goals! Our indoctrination by school systems whose primary purpose is to teach fear of outside authority, does not aid us in critical thinking. The radical feminist must daily put herself back at the center of her reality, must make her highest understanding the perpetual standard for evaluating who she is and how she locates herself in relation to others.”
(note: This does not invalidate or negate the necessity of passing for physical safety, financial survival, etc.)
The language of liberalism has been used to defend all the new developments of the lesbian sexual revolution. Consent and choice are the catchwords. A model of sexuality based upon the idea of consent is a male supremacist one. In this model one person, generally male, uses the body of another who is not necessarily sexually interested and possibly generally reluctant or distressed, as a sex aid. It is a dominant/submissive and active/ passive model. It is not mutual.
It is not about the sexual involvement of both parties. It bespeaks not equality, but the absence of it. Consent is a tool for negotiating inequality in heterosexual relations. Women are expected to have their bodies used but the idea of consent manages to make this use and abuse seem fair and justified. In certain situations where this use might seem particularly and obviously unwelcome, such as street rape, women are given a limited right to object, but in general the idea of consent allows the sexual use and abuse of women to remain invisible as harm or a contravention of human rights. In this liberal approach to sex it is vulgar to ask political questions such as how the consent and choice are constructed.
Women’s consent, the kind that can cause them to undergo furiously resented sexual intercourse in marriage, or just to accept that they should be used as a masturbation aid, is constructed by the pressures exerted upon women throughout their lives. Such pressures include economic dependency, sexual abuse, battering, and a cultural barrage of propaganda about what women are good for. They can induce a profound lack of self-determination. Lesbians are women too. That any lesbian should think consent a useful concept when it emerges from the circumstances of women’s oppression and relates to the material inequality of women is a surprise.”
So I’ve decided it’s time for me to refuse that seasoning. It’s time to deprogram myself and to stop concentrating at all times upon the masters, upon the pimps of the world, stop doing all I do in relation to them, in reference to them, in reaction to them; stop making my feel ings of well-being contingent on their behavior; stop thinking about them— they are so boring, so numbingly boring! We can predict every thing they will do, every savage, gruesome, gross, crass thing they’re going to do. We know it all by heart. We don’t need to watch it any more, do we? Do you? I certainly don’t. I’ve seen plenty of it, and I know it inside out.
It seems to me that what I have to do is what my deep conditioning tells me not to do, to do the thing that scares me most of all, to do what I’ve been taught never to do or I would die— and that is to take my eyes off the guys and to take myself seriously. To stop enabling men’s system, patriarchy. To stop believing that they are going to change the world, that I ever have to try to get them to do anything redemp tive again. They will not, could not if they would. And to come to grips with the truth that if I want the world another way, I must make it that way myself.
The most important message my wise old woman within has ever given me is that the transformation of this world is up to me—and you. What a relief! Thank goodness it’s up to the women because now it will get done!”
Our behavior, not the men’s, will determine the course of human events.
But conditioned, seasoned as we are, this is the most difficult possible conception for us, and most of us continue to believe that we must make men change their ways, that we are dependent upon legislators to pass laws, for instance. Good grief! When have those in control ever given up a significant amount of it to those they control? Can you think of a single time in history?
Well, it has never happened and it’s not going to happen. We should have learned that with the Equal Rights Amendment. If we didn’t learn it then, what is it going to take to teach it to us? Our not learning it is part of our seasoning, our profound conditioning. We’re deeply dependent, deeply servile in ways that our surface militance camouflages.
That is the main goal of seasoning: to make us believe the men must change the world for us and that we’re powerless to change reality unless the men change first. But the truth is that they’re not going to change—can’t change—so we don’t have to waste our time trying to get them to any more. We are the ones who must change, because we can. And when we change, everything outside us will have to change to accommodate our new way of being in the world— including men, but that’s beside the point.
The principle underlying all seasoning— how you get this effect, how you reach this goal of getting women to believe that our salvation depends on someone else’s behavior — is that you get someone to do everything in relation to someone else who they perceive as more powerful; you get them always to consult an image of someone else in their minds, to say to themselves—to say to ourselves as women, for instance— “Now, how will the men respond to that?” every time we make a decision, or “If we do this, what will they do?” Always to be relational, to consult the masters in our psyches every time— this is bondage.”
No matter what form seasoning takes, it always has the same goal — to make us feel worthless and dependent. Obviously, incest is a seasoning tool par excellence; one incident of incest is really all that is necessary to teach us our role in patriarchy. It is such a profound betrayal of trust, primarily of our trust in ourselves. It is designed to make us feel powerless, to shatter our inner core of confidence, and therefore to make us feel utterly dependent on men. It functions to make us believe passionately that we need a savior, that men must save us, that we have to go through them to be saved. That somehow we’ve got to get them to change their minds about us. We’ve got to make them agree that their behavior is terrible and get them to stop it. Our seasoning teaches us nonsense: that we’ve got to get the slaveholders to free the slaves.”
The system of gender polarity requires that people with penises treat people without as objects, as things, as empty gaping vessels waiting to be filled with turgid maleness, if necessary by force. Homophobia is, in part, how the system punishes those whose object-choice is deviant. Homophobia is a kind of sexualized contempt for someone whose mere existence—because he is smeared with female status—threatens to melt down the coat of armor by which men protect themselves from other men. Homophobia keeps women the targets. And to men who sexually objectify correctly, this homophobic setup assures a level of safety, selfhood, self-respect, and social power.
Most men internalize cultural homophobia whomever they are attracted to. Inside men’s bodies, homophobia becomes an ongoing dread and loathing of anything about themselves that even hints at gender ambiguity; it means a constant quest “to be the man there,” whatever that takes.”