- Patriarchal Moments: Reading Patriarchal Texts ed. by Cesare Cuttica, Gaby Mahlberg, and: Feminist Moments: Reading Feminist Texts ed. by Susan Bruce, Katherine Smits
These two volumes are part of a series, Textual Moments in the History of Political Thought. It is a good idea, and the concept of “moments” is apt. This is especially true when discussing Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies, the first entry in Feminist Moments. Pizan’s book was completed in 1405 and then disappeared into oblivion—a “moment” in history. But is the same term, “moment,” applicable when discussing the Judeo-Christian Bible or the Islamic Koran, the first two entries in Patriarchal Moments? If these texts, which have lasted over a millennium, are “moments,” than Pizan’s book is a micro-nano-moment. [End Page 150]
The two Moments volumes, and presumably the others in the series, are set up in a similar fashion. Each contains twenty-one single page excerpts from a patriarchal or feminist text, together with a short essay on the text. The selections seem to be intended for a graduate seminar. There is a definite attempt made to be geographically and disciplinarily inclusive, with entries from Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, although about half the selections in each book are from Anglophone areas. There is a similar disciplinary bunching, with the majority of essays written by literature people, and only a smattering by political scientists and historians. (Only three historians are included in Feminist Moments.) This strikes me as an odd choice for a series on the “history of political thought.” It also means that some of the essays are rather difficult to read, since they are written in an unfamiliar disciplinary jargon. Neither of the editors of Feminist Moments is a historian, which may account for the fact that dates are not always given in the text for the entries. A listing of title and date after each excerpt would have helped immensely. Even the footnotes refer the reader either to an online or recent print edition.
Reading these two volumes together, one is tempted to think of them as companion volumes, but they are not. Patriarchy and feminism are not parallel concepts. “‘Patriarchy’ refers to a social, economic, political, cultural and ideological structure in which women are held to be inferior to men (fathers, husbands, older brothers) and are subjugated to them as holders of authority, prestige and access to wealth” (p. 2). It is a system that, the editors admit grudgingly, still exists. Feminism, on the other hand, is a belief—not a system—that all people are equal and, as such, deserve equal rights and opportunities (my definition—the editors do not give one). Feminism, in all its various manifestations, has sought and still seeks to overturn an existing structure for something its proponents believe to be more inclusive. Patriarchy seeks to maintain a status quo, which has changed remarkably little over the course of the past millennia.
In 1765, William Blackstone wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England. This crossed the Atlantic with the English colonists and became a foundation for the American legal system. On marriage, he wrote, “The husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.”1 Two and [End Page 151] a half centuries later, the Chicago Tribune, writing about Corey Cogdell-Unrein’s bronze medal in trapshooting at the 2016 summer Olympics, tweeted “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.”2 Cogdell-Unrein is married to Chicago Bears defensive end Mitch Unrein, but the Chicago Tribune “consolidated [her] into . . . [her] husband,” effectively erasing her own identity.
If one were to read Patriarchal Moments in a vacuum, one would come away...