University of Oklahoma and Female Complicity in Patriarchy by Cynthia Garrity-Bond

IMG_5296 - cat By now most, if not all, readers of FAR have read or watched the disturbing YouTube video of University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) Fraternity sing their racist chant. The two male SAE members who led the “song” were swiftly expelled by President David Boren, with the National Chapter of SAE shutting down the OU chapter of SAE. Student outcry denouncing the racist behavior ranged from hurt and anger from white students to how are you surprised by black students. At the very minimum the incident was and is occasion for important race dialogue on all college campuses.

The level of comfort and familiarity with the lyrics sung by those on the bus horrified me. The students, both male and female, were dressed in formal attire on their way to an unspecified date function.  I flipped between MSNBC and CNN commentaries as the video replayed and the subsequent fallouts unfolded. Yet what I missed was commentary on the complicit nature of acceptance by the other students on that bus; and for the purpose of this post, the young women who gleefully followed along.

I immediately reflected on the writings of Mary Daly and her seminal work, Gyn-Ecology: The MetaEthics of Radical Feminism in which Daly challenges the multiple manifestations of patriarchy’s far-reach on the lives of women as well as female complicity in patriarchy.  Daly identifies the practice of Indian Suttee or female foot-binding as one of many examples of Sado-Ritual Syndrome in which she argues, “The history of the footbound women of China provides us with a vivid and accurate image of the way in which women have been coerced into ‘participating’ in the phallocratic processions.  The footbound daughter was bound to repeat the same procedure of mutilation upon her own daughter, and the daughter upon her daughter” (41-42).  While the literal practice of food-binding has been erased, Daly reminds us patriarchy continues with “insidious forms of mindbinding and spiritbinding in every nation of this colonized planet”(42).

The culpability of the young women (and men) and their Sin of Silence brought swift judgment from me.  How I thought, could they so easily participate in something so wrong? Then the related YouTube surfaced of University of Oklahoma SAE House Mom rapping the N-word in the same unconscionable manner as the SAE fraternity’s use of the N-word.  I basked in my indignation until I recalled a not-so-distant time when I remained silent in the face of what Daly might call the phallocratic mutilation of women.

The occasion was the appearance of comedian Bill Maher on the campus of Loyola Marymount University during the presidential campaign of the 2008 election. As a political pundit I expected Maher’s material to cover the upcoming election as well as the candidates, one of which was Hilary Clinton.  From the start Maher used abusive verbiage associated with female genitalia as a means of contesting her politics.  When speaking of the male candidates, his insults/jokes were framed around the substance of their platform and not their bodies.  The distinction was not lost on me, or the roar of laughter from the predominately student body.

I recall turning to my female co-workers repeating, “This is wrong, this is not funny! We need to walk-out right now!” “What?” they responded, “Walk out on Maher, you know he’ll make a mockery of us and our bodies if we do such a thing.”  They were right.  I sat in complete fear trying to find the courage to match my moral outrage with the action of walking out.  I recall imagining what horrible names related to the female anatomy he would hurl at me, affirming my deepest body-image sensitivities.  So like so many other women when confronted with the repercussions of ugly misogyny I remained silent and in my seat, seething with shame and disappointment by my in-action.

At the time I did not have Daly’s language of female complicity in patriarchy, although this is exactly what occurred.  While I self-identified as a feminist, I did not understand the repercussions and reach of a patriarchal system that so easily silences women to their own demise.  The seductive nature of this complicity takes form whenever I/we remain silent to its deceptive and phallocratic ways.  But speaking up is risky and dare I say, exhausting when you are the lone voice who objects to the tentacles of misogyny, especially when the pushback comes from other women.  I have discovered once you leave the safety of your feminist tribe and speak out against misogyny or speak in favor of women from a feminist stance, you are open game for all kinds of insults–with many coming from other women. During these encounters I find my voice softening to a safe whisper. I know my silence can be complicity in and with patriarchy, but the alternative engagement outside of academia leaves me with battle fatigue.

While I continue to hold those on the University of Oklahoma SAE bus accountable for participating in the racist rant, I wonder how the binding of the daughters by the bound mothers facilitated the participation in the phallocratic processions.

Cynthia Garrity-Bond is a feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. For the past six years Cynthia has been teaching in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University where she completed both her BA and MA in Theology. Her research interests includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, agency and resistance to ecclesial authority, embodiment, Mariology and transnational feminisms. Having recently returned from Southern Africa, Cynthia is researching the decriminalization of prostitution from a theological perspective.

Categories: Activism, Feminism, Mary Daly, Racism

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Thanks for calling the women out. I wonder, did they feel comfortable with the song or did they see not speaking out as the price for getting boys on the road to being successful men to like them? Some of these girls may have been as racist as the boys, and others not. But in the end it doesn’t make any difference, because they participated in, condoned, or refused to speak out. Need I add that older white married women vote Republican and against the interests of women, people of color, gays, lesbians, and transgender, according to the polls. The promises and fantasies involved in heterosexual love and marriage go a long way (though not necessarily the whole way) to explaining why women allow their minds to be bound. No I’m not saying every woman should be or could be a lesbian — or at least not attached to any man — but I do understand why Daly said just that.


    • Thanks Carol. You raise an important question about the motivation of some young women as well as women who vote against their own interest. Pressure is strong to conform to an essentialist menu for young girls and women, even before they are born. It makes the raising of feminist girls and boys such an important job.


  2. I can’t think of any so-called holy book that does not tell women to behave and submit to men. As the standard-brand god is the head of the household of earth (so to speak), so is the man the head of the family. Does anyone else remember the phrase “woman as nigger”? (Forgive me for using the word, but that’s the phrase, and I want it to be clear.) It was used during the 1970s. I guess not much has changed. Sigh.

    Cynthia–brava for writing this blog. And cute cat.


    • Barbara, I respectfully disagree that all “holy books” require women to submit to men. A highly revered holy book, the ancient Tao Te Ching, is centered on the female principle, understood explicitly as the Great Mother. Taoist translator, Ellen M. Chen, states the following — “Of all the ancient classics still extant, the Tao Te Ching alone draws its inspiration from the female principle…[Tao itself is] “the archetypal feminine, producing the cosmic pair, yin and yang, from within its emptiness.”


      • Sarah,
        Thank you for pointing us in the direction of Tao Te Ching and the female principle. I will say I struggle with the female principle–how it draws upon essentialist language of receptivity instead of activity for the feminine for example. That being said, I am very interested in learning more about the language of the Tao and how the text has been appropriated in Confucianism and Buddhism with regard to women. Thank you for the link, I look forward to reading more.


    • Barbara,
      I was a young emerging feminist in the 1970’s and do not recall the term you mentioned. Hopefully it has fallen out of usage. Taking note of Sarah’s comment on Tao Te Ching, I agree with you regarding sacred texts and their understanding of women’s ontology. I’m working on a paper that examines the relationship of women’s perceived lack of rationality and their relationship to animals. I’d say this duality begins has its roots in scripture. And the cat–its not mine. Decided to pose for a photo op!


  3. Dear Cynthia
    Thank you for your post
    I too – in the past and still – have found myself bound by social norms and the fear of being expelled from among people I love and have remained silent at the time of patriarchal nonsense being spouted, only ‘speaking up’ privately following the event. And I have found even that to be a cause of people starting to raise a ‘tolerant’ eyebrow and exit the conversation quickly or for my questions to be the subject of comments such as ‘you’re getting too upset’, ‘it doesn’t matter to me so it can’t really matter’ and my ‘feminist agenda’ being a cause for ridicule. This I know is mild but then I’ve not been able to be very strong in my resistance. And I have remained seated when a work event went to a comedy club and we witnessed 40 minutes of nastiness.
    Thank you for raising this – it is an area I too became aware of through the wonderful writings of Mary Daly and have been trying to work with in my own life and relationships – especially public ones – and will continue to do so.
    The cat who decided to appear with you chose well
    May you flourish in all your endeavours – and not become too weary.


  4. Thank you Margaret. I suspect there are many more of us that have indulged the deafening silence of complacency. The gift of age helps strengthen the fibers of our being, gracing us with wisdom and even humor when needed.


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