In April 2008, I wrote a post on my blog about and introduced the word “kyriarchy.” At the time, I was writing in response to a feminist blogosphere blow-up. The feminist blogosphere in April of 2008 was busy unveiling the torrent history of feminist-identified white women writers and presses co-opting and adopting the work of women of color writers, and ignoring the lines of power and oppression between women. Or, in other words, it was about the long history of white women acting as the authority on subject matter that clearly were out of their lines of experience.
And then it resulted in an unprecedented fallout when Seal Press, whose tagline is “publishing ground-breaking books by women, for women” publicly disgraced itself by insulting women of color writers and bloggers.
It was because of these incidents, I began thinking of kyriarchy.
I studied in one of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s classes, one of the most searing feminist theologians of our time, and, afterward, took a personal vow and role of academic vigilante. Such thoughts and transformative insights, I thought, should be made available to those outside the ivory tower. I began incorporating kyriarchy into my poems, criticizing the criminal cost and hoarding of knowledge by universities. I even dipped into recorded spoken word, which resulted in a CD compilation of work by other women of color. The CD was used as a fundraiser to financially assist mothers to get to a powerful Allied Media Conference in Detroit. Kyriarchy became the bedrock of my activism.
That was the origin of bringing kyriarchy out of the academic walls and into the blogosphere; that it would be (more) available. I thought that by offering a new term for folks to chew on, a deeper understanding of who we are and why we are the way we are would bubble. At the very least, an on-going and informal conversation of patriarchy vs. kyriarchy would be achieved.
To date, the piece about kyriarchy is correctly linked and cited by nearly fifty articles and posts, and one urban dictionary even added “kyriarchy” to its pages. It became apparent that kyriarchy, a neologism by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, caught fire. A few months after writing about kyriarchy, I was contacted by the research assistants of feminist writer, Shira Tarrant, who asked for permission to use my name and properly cite my work in her forthcoming book, Men and Feminism. I gave my permission, reminding the author that the term was clearly not my own, just my effort to bring the compelling word to a non-academic audience.
I was ecstatic it was so well-received by so many different circles of thought.
And then two months ago, I received a link to a recently published article in The Guardian entitled, “The Patriarchy is Dead, But the Kyriarchy Lives On,” by Nichi Hodgson. After reading it, two questions immediately popped in my head: “How is this article covering the emergence of kyriarchy in the feminist sphere with not one attribution and where had she learned it from?” and “What have I done?”
(I’ll tackle the second question first because it’s ten fold more important than the first.)
Hodgson pats kyriarchy down to a nice and quasi-intelligent term that relegates the freedom to complain about oppression to include The Men, too. It turns a highly flexible academic term by a feminist theologian into a pop cultured meat loaf: a soft, feel good term that everyone can chew and swallow.
Hodgson uses the pornography industry as an example to illustrate kyriarchy’s clarifying power. She posits that both women and men are exploited by the porn industry. With kyriarchy as your scapel, you can see how: not only are women exploited and objectified (who could potentially benefit and profit from this work) while men, with their overexposure to the X-rated world, may experience problems keeping their sexual organs and libido “up” in high gear.
And then Hodgson makes a common and dangerous jump about kyriarchy and contemporary feminisms in general:
It helps us to recognise the interconnection of education, class and eating disorders such as anorexia, and of domestic violence and poverty, rather than encouraging us to indiscriminately blame men.…
It helps to explain how women themselves can in some cases morph into the supremacist bully, when paranoid mothers pass on anxieties about food and bodies to their daughters, ground down themselves by years of trying to live up to constructed notions of beauty.
The purpose and measure of kyriarchy – and feminism in general – is not to increase our time at the microphone so we can more accurately assign BLAME. The purpose and measure of kyriarchy is to further understand the power and crippling tendencies of the human race to push, torture, and minimize others. It is in our nature to try and become “lord” or “master” in our communities, to exert a “power-over” someone else. Kyriarchy does not exist to give us tools to further imprison ourselves by blaming our environment, upbringing, or social caste. It is the opposite. Kyriarchy exists to give us tools to liberate ourselves by understanding the shifting powers of oppression. It is not about passing the megaphone to men so they can be included in the oppression olympics. Simply check-marking our gender, sex, race, ablity, class, citizenship, skin color and other pieces of identity will not free us from the social ills of our stratified society. Kyriarchy is not the newly minted alarm clock to wake us up to what’s wrong. It exists to radically implement our finest strategies to deconstruct our personal and political powers for the liberation of self and community. For self AND community.
Which is why I so vehemently disagree with Hodgson who believes that the most helpful piece of kyriarchy is “its emphasis on individual liberation…”
Please indulge my own theory-making right now: There’s no such thing as liberation if the word ‘individual’ precedes it.
I cannot speak for Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. I cannot pretend to even guess what Hodgson herself means in writing that phrase “individual liberation.” However, in the spirit of feminist theology, in the spirit of radical understanding of power, I would argue with 100% confidence that the absolute LAST thing that kyriarchy strives for is individual liberation. Solely pursuing your own liberation often comes at the expense of others. That’s not liberation, that’s mainstream feminism.
Which brings me to the second question, and my personal slant/issue on this article: where did Hodgson find kyriarchy and, knowing the migration of this term from the ivory tower to the digital masses, why is there no attribution?
After I send my message to The Guardian, in which I congratulate her for the published article, but state my concerns and ask why her references are not included, Hodgson acknowledges my message and promises to reply in a few days when she is more readily available.
A reply lands in my inbox after a few more days in which she explains her source, which is the book by Shira Tarrant, who she makes no mention of and is the author who had contacted me to cite my work on kyriarchy, and some of Schussler Fiorenza’s original texts. Hodgson, upon rechecking Tarrant’s book, acknowledges my name in the credits to which she offers a sincere apology if I “felt plagarized.” It concludes with a request to list where my other work is so – the next time – she can properly include my name. I wanted to ask, “You mean other than the “FAQ” section of my website where it’s the first term under my own lexicon?”
“Felt plagarized?” What I found most ironic is that I was brought back to 2008, to the originating circumstances of what drove me to introduce kyriarchy to the US feminist blogosphere: the blantant and irresponsible disregard for (at minimum) thorough research and (at best) moral and ethical journalism. But, for me, this incident just tacked itself in the ongoing practice of appropriating, ignoring, and assuming authority on and of the work of women of color by feminist-identified white women. Or, as Hodgson writes:
Perhaps most importantly, kyriarchy exposes a sin within the women’s movement itself: that of feminist-perpetuated oppression.