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The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, by Robert Jensen.

December 20, 2017

End of PatriarchyThe End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, by Robert Jensen.  Melbourne: Spinifex Press, 2017.

5 stars

A clear, concise argument supporting radical feminists’ demand that we must end institutionalized male dominance if we hope to achieve a just society.

Robert Jensen is a Journalism Professor at the University of Texas who has published widely about a variety of Progressive causes.  He is a widely respected scholar/activist who has been on the forefront of rethinking social issues for the past two decades.

Jensen is properly aware of his own privileged position and of the problem of men addressing feminist issues. He says repeatedly that he is not speaking for women or lecturing to them.  Instead he feels that his privilege gives him a responsibility to be part of a conversation that he considers vital for all of us.  He is refreshingly humble and does not take sides on unanswerable questions like nature vs. nurture.  He does, however, take positions on some of the issues being debated among feminists.

In Jensen’s vocabulary, “radical” does not mean an appeal to violence or the rejection of all men.  Quite simply, for him radical means deep social change, cutting out the roots of the problem—especially the problem of dominant/subordinate behavior patterns.  For him, as for many 60s radicals, the opposite is “liberal” by which he means prioritizing gains of individual women into the existing dominate groups.  His emphasis on the need for social rather than individual change or opportunity, shapes his stance on the contemporary debates he discusses.

As a social scientist, Jensen sees male domination rising in the prehistoric period, perhaps with the emergence of agriculture. Before that, he envisions people working “with” rather than “for” each other.  Critically he claims that the desire for domination is not something basic to humans but something that humans created and can change.  While any evidence for the prehistoric period is scarce, he is far from alone in taking this viewpoint.

Moving away from theoretical issues, Jensen discusses rape and rape culture, prostitution and sex work, and transgender issues.  In each case he seeks to be supportive of victims while asking us to consider long-term structural, rather than only personal problems. His discussion of transgender options moved into important new territory for me. Within the context of validating transgender individuals, he does not support “a liberal, individual, medicalized approach to the problem of patriarchy’s rigid, repressive, and reactionary gender norms.”  As part of a more just society, he would prefer more open, flexible gender options in which all can make peace with their own bodies without medical assistance.

I was impressed with Jensen’s approach to radical feminism.  I was familiar with much of what he had to say, and I like how he summarized complex issues.  I wish all the women and men with whom I discuss feminist issues would read this small book.  I am glad to recommend it to a wide range of men and women who are interested in the cutting edge of feminist theory today.

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