Patriarchy, literally the rule by the fathers, is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure. Daddy calls the shots in political leadership, moral authority, the control of property, and over women and children. Sound familiar?
If you haven’t noticed, patriarchy is not what it once was. In the Irish context the experience of patriarchy has played out for centuries in the empires that ruled us, the church that molded us and in the state that (most often) sent us to war or sent us packing.
Good little patriots that we were, we did what we were told too, didn’t we? We were well trained.
In life, apparently, you get one of two choices — to live in a historical age that is restrictive and repressive, or one collapsing under the weight of its own hubris. There’s no doubt about which we’re living in now, is there?
The only question is when will the principle players, the ones who had it so good for so long, quit the stage to make way for the sweeping change that is increasingly inevitable? I think it’s become clear that it’s going to take more than a little cast change to fix what’s ailing in patriarchy now.
We are in a new and uncharted situation, after all. Daddy’s not looking like the imposing authority figure he once was.
Thanks to two decades of unprecedented crisis where the deep rot in the Irish system is now in daily public view, ordinary Irish people suddenly possess something novel — a voice in their own affairs.
So what are those voices saying? In regard to the church those ordinary Irish people are saying we were abused or brutalized by religious orders who depended upon our silence. They’re saying a compliant state choose to look the other way.
They’re saying for decades Ireland had a golden circle that simply froze out the rabble to protect their own good fortune.
They’re saying what happened to me and to thousands like me was wrong.
They’re saying they want an apology, but more than that they’re saying they don’t want thus to happen to anyone else any more.
They’re not being listened to, of course. In life, where you stand determines so much of what you’re willing to see. Nothing puts the blinders on like an inchoate threat to your purse strings.
That’s why we need artists. Artists live beyond the margin of things, they stand outside the daily struggles, that can tell us what they see from their unique perspective. So far the news isn’t good.
For decades Ireland’s most distinguishing characteristic was repression. That was the signature element of our powerlessness. Daddy (the state, the church) called the shots.
But remarkably, in a moment that underlines just how far we have moved away from the repressive
certainties of even a decade ago, it was the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny who admitted as much last week.
“We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the church and the state was the same and interchangeable,” Kenny told the nation last week.
“This moral subservience gave us… the compliant, obedient and lucky ‘us’ and banished the more problematic, spirited or unlucky ‘them.’”
Shocking things could happen to you in Ireland if you were one of “them.” I know this with certainty, because I was one. Figuratively and literally.
That’s what some people used to call me when I lived in Ireland. It was a badge of shame. It was the equivalent of a passport too.
Once you were called it your fate was already being parceled out. You were being stamped for rejection or export or worse.
The jig’s well and truly up now though, isn’t it? Oh, the organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue and the elder statesmen of the Republican Party and the cardinals on their way to the concave can still pretend they haven’t received the memo, but we’re in a new moment.
They know it. The whole world knows it.
The lesson of the last decade, where patriarchal hubris led us to war on false pretenses, where it sought to divide natural allies to protect itself, where it tried to cover up its own sins whilst loudly condemning others, has not been lost on us. Daddy can take a number now like the rest of us had to.