Photo originally uploaded at Phillyburbs.com.
Patriarchy-blaming tends, on this blog, to be expressed in broad strokes. I’m forever making with the feminist aphorisms. You know. “Pornography is the graphic representation of women’s oppression.” Or, “Being sexually manipulative is not an expression of personal sovereignty.” Or, “Irony is the enemy of dinner.” These glib remarks sound majestic in a generalized philosophical tract, but they perhaps imply a line of demarcation between pedantic theory and the fact that such concepts actually manifest more or less ceaselessly, down in the trenches.
Yep, I so often pronounce on this stuff from the detached perspective of a reclusive spinster-philosopher, sometimes I forget to notice how the culture of oppression permeates my own trench. To illustrate, I offer a recap of eight hours in my life — a memoirette, if you will — told first from the point of view of a happy-go-lucky gentleman farmer (who shall remain nameless), then viewed through the jaundice-colored glasses of a disillusioned dissident:
Happy-go-lucky gentleman farmer version:
Yesterday my sister Tidy and I combined a scenic drive in the picturesque Texas Hill Country with a horse-trading errand in San Antonio. We biffed on down, test-rode a handsome hunter/jumper, shot the shit, stopped at Taco Cabana for a bean-and-cheese, and returned to Austin having enjoyed, en route, breathtaking vistas, placid herds of Black Angus cattle dotting the hills, and the occasional llama sighting. Later I washed down a tuna-on-wheat with a glass of Pinot, watched TV, and chatted on the phone with my chum Jovita.
Disillusioned dissident version:
Yesterday my sister Tidy and I buzzed down to San Antonio to see a woman about a horse. I wore boots made of tortured-bovine skin and clothes made by Asian slave labor. When I emerged from my petroleum-dependent vehicle at the large equestrian center, I perceived a black lawn jockey displayed prominently and unapologetically at the entrance to the barn.* This barn comprised some 80 stalls which, because they are bedded with pine wood shavings, produce untold tons of uncompostable waste annually.
The horse we’d come to see had been specifically trained to reflect, in a highly stylized manner, an affectation of the landed gentry. In its original incarnation this affectation involved galloping horses cross-country over hedges and fences in pursuit of foxes which would, when caught, be ripped to shreds by an attendant pack of dogs.
After I rode this horse, he was returned to his 12′ X 12′ cell (the horse is 5 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs 1300 pounds), where he is customarily imprisoned 22 hours a day on his bed of toxic, urine-soaked wood shavings.
The horse’s owner, by way of illustrating the animal’s unflappable demeanor, related an anecdote about the time a “truckload of Mexicans” tried to run them off the road during a trail ride (the horse, a paragon, was apparently unmoved by this brush with the Great Unwashed, thus legitimizing his ridiculously high asking price). I was gripped simultaneously and unreconcilably with a revulsion toward her racism, a feminist urge to sympathize with what must have seemed to her an unprovoked and potentially life-threatening attack on her female person by jeering assholes, and a sense of admiration for the horse’s grace under pressure.
On the way back to Austin Tidy and I traveled the back-roads through ranch country, where herds of cattle are raised to be butchered as the world’s most inefficient food source. Occasionally we’d pass a “For Sale — XXX Acres” sign, which meant that soon a developer would be bulldozing these hills to make room for an imminent infestation of exurban ranchettes. Once, literally in the middle of nowhere, we saw a roadside shrine composed of ten or so Old Glorys — probably made in China — surrounding a storebought sign — also probably made in China — that read “God Bless America.” But the most garish homage to the Invisible Celestial Concierge to be found in Central Texas is a 50-foot lily-white cross looming from a church parking lot over Interstate 10 in Boerne.
Back in Austin, even though I had recently gorged on a corporate fast-food taco and was in no way, shape, or form hungry, I ate a sandwich of mercury-poisoned fish and consumed a legal mind-altering substance***.
Somewhat afterward I watched a 1985 Louis Malle documentary about life in rural Minnesota, called “God’s Country,” wherein a whole town of honky midwesterners are revealed to be racist, misogynist, homophobic Republican hayseeds whose all-American Norman Rockwell lives are eventually derailed by Reagonomics.
Then I had a telephone conversation with my pal Jovita (who, despite a degree from the Chicago Art Institute, earns a living schlepping mediocre food to drunken patrons in a hellhole of a South Austin diner). During this conversation, a combination of exhaustion, wine, and a paucity of ovaries precipitated a dip in my customary euphoria, whereupon I bummed Jovita out by postulating that all art, hers and mine included, is nullified of value by dint of its having been spawned within a culture of domination that creates both the “rules” of aesthetic theory and the manner by which one acquires the taste to appreciate it.
Then I tossed and turned all night, determined to liberate that horse from his racist jailers and disgusted with the extent and unknowable consequences of my — and of every other white American’s who can afford to agonize over a horse’s future — privilege footprint.
Thus we see that the gentleman farmer, whether she stops blogging about it or not, and however assiduously she attempts to insulate herself from patriarchy’s poisonous megafarts, cannot draw an oppression-free breath.
* Gazing upon the chipped statue, with its grotesquely exaggerated features, bowed posture, and grateful arm extended in homage to honky superiority, my mind was blown. “Are they fucking kidding me?” I hissed to my sister Tidy. “Who has a fucking lawn jockey in 2007?”
Quoth Tidy, sadly, “You’re not in Austin anymore, Dorothy. You’re in Texas.”
And yeah, I know all about the supposedly “proud moment in African-American history” that black lawn jockeys supposedly represent. Even if it’s true that the statues once surreptitiously “pointed the way to safe houses” in the Underground Railroad, there’s no way I’m buying that the all-white denizens of the riding stable I visited yesterday have at the forefront of their daily concerns a wish to commemorate Abolition. I mean, it’s not even February.
** Had the horse reacted normally to this close encounter with a speeding truck, which is to say, had he spooked and bolted, he might have chucked her into a barbed wire fence.
*** I mention that this substance was legal merely to emphasize the absurd fact that some substances — on accounta the ancient and endless, racist and classist, pointless and senseless “War on Drugs” — are il-legal.