An excerpt from my latest piece on Medium, which digs into the way Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel slices straight to the heart of what makes Patriarchy tick:
The ‘Patriarchal Tool’. It sounds like a turn of phrase you might use to refer to a misogynist troll on Twitter, or even an unpleasant and entitled ex. Both of those instances would be correct usage, of course, but the true power of the term is that it can mean many things when deployed in the perfect context. Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel is the perfect context. The phrase isn’t specifically included in dialogue, but it’s right there — filling every frame, and gradually revealing itself to our hero, Carol Danvers, until her hair is literally alight with rage.
It also relates to a question for the ages — usually asked by men who seek to debunk its very existence — ‘How does Patriarchy actually work? Why would half the population of the planet allow themselves to subjugated to the extent that we need an entire social movement to combat it?’
Take a look at the language there. The Patriarchy is baked right in with the suggestion that women have allowed themselves to be oppressed. It implies an equal balance of power exists, when we know that it doesn’t. It ties in with the oft-cited Men’s Right’s Activist position that women choose not to do certain jobs, and that if there is a pay gap, it’s because women don’t ask for more money, or because they can’t be trusted to not get pregnant, and if they do get pregnant, they’re never really properly re-invested in their job anyway, so they don’t deserve to get paid correctly. But God forbid a woman choose not to bear children at all — then she’s branded as wrong, or defective, or single-handedly responsible for the demise of all of humanity. Overall, it ties in with the general misogynist view of women, which is that we secretly want, need or deserve to be abused, regardless of how much we fight and argue to the contrary.
That is the core Patriarchal Tool: Indoctrination. Patriarchy works because everyone — women and men — are taught, from day one, that women are wrong and need to be corrected in order to be valid. Even if she has the greatest and most nurturing caregivers in all of history, a growing woman cannot escape the influence of media, politics, religion and history. Wherever she is in the world, she is born into a system that is already stacked against her to varying degrees, because previous generations were also indoctrinated. The Patriarchy is the swirling black hole at the centre of all societies — some women are sucked straight in, while others might spend their whole lives fighting its pull, but all women are caught in its field of influence.
This is the remarkable, precious and necessary beauty of the narrative in Captain Marvel. Her ‘becoming’ moment occurs when she realises that the Kree society she thought was helping her to be her best warrior self has actually been indoctrinating her for its own purposes. It has constantly told her that she is wrong — too emotional, too stubborn, too unruly — and it has installed a device on her neck in an attempt to prevent her from understanding the truth. Indoctrinating her to believe that their way is the only way means that she has never before questioned the status quo they have manufactured. The consequence of this indoctrination is that she is constantly trying to seek the approval of those who hold more political and social power than she does. She is constantly trying to adhere to their rules, because she has been taught that anything else is failure.
It’s more of a cinematic laser-guided truth-missile than a movie truth-bomb. This is exactly how Patriarchy succeeds in the real world — by telling women that they are ‘wrong’. The mainstream media constantly shames women for their appearance — presenting an ‘ideal’ that is unrealistic and largely unattainable — all based around perceived desirability from the heterosexual male perspective. Politics demands that women fight to have control over their bodies, while heterosexual men do not bear that burden. Formal education — in those places where women are able and allowed to access it at all — teaches women for the most part that all the most important things ever achieved were achieved by men. Most of the world’s largest religions promulgate variations of the idea that women are responsible for ‘original sin,’ and ‘temptation,’ and that they need to reined in, tamed, dominated, and adjusted — physically and psychologically — to fit into a Patriarchal system; to ensure the smooth-running of an engine that never moves women forward.
In Captain Marvel, the reason for the controlling actions of the Kree, of course, is the knowledge that their precious status quo would not survive if Carol Danvers ever realised her true potential. The same is true of real-world Patriarchy. Our planet and the societies that dwell on it would both be very different if indoctrination had never been perpetrated by humanity, against humanity. Now that technological advancement has allowed women to organise more efficiently, find their respective voices, and be heard, the potential for change has increased and this, in turn, draws increased pressure from Patriarchy Enthusiasts. When Patriarchy Enthusiasts talk about the dangers of social media, this is a significant aspect of their concern. We have seen a sharp rise in violent extremism and online radicalisation, certainly, but this has partly been their predictable response to this global groundswell of intersectional feminism. That’s why most violent extremists we hear about have a history of violence against women.
This is the secondary laser-guided truth missile of Captain Marvel. The instilling of fear is a fundamental component of the process of Patriarchal indoctrination. Fear of failure when faced with the ever-shifting Patriarchal goal-posts; fear of the legislative power of male leaders; fear of violent reprisal.
Carol Danvers is constantly told that it is the Kree box into which she must contort herself — otherwise she will lose everything. Women are constantly told they must meet the standard dictated by men, or risk social attack. Carol Danvers is repeatedly told that, “what has been given can be taken away,” meaning that the Kree say they bestowed her powers upon her, so they can remove them at any time. Women are repeatedly told to be grateful for any rights granted them by male dominated governments (as if those rights were ever men’s to give), with the constant reminder that laws can be changed depending on who is in power, and the nature of their agenda.
Carol Danvers is taught to fear violence from Skrulls, but faces real violence from the Kree as soon as she questions their ways. Women are taught that they are at constant risk of male violence — from strange men out in the world, and from loved men in the home — and we are constantly bombarded with that imagery through television, film, print and news media. We are taught that this is the only possible reality, and it is a natural consequence of being women — so we are taught to change ourselves and our lives to accommodate that risk.
This is, of course, the biggest contradiction of all the contradictions found in Patriarchal indoctrination. Women are taught to fear men in a multitude of ways but, when women then rightly vocalise their frustrations about having to fear men, they are attacked for being ‘Man-Hating Feminazis’ by Patriarchal Enthusiasts, and bombarded with whines of “Not all men!” from fake allies. Women fear men because that is what the social system that favours men has taught them to do — that’s how the indoctrination impacts women. Its impact on men is a factor in male violence against women, which is a global epidemic, and which provides women with evidence to prove that their fears are entirely rational. And then, the very men that benefit from Patriarchy attack women for having the audacity to point any of it out — thereby feeding their fear of speaking out, and bolstering their subjugation.
In Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is essentially taught the art of self-loathing — just as women are. She is taught by the Kree to see every natural aspect of her personality and her body as potentially dangerous. She is taught that she must suppress those things and instead force herself to progress in a manufactured, inorganic way that is dictated by a man (her mentor, Yon-Rogg, played by Jude Law). As soon as she understands what is happening, she hits him with the proton blasters she’s been told not to use, and states, “I have nothing to prove to you.” She then becomes the most powerful being on Earth, because she chooses to be herself.
Here is the crucial thing about the billion-dollar success of Captain Marvel at the box office, though, and the way it relates to Patriarchal indoctrination: The numbers shatter the myth that men don’t like the movie, and indicate that men have appreciated what the movie says just as much as women have. We can draw this conclusion because we know that opening weekend numbers are reflective largely of positive response to brand, marketing, and early reviews. After that, it becomes more about word of mouth from general audience members — and profits either drop, or keep on rolling accordingly.
Before Captain Marvel was released, Men’s Rights Activists took to their keyboards to demand a boycott of the movie. It’s about a woman. It’s co-directed by women. It’s written by women. The star of it said publicly that she wanted more reviewers that weren’t white men. How dare she try to burst the Patriarchal Bubble Of Safety? Of course Patriarchal Enthusiasts would come out against the very idea of this project without even seeing it. But, in the final analysis, that was all for naught — because the movie opened strong, and just got stronger. That’s not all the work of women — men have clearly loved it, too, and that’s because Patriarchal indoctrination hurts everybody in the end. It just hurts them in gender-specific ways.
When Carol Danvers frees herself of indoctrination, defeats Yon-Rogg, and then flies up into space to punch a spaceship, everybody wins. She’s a hero that everyone can get behind — not because there’s no alternative, like all those years women had no women to root for at the cinema, but because her internal experience of indoctrination relates to us all. The movie achieved that and its monumental financial success, in spite of those misogynists that wished otherwise.
It turns out, then, that Captain Marvel has an extra superpower that nobody quite spotted before. It’s not just Skrulls in disguise that she can sniff out…
Read the rest on Medium.