A patriarchal bargain is a decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system. It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one’s best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact.
This was posted in response to a question about why Kim Kardashian is famous. We (serious feminists and/or intelligent ladies) will point and laugh and disdain those women who make these bargains, pretending all the while like we haven't made a few ourselves. Do you shave your legs, wear lipstick, shave or wax your bits, wear high heels, skirts, makeup of any kind, bras? You've made the bargain. Even if you convince yourself a thousand ways till Sunday that you do those things because you like them or because you need to.
For example, I shave my legs and pits. I would love to be able to skip those activities, but I am patriarchy deficient in enough other ways that the scorn from appearing in public with my above-patriarchy approved sized body in a tank top and skirt with hairy legs and pits is more than I can handle. A darling friend, who has a patriarchy approved sized body, can get away with her hairy legs and pits most of the time, but has to wear pants and sleeved shirts in the summer to avoid friction at work. I get away with not wearing makeup because I am traditionally attractive in spite of my size, and I still have a patriarchy approved hourglass shape.
But here's the thing that is rarely said- it's okay to make those bargains. It's better if you can acknowledge that they are actual bargains while you make them, but if someone can't or doesn't acknowledge that they made these bargains shouldn't make them an object of scorn.
That's how we make ourselves never good enough. If you buy into all the patriarchy's beauty standards, then you are ridiculous, fluffy and dumb. If you shun them, you are a fat, hairy legged, man hating, slutty, frigid lesbian (not that there is anything wrong with any of that). But the truth is that we are all trying to get by under a system that sucks. Do what you have to do, while fighting where you can afford to fight. Stop wasting your time policing the bargains others have made (even if those others are Katy Perry, ugh). Picking on the individual bargain makers doesn't solve the problem of having to make the bargain to begin with. It only reinforces the bargain. Take breastfeeding vs. formula, for instance.
Before women (white, middle class and better women) entered the work force in mass (poor women have always worked) formula was the best thing new moms could do for their babies (or so says the patriarchy). Never mind the expense. Never mind the extra effort that you have to put into mixing the formula, heating the formula, sterilizing the bottles and nipples, cleaning the bottles and nipples, and the fact that formula isn't actually as good for babies as breast milk. If you wanted to be a good mom in the 50s, 60s and 70s, you bottle fed. If you didn't bottle feed, you were some kind of low class savage like the naked brown ladies in National Geographic.
Then women start going into the work force and suddenly the benefits of breastfeeding are touted as the only sensible choice for good mothers. Never mind that there is no paid maternity leave. Never mind if you have a condition that requires medication that might get into breastmilk and hurt your baby. Never mind that you work a minimum wage job and will be fired for taking breaks to pump milk on the toilet. If you don't breastfeed your child you are some kind of declasse Jerry Springer mom who also feeds their kids koolaid and poptarts. (Never mind that food stamps and Wic will pay for formula, but not for a breast pump or to stay home with a newborn). Picking on women because they can't or don't breastfeed doesn't actually make it easier for women to breastfeed (unless they take the patriarchy approved route of marrying a dude who makes enough money for her to stay home).
We need to take the fight where it belongs, to the structures that prop up the patriarchy****, and not to the individuals who are just as stuck in the system as we are.
*****You can replace patriarchy with kyriarchy and for every flavor of oppression there are bargains to be made. Lipstick lesbians are hot! Articulate brown people are cool!Disabled folks are fine as long as they are plucky lesson teachers or adorable telethon kids, etc, etc, etc. I'm not in the mood to do a "what about the menz" spiel, but they make bargains too.