By Jocelyn Crawley
Women all over the world should be unequivocally enraged about the ongoing abuse, degradation, and harassment that members of the male-invented class “female” continue to experience in these ostensibly “progressive, postmodern” times. They apparently are not. I suspect this is because men in power have systematically obscured information that would enable women to understand the depth of hatred and contempt that men have for them. Ti-Grace Atkinson is aware of this patriarchal reality. In her book Amazon Odyssey, she explores the role that patriarchy plays in confining women to the realm of objectification and oppression which ensures the perpetuity of male supremacy. Atkinson is unflinching, unequivocal in her analysis and condemnation of male supremacy. All women who are interested in understanding and overcoming patriarchy should read it, carefully.
In Chapter One, Atkinson provides readers with a brief summation of why abortion should be legal by grounding her argument in context of property. Specifically, she argues that “The reproductive function has the status of property because of its definitive nature” (1). She goes on to argue that the relationship a woman has with an unborn fetus is analogous to the relationship a sculptor has with her art. Just as a sculptor’s art is her property, the fetus of the woman is her possession given her role in the creative/reproductive process. Atkinson argues that because a woman’s fetus can and should be construed as her property, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States upholds her right to an abortion. Specifically, she writes that
“The Constitution of the United States, in the Fourteenth Amendment, clearly protects the life, liberty, and property of every person. Any legislation interfering in any way with any woman’s self-determination of her reproductive process is clearly unconstitutional…it would interfere with her property since her reproductive process constitutes, in the most integral and strictest sense, her property” (3).
Here, Atkinson provides readers with a new perspective through which to analyze abortion which expands discourse by moving conversations beyond the formerly centralized argument of “life” and into the perhaps more significant realm of belonging. Although I find the argument of property problematic as an individual who is anti-capitalist and envisions a world in which individuals cease to view selves, others, and all objects in the internal and external realm as things that they own (and thus have a hegemonic relationship with), this argument is compelling. It is logical to construe an entity growing within one’s own body as belonging to one’s self rather than being the property of an individual or institution in the external world which would seek to make decisions regarding the entity’s “right” to life.
As the text progresses, Atkinson proves that she maintains an unmistakably radical stance towards the multifarious horrors of patriarchy. In Chapter Three, she provides the readers with details regarding her resignation from the ‘feminist’ organization N.O.W. It is here that the reader attains a clear understanding of the ideological dissonance that transpires when a radical thinker attempts to assimilate revolutionary values into an ideologically mainstream organization. The ideological disparity within N.O.W. became evident when group “leader” Betty Friedan asserted that one of the feminist goals is “to get women into positions of power” (10). Atkinson elucidates the radical disposition towards power (repugnance and repudiation) upon noting that “We want to destroy the positions of power. To alter the condition of women involves the shifting of over half the population…To change that relationship requires a redefinition of humanity, of all the relationships within humanity. We want to get rid of the positions of power, not get up into those positions” (10). Not only did Ti-Grace and radical dissenters within the organization disagree regarding whether acquiring power in the external world should be a feminist objective, they also disagreed regarding the maintenance of a hierarchical structure within N.O.W. Specifically, Atkinson noted that “The younger dissenting faction of which I am a member has been trying for a long time to change the unequal power relationships within the organization, i.e., the power hierarchy represented by officers: Executive Committee, Board of Directors, membership” (10). The component of this text is particularly important because it provides readers with a representation of how simply asserting dissent from the dominant world order (patriarchy) is not enough to warrant a radical’s participation in an organization. Ideological alignment, not mere dissatisfaction towards the existing power structure, must be operative for a radical to be effective in authentically addressing the patriarchy. Simply replicating systems and structures of power in an attempt to quell power is ineffective because it reflects the fact that the ideology of the Master (with his corresponding slave) is operative. In discussing this matter, Atkinson stated that she resigned from her office upon realizing that “by holding this office I am participating in oppression itself” (10). Although the form of oppression she mentions here (which includes holding a position over others and thereby subjecting them to a system of subordination) is not as egregious in form or effect as the sexism women experience in real world contexts, it is nonetheless a replication of the hierarchical structuring of relationships designed by patriarchy.
Atkinson’s discourse regarding the patriarchy is not confined to the inefficacy of anti-patriarchal institutions. She also discussed the political nature of love and effectively integrates this concept into her delineation of how the patriarchy destroys the psyches of women. This analysis takes place in Chapter Six, which she titles “Radical Feminism And Love.” This chapter is important because it reemphasizes the author’s awareness of what it means to be ideologically radical. Maintaining a radical stance and searching for strategies and systems that enables one to more critique and summarily reject the dominant world order. I have repeatedly found that the most effective way to become increasingly radical is to read more radical writings. I became a radical through reading; realizing that the reason I was moderate and mainstream in my thought and praxis was because I was not repeatedly exposed to non-quotidian ways of thinking which provided a sustained and sincere critique of the innately oppressive regimes of heterosexuality and patriarchy.
Atkinson’s chapter on radical feminism and love enables the reader to reconceptualize the prototypical narratives of romance and sexuality which continually contextualize male-female interactions in context of a battle of the sexes, trouble in paradise, marital bliss, etc. This discourse obscures the reality of male violence and the unrelenting, ongoing war against women that men are winning. Atkinson draws awareness to this by explaining what a radical feminist analysis is. She argues (accurately) that it includes three suppositions: “that women are a class, that this class is political in nature, and that this political class is oppressed” (41). This analysis is radical because it analyzes the foundation upon which male-female relationships are predicated and rejects the prototypical (read: the patriarchal lie) suggestion that this relationship is good, natural, and/or inevitable. Instead of accepting this Big Lie, a radical feminist analysis of male-female relationships asserts that they are definitively oppressive as they unfold within a class context in which men are the upper class and women are the lower class. It is this assertion that makes the analysis of male-female relationships radical. It is radical because it does not accept the prototypical premises regarding the foundation of these relationships. Rather than asserting that the foundation is familial, erotic, amorous, or any other mainstream falsehood purported to mask reality and thereby keep women confused regarding how the sex/gender system works, the radical analysis gets to the root of the problem (men) by asserting that the foundation of relationships between men and women is one of oppression, not collaboration, cooperation, or community. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important concepts for a woman to grasp and accept as true if she seriously wants to abrade or eradicate the role that patriarchy plays in her life.
As Atkinson’s book continues to unfold, her radical political stance becomes increasingly evident. This fact becomes plain upon consideration of Chapter Fourteen, “The Political Woman.” Here, Atkinson distinguishes from mainstream, normative responses to the reality of male supremacy and a radical political stance. Daily logic involves women pretending to not grasp the depth or scope of male supremacy and the adverse impact it has on their lives by, as Atkinson notes, demonstrating “a certain reluctance to seeing men as the enemy” (89). Another normative, nonradical response is asserting that because she has found a ‘good’ male partner, the reality of men posing an intense ongoing threat to female vitality is somehow less significant and substantive. Atkinson articulates this antifeminist response thus: “Other women, no doubt, admit the logic of men as our class enemy. But, by some happy accident, their present boyfriend is one of the rare exceptions to this rule” (89). Atkinson goes on to assert the difference between the aforementioned ideology/praxis and a radical response. Specifically, she states that “The proof of class consciousness will be when we separate off from men, from these one-to-one units. (For example, marriage and motherhood) (90). I agree with Atkinson’s assertion and want to reemphasize that this is a radical position because it attacks the foundation of the problem, which is men and the institutions they have designed to legitimate and authorize their abuse of women (marriage and motherhood).
One of the most compelling chapters of this text is entitled “Self-Deception.” Here, Atkinson reiterates one of the most important conclusions a real radical can draw during the process of thoroughly intentionally extricating the self from patriarchy and all mainstream organizations that profess revolutionary praxis but then reinforce the status quo with normative ruminations and praxis. Specifically, Atkinson discusses her deep disgust with N.O.W. and her eventual revelation that the organization was not trying to do what they said they were trying to do, which was:
- Divest yourselves of all class privilege, and
- Struggle against oppression itself (213-214).
The aforementioned praxis is radical. N.O.W.’s attempt to pretend to engage in these activities without actually doing so proved that they were not radical. This was an important point but even more compelling was Atkinson’s distinction between how the women engaged in so-called political discussions during their special sessions. She writes:
“Your major activity is talking to each other in special sessions, which you carefully label “political.” This careful labeling distinguishes “talking” about your lives from the way you spend the majority of your time, which is in “living” them. There is no significantly observable truth connection between the two activities, at least not apparently to the individuals living this double-life. But you consciously and maliciously attempt to deceive others that there is a difference, that you are political. And you then use this deceit as a weapon against all outsiders” (214).
This passage was compelling because it unveiled what transpires within many organizations and media groups who claim to be radical. They sit around talking, call the talking political by selecting topics (read: talking points), and then conclude that the “thoughtful discourse” distinguishes them from other individuals who were not involved in the so-called political conversation. This process is both elitist and deceptive, and radicals need to know that before participating in any group discussions under the premise of attacking the foundation of oppression and challenging patriarchy. I would argue that an example of real radical discourse would be the feminist consciousness-raising sessions that transpired during the 2nd wave when women began discussing the reality of rape and batter, after which they recognized that male violence was a political, rather than personal-problem.
Ultimately, Atkinson’s Amazon Odyssey is a truly radical, unpretentious, text that provides readers with a critical, thorough analysis of patriarchy, why previous forms of feminism could neither contend with nor thwart it, and why radical feminism is the appropriate lens through which to conceptualize and grapple with male supremacy.
Oftentimes, radicals analyze the culture of hegemony and domination that currently constructs normative reality and wonder what the appropriate response to the lackluster nature of this heteropatriarchy is. As Atkinson outlines the solution is maintaining a revolutionary ideology and praxis rather than adopting moderate attitudes or seeking to share power with and/or replicate the mental and behavioral patterns of the Master. Although this truth has been articulated and reiterated by many radicals, it needs to be stated continually so that the truly radical praxis that is necessary to thwart the misplaced authority and agency of oppressive individuals and institutions can be effectively challenged.
Atkinson, Ti-Grace. Amazon Odyssey. New York: Links Books, 1974.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deep Green Resistance, the News Service or its staff.