In Part I of this series, I described my history with an insane physically, emotionally and sexually abusive nuclear family that combined with our collective lack of resources made me realize that if the S ever HTF that I would be on my own with no one in my family either willing or able to help. I decided that I needed to be “successful” in life if I had any hope of securing a safe, sane and comfortable future for myself free from abuse, including abuse from men which I knew by watching and listening to my mother’s experience could and would ruin my life. In Part II I describe the execution of my plan — I applied and was accepted to law school and graduated at the top of my class, hopeful that a law degree would provide me with the employment skills and financial security I knew I needed to keep myself safe. I worked my ass off for about 6 years chasing an elusive “savings” and financial safety net that would catch me if I ever needed catching. In the end, the only substantial money I ever made as a practicing attorney were the legal settlements for two work-related injuries I had suffered on the job as a lawyer. My career and my best-laid plans were largely a bust by the time I was laid off the final time, lost my apartment in a hurricane, and was diagnosed with a serious debilitating chronic illness, Crohn’s disease.
In this Part III I will dissect and analyze what happened to me as basically the punchline of a
cosmic patriarchal and capitalist joke — modern girls and women are led to believe that educations and careers can and will save us from the oppressive lives our mothers and grandmothers led but this is easier said than done. In reality, my experience and observation has led me to conclude that, under capitalism and patriarchy, women’s “success” or power largely refers to women’s increased spending power as “successful” consumers who make money for other people, where we first accrue an enormous student debt load and then both mandatory and so-called discretionary expenses increase faster than our incomes making the goal of achieving true financial security elusive at best. Women are in fact prevented in every case from creating safe, sane and comfortable lives for ourselves, including the financial security to protect ourselves from the very worst of patriarchy and capitalism when things go sideways, whether we have careers, or children, or neither or both. It really doesn’t appear to matter at all.
I really believed my mother when she told me from a young age that getting married and having kids ruined her life. I saw how utterly miserable and oppressed she was and we all were, living and dealing with my sadistic, controlling and deeply misogynistic father, and I figured if my truly moronic dad could get through medical school that most anyone could have done it, and that if my mom had put herself through medical school instead of putting him through it that everything would have turned out fine for her. But I didn’t get married, I didn’t have kids, I put myself through law school and I fully expected that I had risen above my station and that I would be able to take care of myself and control my outcomes into the future.
But that’s not what happened at all. I started to realize that these negative outcomes were largely preordained for women because of our sex and that there was little to nothing any of us could do about it. And as much as I hated my father and as much interpersonal violence and misogyny he had thrown at her, the totality of my mother’s experience as an oppressed person was not entirely his fault. She could’ve and probably would’ve ended up being totally and completely screwed at some point, with no one to help her, even without him and even without us.
To wit, even if my mom had put herself through medical school, what would she have had to go through to do it? Medical students who do not participate willingly and enthusiastically are coerced into participating in violent sadistic “labs” where they practice vivisection and experiment on live animals to see their response. A career “practicing medicine” in capitalism and patriarchy essentially means enforcing capitalistic and patriarchal norms on vulnerable sick and injured people and forcing patients to uncritically consume medical goods and services regardless of whether those goods and services actually help or serve the patients’ interests in healing, health or quality of life.
Some 20 years after divorcing my dad, my mom started work as a visiting and hospice nurse and even she started to have serious moral and ethical qualms about her role in medicalized hospice or so-called “end-of-life care” forcing people to consume medical goods and services long after most of them wanted to and perhaps longer than anyone should. In other words, she was struggling in her career but it had nothing to do with my dad. She started to question the wisdom, the compassion and the sanity generally of keeping patients with critical and terminal injuries and illnesses alive through increasingly sophisticated technologies only to experience more pain and more complications and more consumption — and these troubles were not my dad’s fault and were not the fault of her new husband either.
And even though she was technically now free to succeed professionally without multiple unwanted minor children to care for, she started to wonder how long she could even do it anymore when she saw patients day in and day out who wished to be let go, who longed for death to release them from unwanted additional pain and suffering but due to her job requirements she was unable to release them or show them how to release themselves and unable to even discuss it with patients or their families except to decline to discuss it at all. In the end, I suspect that even if my mother’s ambition to become a doctor had not been thwarted by an early coerced marriage and unwanted children, she would have faced these moral and ethical dilemmas early on and that because of it her career as a doctor may have gone nowhere. As it was, her career as a nurse was becoming increasingly incompatible with her own values and she was feeling (and being) increasingly traumatized from and disaffected by it and she wished she could afford to retire.
In my own case, I had taken note of the patriarchal and misogynistic undertones (and overtones) of my legal education and the legal field generally while in school and was distressed by it. I once met with a criminal law professor to discuss a case in my textbook which I had found particularly troubling and refreshingly, he acknowledged my concerns and agreed with me. But considering his long tenure as a criminal defense attorney and later a law professor, clearly that or any case hadn’t troubled his career or his conscience enough for him to quit or caused him to make indignant or disobedient waves that would have gotten him fired or worse. When I practiced benefits and anti-poverty law and represented the most vulnerable populations in garnering the benefits and entitlements they needed to survive, I mostly felt that I was on the right side — the side of my conscience — but I doubt I would have been willing or even able to practice patriarchal and misogynistic law for very long had I fully and deeply understood that that’s what it was at the time. If I had been half as convinced of the evils of capitalism and patriarchy in law school as I am now, including what it does to human and female bodies and minds to be aggressively trained in the capitalistic patriarchal academy, I probably would have been unable to graduate at all.
By contrast, men do not appear to entertain these same moral and ethical quandaries with the capitalistic and patriarchal systems which largely sustain and bolster them so these extreme risks to men’s careers and livelihoods simply do not exist. This is never talked about but I now believe that women’s morality and empathy generally as well as likely physical limits to taking or giving capitalistic patriarchal abuse is largely what keeps them out of the highest paying and therefore the most capitalistic and patriarchal fields like law and STEM, Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Tobacco etc. And that the oppressive intent and effects of the so-called glass ceiling, marriage and the mommy track are probably less causative of women’s relative unsuccess (and social and financial vulnerability) than most anyone is willing to admit.
And while modern girls and women are being told — but never shown — that they are now empowered politically and interpersonally to control their own outcomes and their own lives, the political realities of capitalism and patriarchy remain what they always were: tangible malignant forces in women’s lives which at every stage conspire against our best-laid plans and put us back in our respective lanes en route to poverty and victimization. Just like patriarchy has done to the last 10,000 years — 500 generations — of our female ancestors, only now including things like industrial accidents, debilitating chronic illness, the enforced consumerism and abject horrors of modern technological medicine and the resulting social and financial fallout. And where the injuries, disease states, technologies and the fallout are largely or wholly male-made and increasing in both prevalence and malevolence over time. And no matter what we manage to create, achieve or accumulate despite it all, women’s personal, professional and financial successes can be removed from us at any time due to forces and circumstances wholly or mostly out of our control as oppressed persons with few or no resources or social support by design and little or no political power. Under these conditions, for any woman to be able to create a reliable safety net to protect herself from capitalistic and patriarchal abuse would be nothing short of a miracle.
In the end, capitalistic and patriarchal educations and careers cannot and will not save women from capitalism and patriarchy and frankly I have no idea why we ever thought it would. Our only hope is probably to rely on other women who normally lack either the resources or desire (or both) to lift up or support each other. This is the hopeless station in which women find themselves and there is little to nothing that can or will be done about it. The ultimate punchline may well be that knowing about any of this, and being able to identify and isolate these destructive forces cannot and will not change these effects or outcomes, rendering women’s educations and careers, as well as feminism, feminist consciousness raising and feminist activating largely pointless and certainly toothless to enact real, material change in women’s stations or women’s lives. Merely seeing or even attempting to intelligently and prophylactically respond to (dodge) the destructive patriarchal and capitalistic train barreling down on us seems not to be enough to stop it.
This concludes this series in which I describe my early motivation to be “successful” in order to create a safe, sane and comfortable life for myself even when things got tough, how I went about achieving that success, and how elusive it was in end and why.