We live in an amazing time. When, in the history of humanity, has there ever been such cultural pressure (and opportunity) for women to create their own identity, meaning, and purpose? Their default position and role within societal structures has typically and historically been one that entails their utility as mother, caregiver, and housewife—all cultural constructs that likely emerged from lower biological drives and that have evolved to exist primarily in the form of relationships to family, to husband, and as part of a marriage.
If we view marriage and the role of the traditional housewife as a form of cultural technology, it is an obsolete piece of technology—no more useful than the vacuum tubes in an old radio from the 1930s. As these vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and those to silicon chips, so too marriage is giving way to other forms of cultural technology. (See the SCOTUS decision on DOMA.)
Our culture is experiencing this transition right now. With the advent and proliferation of those aforementioned modern amenities and technologies, the housewife and marriage itself have become (and are becoming) obsolete pieces of cultural technology. If we view these pieces of cultural technology as extensions of a woman’s identity, meaning, and purpose, women have been and are experiencing a loss; it is a loss that exists in the form of their own obsolescence. Prior generations of women, unlike today’s generation, did not have to concern themselves with creating an identity, meaning, and purpose, at least not to the extent required today. Such things were built in to the culture for them. They could simply rely on the old cultural technology of marriage, housewifery and reproductive duties to find relevance and a sort of fulfillment. Given that such things as marriage and traditional gender roles are becoming less relevant, women are now confronting this sort of obsolescence.
In this way, the plight of the modern woman can be viewed not as a struggle against patriarchy, but as a struggle against their own obsolescence. It’s a struggle to remain relevant, to find identity, meaning, and purpose. It’s a struggle for fulfillment given the present absence of a cultural technology that once provided for them, as Heidegger might say, a “ready-to-hand” construct, a prefabricated role as mother, caregiver, and wife. With this “ready-to-hand” obsolescence and malfunctioning of these traditional roles and of marriage, a divide has emerged from within the once great gynocentrisms that enveloped prior cultures. As such, this divide reveals itself in the forms of radical traditionalists and radical feminists.
The traditionalist sort of right-wing feminists (think Phyllis Schlafly and her ilk) are nothing but a hodgepodge of stereotypically grumpy Luddites concerned with a sort of radical conservatism that attempts to maintain the old cultural technology and stubbornly refuses adaptation to and adoption of new cultural technologies—ones that might replace the traditional housewife and marriage. They are like neophobe geeks raging hard for a return to the HD DVD or to Betamax or for the Microsoft Zune.
Of the more radical leftist feminists and their ilk, we can view them not as Luddites, but as misguided revolutionaries who have created an identity for themselves as antagonists of the patriarchy. They are women compelled to create a narrative (a cultural technology, if you will) within our social-cultural structure—an astonishing attempt to create something that might restore to women an identity, meaning, and purpose.
Sadly, this cultural technology is a disaster loosely analogous to something like Windows ME. It was supposed to be a sort of revolutionary software technology making the home PC more useful and attractive to the home PC buyer. However, it was buggy, prone to crashing, unstable, and poorly constructed, with limited and restricted access to MS-DOS. Though some of the graphics and interfaces were stylish, the real-world user experience was painful, aggravating, and for Microsoft, it was a disaster—having barely one year of shelf-life.
Similarly, the shelf-life of these would-be revolutionaries of modern leftist feminism is also running out. That is to say, their product doesn’t perform as it should. It’s buggy and slow and prone to crash in the face of real-world experiences. Its logic is unstable and does not hold up under questioning about its foundational underpinnings. In short, their construct exists only in relation to patriarchy and if the narrative of patriarchal oppression of women doesn’t hold up under logical scrutiny, so too does their narrative and corresponding construct fail because their construct does not exist apart from its foundation—which is patriarchy. And patriarchy, as an overarching explanation for the oppression of women, is not a true paradigm. Again, it’s not patriarchy. It’s obsolescence.
If the modern woman wants to overcome this sort of obsolescence and create relevance for herself – if she wants to create identity, meaning, and purpose – perhaps she could take a clue from the philosopher Andy Clark. In Andy Clark’s Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, a phrase called the “scaffolded mind” is used to describe the “amazing capacities [of humans] to create and maintain a variety of special external structures (symbolic and social-institutional). [The scaffolded mind helps us structure] our environment so that we can succeed with less intelligence. Our brains make the world smart so that we can be dumb in peace!
Or, to look at it another way, it is the human brain plus these chunks of external scaffolding that finally constitutes the smart, rational inference engine we call mind…[and the boundaries of our mind]… extend further out into the world than we might have initially supposed (179,180).” Clark goes on to describe a “scaffolded action” as one that “relies on some kind of external support. Such support would come from the use of tools or from exploitation of the knowledge and skills of others; that is to say, scaffolding [that denotes] a broad class of physical, cognitive, and social augmentations…that allow us to achieve some goal that would otherwise be beyond us (190).”
If the modern woman has the goal of achieving something that is otherwise beyond her, she’d abandon the entire narrative of patriarchal oppression and create scaffolds for women that extend outward from her “present-at-hand,” as Heidegger might say, existence and into an existence of relevance—one that isn’t dependent upon being the victim of patriarchy, or some sort of revolutionary slayer of patriarchy.
As the modern woman faces this Heideggerian “ready-to-hand” obsolescence, she must create her own relevance, one that is independent of false narratives about patriarchy. She must create a new sort of “scaffolded” cultural technology for herself—one that extends outward from the “present-at-hand” structure and into relevance. Without this sort of scaffolded mind to bridge the gap between obsolescence and relevance, women may as well leave their minds in a jar by the door and continue screaming like the stereotypical moustache-encrusted and incoherent purveyors of misandry who demand that men provide to them a scaffolded structure into typically male spaces of cultural technology a la Adria Richards and the Donglegate fiasco.
Richard Rorty makes a beautiful and profound statement in his later work—Philosophy and Social Hope: “Everything that can serve as a term of relation can be dissolved into another set of relations, and so on forever.
There are, so to speak, relations all the way down, all the way up, and all the way out in every direction; you never reach something which is not just one more nexus of relations. (54).”If the modern woman wants to build her relational relevance, one that exists apart from the old cultural technology that provided a sort of prefabricated role of existence in relation to her utility as mother, caregiver, housewife, etc., she must not fall in to the trap of trying to build a set of relations and scaffolding from the present absence of something—literally nothing, her Heideggerian “ready-to-hand” obsolete roles of previous generations. She also cannot extend scaffolds and relations from false narratives of patriarchy. These false narratives about patriarchy are a ground in which to try and stabilize such scaffolding and that ground is a sort of quagmire, a swamp that will swallow, envelop, and dissolve those relations and scaffolds, only to prolong the “ready-to-hand” obsolescence.
We do live in an amazing time. Women have the opportunity to create for themselves a new identity, meaning, and purpose. As men have created so many of the amenities and technologies that liberated us from the “ready-to-hand” cultural technologies of marriage and of the traditional parasitic housewife, it is now time that women step up and create something other than lamentations about patriarchy or the waxed poetic words of how great things were under traditionalism.
The burden is on women to create, to remove themselves from the rut of traditionalism, and to remove themselves from the rut of blaming patriarchy. Until the modern woman removes herself from these ruts, she will be stuck in the wrongheaded direction and have within her perspective the kind of backwards thinking that gets her nowhere even close to being liberated from her own obsolescence.
You’re not needed in the house anymore, so get the fuck out.