“The Patriarchy of Things” is a 2021 book by journalist Rebekka Endler. In it, Endler holds a magnifying glass to many areas including the configuration of public space, medical diagnosis and treatment, technological development, and the formation of culture. She provides a comprehensive overview of how the world around us is built for cis men, revealing through a myriad of examples how everything from pant pockets to cars, office chairs, lawyers’ robes, Wikipedia entries, even the treatment for heart attack is designed around the needs of cis men. Here is our conversation with Rebekka Endler, whom we met at her recent reading in Istanbul.
In the preface of the book, it is mentioned that you received a warning from an old friend and colleague you have known for many years that the book should not be “grumpy”. Do you believe that it is indeed a “grumpy” one? What kind of function do you think being grumpy has in terms of the topics you cover in the book and patriarchy?
I think actually “bitchy” is the better translation, “grumpy” seems ungendered, neutral, you know, like “grumpy cat”. Bitches are by default female read people and what is meant as a derogatory term then becomes something else, when you own it. And I do, to a certain degree, think my book is entitled to some bitchiness, because everywhere I looked, every topic I researched, I found discrimination by design, which is well documented and still so little talked about. So aside from doing academic research and accumulating testimonials, facts and data, a small slice of bitchiness was my way to make it more fun and palpable for the reader and for myself.
You also say that you thank the editors who turned you down for enraging you enough to write a whole book on the matter. Would you tell us about the patriarchy of editing?
Where do I begin‽ Publishing and edition is in itself an extremely privileged area of work, because getting your voice or writing out there, being heard and read has always been reserved for a few. Although now, through social media and the internet, blogs, websites such as yours, we have technically a democratization of publication and a diversification of voices, there is still these bottleneck mechanisms that are deciding who gets tracktion, which ideas are heard and spread widely. So big publication houses and media companies still hold this form social power and it is up to this day mostly old, white, cis men, who are on the forefront of these companies and who get to decide whose books are being published, whose documentaries are being funded, and whose ideas are being turned into radio features. I don’t know if there is the same social pressure in Turkey as there is in Germany, but in Germany there have been calls for the publication industry to publish more books by people other than cis males and by non white people. So there has been a slight improvement in the past two years, which has led to claims by old white males that their work isn’t being published at all anymore. I wish this was true, but it isn’t, their works still make up the majority of all publications and therefore their opinions are still the ones most heard, taught and discussed in society. We are still made to care way too much about their views as if they were the norm of everything.
How did you decide on the women who shared their experiences in the process of writing the book, with whom you would talk, and in what kind of framework the experiences would be transferred?
I didn’t set out to interview only women on purpose, it developed over time, since my research topic prompted some odd reactions by some of the men I contacted. As a journalist for German public radio I have to talk with everyone and sometimes have unpleasant talks, so then I figured that within my own little book projekt I would allow myself the luxury of not having to deal with toxic masculinity, with sexual advances, mansplaining or simply having to defend my books premise, being that we live in a patriarchal society. The easiest way of ruling all of those out, was not to interview cis men. Another reason is, as I mentioned above, their over-representation in media in general. I had no desire to contribute further to that but giving them my little platform.
You frequently emphasize the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy in the book. Would you mind elaborating on a bit why these two systems form the framework of the book? Why are they essential for your work?
Patriarchy evolved before capitalism and in certain ways, capitalism is one of the results of patriarchal power. In a nutshell, the transfer of accumulated wealth to sons, as well as husbands holding all the economical power in a marriage, all in all, the uneven distribution of economical power, are two factors necessary for capitalism to succeed. To this day the two systems are interconnected and depend on each other. So looking into the future, the fight against patriarchy must also be an anticapitalist fight, as well as a fight for ecojustice and preservation of our planet.
In addition to that, you underline that by men, you mean, cis-men. How does this term contribute to your research?
I try to be specific with my use of language. When I ment men, (hopefully everywhere) I wrote men and when the issue was related to body morphology in topics such as car safety, sports equipment, room temperatures, western medicine or anything that is related to having a penis (such as peeing in public), I specified by using cis men. This is important because trans men are men and when talking about let’s say the difference in the way a body metabolizes a drug, it would be wrong to talk about the differences between men and women without the info that we are actually talking about cis gendered bodies. Same goes for people who menstruate, when talking about people who menstruate. It is so much more precise than “women”, since not all people who menstruate are women and not all women menstruate. My language use is far from perfect and I still have a lot to learn and improve, but trying to be precise and inclusive is a way to fight a binary gender concept, which is in itself patriarchal design and oppressive.
You focus on inclusive feminism many times in the book. Can we say that a world that appeals only to cis-women and that is not fully inclusive after all is not possible from your point of view? In what ways do you handle inclusivity?
Yes, inclusivity should be our top priority! I am convinced that the future belongs to intersectional feminism, that is a feminism that stands for an inclusive praxis instead of an exclusive club, with membership cards held only by white cis women. Reading authors like Audrey Lorde, bell hooks, Kimberly Crenshaw, Black feminist leaders that pointed out how a way forward needs to focus on the most oppressed in our societies and accommodate for their safety and wellbeing as a priority and not an afterthought, that we can deal with in the future when privileged white, not disabled women like myself have reached our goal of gender equality for ourselves. I believe that’s the only way to transform ourselves and society.
You talk about Garten der Frauen in the second chapter of the book. What does the fact that women who have had scarcely any public space representation and rights in the past – and today – have a cemetery belonging to them alone, say about their rights to public space?
It’s true, the place where they are made visible is a cemetery, so they are per definition all dead. I never thought about it before, but you’re right, there is an irony to it! I guess that’s in the nature of remembrance culture to focus on dead people. Still, the Garten der Frauen is a very special place of women’s representation in the public space. But I realized here in Turkey that the idea of a walkable matriarchy in public space is also very culture specific, because the cemeteries I’ve seen here in Istanbul are not really places that are inviting you to take a walk and stroll around, unless you have a loved one to visit. But I’ve had quite a few conversations here about the representation of women in the public space in Turkey and for example in university the students immediately researched the gendered data on street and school names and within a few minutes we were discussing how the few women that are honored publicly in this way all have ties to important men, they are their mothers, daughters, wifes. So through the data available online and their personal observations they were able to draw a direct line between the street names in Istanbul and Virginia Woolf’s observation from a hundred years ago that women always seem to be defined by their relationships to men in power (A room of one’s own). That’s an excellent starting point for conversations about the role of women and other marginalized people in public!
In which ways does this book relate to the feminist movement or feminist agenda in Germany? Of course, there are dozens of examples and discussions in the book, but could we say that your approach (the way you tackle the issues) resonates with the current feminist approaches in Germany?
It’s difficult to evaluate the impact of my own book, to be honest. But one thing I’ve noticed and that makes me super happy, is that feminist books, not just mine, others too, are now read by a much broader slice of society. I wrote the text with the idea of reaching people, who are interested, but not necessarily deep into the academic discourse. As a journalist, trying to convey academic knowledge in an accessible and hopefully still entertaining way, is the main reason for me to write anything. The great German feminist magazine Missy Magazine coined a name for that genre: Edutainment. I love “edutainment”, although it goes against the also very German urge to be very serious and big-headed about knowledge.
In Germany, just like in other countries like France or the US there has been a reckoning among younger feminist (but not only younger feminists) to distance themselves, or rather evolve from the very white and exclusionary feminism, which at the time brought a lot of great improvements, such as the decriminalisation of abortions in Germany (they are still illegal, but under certain criteria, a person doesn’t get criminalized for getting an abortion), the cirminalization of rape in the marriage etc. The reason for the distance between the old guard and the new guard is a topic I am currently researching for a new book, as I have found myself suddenly realizing I was disagreeing with older women on important issues. Some of the most prominent issues being discussed at the moment being the rights of trans women and trans men and their rights to legally recognized and to be included in feminist movements, as well as the rights of sex workers and their right to choose sex work as a job, the right of muslim women to wear a hijab without having their independence and feminism being questioned by other (white) women.
The issue with capitalism is a bit more complicated to most of us, because although there is a general consensus among intersectional feminists in Germany, that capitalism is one of the roots of our problems, how to abolish it beyond individual resistance to consumption is not so easy (even more so since my book is also a product and I need people to buy it in order to make a living). Also there is a real class element about it, because the resistance to consumption is something that in Germany is very tied to privilege, since a lot of people have to constantly buy fast fashion clothing, for example, in order to participate in society and fulfill expectations. Being able to participate in consumption and being able to afford goods is still closely tied to identity in Germany (where consumption in the East did basically not exist in the DDR and even in the West many migrant workers, especially from Turkey, were excluded from it, by being kept in low income jobs). I can’t speak for all German feminists, but the ones I know and exchange thoughts with have all grown aware of class and identity issues, when it comes to ideas about how to abolish capitalism.
In the last chapter, you say that you would like to end the book with a sense of “hope”. In which ways can we understand this hope after everything we read about in your book on lots of examples of the patriarchal world?
I finished writing the book, still in the midst of the pandemic, seeing my friends struggle at home with their kids, some losing their income, because they couldn’t find the time to write their grand applications because of care work, reports of women and children suffering from physical and mental abuse in their family homes came out and the rate of femicides surpassing those of the past years. It was all very depressing and most of it still is. Add a few more wars and destruction of the planet to it and the picture is really dark. But then, after the anti-abortion wins in the US, I saw an interview with the American journalist and feminist Rebecca Traister and she said: “To use hope not as some feel-good measure. But to regard it as a tactical necessity and a moral and civic responsibility. To feel the hope and keep moving and keep fighting.” I really embarrassed this like a mantra. Hope as a moral and civic responsibility is what keeps feminists going worldwide, no matter if it’s in Iran, Germany, the US or Turkey.
There was an event recently where you met with people and spoke of your book. Will you stay for a while in Turkey and do you have any other events planned?
I am in my last days as a resident of the Tarabya Culture Academy in Istanbul, so I got to spend four months here, talking to people, researching and writing. The fact that my book came out during the residency is a beautiful coincidence and after the beautiful evening at the book presentation, we’re looking for ways to do this again soon. But nothing is fixed, yet.