Beyond Power
On Women, Men and Morals

Marilyn French

1985

Marilyn French is best known as a feminist fiction writer. I think she wrote a best seller a few years ago called The Women's Room. Beyond Power is more obscure, but deserves as much attention.

Beginning in pre-history, this book traces the evolution of patriarchy up through present day. No feminist reformist, French is truly radical in attacking the root of our social ills: power relationships. In undermining the very premises our society is built upon, no patriarchal institutions are spared: capitalism, religion, law, education, medicine, the family, media, government, corporations. Read this book if you can find it, and prepare to have your most cherished beliefs challenged. And if you are a male, prepare to be offended.

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It is therefore extremely ironic that patriarchy has upheld power as a good that is permanent and dependable, opposing it to the fluid, transitory goods of matricentry. Power has been exalted as the bulwark against pain, against the ephemerality of pleasure, but it is no bulwark, and is as ephemeral as any other part of life. Coercion seems a simpler, less time-consuming method of creating order than any other; yet it is just as time-consuming and tedious and far more expensive than personal encounter, persuasion, listening, and participating in bringing a group into harmony. None of this is unknown, unfamiliar, unperceived. Yet so strong is the mythology of power that we continue to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that it is substantial, that if we possessed enough of it we could be happy, that if some "great man" possessed enough of it, he could make the world come right.

Beyond Power
Marilyn French

For it is not enough either to devise a morality that will allow the human race simply to survive. Survival is an evil when it entails existing in a state of wretchedness. Intrinsic to survival and continuation is felicity, pleasure. Pleasure has been much maligned, diminished by philosophers and conquerors as a value for the timid, the small-minded, the self-indulgent. "Virtue" involves the renunciation of pleasure in the name of some higher purpose, a purpose that involves power (for men) or sacrifice (for women). Pleasure is described as shallow and frivolous in a world of high-minded, serious purpose. But pleasure does not exclude serious pursuits or intentions, indeed, it is found in them, and it is the only real reason for staying alive.

Beyond Power
Marilyn French

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