The dissolution of the dichotomous order has been going on globally for a long time,
although not in the form of a compact political program to which there can be complete
commitment or which can be voted on every four years. A complex interaction
between undeniable ecological pressures, technological innovations, symbolic
deconstruction in various post-movements of thought, transdisciplinary experiments
in the spaces between politics, art, science, religion, and more,99 policies of equal
opportunity, auto-destructive system crises, tentative and only loosely connected
new forms of coexistence, and «managing like a woman innkeeper»100 and more or
less coincidental historical events, has led to a situation that is both confusing and
inspiring. The expression «I no longer know what is up and what is down» translates
what is going on globally into terms understandable by all: the supposedly natural
order of the hierarchical, complementary binary conception of gender is inexorably
disintegrating101 with the same logic as the associated hierarchizations that used to be
unquestionable between belief and knowledge, subject and object, res cogitans and
res extensa, colonizer and colony, center and periphery, God and the world, culture
and nature, public and private spheres.
But there are also massive forces—who would expect otherwise?—resisting the
transformation to a post-dualistic order: corporations work with market power to
maintain or stage ever more profitable pink and blue or black and white stereotypes,
media and «normal science»102 prevent collective reflection by systematically channeling
attention to matters of secondary importance, or reissuing adopted dichotomies.
And there are wrong paths of resistance that predictably lead to dead ends because
they only turn hierarchies upside down rather than deconstructing the order as a
whole, because they wear themselves out in repetitive outrage, unproductive hostile
stances, and their own assumed powerlessness, or look for isolated liberation for speci
fic individuals or groups where only the deconstruction of the dichotomous order as
a whole would help.
In this second chapter, therefore, I will address the question of what forms of
resistance to exclusion are being practiced, how productive they are, and whether
they can be combined to form a coherent policy.
2.1 Simplifying the (intentionally) complicated: schematic reductions
Admittedly, an intellectual ambition from behind your desk to transfer the post-confusion103
into an effcient program to end the dichotomous order is superfluous. A harmonized
«strategy,» which some may be expecting here, would not do justice to the
irrepressible confusion of transformations already under way. Instead, it would run
the risk of reverting into a mechanistic illusion, because taking leave from the «obsession
with smooth functioning»104 is in fact a promising solution approach.
Explicitly no longer wanting to know what is up and what is down, does not mean,
however, rejecting the greatest possible analytical clarity as a simplification in and of
itself. For this reason, in this chapter I will even risk attempting schematic representations
of complex relationships. These are of course to be taken with a grain of salt.
But sometimes simplifications are helpful, namely when they provide you with an
overview, where, as in this case, complexity is found not only in the subject matter
itself, but has been orchestrated again and again in the sense of a divide et impera.
I am convinced that the deconstruction of the dichotomous order will in the final
analysis serve everyone. But in each specific case there are almost always substantial
interests opposing it : Who would be interested in a coherent resistance of the
excluded against the tremendously versatile authoritative hereafter, in view of the
extent to which these interests profit from such varied people, things and conditions
as migrants, housewives, feelings, material, animals, «foreign» ethnicities, and people’s
own physicality being considered a part of nature? Are people who may not
be «at the top» of the order that is disintegrating but are nonetheless above others,
for instance men of non-Occidentalized ethnicities, prepared to join the battles for
equal opportunity of those who are subordinate to them, in this case women of these
same ethnicities, where the order nevertheless still allows men of non-Occidentalized
ethnicities to compel these women to serve their own persons? Won’t they be
more inclined to resist the end of the order in their own short-term interest? And how
does one explain to a feminist that, if she wants to pursue a career and—among other
things for that very reason—demands a fifty-percent proportion of women in armies
and supervisory boards, she should at the same time choose to see herself as part of
the natural world such as glaciers and oceans? And with men who are trying to escape
from the domination of the dichotomous order through non-patriarchal or less patriarchal
indigenous explanations of the world?105
It seems to me one can actually best explain it to all parties involved—and this is ultimately necessary, particularly to the very busy makers of resistance politics—using a simplified diagram:
In order to approximate the confusing inextricability of flexible orders of domination
and subordination in reductive two-dimensionality, I have mixed up the pairs that
only seemingly belong together eternally: the dichotomies that define and reinforce
each other are not properly arranged in conceptual conjugal beds in my diagram, but
rather in nearly as confused a way as they seem in reality. In the order that is dying
away, «man» has always behaved to «woman» only approximately like the master to
the slave, like spirit to body, like culture to nature, like public to private, like bright to
dark, which is why until the present day people have again and again succeeded in
separating the excluded from each other : people have invented countless «distinctions»106
that one could argue about for centuries if this were desired. Even at the very
beginning, Aristotle raised the issue of some of these differences in some detail, thus
supplying the model for never-ending debates that skillfully steer clear of the essentials,
namely that—up to the present day—these are profitable «naturalizations» of the
human in every individual case:
the first and least parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife,
father and children…. We therefore must consider what each of these three
relations is and ought to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, of husband
and wife, and thirdly of parent and child. … There are many kinds both
of rulers and subjects…107 But the kind of rule differs; the freeman rules over
the slave after another manner from that in which the male rules over the
female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in
all of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative
faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has
but it is immature.108
To offer resistance to the conglomerate of dichotomies continuously adapted to different
circumstances, ways of thought, and needs, there are three strategic possibilities,
once again schematically reduced: inversion, integration, and denial. All three strategic
possibilities are practiced in a multitude of forms that often overlap, of which only
a few will be shown here by way of example. The purpose of the following sections
is to show that all these forms of resistance have their own limited justification, but
that they come more clearly into focus, and thus are more effective, when understood
(anew) in the scope of a comprehensive deconstruction of the dichotomous order.
2.2 Separatist inversions: matriarchy – wildness – négritude…
In the beginning was power.|
And the power was feminine and omnipresent.
It resided within us and in all things.
It created the inherent order,
the rhythms of life and decay,
high and low tide, sunrise and sunset.
The power of the feminine surrounded us on all sides.
It was the space in which we lived, the earth that bore us,
the cave that protected us, the house that rescued us,
the vault of heaven above us.109
Texts like this one, with which Gerda Weiler begins her large-scale study on The hidden
matriarchy in the Old Testament, fascinated many women in the 1980s—and not
without reason. A reality is conceptualized (supposedly) completely different from the
one experienced on a daily basis: both pre-historical paradise and the utopia being
aspired toward, a powerful concept of identity beyond feminine servitude, and (a
vague) orientation for transformational action. In fact, the matriarchy movement at
the end of the 20th century with its theory circles, ritual groups, and social experiments
opened up spaces that, by distancing women from apparently eternally valid
ascriptions, have achieved a great deal: the alternative concept of identity of an «integrating,
all-embracing matriarchal abundance of power»110 has considerable potential
for empowerment, even if it ultimately turns out to be an illusory inversion of what has
been opposed. Although the architects of a pre-historical, pre-linguistic, pre-dualistic
matriarchy that evolves into the benchmark of political action tried very hard to rescue
their blueprints from the trap of a mere inversion of traditional dichotomies:
We must … leave patriarchal terminology behind to sense that the matriarchal
«mistress» does not lay claim to any «[mister] domination.» The queen of
heaven did not exercise any artificial power. Her strength flowed from within.
She was the quintessence of all vital forces, the creative primal force. Originally
she alone was venerated. She was the mistress and no one else.111
When, however, the practiced «higher male» is countered with a concept of all-embracing
femaleness, in other words, if a binary conception of gender survives as a
frame of reference, and classical attributes of the «higher» such as sole veneration,
origin, or creative power are merely shifted from a male to a female principle to which
a dependent male «heros» or «son»112 is then subordinated, the misunderstanding
that this is just an inversion of patriarchal conditions is di%cult to avoid, despite the
willingness to «sense» what is completely different :
In the women’s movement, because the models presented in numerous variants
of a higher or better femaleness were intuitive, holistic, maternal, and—this time in a
positive sense—close to nature, they clashed in significant debates with concepts of
liberation that demanded a realistic analysis of the «complicity»113
of women: When the American psychologist Carol Gilligan founded the ethics of care in the early 1980s
with her book « In a Different Voice»114 and in the process did not clearly avoid an idealistic
equation of femaleness with empathy and care, the Berlin social scientist Christina
Thürmer-Rohr reacted with fierce criticism:
We cannot simply say: Patriarchy has turned out to be a form of society whose
predominant members, men, saw as valuable something that turned out not
to be valuable. Therefore we women are finally taking our different morality
out of the closet, setting the priorities ourselves, replacing and occupying the
empty spaces. I see this fine challenge as an ahistorical illusion. For we cannot
rush into unoccupied territory; such territory doesn’t exist. Besides, we have
nothing in our possession, or not enough, with which to occupy this non-existent
place … in a completely different, brand new way.115
One year after the Chernobyl disaster, in February 1987, a women’s group close to
the Green Party adopted the «Mothers’ Manifesto,»116 that, linking to the concept of a
femaleness reduced to biological motherhood—and thus ostensibly per se environmentally
sensitive—was intended to encourage «a new debate about an expanded,
ecological, forward-looking concept of emancipation.» The answer came immediately
in the form of a « Mamalogy» issue of the journal «beiträge zur feministischen theorie
und praxis,» in which «the new ideology of mothers»117 was debunked as ahistorical and reactionary.
There were structurally comparable debates in the 20th century around concepts
like «négritude,» «Blackness,» and «wildness,» whose protagonists, although with a
less sweeping claim, attempted to address exclusions as being part of nature with constructs
of something «completely different » which was untrammeled or even pristine:
African and Afro-American intellectuals rallied around terms such as «négritude»
and «Blackness» in the first half of the last century to counter the colonialist ascription
that Africa was uncultured against the idea of a distinct culture centered around
values such as sensuality, intuition, and a positively understood closeness to nature.
Structurally comparable, the concept of «wildness» established itself as an alternative
concept to the man-made cultural landscape. The basis of the nature conservation
movement is that it seeks to rescue natural reserves or natural parks from human
exploitation and leave them «untouched.» In these cases too, critics argued that claiming
autonomous areas lying outside the hegemonic power (of definition) was merely
mythology and not suitable for serious consideration as a theoretical basis of politics.
Even if such criticism is directed at the weak point of outside worlds that have
supposedly remained intact by being ahistorical, it does not do justice to the potential
for renewal of utopian thinking, particularly when the criticism leads to nothing other
than the supposed lack of alternatives to an integration of women, non-Occidentalized
ethnicities, and nature into the ruling paradigm. In his critical reading of the currently
dominant model of an economization of nature, Thomas Fatheuer has plausibly
demonstrated this two-facedness of criticism of utopia: It is indeed right to criticize
ideas of pristine nature as ahistorical ideology; but to allow this justified criticism to be
turned into a defamation of all those who see third ways between the myth of «wildness
» and the utter economization of the natural, for instance a pragmatic connection
to the idea of nature conservation and corresponding regulatory concepts such as
protected areas, bans, or taxes as being obsolete, would not serve the cause but rather
would ultimately direct money to follow fashionable argumentation rather than move
such money in the right direction.118
Othmar Keel, scholar of ancient Near Eastern studies, shows that utopian
energies can also be constructively assimilated and transformed: he does
not confirm the hypothesis of a pre-historical matriarchy, but acknowledges
its fruitfulness as a stimulus for exploring antiquity that is less guided by
Even if the de-deification of the environment and shared world has not, as so often
claimed, justified its rampant exploitability, it has led to a reduced sensitivity to the
demands and the life of nature. Authors such as Heide Göttner-Abendroth and Gerda
Weiler have strongly and correctly felt the loss suffered by suppressing the Canaanite,
even if their historical reconstructions are for the most part untenable.119
2.3 Types of integration: equality—aid programs—monetization
While the schemes of a self-regulated and better alternative model and the related
experiments based on practical life skills remain restricted to small but quite subversively
effective groups, state policies on the issue of how to deal with «those discriminated
against» and the «environment» are primarily based on the principle of the
integration of (ostensibly) deficient areas and groups into the dichotomous order:
girls from the lower classes or «female immigrants to the industrialized countries»
should enjoy the same educational and career opportunities; successful «climbers»
are acclaimed as exemplary; «career women» who have a good grip on their «worklife
balance» are deemed the standard; «career obstacles» are eliminated through
measures such as continuing further training, family allowances, external child care
and paternity leaves; it is recommended that the care sector be transformed into paid
services as comprehensively as possible;120 human beings become «human capital,»
nature becomes «natural capital,» rainforests «ecosystem service providers.»121
If the relevant «equality measures» do not take effect as desired, media discourse
promptly declares them—and not without good reason—illusionary: books that
revert triumphantly to apparently tried and tested ascriptions and announce the end
of emancipation, multiculturalism, or environmentalism become bestsellers. Trans-
formative experiments in intercultural life, environmentally responsible lifestyle,
shared parenting, or queerness122 are defamed as elitist minority phenomena, and a
return to traditional role models—that is to say: practices of exclusion—again appears
to be the only realistic or reasonable solution.
In fact, the «equal treatment» of the excluded, understood as an isolated practice
or even an ideal path to liberation, cannot have a comprehensive effect in terms of
good coexistence of everyone for a simple reason: the volume of work previously done
by people ostensibly closer to nature in spheres considered part of nature does not
disappear if the questionable privilege of letting some of those who were previously
excluded, for instance white middle-class women or migrants of the professional
class, ascend to «higher» spheres is conceded. And nature, both human and non-human,
remains bounded, fragile, and linked to contexts that are not interchangeable,
even if it is theoretically possible to force them into standardized calculations or systems
of justice. It is true that limited progress in e%ciency and productivity has been
made not only in the production of goods, but definitely also in the service and caregiving
sectors, and in the consumption of natural resources. "is may be gratifying,
but it also nurtures the illusion that the natural and cultural fabric of relations that has
arisen over centuries or even millennia can be evaluated, exchanged and compensated
using globalized measurements or even a single metric—the dollar—without
the actual quality of life getting lost in the shuffle.123
Children, for instance, still cannot be fabricated by machines. The transformation
of human newcomers—apparently without any alternative—into marketable human
capital pushes the limits of real quality of life and human dignity, as does the proposal
to hand over the care of aging and sick people to robots. Rather more than less of a
strain is put on nature itself—both human and non-human—through globally organized
increases in e%ciency, the increased use of technology, compressed working—
in other words: stress, and increased exploitative pressure. As a consequence, new
exclusions are developing based on the old model: immigrants from Eastern Europe,
Southeast Asia, and Africa care for Western European senior citizens for the lowest of
wages, bring up «career» women’s children, keep their households in order, and pander
to stressed-out managers. An economic war over cheap food and raw materials is
under way on the African continent—these continue to be in large part cultivated, harvested,
and mined by children, youth, or unprotected casual laborers beyond human
rights standards. And until the present day the new definition of nature as an «ecosystem
service» has not, despite high expectations, led to a real end to the unchecked
exploitation of natural resources. Quite the contrary: the concept of integrating nature
into globalized trade relations as a service stokes the illusion that it is at the unlimited
disposal of at least those who, through complementary compensation payments, can
delegate their responsibility «downwards.»124
The inverted model and the integration or equality model are shown in simple
graphics in Figures 3 and 4:
Concerning those areas of human culture made part of nature, equal opportunity policies
are based on the illusion that individuals or groups can be allowed to «climb» up
from the lower rungs of the order into the supposedly more attractive virile spheres
without the dichotomous order being seriously destabilized as a consequence. Ultimately,
however, the result of this is nothing other than more and more concentration
of power and resources on the «higher» rungs, increasing impoverishment and (self-)
destruction in the «lower» rungs—and a growing loss of meaning for everyone: why
should I as a woman enjoy «equal rights» if, at the place to which equal opportunity
transports me, nothing awaits me beyond the standard laid down by men, stress, and
dependency on money and my boss rather than on my husband? What is happiness
worth if it consists of rising stock prices and residential fortresses armed with alarm
systems? Is equality—beyond the equal right to life and the free development of your
personality codified in declarations of human rights and constitutions—even a value
that it makes sense to aspire to? What do wealth and career mean in a ruined world?
2.4 Refusal: from deception to un-deception
In the mid-1980s, in the context of the broad movement against the nuclear arms race,
Christina Thürmer-Rohr sounded a rally cry for many women with her call to radically
cease providing service and then face up to personal complicity and confront the
The fact that men in power have achieved the possibility of … annihilation
sends us into a fatally delayed tailspin. Women have failed. We cannot relieve
ourselves of the consequence which an acknowledgement of this failure must
bring: namely, the risk of total uncertainty. All self-evident truths have come
to an end, along with all reliable categories of understanding. … With the
questions that arise, we cannot cling to our current systems of meaning … not
even if the consequence is confusion. For it is possible that all new thoughts
initially produce more confusion than light ; and perhaps it really is just a
matter of seeing clearly, of becoming more keenly aware, and of no longer
The pathos of total refusal soon wore thin because, like equal opportunity policy, it
isolates women as a resistant group from other excluded groups, and in so doing tends
to make absolute the battle between the sexes, and because it fails in practical life as
a bottomless defensive attitude. Nonetheless, the hypothesis that all traditional forms
of resistance had failed to set in motion a process of setting things in order—or can
do so today. It became clear: «complementary ideas» like victim discourses, accepting
«offers of equality» (Thürmer-Rohr, 44), and escape to ideal counterworlds have
moved in equal measure within the framework of the defined dichotomous order
which they submit to, against which they are in opposition or which they invert. For
that reason, «our only way is out of deception to un-deception» (Thürmer-Rohr, 62):
There is no way around the need to see clearly, without cheating, and to
renounce all illusions. The strength produced by illusions is a miserable
crutch; it leads to despair and self-contempt. … We must radically reject every
superficial consolation. If women were finally to become nihilists in this
sense, it would be a revolutionary act. (Thürmer-Rohr, 62)
To become nihilistic in the «superficial» sense intended here does not mean, however,
to believe in nothing any more; instead, it means
we ought now to hold onto what is certain. We should equip ourselves for this
life. It is irreplaceable. And if we revolt against the scandal being perpetrated
on this earth, let it be for only one reason: because life still contains uncontaminated
moments. … The most reliable resistance comes from the ability
to live—unreconciled with our self-justifications, and unreconciled with our
complicity. (Thürmer-Rohr, 63)
This orientation towards the here and now as the «irreplaceable» reminds us of
Xanthippe’s refusal to place an invisible, supposedly real life above the visible and
tangible «natal» and mortal life. It leads back to the beginning of the history of the
dichotomous world—and thus to the decision that it is still possible to declare the
dichotomous order void as such: it is in fact not yet true even today that an invisible
hereafter of whatever kind is more important than visible life here and now.
It is not true that women, migrants, and people somewhere far away are intended
through their unvalued or undervalued work to maintain the illusion that the market
will automatically adjust itself by means of an «invisible hand.» It is a lie to claim
that the deep-rooted way of thinking of the relationships among people as hierarchies
and certain people as removed from nature has led to «satisfy[ing] the human need to
preserve and sustain life and the quality of life»126 or will ever lead to that. Finally, it is
also not true that women and people of color are the better, more meaningful people,
who in pre-historic times exercised good power that was «no [mister] domination.»127
The excluded do not provide a reservoir of meaning to which it is possible to flee after
work or on holiday, when the stress of simulating a future life better for everyone
becomes unbearable. And everything proposed to counter the prevailing order collapses
in on itself if the order it is directed against disintegrates.
Consenting to the breakdown of the dichotomous world does not end in nihilistic
refusal, but rather results in patient, peaceful work on a different paradigm.
99 See Andreas Weber 2013, Sacha Kagan 2012.
100 See Article «Wirtinschaft» in Ursula Knecht et al. 2012, 146-148. Adding «in» to the middle of
the term Wirtschaft (which means both economy and inn) creates a new feminine term for both
101 Characteristic in this context : the comment of the transsexual winner of the European Song Con
test 2014 Conchita Wurst about winning: «We are unstoppablefi»
102 Thomas Kuhn 1970, passim.
103 See Chapter 3.1 of this essay.
104 Hannah Arendt 1998, 214.
105 On this see Chap. 4.9 of this essay.
106 Pierre Bourdieu 1984.
107 Aristotle 2005, 31-32.
108 Ibid. 52.
109 Gerda Weiler 1983, 21.
110 Ibid. 22.
111 Ibid. The German includes the play on words Herrin and Herrschaft (the latter German term,
meaning rule or domination or control, includes the word stem Herr for «mister»).
112 Ibid. 127-143 and passim.
113 Christina Thürmer-Rohr 1992, 43-46. [slight modifications by this translator]
114 Carol Gilligan 1982.
115 Christina Thürmer-Rohr, 104.
116 Mamalogie 1988, 201-207.
117 Ibid. 5.
118 See Thomas Fatheuer 2013, 60-66.
119 Othmar Keel in Thomas Staubli 2005, 20.
120 On this see Christa Wichterich 2000, 39-57; Ina Praetorius 2014, 108-11.
121 Thomas Fatheuer 2013, 24, 41-57.
122 On this see Chapter 4.11 of this essay.
123 There are systematic parallels between the economization of nature and the monetization of
providing care; Christa Wichterich (2009) addressed their actual form and consequences as
«paradoxes» of globalized equal opportunity policies. They urgently need to be developed further.
124 Thomas Fatheuer 2013, 62-66.
125 Christina Thürmer-Rohr 1992, 40-41. (The page numbers in parentheses in 2.4 refer to this text).
126 Peter Ulrich 2008, 1. See note 2.
127 See note 111.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ina Praetorius, Dr. theol., is a graduate in German literature and a Protestant theologian. She was
a research fellow at the Institute for Social Ethics at the University of Zurich from 1983 to 1987. She
obtained her doctorate in Heidelberg in 1992; her dissertation was entitled «Anthropology and the
image of women in German-language theology.» A freelance writer and speaker, she has been living
in Wattwil, Switzerland, with her family since 1987. Website: Ina Praetorius.