Did you watch the “Succession” finale on HBO this week? If so, did the last photo of Tom and Shiv in their car make you think of “Negotiating with the patriarchy», Deniz Kandiyoti’s 1988 article which is a founding text of Indian feminist thought?
Me too! And not just because “Negotiating with the Patriarchy” would make an extremely literal three-word summary of the entire series. Because if the “succession” did not concern openly THE patriarchy, it is unquestionably A patriarchy.
“Succession,” for those unfamiliar, follows the exploits of the Roy family: literal patriarch Logan, an aging media baron in the mold of Rupert Murdoch, and his adult children. Much of the show’s plot was driven by his son Kendall’s various failed efforts to dethrone or succeed him, some of which enlisted Kendall’s sister Shiv and/or brother Roman.
Which brings me to Kandiyoti, the feminist theorist whose groundbreaking work is surprisingly helpful in understanding today’s HBO hit.
The “bargain” in her paper’s title refers to the parallel offer that patriarchal systems offer women: if they help protect men’s interests by serving their husbands and sons, and conforming to conventions of propriety. who protect their family’s reputation, then they may also enjoy certain privileges and even wield limited power over other less fortunate women.
The traditional market for many Indian women, for example, was that they would not own their own property or inherit family assets, but would be supported by their husbands when young and by their sons in old age. .
But the benefits of these markets still depended on women’s relationships with men, Kandiyoti wrote. Following the divorce, death or separation of an affected man, the protections and power that flowed from it would crumble, with no guarantee that another man would take his place.
(Now, for the due warning: “Succession” spoilers appear below.)
One way to view the events of “Succession” is as the story of Kendall’s tragic misunderstanding of her position in the family under her father’s patriarchy. He believed that as a son – the “eldest boy,” as he angrily (and incorrectly) howled in the final episode – he was ready to inherit everything. But in reality, in terms of patriarchal power and position, but not actual sex, he was indeed as vulnerable as a wife or daughter trapped in Logan’s orbit.
It’s one of the oldest political stories in the world: someone supporting an oppressive system thinking they’ll one day be at the top, only to find they’ve played into the mechanics of their own oppression.
The Roy children’s mistake was that they hadn’t realized that they only had privileges through Logan. If the children played by the rules of this patriarchy, it granted them money and sinecures and even sometimes authority over those who did not belong to the family.
But it all depended on their relationship with him, which was horribly abusive. Over the course of four seasons, he insulted, belittled, manipulated, gassed and even physically abused his children. He controlled their money, undermined their relationships, and demanded absolute loyalty. He cut off the avenues of escape, promising them the world but never giving it to them.
Thus, neither of the children had independent power bases that could have come from, for example, starting their own business or doing real jobs within their father’s empire. (It’s telling that the series rarely depicts the Roy children in fact functioning for the Waystar Royco empire.) The patriarchal bargain was all they had.
Kendall, in particular, had no skills useful to the rest of the world. As he correctly told his sister when begging her to support his candidacy for CEO in the final episode, he was a cog that was made to fit into a single machine. Except that the machine in question was not, as he had believed, the company Waystar Royco. The machine was his relationship with his father. And it died with Logan.
This is the dirty secret of patriarchal systems, Kandiyoti wrote: Once women are co-opted to relinquish power, they lack the ability to enforce the bargain that got them there in the first place, especially once new men take over.
“For the generation of women caught in between,” she writes, “this transformation can represent a real personal tragedy, as they have paid the heavy price of an earlier patriarchal bargain, but are unable to reap the benefits. promised”.
For Kendall, tragedy came not only when he lost the power of the business he dreamed of, but also when his siblings abandoned him.
But perhaps a life of pervasive misogyny meant that Shiv Roy, the only real girl in the family, was in the best position to recognize this situation for what it was. This could explain why she eventually backed her husband as the new CEO: at the last minute, she may have realized her old patriarchal bargain was worthless, but unlike her brothers, she managed to strike a new one. .