What Does “Peg the Patriarchy” Even Mean?
Cara Delevingne's Met Gala outfit made a literal statement. Unfortunately, it may have missed the mark.
The Met Gala has always been a place for celebrities to compete for headlines in head-turning, often bizarre outfits usually representing questionable interpretations of the ever-elusive Met Gala theme. This year, however, the A-listers in attendance at Monday night’s event used their gala getups to make very literal, if arguably hypocritical, statements. While AOC’s controversial “Tax the Rich” gown stole the show, model and actress Cara Delevingne was making a sartorial statement of her own. That statement, emblazoned in red block letters across a white bulletproof vest: “Peg the patriarchy.”
At face value, this appears to be some kind of feminist rallying cry — a cheeky spin on similar calls to dismantle the patriarchal structures at the heart of western society. As various critics have pointed out, however, framing pegging — a sex act in which one partner penetrates another with a strap-on dildo or similar device — as a subversive, destructive act that is inherently humiliating or otherwise destabilizing to the person or entity on the receiving end of that act reinforces harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about pegging, as well as the very patriarchal structures and belief systems that exact statement calls to dismantle.
Put simply, the implication that a man — or in this case, the patriarchy — is shamed, humiliated, overthrown or otherwise harmed by being sexually penetrated is rooted in patriarchal notions of gendered power dynamics, the same ones that link male domination to sexual penetration of a female partner. (It’s also worth noting that those notions are, in turn, rooted in an extremely heteronormative and binary conception of sex and gender.) In attempting to subvert that notion by reversing the gender roles, “peg the patriarchy” ultimately only reifies the very structures it purports to challenge.
Moreover, as others have noted, there is nothing inherently political, feminist, gendered or subversive about the act of pegging. As writer Erin Taylor put it in a recent tweet, “it’s just another form of sex.” And, contrary to the image of the empowered female pegger penetrating a male partner into submission that Delevingne’s statement seems to imply, pegging is a sex act enjoyed by partners of all sexual and gender identities. Unfortunately, like many sex acts, pegging is often surrounded by stigma and stereotypes within heterosexual contexts, ones that suggest straight men who enjoy being penetrated by their female partners are unmasculine or “secretly gay.” Statements like “peg the patriarchy” only reinforce this notion of pegging as emasculating or otherwise threatening to men and masculinity, discouraging men from exploring different kinds of stimulation they might find very pleasurable.
Is it also possible that we’re all reading a little too much into a probably tongue-in-cheek statement a celebrity wore to a party where the rich and famous literally compete to have the most annoying outfit? Probably! Anyway, the point is pegging is just a normal sex act, and no one is pegging the patriarchy, largely because the patriarchy doesn’t have an asshole. If it did, however, the patriarchy would probably find out it actually really enjoys that kind of prostate stimulation, like many men before it.
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