The Webster definition of Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.
It is an unjust social system that is harmful to both men and women.
Patriarchy as a term has fallen in and out of fashion over the years and often re-emerges during periods of feminist activity. It is likely no surprise that the term has been revitalized of late during this moment of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #HearMeToo. It seems an apt word to explain the seemingly unrelenting pervasiveness of inequality.
Generations of feminists have been working hard, leaning in, waiting till unfairness gradually ebbed away, and have been absorbing and internalizing sexism, in the hope that their children would have it better, but today’s reality remains; a woman could still be pinned to a bed or cornered at a party or groped, leered at or catcalled by a man – simply because of our bodies. We are still carrying the fears instilled in us all our lives: never walk alone at night, carry our keys like a weapon, protect our drinks from being drugged at the bar, check the backseat of the car before getting in, take self-defense classes, and so many more.
Patriarchy is pervasive. Woman face it daily through powerful cultural norms. It is omnipresent – supported by tradition, education and religion. Although piecemeal attempts at gender equality are made in an attempt at progress; the very system of patriarchy as a structure of power relations, rather than a series of specific sexist acts, mean that not all men are for it and some women may enthusiastically support it.
Patriarchy is not relegated to North American culture or North American feminist action. Examples of patriarchy around the world include: girls being deprived access to education, young girls being subjected to female genital mutilation, rape and sex-slavery in war zones, pan-global pay in-equality, and gender-inequality among the world’s leaders.
Obviously patriarchy hurts women. But it is also damaging to men.
Some of the assumed requirements of patriarchy include:
- Men must strive to be strong and excel in sports
- They must be self-reliant
- They must be decisive and be shrewd negotiators
- They must not show the softer side of their emotions
Patriarchy demands that men only express their feelings in four ways: sex, violence, sports, and work.
Men who fall outside of these norms — gay, bisexual and trans men, the disabled, the non-sports-minded, men who easily show their emotions, etc. — have felt the sting of the patriarchy’s contempt — even from women.
Our concept of masculinity, handed down from archaic patriarchal times, anesthetizes feelings, and leaves men numb and stunted both psychologically and emotionally. This can often result in relieving men from feeling accountable and responsible for the very actions that harm others and themselves. This is toxic masculinity.
On the heels of inspiring women who made headlines around the world in 2018, fighting for justice, equality, respect, dignity and change, we look to 2019. We raise our chins, square our shoulders, and lean in….there is work to be done and we are going to face it, head on.
Written by: Ashley Oakes, Executive Director