Have you ever looked at the news lately and just been confused? Like you’re watching a bad soap opera where motivation doesn’t make sense? We’ve all been taught theories about this in school, like culture, religion, and rational self-interest, but all these explanations fall apart under the weight of the contradictions. Why are conservatives supposedly “voting against their interests”? Why are we spending billions to fight terrorism, when heart attacks and domestic violence claim so many more lives? If men are a privileged group, why the hell are we all so angry all the time? I may not have found the one true answer, but I have found one that works better than the rest: Patriarchy.
I used to think that term was only by man-hating radical feminists, which should tell you how far the up propaganda river I was. Patriarchy needs to be front and center in the mainstream because the modern world doesn’t make sense without it.
Patriarchy is a social system that values fear, dominance, competition, and control. The subjugation of women and the privilege of men is a large part of that system, but it is based on those core values. It is the society we live in. We want to believe that we are somehow beyond sexism, but as I read more about Patriarchy in Alan G. Johnson’s “The Gender Knot”, Patriarchy is so pervasive that we refer to it in unconscious euphemisms like “the way things are”. You see it in the number of corporations, nations, institutions exclusively controlled by men. You see it in our politics, you see it in our language, you see it at every school shooting.
You especially see it in the way women are portrayed in our earliest myths. From Pandora’s Box, to the Garden of Eden, man is held as the standard and woman is the other, the aberration to be controlled.
Our best historical estimates place Patriarchy’s origins near the beginning of agriculture. Agriculture required dominance of one’s environment to ensure a plentiful harvest season. Reproduction provided labour and thus more control over the environment. Women were able to create more laborers, so this made up one of the reasons why women’s actions were so tightly controlled.
Patriarchal values inform other systems of oppression as well. Racism was introduced to justify the buying and selling of human beings to work on the cotton and sugar plantations of the Atlantic slave trade. Homophobia punished deviation from a masculine-centered ideal. Any system in practice today that uses violence to control people can trace its roots back to Patriarchy.
Both men and women benefit and suffer from this system. Women suffer by their marginalization as second class citizens. When a woman tries to walk to her car in a dark parking lot alone, it his her actions that are policed, not the men who would brutalize her. Men suffer by their status as oppressor. They are forced to abandon their humanity to participate in society. Having emotions other than anger is seen as inappropriate and unmanly. They are forced to compete for what they want, and when they don’t get it, they’re very identities as men are questioned. We lionize male aggression so much that for many men it seems like the only way. This line of thinking is the same for the domestic abuser as much as it is for politicians who order drone strikes. Kill or be killed. Via the body or the soul.
There isn’t much time left to ponder it. Patriarchy has created a vast system of global inequality that is wasting the Earth’s material and human potential. So much good is left undone because we can’t ask men to give up control. This is the reason that we can’t build clean energy sources, balance budgets, pass sensible laws, or even have reasonable screenings at airports. The solutions that involve men giving up control, even if they give more personal freedom, are what we now call, “political suicide”. Those are the solutions that we need the most right now.
If you’re convinced of Patriarchy’s existence, and you know the danger, then this is what you need to do. You must read, watch, and expose yourself to as much feminist thinking as possible. The first battleground will be your own mind. If you feel yourself getting angry at the state of the world, question that anger. Men must question their impulse to dominate and control every situation they find themselves in. I have a lot of work to do in this area too. Feminist women already get it. They have for years, and the lies about feminist thinking that have been spread as part of the recent backlash have be fought at all times. When you come to your own understanding of Patriarchal system that you live under, tell others about it. Connect with other people who think as you now do. The promise of feminist thinking is more than just equality. It is the promise to experience true love, true happiness, and true freedom.