“Patriarchy has no gender.”

bell hooks in Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

bell hooks’ quote is a clear reminder that patriarchy does not just describe male actions of domination, but also how some organizations and cultural narratives function.

Patriarchy, like most forms of oppression, has a way of trying to convince us that, in the words of the Crunk Feminist Collective “things are the way they are because they have to be, that they have always been that way, that there are no alternatives and that they will never change.”

From Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony to bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde, people have been resisting this mentality and pointing out another path away from unjust power systems.

Through the rest of this post I’m going to summarize intersectional changemakers’ ideas on:

  • The current state of patriarchy
  • The frames that perpetuate the acceptance of patriarchy
  • Examples of patriarchy in our current institutions
  • The main long-term efforts we can take to combat patriarchy

We’re lucky that that numerous changemakers have already clearly demonstrated what we need to do to dismantle patriarchy. Now we just all have to integrate these actions into all of our organizing efforts.

 

The core attributes of patriarchy

 

Patriarchy is a system that has many elements associated with it. Below are some of the key expressions of patriarchy:

Holds up the traditional male qualities as central, while other qualities are considered subordinate. The attributes of power, control, rationality, and extreme competitiveness are examples of these traditional male qualities. Emotional expressiveness, compassion, and ability to nurture are examples of subordinate qualities in patriarchal systems.

Dualistic and gendered thinking of roles. Within this structure, men and women both have their own specific roles (e.g. men leading, and women supporting). Even though this view may appear to be fading in some areas, it’s clear that certain careers historically associated with women (e.g. childcare and teaching) have disproportionately lower salaries.

Male domination. Men often occupy the most important and visible roles (e.g. executives, politicians, public leaders, etc.). Women who do hold these positions are expected to subscribe to male norms.

Protection of traditional patriarchal social structures. If a person or group challenges patriarchy in any form, then the patriarchal response is to increase control. In particular, this means increasing control over oppressed or marginalized groups.

Reinforcement of other types of oppression. Patriarch contributes to racism, sizeism, and homophobia. Third Wave feminists, such as Rebecca Walker, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and Cherríe Moraga, are the major voices to articulate this truth. All of the manifestations of patriarchy mentioned above, magnify for those with other oppressed identities.

However, one other important point to remember is, as described on the Daily Kos, “patriarchy is generally not an explicit ongoing effort by men to dominate women. It is a long-standing system that we are born into and participate in, mostly unconsciously.

This means, that people of all gender identities can perpetuate patriarchy, even if it is mainly male-identified individuals that reap most of the societal benefits.

For a powerful succinct description of patriarchy, check out bell hooks’ article Understanding Patriarchy.

 

Frames that perpetuate patriarchal ideas

 

“Boys will be boys.” This idea that men are biologically “programmed” to behave certain ways, against all scientific evidence, is one of the biggest cultural narratives that continues our current patriarchal systems.

Celebrating “macho” or “alpha” men.

Jackson Katz, in his book The Macho Paradox, discusses how society often promotes violent and controlling aspects of male culture. From lifting up the “strong” hero to denigrating “sissies,” our language and media foster this image of what “real men” look like.

Men believing they should be silent, instead of challenging other men on patriarchal and sexist ideas/actions. One of the most insidious characteristics of patriarchy, as mention above, is that it seeks to protect traditional male traits and actions. Even of some men would never subscribe to certain actions/ideas/language, they ignore when their peers commit those very same things.

“It’s a women’s issue.” Patriarchy and sexual violence impact both men and women. Patriarchy impacts everyone, at all levels of society.

While there are countless other frames that prop up patriarchy, these are a few of the most prominent.

 

How patriarchy manifests itself in current society

 

Media

 

There are numerous ways the mass media accentuates patriarchal ideas and thoughts.

The media amplifies patriarchal viewpoints through:

In addition, the journalism industry itself reserves most senior analyst and producer positions for men. Further, both men and women that do have these jobs must make sure to spin their stories that subscribe to dominant patriarchal narratives, instead of challenging them.

 

Workforce

 

Men disproportionately occupy top leadership positions, often because they exhibit those very same traditional male traits (e.g. outspoken, “rational,” and individual-based leadership).

In addition women often have “lower salaries, appointments at lower ranks, slower rates of promotion and lower rates of retention, and less recognition through awards.” This trend continues despite widespread recognition, which to me indicates that we still need to address the root causes (i.e. patriarchal culture).

 

Sexual violence

 

Sexual violence impacts both men and women, and relationships along the spectrum of sexual orientations. However, “99% of people who rape are men.”

Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey write “Patriarchy tells men that their need for love and respect can only be met by being masculine, powerful, and ultimately violent.” This viewpoint also contributes to the high amount of male bystanders who do little or nothing to prevent sexual violence.

 

Family

 

The traditional nuclear family, with men as the “leaders” and women as the “nurturers,” is still incredibly prevalent. This translates into male figure as the “authority” on all important decisions.

George Lakoff writes of the “strict father model” as the dominant conservative worldview, which he uses to explain why many conservatives pursue the “war on women.”

For other expressions of patriarchy, check out Shannon Ridgway’s great post on Everyday Feminism.

How to start ending patriarchy

 

Now challenging patriarchy is something that has been ongoing for countless generations, and it will take many more before it can finally be eliminated. This is essential for those of all gender identities.

However, there are numerous options all of us can take to push back against the system of patriarchy, no matter what field or time of life we may be in.

 

Changing the patriarchal narrative

 

Action 1: Push for a culture of excellence to hold men/boys accountable for their language and actions where all people can make positive influences on the world. This means countering the “boys will be boys” idea.

We shouldn’t discount men and their ability to be upstanding individuals, we just have to keep high expectations.

Action 2: Support a spectrum of ideas of what a “real man” looks like, such as those that are compassionate and responsible. We need to stop holding up “macho” or the “tough, silent type” as the gold standard for maleness.

Action 3: Reframe patriarchy as an issue for everyone (not just “a women’s issue”). Jackson Katz writes on how this is also a men’s issue, since men should take responsibility for altering both themselves and challenging men around them.

As bell hooks’ quote from the beginning of this post reminds us, “Patriarchy has no gender,” thus it’s going to take all people to combat it.

Action 4: End the viewpoint that the traditional nuclear family as the ideal. Instead, we should accept and encourage loving, compassionate families of any style and form.

 

Altering how we approach sexual violence prevention

 

Photo: Rachel Kramer Bussel via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Photo: Rachel Kramer Bussel via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Action 5: Advocate for a definition of consent based on “Yes” rather than “No.” One common phrase in sexual violence prevention is “No means no.” However, Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti’s anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape reframes this to be “Yes means Yes!”

The anthology describes how consent should be “given freely and enthusiastically,” rather than making assumptions based on silence or passivity. Also, they write “men need to feel empowered to say no also.”

One necessity for this is that men need to be able to effectively ask and listen, which leads directly to the next action.

Action 6: Teach boys and men how to authentically communicate their emotions and listen empathetically to others. From an early age, few people encourage boys to express their emotions, and many try to encourage boys to “hide their emotions.”

So whether you work with kids, have a child, or want to contribute to reducing sexual violence, we need to train males how to express themselves.

Action 7: Implement comprehensive sex education. Cara Kulwicki in her essay in Yes Means Yes writes “teaches that sex is more than heterosexual intercourse and should be consensual and pleasurable for all participants.”

This type of education also includes how to talk about sex. If more men have knowledge of how to talk about consent, contraception, and sex in general, and understand what rape actually is then there is much more potential for healthy relationships.

Action 8: Create collective accountability systems for handling sexual violence. The current criminal “justice” system exacerbates injustices based on race, sexual orientation, and ability. Thus, we need an alternate system that gives survivors the choice of whether to pursue the current legal system or a framework based on community accountability.

Cristina Meztli Tzintzun, in her essay in Yes Means Yes writes that we need “collective accountability based on love, support, forgiveness, transformation, and consequence.”

Action 9: Train men and foster the attitude that men should be proactive in addressing patriarchy. Men need to challenge other men on their patriarchal and sexist ideas/actions. So it seems to me that it is a much better mentality to stand up to your friends and community in order to help make them more conscientious people.

As long as men standby when these patriarchal events take place, they prop up the oppressive frame they “must be silent.” I know it may be difficult to challenge every single instance, since it’s all around us, but taking action should be the norm rather than “that one time I stood up.”

 

Challenge existing institutions that contribute to patriarchy

 

Action 10: Ending conservatives’ war on women. Many conservative politicians try to say their policies are “not a war on women,” but the record levels of legislation limiting women’s rights and the impact says otherwise.

Elizabeth Martinez notes, this war on women has been a frequent effort by the conservative leadership over the past decades. Now it has ramped up, in particular at the state-level. We have to keep up the pressure on these regressive policies and highlight the implications of this conservative war.

Action 11: Hold the media accountable. Whether this is for for male-dominated journalism/movies, or for victim-blaming in cases involving sexual violence, we have to stop the media’s focus on dominant culture and instead reflect its viewers with all types of relationships and backgrounds.

Also, if you’re not already, start reading the works of those combating patriarchy and it’s connections to other forms of oppression. Here’s a great list to start with.

For more ways to challenge patriarchy, check out Harsha Walia’s great summary at Beautiful Trouble.

This fight is for everyone

 

Ending patriarchy is about removing barriers for people of all gender identities. It ties directly to our work addressing white privilege, homophobia, sizisim, etc.

I started this post with a bell hooks quote, and I believe her following words capture the world we should all seek to create.

“The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.” ― bell hooks

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About The Author

Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+

  • zstarmac

    Great article Drew!
    Such a wonderful overview with so many links to more information. Someone who knows nothing about patriarchy could start with just this article and learn so so much. Thank you for writing it 🙂

  • Tanya

    patriarchy doesn’t exist…

    • Deenay0001

      It definitely does! Just watch children’s toy commercials (boys get action heroes/ dinosaurs that roar and rip/ lego sets about adventures in space or earthy locations. Girls get dolls/ sparkly animal play sets that model domestic or party settings/ makeup/ jewelry making sets/ and on the rare occasion there is a building set it is pink, purple and princess themed). The cartoons: HEAVY EMPHASIS on the gender role of boys being tough, rough and only allowed to show ”weakness” aka ”emotions that bring tears” in the presence of females. Whenever they cry in the presence of males it gets quickly shunned and they have to force it in pretending it has passed when it only got bottled up. Yes they have female heroes but their powerful role as a respectable heroine is downplayed by the costumes they wear (skin bearing and strangely resembling women’s lingerie) NOT PRACTICAL or ADEQUATE protection from enemy harm in those outfits. They guys are usually completely covered except for their heads. These are strong evidence that Patriarchy does exist. No Matriarchy would allow for this.

      • Cassius Dio

        boys LIKE those things.. they don’t GET those things..if boys want dolls they can have those too.

        • The Young Fool

          no because they are shamed by other boys by age 3 or 4–I’ve seen it myself.

      • Devesh Kapoor

        Patriarchy does exist. But what you explained via your example is not “Patriarchy”. That is “Role Stereotyping”.

    • The Young Fool

      why would you say a lie? If it did not exist you would not need to say it does not exist. Have we had 1 woman president yet? and 44 males. How may men in govt? How many women? How many millionaires are men? how many women? How many men believe they are the boss compared to they are co partners with their woman partner? How many men think women are as smart if not smarter than they are?

  • Cheeky Bastard

    Stating that “Male domination. Men often occupy the most important and visible roles (e.g. executives, politicians, public leaders, etc.). Women who do hold these positions are expected to subscribe to male norms.” Then went on to say “Protection of traditional patriarchal social structures. If a person or group challenges patriarchy in any form, then the patriarchal response is to increase control. In particular, this means increasing control over oppressed or marginalized groups.” This means all of the equality and antidiscrimination laws were established by the majority… men. If this is “Reinforcement of other types of oppression. Patriarch contributes to racism, sizeism, and homophobia.” Then all the white men in the Senate didn’t get the memo.

    • Cassius Dio

      yeah tell all the women to stop voting for men and run themselves….but wait..they don’t want to… this must be patriarchy..

    • The Young Fool

      Are you in the senate? Don’t you have male bosses making money off your labor? They got the memo. Now let’s send them one together, huh?

  • Athena Brown

    Patriarchy does not exist in the US.

    https://4thwavers.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/when-they-just-cant-win-part-2-patriarchy-in-the-us/ – a list of reasons why after the first image posted.

    The examples listed on this page are so obviously wrong, that I don’t even feel motivated to respond to them.

    • Elisabeth

      Do you really believe that? male wages for equivalent worl? That women own 1% of all real estate and receive 70% of what males earn for the same work? Just 2 items, these are so many more. I think it is time we woke up and dealt with these issues. They are real and they are very serious.

      • Athena Brown

        The wage gap is caused by women’s personal decisions regarding work. https://4thwavers.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/the-wage-gap-myth-explained/

        Same goes for real estate owned.

        Go ahead and list as many other issues as you can possibly think of, and I’ll show you why they are not evidence of patriarchy. Also refer back to the link I provided above, where I gave an extensive list of examples for why patriarchy does not exist in the US.

        • Elisabeth

          You are indeed a patriarchal woman. Good luck with that.

          • Athena Brown

            I can’t be a patriarchal woman if there Is. No. Patriarchy.

            In the same way a creationist will tell me I worship satan for being an atheist, I can’t actually worship satan if I do not believe he exists.

          • Elisabeth

            Well, then you broke the mould because you are indeed a patriarchal woman.

          • Cassius Dio

            You are a heretic.. you don’t believe in the flying spaghetti monster.. i know you are because you dont believe he’s real. Its not up to me to prove he’s real or anything ..you just have to accept that he is based on faith….. like patriarchy

          • The Young Fool

            God did you go dumb? Why deny the facts and figures. Why deny it? Be proud of it–or is your shame and your denial proof that you know it is wrong and should cease now.

          • The Young Fool

            No you can be a patriarchal brainwashed woman–but why would you want to be? Oh to keep your perks perhaps? Whatever

          • Cassius Dio

            thats not a debunking..thats not a demonstration as to why shes wrong..please tell us why countermanding your stupid beliefs with fact makes anyone who does so an enemy? have fun with that Comrade…

          • zigzzagz

            This is always the feminist answer when confronted by facts.

        • The Young Fool

          No it is because their choices are not considered as wagte worthy. Why shouldn’t teachers make as much as engineers? Why shouldn’t nurses make as much as computer tech? Why is secretary less than some computer nerd who does half as much labor as whe does?

        • The Young Fool

          Why deny the truth? Even Patriarchs are proud of their patriarchy and wish to continue it. Why do you deny it? Are you ashamed of it?

      • Cassius Dio

        women are doing 70% of the jobs.. at work 70% of the time a man is..and work many different lesser paying fields..the pay gap has been debunked for 40 years..feminists have no more tools to inspire membership.. no more battles other than man spreading and evening the scoreboard to spite the already even playing field..that they don’t want to play on…

        • The Young Fool

          Then let’s cut the men’s salaries to same as the women and see what happens, ok?

    • The Young Fool

      44 male presidents no women. Even Muslim countries like Pakistan and India have had women leaders. Why is it so important that you deny the truth? Do you feel guilty about patriarchy? Is it shameful to you? Why deny it. It is not wrong to speak the truth is it?

      • Athena Brown

        Why have there been no female presidents yet?

        https://4thwavers.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/the-complete-and-final-resource-on-patriarchy-in-the-us/ – this is why. From the link:

        ======================

        So we then get the question “Why aren’t women running for office then?” The 3rd Wave narrative insists that it has to be patriarchy! But this subject has been very thoroughly researched, and as you might expect, studies reveal a completely different answer. You can find one such study here:https://annieslist.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/WhyDontWomenRun.pdf

        From the study:

        —– —–
        When we move to the third box in Figure 1 and examine those members of the sample who actually ran for elective office, gender differences again emerge. Twelve percent of the men from the initial pool of prospective candidates actually threw their hats into the ring and sought elective positions; only 7 percent of the women did so (difference significant at p < .01). At first glance, this might seem like a small difference, but, in reality, it reflects the fact thatmen are 71 percent more likely than women to run for office.
        —– —–

        Long story short: women simply choose not to run for office.

        53% of voters are women, and they voted for Obama over Hillary in 2008.

        There is no patriarchy.

    • IntelligenceJocky

      Ermm, stats aside, have you actually worked in a corporate job before? Do you ever leave your house? I mean honestly, you might need to go see a counsellor about that agoraphobia of yours.

      • Athena Brown

        I specialized in biomechancis for 10 years, and later switched careers and ran several companies. I now work in mental health, and my involvement in social work has taken me all over the city. Besides that, I’ve lived in 8 states – 5 of them southern, passed through maybe 10 other states, and visited 4 other countries.

        I don’t have agoraphobia, and the US does not have patriarchy.

  • Cassius Dio

    What a lot of work to put into something that you cannot prove exists. The Sentencing discount..duluth model.. man spreading arrests…all prove the patriarchy doesnt hold up men if its here in the free world. You need to look at Saudi Arabia. the only thing patriarchy theory is ..is marxist.

    • The Young Fool

      Why are you denying it? It’s a fact that our politial structures have been based on male dominated society. There is no shame or blame in it. Only if we insist that we cannot do better. I know we can I have faith in men and women. What are you afraid of?

  • Racism OP

    The constant misunderstanding between sexism and patriarchy is very prominent in the argument for patriarchy.

  • Eliandra

    To finally destroy patriarchy would also mean to give the planet a chance to survive and therefore give humanity itself a chance to survive. I say that patriarchys main concept is inifnite expansion. May it be through producing the most children, aquiring the most goods, expand the land through conquering and more. Always more, because more is not enough.

    The sad thing is, we think our ways to live are what they are because humans work that way. All of us are so deep indoctrinated ans socialised by patriarchalic world views, we even don’t know or can’t imagine, that there could be other ways…

    • PABLO CHIW

      Hi Eliandra, I believe the same thing, actually this is my masters degree tesis I am working on; The antagonism between patriarchy and sustainability…
      If you have any material you could recommend to support this idea, please let me know!

      • Kim

        Hugh Brophy’s ‘The Other Side of Eden’. More of a farmers v hunter gatherers thesis but it’s worth reading as an intrinsically related idea, and it’s wonderfully written.

  • Annie

    I love how third wavers are always looking UP to see what “male dominated roles” they want taken apart. I never see any of them looking DOWN at all the horrific blue collar jobs that our men do for us. They want to take on roles traditionally held by men. Well then – I hope some of these feminazis are prepared to ride on the back of garbage trucks and lift 150 pound trash cans into the reeking filth that is a trash truck. I hope they’re ready to risk life and limb to work oil rigs and mineral mines. I hope they’re ready to inspect stinking sewers and clean boilers. You want to get mad about men taking on the leadership roles? Then you’d better go all the way back to the first male and female couple. The first time she realized he was bigger and he was the one better equipped to go out and kill the mammoth so the family could eat, THAT was when your alleged patriarchy began. Men did what they did because women needed them to. Things are only different now because getting dinner doesn’t involved risking your life. Relax and try to enjoy this world instead of hating so much about it.

    • The Young Fool

      That’s some of the things we can evolve and do better. With the help of our women and the energy released repressing others we can create and make things better for those blue collar workers. We can help our repressed brethern. YOU have been the victims of other males in power over you. Let’s work together and fulfill all needs and desires. Can’t be worse!

  • Jam Donuts

    WITHOUT THE PATRIARCHY WOMEN WOULDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. SERIOUSLY STOP TALKING ABOUT IT LIKE IT’S A BAD THING. US MEN PUT TIME AND EFFORT INTO CREATING THE PATRIARCHY FOR YOU WOMEN SO DON’T RUIN IT LIKE YOU RUIN EVERYTHING ELSE

    • The Young Fool

      Well, that’s very kind of you–but you need no longer wear yourselves out giving us something that we don’t want and that is not the best we as humans can do. It filled a function. And because of it we can do better and evolve higher. No shame. No blame–unless you refuse to evolve. Together we can make heaven on earth. Be brave. Why not?

  • Cossack26

    Nobody like manly women and sissy men, not even women.

  • Just Because

    Name a single Matriarchy? Even when the queen ruled it was a Matriarch (single person) ruling a Patriarchy (entire culture). These idiots don’t get it. When the current Patriarchy leaves another will take it’s place. Who is waiting the wings to do that??? Islam. Your so screwed. lol

  • At what point in your life do you personally actually take responsibility for things to get ahead, no matter the disadvantages, and try to better yourself? Is the idea to remain perpetually a victim in life until the world changes? What I see here is an inability to actually do anything in life unless you enlist a majority of people to engage in all sorts of activities you wish. As I see what is written here i see a ton of belling the cat going on, and no practical way to do anything.

    For myself, I can throw out a ton of social norms, and evaluate everyone based on the quality of their character and personal value to me. And I can get ahead to do this. There is little to no benefit for me to engage in demanding other men go to sensitivity training workshops to change language and so on, or creating some blog related work of fiction on how awesome it would be if men just attended certain workshops. Trying to hack the social narrative and engage in social engineering without government coercion appears to be a fruitless waste of time. But hey, maybe I am wrong here.

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