Months ago I fired up the Group Chat and asked, “what does The Patriarchy want from you?” It felt like a new way to frame the same issues: The Patriarchy as a living albatross around my neck that requires constant feeding, but the only thing to feed him is me.
The Patriarchy is as easy to define as it is difficult to describe. I’ve been a self-identifying Feminist since I learned what one was in college, yet, I have trouble describing The Patriarchy in concrete terms. I can tell you that a patriarchy is a society where masculinity is valued over femininity. In a patriarchy, society is structured with binary gender roles in which there is a dominant (male) and a submissive (female) role. I used to imagine The Patriarchy as distant and looming, like a shadow monster that crept through workplaces, universities, governments, subtly harming everyone in its path. Then, The Patriarchy became palpable.
In work, at home, in the world, I couldn’t shake it. I felt paranoid, almost literally looking over my shoulder as if someone was watching me, following me down a dark street. The intensity of the feeling waxes and wanes: sometimes it’s a minor-chord thrumming around me all the time, building in pitch and intensity, other times it’s a barely audible whine. Though time has passed since I initially posed the question, it still seems as if The Patriarchy is slowly sapping my life-force, like a toxic friend you’ve been tangled with for too long.
What does The Patriarchy want from me?
The Patriarchy wants my confidence. A confident woman is the antithesis of patriarchal ideals. A woman who believes she is worthy of praise, worthy of being paid for her work, worthy of health care, worthy of love, worthy of respect, worthy, is in conflict with the patriarchal tenet that women are less-than. Especially as a fledgling career woman, I feel the pressure of a system and society that wants me to be suspicious of my own success. Even in a supportive, equitable environment, I feel an undertow pulling me to be more conciliatory, sweet, and modest. I have often been caught in a cycle of self-doubt asking, “is this because I’m a woman, or just because?”
The Patriarchy wants my sense of safety. I am a woman, therefore, I need protection. The Bad Men on the street are good reminders of why I need A Good Man to protect me. I shouldn’t walk alone or go out alone or go to work alone, because if I do and I get attacked, it’s my fault I didn’t have a man to protect me.
The Patriarchy wants to take my compassion and replace it with hate and anger. Righteous anger is real and can be productive. Often, though, the anger that boils inside me from the frustrations or injustices produced by patriarchy is just plain unfiltered rage. When lawmakers in Ohio constantly vote to strip away my health care and my autonomy, the seething anger feels uncontrollable. When I give in to the anger I feel hopeless and spent, dejected and impotent. The Patriarchy is a shape-shifter: it’s only momentarily satisfying to yell and scream or have revenge fantasies about the people who represent it. The Patriarchy wants me to be so angry I forget about compassion or love or kindness; it wants me to be so angry I die of hypertension and stress at 35. It wants me to be so angry I give up.
Once you know about The Patriarchy, he’s hard to ignore. Mental calculations of how much The Patriarchy is costing are always rolling in the background of my mind. There are days I wish I hadn’t learned about what it meant to live in a society where masculinity is valued over femininity, a man’s contribution and potential valued more than a woman’s. It would be so nice, so easy, to live in ignorance. I’m privileged in so many ways, I could be fine just floating along on the gossamer promises of inequity. Instead, here I am looking over my shoulder, listening to the scratching at the door.
But now that I know the name of the beast, I can help destroy it.