One Step a Day Keeps the Patriarchy Away

You might have realized we live in a patriarchal society, but I’m not surprised if you haven’t realized it. We’ve lived this way for so long that the effects have been internalized and adapted to our everyday life without realizing that’s an act of patriarchy.

Almost every time I interact with people I see or hear the patriarchy at work because I know what it is and how to identify it. After graduating college, I realized even if people went to college, there are courses they didn’t take or slept through. Even if someone never went to college, they probably know what a patriarchal society is and never had the education to identify it. If people never see something for what it truly is, then they can never grow from it or change.

I want to address it because I’m only twenty-five and dealt with identity revolutions based on my masculinity and how I wanted to be perceived and accepted in this society. I feel many people, especially strangers or barely acquantences, try to shove me in the patriarchal cage, yet they don’t even understand how to critically think about the force that makes them do it. I think that’s the most offensive part of all, that people act without acknowledging what they’re contributing to.

To help explain the patriarchy, I will be quoting Lois Tyson, who wrote a masterful book called “Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide” and has an informative essay on feminist theory. You might be thinking: “Critical theory? Isn’t that what the extremists are trying to take out of schools, so our kids can’t critically think and understand the construct of our society?”

Yes. Extremist Governor DeSantis has nearly succeeded in making all Florida schools preach from white-washed texts that only support the heterosexual, christian, white man’s ideology, which is patriarchy at its finest. Let alone the majority of people in power, in government or religious sects, are men. I won’t even get started about men writing a Bible and making an omnipotent, omnipresent, immortal deity identifiable as male.

Critial thinking and critical theory help us understand the world we live in; it can be uncomfortable to critically think (and to be clear conspiracy theories do not fall under critial theory or critical thinking). If we do not ask questions and critically think, then those in power can do whatever they want to us, like convincing women to vote against their fundamental human right to bodily autonomy. It can be easy to muddle through life without critically thinking because it is easier to lie to ourselves or accept the lies others tell us than challenge anything, but we are missing fundamental truths if we continue like that. I only wish more of us could learn through reading and empathy rather than experiences, especially negative ones.

Lois Tyson states: “In other words, before we even come to the theory classroom, many of us have reduced feminism to whatever we consider its most objectionable element and, on that basis, have rejected it. This attitude reveals, I think, the oversimplified, negative view of feminism that persists in American culture today” (79).

I never understood feminism until I read this essay because I summed it up to exactly what I quoted. To be clear, by definition, feminism is the belief in equality of the sexes. There is no dominant sex in a feminist viewpoint. I’m still trying to understand if people (older than me) know this and choose to reject it because, in their eyes, women shouldn’t be equal to men, or if they’ve misunderstood feminism under a false definition and rejected it.

A patriarchal woman is “a woman who has internalized the norms and values of patriarchy, which can be defined, in short, as any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles. Traditional gender roles cast men as rational, strong, protective, and decisive; they cast women as emotional (irrational), weak, nurturing, and submissive” (81).

One night, my husband was asked what he loved most about me. A gay man asked him this, which I think is important to note. None of my husband’s friends would ever ask him such a question. And if they did, it’d be, more likely than not, in a sarcastic, ridiculing way that truly meant they couldn’t think of one thing that my husband could love about me.

Anyway, my husband said he loved my strong will most. It was one of the most romantic things he could have said. My strong will is what older men in his life have ridiculed him for choosing me. To know he loves the very thing that makes patriarchal men cringe brings me abundant joy and pride. I will always thank that thoughtfully curious man for asking that question.

Growing up, I acted as a patriarchal man by definition. I wanted to make decisions, be very protective of anything I deemed mine, show little emotion (unless it was anger), and obsessively prove my strength. I was rational in the way all kids are rational, which is more than some adults these days. For a time, adults accepted me as being that brazen girl, not to say all of them liked it. When I became an adult, I faced more ridicule and tension for being that way, which I eventually understood as internalized patriarchy in others rather than subject myself to negative judgement that would only depress and alienate me.

Today, the patriarchy lives on by “excluding women from equal access to leadership and decision-making positions (in the family as well as in politics, academia, and the corporate world)…” (81). Many corporations still get away with paying women less than a man doing the same job simply by changing her position title, which is why women still make less than men in 2022. Although it has been statistically proven that businesses led by women are more successful, the patriarchal stigma around women deduces them as weak, indecisive, and emotional, so many women don’t get the chance to take leadership positions.

When I went to drop off my ballot, there was a woman and a man voting early. The woman kept looking over the divider at the man’s ballot, like she didn’t know who she could vote for without looking at his ballot. With my background, I could scarcely comprehend how she could live with the lack of indepedence. Meanwhile, my husband knew how devastated I was after Roe v Wade was overturned, and he gave me as much support as he could, even on election day (he went alone, so there was no ballot peeking).

The patriarchy is dying, but it still invades all of our lives every day. As it dies, it will spew as much toxic venom as it can to try clinging to us, so critically thinking about this issue is the best form of defense. We need to see it for what it is, acknowledge the problems it is inflicted on society, and wash ourselves of it before we perpetuate toxic ideals on younger generations. It will take generations to fix this issue, but we can all learn and change no matter how old we get. Only the dead are unchangable, even though the willfully ignorant make me question that sometimes.

It’s the little steps toward change that help us all grow into a better functioning society, family, and friend. As Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” Even noticing the patriarchal system at work and pausing to reflect or call it out internally can go a long way. Try not to shove others in that cage, or help release them from it if you can. Commend each other for not following the traditional gender roles, or, at least, stop yourself from complimenting someone for following them.

Maybe I will write about fragile and toxic masculinity in another blog. Stoic, unemotional people are some of the worst. If we never express how we feel, then we aren’t processing those emotions well, if at all. We all feel deeply and evolve by expressing our feelings, so refusing to show or talk about our emotions only makes us less human. Women are not the only victims of the patriarchy, but it is undeniable that they get the brunt of the pain and suffering.

Go in the name of feminism and smash the patriarchy.

Works Cited

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2015.

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