not in Primary anymore

feminism 101: patriarchy

What is patriarchy?

A patriarchal system is one in which adult men hold most, much, or all of the power. Patriarchy means “rule by fathers”, though the word as we use it now refers to men. Patriarchy is a system, not a group of people or a person. When feminists discuss dismantling, destroying, smashing, or crushing patriarchy this does not mean we wish to end all of the fathers in the world or all of the Stake Patriarchs in our acquaintance. Patriarchy is inanimate but pervades all sites of power: personal, political, economic, social, religious, sexual, and so forth. Patriarchy can manifest itself through different systems of oppression specific to community and culture. I, as a white, middle-class, Mormon woman growing up in the United States, experience primarily the Western Patriarchy, the Mormon patriarchy, and patriarchies specific to my race and class demographic. I experience the patriarchy of academia because I am a college student and the patriarchy of nuclear families. Someone different from me might experience a Jewish patriarchy, a patriarchy specific to South Asia, or a working-class patriarchy. Patriarchy is a system each of us is both complicit with and critical of at different times and in different ways.

Who does patriarchy affect and how?

Primarily, patriarchy gives men privilege at the expense of people of other sexes and genders. That said, it’s not completely black and white. There are side effects of patriarchy that are bad for men, such as the limiting experience of trying to live up to normative masculinity, and it could be argued that there are side effects of patriarchy that are good for women, such as the occasional free dinner for ladies who play their cards right and not being drafted in the US military. These are (arguably) good things but they are still part of a system which primarily privileges men and oppresses people who are not men. Therefore, most socially constructed gendered differences, even the few that seem to benefit women or harm men, probably originate in patriarchy, whether directly or indirectly.

Where is patriarchy?

In patriarchal cultures the patriarchy can manifest itself anywhere. It exists in the books we read and the music we listen to and in our ideas about sex, love and marriage and our individual interactions. Let me give you an example of a site of the patriarchy I witnessed this week, to illustrate: it was after dark and I was sitting at a bench on BYU’s campus having a long phone conversation with a friend. Two gentlemen sat across from me at a different bench with their dogs chatting with each other, just about within earshot. After my conversation ended, one of these men asked after my phone conversation and started making small talk. These men were strangers to me, and because I was raised as a girl, I was raised that talking to strange men in the dark, even as an adult, is dangerous. I was waiting for some friends to come meet me and I had no interest in talking to them. Like many people, but especially girls, I was also raised to prioritize other peoples’ feelings over my own feelings of comfort or safety. In addition, I didn’t want these men to become angry with me for being impolite, so I tried to be nice without engaging even though I didn’t feel comfortable talking to these men. I gave them short answers and didn’t make eye contact, hoping that they would get the message that I was uncomfortable. They didn’t, and we kept talking until my friends came and I could leave without feeling guilty.

This was a site of the patriarchy, particularly when you consider that the experiences these men were having were very different from my own. They didn’t seem to feel that talking to strangers in the dark is dangerous, but it was an activity that did not feel safe to me. My feelings didn’t seem like a priority to them, as they ignored what I thought were signs that I was uncomfortable and didn’t want to talk to them, whereas their feelings– particularly making sure they didn’t get angry at me if I explicitly said I didn’t want to talk to them– were primarily what I was worrying about. Obviously there may have been other factors at play. I may just be especially non-confrontational and skittish around strange men, or they may just happen to be friendly to a fault, but I use this example to illustrate that because we were all raised with a patriarchal paradigm, gender is often a factor even in interactions that don’t seem like they are necessarily gendered. Sites of patriarchy manifest themselves in ways that are more apparent. We can see patriarchy in the representation of women in the United States government, the kinds of roles and characters that are given to women in much of the media we consume, in rates of sexual violence and eating disorders, and in the wage gap. If you open your eyes to the way patriarchy affects our culture and sites of power, you will notice it coloring many interactions and experiences. We must be mindful of how patriarchy exists in our lives if we are to create a more just system to live in for ourselves and others.

8 Responses to “feminism 101: patriarchy”

  1. Leyton

    individual a flaming pussy and be done with it. I would like to know where did this man/woman rceeive such a poor education in male/female relationships that he thinks he is responsible for another individual’s feelings. How can he make her feel any particular way? She is an individual and she is responsible for her own feelings. The very idea that he could make her feel: “understandably unsure and overwhelmed” is a complete joke. She allowed herself to feel this way!I would like to tutor this man/woman (he may have male anatomy, but he has a woman’s personality) as to being a man. There is no harm is sleeping with any given woman as long as she’s not married or otherwise in a relationship – there, I said it! Bang her to your heart’s content! Then bang her some more. You are a man, that’s what we do. Most smart women know and accept this. If she does not want a sexual relationship with you, she will tell you.On the flip side, if a woman is not attractive to you – don’t bang her! You don’t owe her anything and you are not responsible for her emotions while she “deals” with the situation. If you have already, stupidly, banged a woman like this and do not want to bang her any more: stop banging her! Do not do it again! She’ll get over you and your “rejection” with time. Again, you are not responsible for her emotional states.This is the big feminist lie that all men are told and many believe: we are some how responsible for a woman’s/women’s emotional states! How is this even possible? Are they responsible for our emotional states when they reject us? No!Women have no compassion. They care only about themselves and that which they can control (i.e. a weak husband, children, or household) anything else is simply a bother to them.Poor suckers like this need the help of other men. He needs us to counsel him and explain how the world works – clearly, he does not understand. Only by having compassion for each other can we (men) stop this insanity.

    • Ludwig Beilschmidt

      Leyton, you clearly do not understand the meaning of feminism. Saying women have no compassion is wrong. You’re stereotyping, please, stop assuming that all women get bitchy over anything they can’t control. That’s a lie, so please tell me who told you that so someone may educate them. Also, individual should be capitalized.

  2. Cari Clark

    Frankly, I am astounded at the level of scrutiny this young woman has given to a simple social interaction. If she was that fearful and uncomfortable, she should have walked away. It would not have been rude to do so. Since she had her cell phone, she could have called the people who were meeting her and let them know where she was.

    Being considerate and polite are not “gendered” behaviors. Of all the feminist rhetoric I hear, I have never been able to understand how some women feel that they must be nice at all costs, and men do not have this burden.

    Also, this occurred on the BYU campus–while not perfectly safe, a generally safer place than most, and a place where most of the women love attention from men. To read into such a casual, fleeting experience the level of angst and perceived “gender” inequality that she gives it seems to me rather obsessive.

    Take it from an older woman who has observed the feminist movement since the seventies: There is far more to life that is much more important than this.

  3. Vixxx Trotter

    “Patriarchy is a system, not a group of people or a person.”

    no. This is wrong. The patriarchy is an organised and secretive group of men – a conspiracy to hold women back and keep them down. To smash patriarchy you need to find out where their secret base is, infiltrate it and literally smash the place up.

  4. pirate jenny

    What the writer experienced sitting on the bench was not an “individual” experience–it is the common experience of women. When women get together and compare experiences (which is how feminism got started–look up “consciousness raising”) we find it is common for a woman to feel fear when isolated with a group of male strangers. This fear is backed by countless experiences where men get angry and vindictive and sometimes dangerous when women do not respond to them. I ran a group on the street harassment (of women by men) and countless women came to us with stories of being approached by male strangers in the street, often with rude descriptions of their bodies, and called “bitch” when they won’t respond. You may say: “but these men (on the bench) were being friendly”–BUT–it is almost impossible to tell who is who and women learn to put up defenses for their own protection. Men who want to understand women should talk to the women they know, about this reality. Unfortunately many are in denial and will see any incident as “individual” and try to blame the woman for it. But we women know this is “not in our heads”. Thanks for the post about patriarchy.


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