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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Feminism 101: Patriarchy

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Feminism 101 is a series in which I define some of the terms that feminists like to throw around. My goal is to help those who are totally new to feminism understand what it's all about.

Today's term: patriarchy. (Or in some cases, "the patriarchy.")

Now, you might be saying, "Oh, I know what patriarchy means! Literally, 'rule by fathers.' But we don't have that now in the US- men and women have equal rights. Women can totally be in government and all those leadership positions, just like men."

Yes. On paper, men and women have equal legal rights. (Hooray!) But sexism still exists; in many ways, society treats women as less than men.

And this sexist system that's embedded in our culture, that values men over women, that says men (not women) are supposed to have the important leadership roles, is referred to by feminists as "patriarchy." (It's not clearly-defined and explicit rules, it's subtle assumptions about how men and women are supposed to be.)

For example...

Patriarchy is men earning more money than women, with traditionally male-dominated fields paying more than traditionally female-dominated fields.

Patriarchy is endless debates about whether women can "have it all." Everyone feels they have a right to judge a woman's choices concerning family and career- no matter what choice she makes, a whole army of people will condemn her for it. Condemnation for stay-at-home moms. Condemnation for working moms. Condemnation for child-free women.

Patriarchy is people complimenting little girls on their appearance and little boys on their abilities.

Patriarchy is women's opinions being dismissed as "too emotional."

Patriarchy is "women's issues" like violence against women, equal pay, and women's health care being treated as a special fringe topic, not of interest to the general public- even thought half of "the general public" are women.

Patriarchy is when "you [insert action here] like a girl" is an insult.

Patriarchy is women constantly being objectified in advertisements.

Patriarchy is the belief that in churches and families, the men's role is to lead and the women's role is to submit.

Patriarchy is news articles on a female politician's hair and outfit, rather than what she actually did.

Patriarchy is the double standard where women are criticized and judged for sleeping around, while men are praised for doing the same thing.

Patriarchy is the thousands of subtle ways in which women are told their worth is dependent on their beauty and whether or not men find them attractive.

Patriarchy is defining women in terms of their relationships with men. For example, sometimes people make the argument that we need to care about rape victims because "what if it was your daughter, or sister?" Apparently women only matter if they are someone's daughter or sister.

Patriarchy is movies and books with male main characters being enjoyed by both men and women, but those with female main characters being seen as just for women.

And though patriarchy primarily affects women, it is also harmful to men who don't fit the role that patriarchy assigns them.

Patriarchy says stay-at-home dads don't exist- or if they do, they're failures as men.

Patriarchy tells men they shouldn't show emotion.

Patriarchy is little boys being teased for liking "girl" things- pink, dolls, dancing, etc.

Patriarchy insults men, claiming that men just naturally disrespect, objectify, and rape women, and that's just the way it is. "Boys will be boys." It's useless to try to change society, because men in general aren't capable of behaving any better than that, according to patriarchy.

(One important note: I am not saying that everyone who does any of the above things is TOTALLY SEXIST AND A HORRIBLE PERSON. No. These are just things that are common in our culture, and people perpetuate them because they haven't thought through the implications. The problem is with the system and how common this stuff is on a society-wide scale, NOT individual people and isolated events.)

And feminists say "DOWN WITH PATRIARCHY!" We want an end to this sexist system of expectations for how men and women are supposed to be. And in its place, we want equality. Not matriarchy. Feminists don't hate men, but patriarchy hates women. Feminists don't want the roles reversed so that women are totally in charge and men are mistreated. No! We want equality. We want every human being to be valued.

So... smash the patriarchy!

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