I’ve been thinking about the idea of patriarchy a lot lately. In fact I’ve been wanting to write a post about it for a while but a series of events have prevented me from doing so.
The first time I felt moved to do it was several months ago when Ashley Judd wrote a response to the media about their continued coverage over her “puffy” appearance. I felt that her definition of patriarchy was so well explained that it needed to be shared as much as possible. Judd explains, “Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.”
Several things that she said stuck out to me. The idea of patriarchy being a system that people participate in and it being subtle and insidious, first and foremost. I find this to be refreshingly simple and yet utterly profound. It might not be an understanding that people are unfamiliar with but explaining it as she did began to frame the way I looked at issues around me.
This brings me to the second time I wanted to write this post. When I read a blogpost from a young woman who was visiting Egypt in which she recounted the sexual assault she had faced in that country. The blogpost went viral which inevitably means the young woman was inundated with comments from people questioning the truth of her story, her character and why she would’ve been in Tahrir Square in the first place. The honesty of the post, the bravery with which this young woman shared her frightening experience, was being publicly questioned and ridiculed. The young woman followed up that post with another, addressing some of the concerns of the internet trolls. She took a minute to address the comments of those who questioned why she would’ve be there, saying that they were right, she probably shouldn’t have been there knowing it was an unsafe space. This woman, who was walking down the street with a friend when she was suddenly pulled down and assaulted by a group of men, beaten, stripped naked, pulled and touched, was now being forced to accept that she was in the wrong. Arguments that the girl should have never been there in the first place are a way of blaming the victim without exactly saying, you deserved what you got. Although, fear not, those comments were there also. But it wasn’t those comments that I found so crushing, sadly that has become almost par for the course, it was rather that the young woman felt forced to entertain their ideas and inevitably agree with their arguments. That’s patriarchy. When this girl has to begin to look at her actions and think maybe there was something that she did that contributed to her own sexual assault. That belief, that victims of rape and sexual assault have somehow done something to bring about or deserve these acts of violence, is proof that patriarchy is alive and well. And for it to go unchecked is prove of it thriving.
Inevitably, instances of me wanting to connect things to the patriarchy began to continue to creep up. An older gentleman sitting next to at Disney World, feeling that after having a two minute conversation with me he could invite me back to his hotel room, not once but twice within 30 seconds (because apparently no doesn’t really mean no) — Patriarchy. A magazine article interviewing a well known actor, accompanied by a photograph of him fully clothed with a topless, nameless woman draped on top of him — Patriarchy. Conversations at the government level regarding reproductive health that include zero women, followed up a segment on the news discussing how terrible it was that there were no women involved while interviewing an all male panel — Patriarchy (and hilarious farce). Articles on a website promoting “women’s issues” while regularly criticizing women’s physical appearance — Patriarchy. Patriarchy, patriarchy, patriarchy. Privileging men over women, boys over girls, insidious, subtle (although sometimes not even) and no more dangerous when women deny that they are participating.
Yet somehow there is something comforting to me about the way Judd defined patriarchy. It is a system that we all participate in, so it exists outside of our actions as individuals. And yet just as we have given it life, we can bring it down to its knees. I don’t fear broken systems. I fear understandings of reality wherein people believe patterns of behavior or systems put in place are inevitable and completely unchangeable. Or rather I don’t fear them, I fear the people who believe that they exist. So for Judd to define the patriarchy as a system, something that thrives and requires our participation for its existence, was empowering for me. Patriarchy is like a parasite, it cannot survive on its own. That means that we, conscious of its existence, should be able to put a stop to it. While it exists outside of us an individuals, it requires our actions, thoughts and conversations to thrive. Therefore a thoughtfulness, and true desire to want to move beyond this oppressive system, can shift momentum away.
That might sound truly naive but honestly, I think believing issues that live on the basis of human thought and action exist outside of human behavior and choice is naive. Change requires a maturity, a patience, a move beyond simple solutions and actions but its not impossible. I think it all likelihood it might require things to get worse before they get better, since we might be ignorant to the fact that things can even get worse, but once people’s consciousness to the reality of the world around them is raised, when people begin to see themselves as protagonists who are acting in situations rather than individuals who are being acted upon, then systems of belief and practice that have long been seen as inevitable facets of human behavior can begin to be questioned, addressed and resolved.
May I put a vote in for patriarchy to be the first to go?