We talk a lot about patriarchy, but do we know what it is? Patriarchy as a system colors our understanding of gender, sexuality, power, family, religion, education, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and workplace norms. Though a certain kind of man reaps the most benefits and rewards of patriarchy, both men and women uphold patriarchy through their behaviours, beliefs, relationships, and discourse.
One of the core ideas of patriarchy is that gender occurs “naturally” on a binary– meaning that there are only “natural” men and women– and that there is a “moral” imperative recognizing this “nature.” Furthermore, men can only be masculine and their masculinity can only occur in a specific way under patriarchy. Women can also only be feminine and feminity is interpreted as less powerful than masculine traits. Part of this binary hinges on anatomy being the defining factor for gender expression.
This belief is so tightly held, that in all countries around the world the LGBTQIA community is shunned from society and criminalized to varying degrees. Around the world, there are policies in place to limit women’s participation and access to resources in society. Both secular and religious institutions benefit greatly from patriarchy. Both Western and Non-Western countries are guilty of this.
Most conversations regarding gender justice are still limited to uplifting only a certain kind of woman into visibility. But to truly combat patriarchy and achieve gender justice, we must include the LGBTQIA community in our discourse. In fact, some of the most valuable work on combatting toxic masculinity is already being done by the trans community, but their work is hardly visible from mainstream straight, heteronormative conversations.
Patriarchal ideas are so embedded in our culture, that recognizing and unlearning it can take years. Here is a checklist of some common patriarchal ideas to help you along that path:
- Marriage is only between cisgender, straight men and women.
- Men can only be masculine in a way that asserts power and dominance over others
- Women can only exhibit feminine traits, otherwise, they are a slew of derogatory terms
- Men and women each have a certain defined, predictable physical anatomy.
- Men are hairy and women are not.
- Blatant cases of sexual assault will be perceived as “hard to understand why a man would do that.”
- “Ugly” women do not get sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped
- “Ugly” women who allege rape or sexual assault did it to trap the man and ruin his career
- A woman cannot get raped by her husband because he is her husband all sex in marriage is consensual
- Women outside the United States need feminism, but American feminists are crazy and are making a fuss about nothing.
- Women must cover up their bodies to indicate modesty
- Women who are not covered up enough are loose, immodest women
- Women who cover their bodies too much are brainwashed and oppressed by men
- Women who don’t dress in revealing clothing are not sexually attractive
- Men are only sexually attracted to women who reveal their bodies, therefore if a woman covers up she will prevent a man from having “feelings.”
- If a woman dresses a certain way, she is asking to be disrespected.
- In the family, men always work while women don’t have to or should not work at all
- In the family, if a woman has a job or career outside the home she must also take care of the home when she gets off work.
- In the family, the man’s opinion is the ultimate decision.
- In work meetings, being the loudest and speaking is more important than listening
- In work, being the one to start a new venture is more important than being the teammate who supports operations and makes sure the work continues
- In work, men will ask why there are not that many women in the room without questioning or understanding patriarchy and their own role in limiting women
- A woman cannot leave her family’s home unless she has a respectable reason to: a prestigious work/education opportunity or marriage. A woman is discouraged from taking risks and finding her true passion through trial and error, but a man can in the same family.
- In arguments, a man will hit the woman and it will be both their faults (or maybe just her fault).