Patriarchy and How It Shows Up for Everyone

Although most of us know what patriarchy is — a system of domination by which the wealthy, white, male ruling class has authority over everyone else — few of us understand how it plays out in our everyday lives.

We may even think of it as something that existed a long time ago in the United States, during the days of the Puritans when women were property of their husbands and were being accused of witchcraft and hanged.

It’s like how some may say that racism is no longer an issue because we’re past the days of Jim Crow laws and the extreme, hate-based activism of the KKK (even though the they’re still active today).

But unfortunately, just like racism, patriarchy still exists. And just like racism, it often manifests in casual ways that tend to go unnoticed by the majority of people.

And women aren’t the only ones who suffer under this everyday patriarchy. Everyone does. Because patriarchy demands that those in power conform to a specific set of rules — ones that require the suppression of feelings, and include a lack of empathy.

And patriarchy demands that those being ruled play by a certain set of rules as well: They are the controlled ones. While they are allowed to show emotion, they cannot step outside of their prescribed boxes. They are not allowed to act assertive or attempt to gain authority.

The problem is: by not allowing people to both simultaneously express their emotions and assert themselves, we limit their range of experiences and diminish their worth as humans.

Unfortunately, this plays out in everyday life far more often than we realize.

#1. In the Workplace

Most of us are aware of the obvious ways in which patriarchy plays out in the workplace: women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar and occupy just 15% of upper management positions and less than 4% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies.

In other words, the workplace is still dominated by men.

And the higher up the corporate ladder a man climbs, the more he is expected to conform to the patriarchal expectations within the good ole’ boys’ club: he must commit 100% of himself to the job, refrain from outward displays of emotion, and be completely reliable at all times.

In other words, he sheds his humanity and becomes the company’s robot.

As a result of his commitment to this patriarchal culture, the man may become controlling and dominant when placed into a management position, thus being less sensitive to the needs of his employees and coworkers.

The woman manager, on the other hand, may feel obligated to fill the traditional female role in the workplace patriarchy — sensitive to the needs of others, more emotional, and more team-oriented.

And while the gendered female role may seem like the most appropriate for workplace interaction in order to build teamwork and create a comfortable environment, it can have detrimental effects.

Because when a woman takes on the traditional female role in corporate culture, she undermines her ability to assert control over her team and her environment. She is seen as weak and is less likely to be promoted.

Being the corporate man has its disadvantages as well. If a man remains dominant and stoic in his management style, he is less likely to connect on an emotional level with fellow team members.

And no one wins.

#2. In Parenting

There are different types of parenting styles and different recommendations as to what works when it comes to raising children, and I’m not here to berate parents who, for the most part, are trying to do the best job that they can.

But I am here to address family dynamics at play — particularly when it involves children.

Children are at the bottom of the family hierarchy when it comes to the power structure within the family. Often, they are controlled instead of being treated as an equal participant.

Now, I’m not saying we should let our children control us. What I’m saying is that we should give children a voice. We should make them active participants in the family structure and communicate with them. We should let them express their opinions.

Because when we exert authoritarian control over our children, we are simply playing out the dominant, ruling societal structure within our own homes. And what does that teach them early on?

Besides, studies show that children raised in authoritarian homes are more likely to break the rules and engage in delinquent activities.

#3. In Female Relationships

Sometimes women compare themselves to other women.

We may be envious of another woman’s great hair, awesome sense of style, high IQ, or assertiveness. If we’re straight, we may even be envious that other guys pay more attention to her than they do to us.

All of this envy may make us feel bad about ourselves, so we project our own sense of insecurity outward and label the other woman as a bitch or self-absorbed.

We compete with each other when we should be supporting one another.

This competition among the female sex stems from a time when a woman had to focus on being as attractive as possible to find a good husband to provide for her —during a time when most women didn’t work outside the home and relied on men to support them.

It’s like that scene in Titanic when Rose’s mother is trying to convince her to stay with the wealthy Cal Hockley instead of running off with poor boy Jack Dawson: “He’s a good match, Hockley. He will ensure our survival.”

And while that may have been true in 1912, it’s not the case 100 years later.

Pardon the pun, but that ship has sank.

Women need to stop reinforcing patriarchal mandates that require competition amongst each other and start forming relationships that build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

#4. In Queer Relationships

Couples in relationships that don’t fit within the heterosexual binary also suffer under patriarchy.

Relationships in patriarchy demand that one member assumes the typical “masculine” role (dominant, assertive, controlling) while the other person assumes the “feminine” role (submissive, passive, weak).

Within this narrow system, if you don’t identify or subscribe to traditional gender roles, society doesn’t know what to do with you and tries to force you back into their constrained, stereotypical gender box.

For those who identify as homosexual, trans* or non-cisgender and who choose not to stay within these rigid gender boxes, breaking out of the bounds of patriarchy requires even more effort.

Eradicating Gender Stereotypes and Breaking Out of Our Boxes

We could benefit from understanding how detrimental gender stereotypes are and working toward eradicating them.

Now that we understand the subtle, everyday ways in which patriarchy rears its ugly head, we know that under this type of repressive system, everyone suffers and no one wins.

By understanding how stereotypes limit us and working to free others of their ascribed roles, we work toward freeing ourselves as well.


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Shannon Ridgway is a Contributing Writer to Everyday Feminism from the great flyover state of South Dakota (the one with the monument of presidential heads). In her free time, Shannon enjoys reading, writing, jamming out to ’80s music and Zumba, and she will go to great lengths to find the perfect enchilada. Follow her on Twitter@sridgway1980. Read her articles here.

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