The Patriarchy: How To Live Within It And Change It

Patriarch

Midlife Myths & Realities: Andrea M. Slominski, Ph.D.

I hoped that with the reopening of the world economy and the transformation of Covid from pandemic to endemic, life would calm down for a moment. Nope, no such luck.

The past few years have felt like trying to drink from a fully pressurized firehose. We’re surrounded by unending stress created by a pandemic, disasters, riots, political mayhem, and war going on for years.

“The past few years have felt like trying to drink from a fully pressurized firehose.”

Next Serving From The Firehose

Women’s battle for equal rights and personal sovereignty has been a long one. Now, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe V. Wade, upending fifty years of precedent and accepted law, stripping women of our constitutional right to bodily autonomy. It seems that we are still in—what may be—a long and continuing fight to achieve equity as the “other” half of humanity. We are fighting for equality from within a system that evolved to control women and their lives.

Economically, women don’t have pay equity. This pay gap affects women throughout their lives, reducing their savings and investments. It results in reduced social security, reduced pension benefits, and, for many, meager retirement incomes. 1 The National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit research center, reports that women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and older. Women aged 75 to 79 are three times more likely.” 2  For women in midlife, these are serious concerns.

In addition, long-standing patriarchal ideas about women have branded us “the weaker sex” and defined women as overly emotional, irrational, victims of our bodies and their cycles, fragile, reactive, illogical, and on and on. Our patriarchal culture tells us what appropriate behavior is, what the standard of beauty is, what our goals, aspirations, and dreams should be, and our biological destiny. OY!

How did we get here, and why are we still here—more than 120 years after women’s suffrage? 

Did I Hear “Smash The Patriarchy?” Yes, But . . . it’s not so simple

“If we want to end patriarchy and its values, we must know what it actually is.”

That phrase is a trigger for some people. It creates so many different reactions. Some men get defensive, thinking they are being accused of being anti-woman. They are sure that women believe patriarchy is all men’s fault. Some women feel that anti-patriarchal sentiments denigrate their life choices. Many men and women proclaim that they are not part of the problem because they think of everyone as equal! But all these perspectives fail to understand how entrenched social male domination and leadership are in our culture. They are key components of patriarchy.

If we want to end patriarchy and its values, we must know what it actually is. As women, we’ve all likely felt the result of living in a patriarchal culture. For example, cat calls on the street, unequal pay in the workplace, and carrying the lioness’ share of household maintenance are all experiences within a patriarchal society. Yet, patriarchy is not one man or all men, and it’s not one woman or all women; it’s a system we live within.

Sociologist, author, and professor, Alan G Johnson Ph.D. writes regarding patriarchy, 

“Patriarchy is a kind of society organized around certain kinds of social relationships and ideas.  . . . Patriarchy’s defining elements are its male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered characters . . . with manhood and masculinity most closely associated with being human and womanhood and femininity regulated to the marginal position of other. . . .  It’s about the valuing of masculinity and maleness and the devaluing of femininity and femaleness. . . . Above all, patriarchal culture is about the core value of control and domination in almost every area of human existence.”3 

Just by living in our culture, being raised under its influence, and occupying a position within it, we are participating in patriarchy because it is the social system of our culture. 

How We Got Here—The Deep and Ancient Roots of Patriarchy

In her book, The Creation of Patriarchy, historian and professor Gerda Lerner writes, “The period of the “establishment of patriarchy” was not one “event” but a process developing over a period of nearly 2500 years, from app. 3100 to 600 B.C. ” In her book, she details the events and cultural developments that led to patriarchal cultural dominance based on power, domination, and the subjugation of women. These changes included the changing of the myths of many early peoples from goddess worshipping to monotheistic god worshipping. It’s a fascinating read that sheds light on much of what has happened in patriarchal history and why things are the way they are.

So, if it took us 2500 years to create this monster, will it take 2500 years to transform it?

“cultural ideas that identify women primarily as mothers and men primarily as breadwinners support patterns in which women do most of the domestic work at home”

Let’s hope not. But it’s not simple and will not be easy or happen overnight. Johnson invites us to identify the social elements of patriarchy and look at how they are related to the structures of social life. “We must see, for example, how cultural ideas that identify women primarily as mothers and men primarily as breadwinners support patterns in which women do most of the domestic work at home and are discriminated against in hiring, pay and promotions at work. To really see this, we have to examine our values and the values of those around us. Patriarchy only exists as it is expressed through people’s lives. Here we can witness all of its values over and over again. But, this also means we can choose how to live within it and not adopt its values. We can make conscious choices about how we interact with culture and one another.”

By living in the system, we are part of the system.

Since patriarchy is a system based on gender oppression and organized around gender categories, we cannot avoid being a part of it any more than we can avoid being born male or female. The fish cannot avoid swimming in the water it lives in. 

We cannot decide whether we participate, but only how we will participate. It’s the HOW of every day, the choices small and large made by women and men, that will begin to change the thousands of years of normalized oppression of women. It’s possible to break the rules, change how we live, and make different choices to transform our patriarchal culture. We must choose to live consciously. Every. Single. Day. In that, there is hope for the future. 

References:

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Andrea Slominski

About the Author:

Andrea M. Slominski, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and women’s midlife coach. During her dissertation research and study, she explored the new life stage for women that has emerged over the past 100 years.

Naming this new life stage, from ages 45-70, Regency, Dr. A. has spoken at conferences, published articles, and coached women to make the most of their emerging power years. Dr. A. guides women 45+ through the often-tumultuous transformations during perimenopause, midlife, and menopause. She uses tools that include creativity, story, mythology, imagination, ceremony, and ritual.

2 thoughts on “The Patriarchy: How To Live Within It And Change It

  1. Beth J. Keil says:

    Thank you for your blog, Andrea!

    History and context deepen understanding, as you said. It takes centuries for many of the perspectives we have to crystalize, be accepted, and then forget they aren’t inherently us!

    I don’t know the authors you cited, but I do know Raine Eisler and the distinction she makes between power-over dominating/ patriarchy societies and power-with partnership ones.

    Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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