Primers on Power: On Patriarchy

What is Patriarchy?

Patriarchy refers to a system of power that entrenches the domination of men over women. Patriarchy centres political, economic and moral authority for men at the expense of women. It is reproduced through beliefs and practices that can be internalized by anyone, but this piece focuses on men’s internalization of patriarchy and domination over women.

How Does Patriarchy Affect Women?

The effects of patriarchy on women are very diverse, from experiencing domestic violence and having access and control of a much smaller share of the social product compared to men, to being prevented from fully engaging in certain forms of work, and facing an incessant stream of sexist cultural messages.

But the effects do not end there. Women are socialized to do the emotional, nurturing and caring work of reproducing society. This can mean doing disproportionate amounts of household work, as well as the work of raising children, caring for elders and maintaining relationships.

At its deepest, patriarchy prevents women (and other people who do not identify as cisgendered males) from finding and receiving love. Patriarchy can express itself in relationships as the need to control, as the incapacity to be emotionally present, and as the inability to fully support, or even feel the need to support, the wellbeing of a loving partner.

What Does It Mean To Take Responsibility for Patriarchy?

Being an ally, or being in solidarity, is not an identity that we can claim for ourselves. We need to remember that it’s the people we’re aspiring to be in solidarity or allyship with that decide whether we’re actually being helpful.

But there’s a lot we can do on our own! First, we can educate ourselves on the history of women’s movements and feminism. There is an immense history of resistance to patriarchy by indigenous women, women of colour, white women, queer women and disabled women. Learn about it. Attend events like Slut Walk, the Red Umbrella March and the Stolen Sisters March to witness the work of women’s resistance.

Once you have learned the basics, start figuring out how patriarchy has affected you. Chances are you’ve been socialized into patriarchal mindsets and ways of behaving. Applying what you learn to yourself is the best place to begin the work of allyship. Do the dishes! Check in with the women in your life about how they are doing and find out what you could do to be more supportive to them. Get in touch with yourself.

Talk with other men about feminism and patriarchy. A very important tool used by groups experiencing oppression is to get together and share their experiences. Women’s movements have made extensive use of this practice. Men have not done nearly the same amount of sharing amongst other men precisely because patriarchal beliefs make it harder for us to be vulnerable with each other. We can unlearn that by talking with other men about patriarchy.

Taking responsibility for patriarchy is ultimately about ending it. Leadership on this journey will primarily come from the women who are experiencing patriarchal oppression in all its manifestations. As men we need to become good observers and listeners to support this process, and provide logistical support in organizing efforts to transform patriarchal concentrations of power.

What’s in it For Men?

Patriarchy also affects men. In our patriarchal culture males are socialized in a way that disconnects us from being responsive, caring and empathic. Within dominant culture, males are socialized to be controlling, are taught to repress how we feel, and lose touch with our own emotions and bodies.

The perpetuation of other systems of oppression, like capitalism and colonialism, partially gets its oxygen from patriarchy. It is men who primarily commit the crimes of empire, capitalism, war and sexualized violence. Ending patriarchy is important unto itself. And it is also an important front in the struggle against a dominant culture that is destroying the earth and its inhabitants.

The end of patriarchy will not come about until we are able to engage in mutually loving relationships with ourselves and other people. A part of this work is to develop feminist masculinities, or ways of being a man that incorporate the incredible lessons that feminism has to offer us. Becoming a feminist male is about making our way in the world in caring and responsive ways that center the many relationships in which we are embedded. In other words, feminism is an indispensable practice for creating a world where everyone can flourish. Let’s get to it!