There seems to be this idea among many who call themselves feminists that patriarchy amounts to nothing more than men being in charge of stuff, and if only women were in charge of stuff, everything would be better. This belief is both insufficient and false. Because words hold a lot more meaning than just their dictionary definition. In fact, most of a word’s meaning, and thus power, comes from its connotations. And the word “patriarchy” means a lot more than just “men run everything.”
Connotations are the images, ideas, and feelings associated with a word and therefore are highly subjective. They will vary a great deal from one person to another depending on the person’s cultural heritage and life experiences. All of us who are part of the western civilized dominant culture share very similar connotations.
Connotation is also one of the main ways advertisers, politicians, and mainstream news media use language to manipulate us. They do this one hundred percent on purpose and with full conscious awareness, I assure you. They openly discuss these things in meetings about “messaging.” It’s just part of what they do.
So, think about the word “patriarchy” in terms of this for a moment. The denotation, the dictionary definition, is “rule by the father,” with “father” being synonymous with masculinity, so then “rule by masculinity” more or less. Agreed? Good. So now what are our connotations of the masculine and masculinity?
And the list could go on. All of these ideas exist in our minds along with the word “masculine” and along with the word “patriarchy.” They are all conjured up by their use. Also though, these connotations may not describe any particular, given man at all. And if they don’t describe that particular man, he is bound to be considered “effeminate” by some. Conversely, these may be excellent descriptors of a particular, given woman. And that woman will be seen as a “masculine” woman; the one who “wears the pants in the family” or who is assumed to be a lesbian. The word “masculine,” along with all of its connotations, has absolutely nothing to do with men in real life but has everything to do with how we think about men and what we expect of them. And what they think and expect of themselves. You might not like them. You might disagree. You might take personal offense to some of these connotations, and you might think that some of them “shouldn’t be” connotations of masculinity. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t do away with the reality that these are, in fact, images, ideas, and feelings that western civilized culture ascribes to masculinity and therefore to patriarchy. This is a fact.
So, “patriarchy” is not just men being in charge of things. Patriarchy is the privileging of everything we associate with masculinity over everything we associate with femininity. Patriarchy is a societal structure where, if you are bigger, stronger, and more virile than someone else, you get to rule them; if you are more assertive and aggressive than someone else, you get to rule them; If you are wealthier than someone else, you get to rule them; If you save or protect or fight for someone, you get to rule them; if you are more competitive than someone, you get to rule them, etc. It’s a system that bestows the right of conquest, the right of domination, the right to exert power over others, if you can.
This is inherently abusive. Patriarchy = Abuse.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. You have both masculine and feminine traits in your personality. Or, you have traits that we humans of western civilized culture consider “masculine” and “feminine.” Also, there is nothing wrong with masculinity per se. There is such a thing as positive masculinity. It’s the kind that’s balanced with femininity. But that’s not what we get under patriarchy.
I believe that gender is all in our heads and has nothing to do with the physical bodies we’re born with. That should not come as a relief. Because thought creates.
Our thoughts have created an abusive system. Our thoughts have created a system where if a woman wants to “make it to the top,” she has to be like a man. She has to be masculine and demonstrate these “masculine” traits. This may or may not have anything to do with her physicality, but it will have something to do with her assertiveness, aggressiveness, competitiveness, and dominance. It will have something to do with the extent to which she is abusive, or at least the extent to which she upholds the abusive system.
Before I continue, allow me to define “abuse.” We tend to automatically think of abuse as physical or sexual. This is mostly because of the patriarchal milieu we exist in. But abusiveness is actually an attitude, and abuse is the behavior that results from that attitude, whether it takes the form of emotional, verbal, psychological, or physical abuse.
Lundy Bancroft and Jac Patrissi, in their book Should I Stay or Should I Go?, define the abusive attitude as one where the abusive person feels he or she is better than you, that his or her needs and desires come first, the he or she has the right to control you, and that you have no right to stand up for yourself.
Now, think about it. How many different people, groups of people, and institutions in our society does this describe? Does it describe your boss at work, or maybe all of “upper management?” Does it describe your domestic partner? Does it describe the Republican Party? How about the Democrats? Does it describe the wealthy, owner class? How about the upper-middle, managerial class? Does it describe white people, as a group? How about Christians? How about men? Generally, as a group of course. White men? Or, lots of white men, anyway? (If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re an exception.) How about the whole western civilized dominant culture? “America First,” right?
Patriarchy is a system based on the abusive mentality, which is based on a power-over dynamic. Over time, the power-over dynamic results in the extreme stratification of hierarchies
So, guess what? If you’re a woman who believes in this power-over dynamic, if you’re a woman who perpetuates and upholds the extremely stratified hierarchy, if you’re a woman who has this abusive mentality, you are part of The Patriarchy, make no mistake.
And if we all were to vote women into leadership positions where they have power over others in our same, current, highly stratified and hierarchical system, we would still have patriarchy. We’d just have patriarchy run by women. I shit you not.