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Why I Was Wrong About the Patriarchy (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

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Nearly 3 years ago, I wrote a blog post asking: “Does the patriarchy really exist?” and enjoyed the spirited debate it generated. But recently, I’ve realized that I was absolutely wrong about the issue.

I’ve come to realize now that of course “the patriarchy exists” – just not in the way it had ever been “sold” to me as a concept.


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Contributor: Gdom

First off, I'd just like to say that you seem not to have met many good feminists (if you'll pardon my assumption-making). I've never found anyone I considered to be a feminist that expressed their beliefs as crudely or dogmatically as those that you describe; any feminist worth hir salt could have told you that "the patriarchy" consists of tacitly accepted--but, in many ways, harmful--forms of social gender and sex-based social organization more than it does with sinister, intentional, or belligerent man-scheming (though the latter does still exist in some forms; see "the GOP").

I have at least one major disagreement with your position and it's based on what seems to be a limited view of the alternatives to patriarchy (and the ways to gradually move toward those alternatives, but I'll focus on the former point). You state that "the alternative" (implying there's only one) to a patriarchal society is a matriarchal society. While it's true that a matriarchal society is one alternative (admittedly, one that would likely be comparably problematic), it is most certainly not the only alternative nor is it the alternative that modern feminists actually desire and seek to achieve: gender and sex equality. Equality doesn't mean an absence of social roles or social organization altogether--if that's even possible--but rather, a form of social organization in which gender and sex are not highly determinative of social roles and social value (unlike a patriarchal--or matriarchal--system, in which they are).

While that might be "extreme" in so far as it diverges substantially from longstanding traditions of patriarchy in this society, that doesn't strike me as a bad thing in itself. If the status quo is radically problematic, then the correct state of affairs is always going to look extreme in comparison. And to be perfectly clear, the fact that the goal is "extreme" in that sense does not necessary imply that the methods to achieve that goal need be "extreme" in the sense of rapid, violent upheaval.

Contributor: spiced

I agree 100% with Gdom's comment.

Good on you, Roland. for recognizing that our society is indeed, patriarchal — and for admitting that you were wrong about that to begin with. That's not easy. I can empathize, as I didn't see the racist side of society when I was younger, until I got to know some people who'd been affected by it.

I believe we are still heading towards an equal society. Certainly, it's more equal in most ways than it was 40 years ago. There's still a long way to go, but I don't find equality to be an extreme goal, but rather a simple, necessary one.

Contributor: Pandora'sBox

Good on you for recognizing that patriarchy is something that exists insofar as it is a deeply-ingrained way of thinking in our culture.

I also agree with Gdom that you probably haven't met very many good feminists, or at least haven't paid very much attention to what modern feminism is about. I proudly identify myself as a modern feminist and I disagree with your statements almost completely.

Gdom is correct in that yes, patriarchy is part of our society. It exists, and it means something completely different for some people than it does to others. I think you are looking at it from a vastly oversimplified lens. It isn't nearly as black and white as "It exists and people embrace it so there's not a problem."

People embrace it because it's such a prominent part of our culture. Some think it doesn't exists because it is, as you said, as common as the air we breathe. We don't question it because it's always been there and it's hard to consider anything different. Alternatives seem "extreme" even when they really aren't.

Take your average, every day, normal guy. He's the breadwinner of his household. He works hard, his wife takes care of the house. He's not much different than many other men in western culture. Now, ask him how he feels about his wife being the breadwinner and him having to take care of the children. He would probably see that as earthshatteringly drastic, even though it's nothing more than a simple role-reversal.

A recent pew pole showed that 40% of women are now the breadwinners in their households. It's a growing trend. More men are taking care of their children at home and more women are working. That looks like progress, and for a lot of intents and purposes, it is progress. Unfortunately, despite this drastic change in heads-of-household in America, the attitudes aren't changing. Men still generally hold the idea that it is "women's work" to stay at home and be mothers, even if the women are the ones who are bringing home the bacon.

And unfortunately, this is why full-time working women do more housework than unemployed men.

It also is still unbalanced because women are still making 75 cents for every man's dollar. This also comes from a long-held belief that women should be at home, and therefore earning only supplemental income. It is still assumed that a man is going to be the sole breadwinner, and is paid according to the idea that he is supporting a household, and a woman is paid in a way where it is assumed that any money she makes in supplemental to his. So 40% more women are supporting their households, but still being paid as if they were supplemental.

So men and women are effected differently by the patriarchy and that's just one of the ways. I hope that you could see from this example why a change from patriarchy would seem daunting to someone who is male compared to someone who is female. A change in the patriarchy for some men means a loss of status, but to women it means gaining ground to reach the same level of status as men.

A true feminist won't see it as a loss for anyone. True gender equality isn't viewed as "loss for them means gain for us." It's viewed as "We can climb up to the same level."

...And killing a spider in a bathtub does not a true feminist make. It is rather irritating to see the complexities of modern feminism reduced to something like that. That just sounds like someone who hasn't bothered to do much research or put much thought into it.

Contributor: No-nita

I have major mixed feelings about this article. On one hand, it is absolutely wonderful to see that you understand that when we refer to "patriarchy", we mean all the ways that sexism influences our lives. No feminist I have ever met - in years of feminist activism and frequenting feminist spaces - has ever tried to sell the concept to me as a "sinister cabal" of men making choices specifically because they hate women and want us to suffer horribly all the time.

Saying "I blame the feminists" or "the feminists say it's [x]" and constantly referring to "those feminists" like we are a monolith is disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, and those kinds of generalizations are ... lazy. You refer to caricatures of feminists rather than real, living, breathing people when you say things like this. It is a bit silly, is all.

Contributor: Natasha Love


Contributor: Jwogs

This is in no way a bash on Mormonism as I am one, but yo need look no further than the Mormon religion to realize that patriarchal societies exhist. Only the men may take on positions as leaders of the church, while women are assigned roles such as Primary director; aka daycare.



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