Updated: Nov 4, 2021
People tend to have a very one-dimensional view on patriarchy. So let’s explore the complexity of this social construct, first by defining patriarchy, then presenting the dichotomy between men and women, and finally explaining how we ought to approach feminist advocacy.
To begin, Patriarchy is a social construct that dictates the behaviors of people. Specifically, the way families are structured and how one acts in accordance to their gender. What society deems to be a suitable family structure varies from time period to time period and from place to place. Generally, what Americans know to be patriarchy comes from the post-WWII American Dream. This means one biological father, one biological mother, and two to three children living in the suburbs. The father is supposed to be the head of the family. He is supposed to be the breadwinner working a corporate job. The mother is meant to be the family’s caretaker. She is discouraged from working a job and is instead pushed to have children and support her husband. While this type of lifestyle works for some people, it is ultimately more intrusive than it is helpful. It becomes less of a choice and more of an expectation to live according to this social construct.
For every benefit the patriarchy claims to uphold, there is a drawback. Let’s start with the roles of men. Men ultimately have more power in society and are, on average, more physically capable. As a result, there is more societal pressure on men to uphold the responsibility of “protecting the weak.” As a man, in order to appear “put together,” they are expected to work. Consequently, jobless men and housefathers are considered worthless members of society. Patriarchal women in positions of power will refuse to have a partner who makes significantly less money than they do. When it comes to patriarchal relationships, men are expected to approach women and make the first move because it is the responsibility of men to reach out to women. This responsibility makes men feel entitled to intimacy and creates the phenomenon known as toxic masculinity.
The patriarchy also upholds many unreasonable expectations of women. There is a reason that the vast majority of homeless people are men. Women are more likely to be taken in by a partner. Again, despite these advantages of patriarchy, women obviously have many disadvantages in its rigid structure. Women are considered worthless in a patriarchal society if they don’t have children. This pressure can be very oppressive, especially for older women who have not fulfilled their societal expectations. In patriarchy, women are held to a lower standard than men, but in turn, they are then valued for their youth rather than maturity or independence. Under this type of household, women are completely financially dependent on their partners. Their emotions and opinions are discarded on the basis of their gender. Unfortunately, this power dynamic can lead to the manifestation of rape culture, or the idea that men ought to have agency over women’s autonomy. In patriarchy, women hold the monopoly over relationships. Society doesn’t expect them to pursue men in the same way society expects men to pursue women, and this dynamic can lead to toxic expectations in a relationship.
One of the centerpiece topics when discussing patriarchy is the idea of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is characterized as male entitlement or aggression that manifests from patriarchal expectations and in extreme cases, rape culture. There is a reason reactionary individuals will scoff when they hear the term toxic masculinity, and if we are speaking completely honestly, they have good reason to. From the outside, without understanding where this term comes from, toxic masculinity has very medicalist undertones. Toxic masculinity is a thought-terminating cliche to these people. In most situations, it is used to dismiss the concerns of men similar to how in the early 1900s, women were diagnosed with “hysteria” and completely dismissed of their own emotions. While it may be a simple way to address the emotional distress of men, we need to go deeper and help men to understand that their emotions are valid, albeit nonetheless toxic. One might even assert that toxic masculinity is not a male-specific problem. Rather, it is a product of patriarchy, from which society collectively takes part in. Meaning that rather than shaming men for having these emotions, we need to work towards managing this problem as a society.
Feminism is the movement that lives to break out of the rigid patriarchal structure. It is a fundamentally righteous movement. It is not meant to be a gate-kept organization. Optically appealing to people who aren’t on board with the movement is a part of the job. It is the responsibility of feminists to fully examine the effects of patriarchy and the ways it hurts everyone.