In my women's studies class, we were tasked with writing one page (as if we had five minutes to teach a group of young people) about what patriarchy is. I thought, since it's conveniently here on my laptop, I'd just quickly share my explanation of patriarchy with you:
“Patriarchy”. The word really sets you off, right? It’s one of those scary feminist buzzwords that makes your brain want to shut down and stop listening to whatever the person to whom you’re talking is saying. If you’re a guy, it can feel like these mean, nasty feminists are accusing you of something, like it’s your fault if a classmate has been raped by her boyfriend whom you don’t know, or your mom doesn’t get paid as much to do the same job as your uncle.
Guess what. Patriarchy is no one’s fault, because no one is patriarchy. Patriarchy is outside of us, and we all operate within it, feminists and non-feminists alike. It influences how we see ourselves, how we relate to each other. It influences the stories we write, the stories people film and show to us, the games we play. It’s not anyone’s fault that patriarchy exists; the question is what you’re going to do about it.
Patriarchy can be most simply defined as a cultural system in which men are generally better off by virtue of being men. They’re more likely to get a job, and in that job they get paid better than their female coworkers. When a man speaks, it’s accepted that he can interrupt another because his voice is valid. Patriarchy is the system in which male leadership is default and female leadership and power, even equality, is a deviation—welcome or not—from that default.
Patriarchy is not the same thing as sexism. Many things happen in our society because of patriarchy, not necessarily overt sexism. A boss may pay his male employees more not because he feels women deserve less money for the same work by virtue of being women, but because he’s been taught by our patriarchal society that women don’t need to be paid the same amount. A husband expecting his wife to take care of cooking, cleaning, and childcare does so not necessarily because he thinks his wife is less capable of other things, but because patriarchy taught him that those things are women’s work, outside the domain of men.
Patriarchy is not a feminist conspiracy to make guys feel bad. In fact, the word “patriarchy” used to be a positive term, referring to the rule of a father over his family. Today, some conservative religious people want to bring back this positive connotation. What feminists did was say “You know this idea of fathers ruling their households? It goes beyond the households” and they called it patriarchy.
The question is what you can do about it. The first step is just being aware. Notice little manifestations of patriarchy in your everyday life. Check its influence on how you see women and men. Don’t be ashamed- don’t beat yourself up if you have a prejudiced thought or anything. Just check yourself and promise not to do it again. Nobody’s perfect, but we can always improve ourselves. The important thing is to not let knowledge of patriarchy crush you. Instead, let it empower you to bring about positive change.