Patriarchal Masculinity: What it is, why it Sucks
Okay, some homework. Chances are you've been seeing a TON of "smash the patriarchy" memes on Instagram, posted by people you look up to and admire. In this article, we're both going to unpack the patriarchy and explain it's qualms from the point of view of a DUDE (More dudes like you, Irving!!!). At Su, we're into getting under the skin, explaining the basics and doing the work - even if you're a major in gender studies - because it doesn't EVER hurt to review a concept through fresh, woke eyes. Many thanks to both Jen Agg and Kelly Oxford, too. True Queens.
A patriarchy is a social system in which men are the primary authority figures central to social organization (fathers holding authority over women and children, for instance), political leadership, moral authority, and control of property. The patriarchy implies an institution of ‘male’ rule and privilege, expecting ‘female’ subordination in return. These two roles exist in separate spheres; failure to adhere to one of them generally amounts to less 'value' in such societies. The hegemonic, patriarchal 'female' is passive, requiring that women not act to earn femininity. The patriarchy is further oppressive in its white heteronormativity in that it favours the white, straight male. Most patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, which means that property and title should be inherited by the male lineage. Patriarchy can manifest itself socially, politically, and economically, and yup...it needs to gtfo.
Last week I had the pleasure and opportunity to see Jen Agg read and discuss her book I Hear She's A Real Bitch. If you don't know who Jen is, she is someone who loves the food and restaurant industry (not only that, but has managed to truly transform it) while simultaneously wanting to change it for the better. Throughout the course of our discussion, Jen read us a chapter that focused on the double standards she faces as a woman in a male-dominated field. She cut jokes, shared stories and vented her frustrations; as brilliant as it felt, I just wish more men were in the audience to hear her.
Additionally, this past summer allowed me to meet Kelly Oxford at an event promoting her latest book, When You Find Out the World is Against You and Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments. Oxford is the woman resposible for the #itsnotokay, a hashtag that enabled herself and other women to share their experiences of sexual assault. This hashtag was inspired by the darkest of reminders; that same day, Oxford saw the tapes of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing "pussy" on the news. What Kelly was doing was so important, and yet again...I could count the number of men in that room on one hand.
It's easy to connect the lines between these two writers, though we should, most crucially, take the time to celebrate and appreciate the differences each woman holds. Both Oxford and Agg write about their lives, touch on their experiences and highlight their struggles reconciling with what it means to be a "woman" in our day and age. When I saw them, they both made sure to encourage action, ensuring lots of time was dedicated to focus on fighting back, speaking out and pushing the needle forward. Oxford placed a focus on educating young men and boys, urging us to raise a generation of men where #itsnotokay isn't needed. Jen called out the men who are in positions of power in her industry. She asked us to contemplate why she was the only one to consistently say something, each time a story broke about sexual assault in a restaurant.
Both were justly exasperated, right in what they continue to say and fight for, and losing patience with waiting for men to do and say something. I agree. We, as men, need to do more, say more.
What's the hashtag going to be next year? #womenhavetogothroughthisagain? How many more dialogues, protests, and marches do we need before men will unequivicollay support women, speak up, be seen, and hold themselves and their circle of men accountable for adding and being complicit in the perpetuation of rape culture? It's not enough to use these men in Hollywood exposed in the past month as armour against the violence we've committed against women. It's not enough to say, "I've never done any of those things," and ignore everything else. Why is it a woman's job to fix systemic and institutional patriarchy and sexism, when it was men who put and reinforced these systems and institutions in the first place? Why is it only important that men respect women when it’s their sister/mother/girlfriend/wife? We shouldn't ONLY go out of our way to respect women because we have a direct connection with them; we should do this because (I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but…) they're people too. Because guess what, women have brothers/fathers/uncles/husbands and not once have I heard them use this excuse. They're being left to do all of the work themselves, and we’re complicit, and it isn’t right.
If you haven't grabbed a woman by their "pussy", participated in catcalling or used your position of power to coerce a woman into sex but instead kept your head down and waited for these stories to run the news cycle, you're not intentionally hurting women but dude...you're in their way. The first thing most men do when a woman shares her story of sexual assault is defend themselves. Remember #notallmen? Remember when the Trump tape leaked and some men argued, "I've been in plenty of locker rooms in my lifetime and we never did that." Or men who say, "I separate the person from the art." Chris Brown, R. Kelly, and XXXtentacion still make music. They still make money. Woody Allen has and still makes movies. Donald Trump is President of the United States. These men continue to be celebrated while the women they've abused are tasked to live with the consequences. How are women supposed to fight this on their own? How do we not only allow this to continue, but encourage its normalization, folding it into the fabric of our daily lives?
I don't have the answers. Kelly Oxford, Jen Agg, and the countless women fighting this don't have them, either. This is a near impossible fight; one that requires the undoing of generations of patriarchal beliefs and values. This isn’t about breaking a few bad habits, and in most cases it’s breaking habits of belief. We’re fighting against people who believe they have ownership over a woman's body. Who think that catcalling, long stares, and dick pics are compliments. Who believe boys will be boys, swear by bros over hoes, and believe that anything that is said in these circles is sacred, no matter how objectively horrible. They'll argue that this is a "women's issue" and women are being emotional and irrational or that they regretted the sex. But I don't need to tell you these things - it’s old news, it’s likely part of your life if you’re a women, it's been happening for way too long now, if you've been paying attention. Jen, Kelly, and millions of other women have been screaming these injustices for years, and until we listen, they will continue to scream it. We should not take their courage for granted. It is paramount that more than a handful of men join in on this fight because if not, the patriarchal wheel of sexism will keep rolling over us all.