Pass the Patriarchy: An Exploration of Patriarchy and Men - Humantold

Pass the Patriarchy: An Exploration of Patriarchy and Men

Brianna Halasa, MHC-LP June 5, 2023

Patriarchy has sunk its serrated teeth into every crevice of our society. While great strides have been made to dismantle it, the finish line remains afar.

Patriarchy as a definition

Ironically, the first words that escaped my lips while sitting down to write this article were “Oh, man.” Patriarchy has sunk its serrated teeth into every crevice of our society, right down to our lexicon. Male-centeredness can be read in the sheer number of words that include “man:” chairman, fireman, fisherman, ombudsman, craftsman, businessman, and the list goes on. Men, specifically white men, sit wide-legged at the head of our society. 

Patriarchy translates from the Latinized form of Greek patriarkhia, from patriarkhēs "male chief or head of a family." This refers to the traditional form of patriarchy, which Merriam-Webster describes as a “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” Additionally, patriarchy consists of a social system in which men hold power, often reinforced through cultural norms and customs that favor men and withhold opportunities from women. The snaking roots of patriarchy, millennia in the making, are so ingrained in our society that it takes intentional effort to unstick innate patriarchal tendencies from our brains, regardless of your gender identity or your devotion to feminism.

Painting a picture of patriarchy 

More conventional gender roles might be easier to identify as patriarchal, but they will still be pointed out if for no reason other than for vindication or guilt, depending on your gender. Patriarchy can be witnessed in women being deferential to their husbands since the lynchpin of patriarchy demands that the male head of the family be respected, served, and obeyed. Besides respect and subservience, fear also plays a major role in women being submissive to their husbands, specifically fear of retribution, a sadly prevalent feeling as severe intimate partner violence is experienced by 1 in 4 women. 

Furthermore, patriarchy believes only men are capable of dealing with moral, political, and economic matters, since women are deemed weaker, both physically and mentally, and therefore unfit to handle important decisions. This can play out in a strict delineation of tasks where the wife maintains the house and takes care of the children, while the husband earns a livelihood for the family. 

These points describe more traditional gender roles; however, iterations of these effects play out in society today and can be more nuanced. With women fighting tirelessly for gender equality, with the help of some brave men, great strides have been made. However, the finish line remains afar. Today, over half of women participate in the workforce and have now outpaced men in college attendance and degrees. A 2023 Pew Research study found that while men are the main breadwinners in most opposite-sex marriages, the share of women who earn as much as or significantly more than their husbands has tripled over the past 50 years. Unfortunately, the positive strides come to a halting stop here. The wage gap, gender-based discrimination, and sexual harassment persist. While women are more educated and employed, they still bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities and household duties. 

In egalitarian marriages where wives and husbands are contributing equally to their combined earnings, wives are still spending double the amount of time on housework than their husbands (4.6 hours/week for women compared to 1.9 hours/week for men), and women spend approximately two more hours per week caring for their children than their partners. Meanwhile, husbands dedicate three more hours per week to paid work and three and a half hours more to leisure activities. 

This imbalance is embedded in the way Americans view gender roles. The same Pew Research survey found that most Americans value men’s contributions at work more than their contributions at home. Conversely, only 20% of the survey respondents value the accomplishments of women in the workplace, 31% stated that they valued more of what women do at home, and the rest of the respondents said they valued work and home contributions equally.        

Aside from work and home life, patriarchy manifests in social rituals and customs, such as men passing down their last name to their children (despite not having to endure the intense physical trauma of birthing them) and a woman’s father walking her down the aisle to give her as property to her husband. It also reveals itself in unrealistic standards of feminine beauty, for example, women attempting to shrink themselves down, as seen in diet culture and idolizing thinness, to fit into an idealized standard of beauty deemed attractive by men. Additionally, women get stereotyped as being overly emotional, hysterical, or “on her period” if they feel the very natural emotions that arise throughout life. 

Yet patriarchy also visibly affects men, as masculinity deems toughness, aggressiveness, and unemotionality as strengths. This leaves men with the inability to talk about their feelings or feeling too embarrassed to even start. Masculinity stymies social connectedness since seeking support or being vulnerable about emotions goes against male role expectations that underscore the strength and emotional restraint. This 2007 study reported that less social support in men was strongly correlated with increased restriction of emotions, especially between men, which was associated with greater psychological distress. Therefore, women often put more emotional work into their relationships, since a woman’s emotional intelligence is often much higher. Essentially, masculinity is valued, and femininity is degraded.

A path forward

How can women take care of themselves, especially when they are socially programmed to take care of everyone else? How can men cope with the ramifications of patriarchy during times when they are not benefitting from it? 

A path forward to dismantling patriarchy begins with the recognition of being socialized in a society that empowers men and oppresses women, especially women of color. Do introspective work to understand how your actions influence the people around you. Men can take steps to ensure housework and childcare duties are evenly shared. Women can use their voices to set boundaries for themselves to lessen exhaustion and allow more space for leisure and self-care. Men can disengage with and call out misogyny when it is happening, such as hearing other men talk about women in a degrading manner. Step into feeling your emotions wholeheartedly, whether you are a woman who might be afraid of playing into the stereotype of being too feminine or whether you are a man who is discouraged from displaying emotion due to fear of breaking from the expectation of masculinity. Embrace others for their courageousness in going against gender norms and celebrate differences. Women can actively resist diet culture and do the intensive work of gaining solace in their body size. Men can avoid viewing women as objects. Everyone can talk to a therapist, if accessible. 

And finally, go take a nap, because fighting the patriarchy is exhausting!

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