I got feedback from Blanche, my partner Sally’s mom, that the term “patriarchy” does not really resonate with her in terms of describing that model of society and its institutions that I keep referring to in many of my blog pieces. It was interesting that Blanche focused in on that term and made the point to share her thoughts with me. I have been wrestling with the term myself versus various other descriptive words for the same concept (like “hierarchy”, “us and them”, “pecking order” or “pyramid of control”). These to contrast this organizational model with the more egalitarian “circle of equals” (a good descriptive term that I’m more happy with using), which I believe to be the model our human society is evolving into.
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So once you define the contemporary manifestation of this ancient way of being, and maybe understand how it has managed to perpetuate itself through a couple hundred generations of parents to children, how then do we address challenging and working towards ending this (what I would call) perpetuated vestige of an archaic system for organizing society?
Allan Johnson, in his book The Gender Knot, says the solution starts with acknowledging patriarchy exists as a collective system with its own internal logic, conventional wisdom and “paths of least resistance”, rather than as bad behavior by a bunch of individual men towards women. A systemic problem is not resolved by trying to identify “bad apples” and somehow weed them out or limit their influence. Most men and women participate in this system without consciously intending to oppress or be oppressed, without even being aware perhaps that the system exists. Continue reading →
So how does a 5000 year old system of ranking and hierarchy with men inexorably at the top perpetuate itself through hundreds of generations and never get written off as archaic and crumble into the dust of history? Why was I so embarrassed in my late forties when I was deftly tossing a football with several slightly younger men (enjoying a moment of perhaps jocular camaraderie), who then threw it to my teenage son and were aghast when he threw it back to them, as it were, “like a girl”? What ancient warrior ethos had I violated in not properly training my son, an ethos that still somehow held sway somewhere in my subconscious? What gives this system its staying power, and does its longevity speak to its continuing merit? Continue reading →
I was introduced to the word and the concept behind it as a teen by my mentor slash “guru” and “feminist aunt” Mary Jane. She was (and still is) a brilliant and radical feminist, disguised in the muggle world as a cookie-baking mom of four kids who befriended my mother in the late 1960s through a mutual friend. I recall Mary Jane, ever the provocateur, showing up at some of my mom’s numerous and boisterous parties dressed in a maroon monk’s robe wearing a large women’s liberation medallion (the women’s symbol with a clenched fist inside the circle) hanging from her neck where one might expect to see the Christian cross on a real monk. The words she made up to convey her arguments were just as calculatingly provocative, including her term, “patriarchal pimperialism” to describe male control of women’s sexual lives and behavior. Continue reading →