What is Patriarchy (and does it exist in America)?

One of the first questions asked of a modern feminist often boils down to, “why does feminism still exist today?  Women aren’t really forced to stay home, girls are outperforming boys in school, and conditions for women today are better than they’ve ever been before.  In fact, in some ways women have it better than men!”  The notion seems to be that feminism has outlived it’s usefulness; that with suffrage and the boom of career women we should just accept our station and realize we have it pretty good.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines privilege as, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.”  In a patriarchal society, the dominating privilege is male privilege.  Other privileges exist – white privilege is still overwhelming – but male privilege crosses race barriers, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.

This is not to say all (or even most) men are sexists, on the contrary it is simply an assessment that, by nature of birth, men are afforded rights (often as social constructs) that women are not.  The average male does not consciously recognize he is privileged and certainly does not actively think of himself as a promoter of inequality based on the historically imposed “superiority” of his gender (though such men do exist).  Barry “Ampersand” Deutsch crafted a male privilege checklist based on the 1990 Peggy McIntosh essay titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.  It’s 46 points reads as follows:

1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex – even though that might be true. (More).

3. If I am never promoted, it’s not because of my sex.

4. If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.

5. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female co-workers are. (More).

6. If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.

7. If I’m a teen or adult, and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped are relatively low. (More).

8. On average, I am taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces much less than my female counterparts are.

9. If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.

10. If I have children but do not provide primary care for them, my masculinity will not be called into question.

11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, I’ll be praised for extraordinary parenting if I’m even marginally competent. (More).

12. If I have children and a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home.

13. If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

14. My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.

15. When I ask to see “the person in charge,” odds are I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.

16. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to be more active and outgoing than my sisters. (More).

17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.

18. As a child, chances are I got more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often. (More).

19. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether or not it has sexist overtones.

20. I can turn on the television or glance at the front page of the newspaper and see people of my own sex widely represented.

21. If I’m careless with my financial affairs it won’t be attributed to my sex.

22. If I’m careless with my driving it won’t be attributed to my sex.

23. I can speak in public to a large group without putting my sex on trial.

24. Even if I sleep with a lot of women, there is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing.” (More).

25. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability. (More).

26. My clothing is typically less expensive and better-constructed than women’s clothing for the same social status. While I have fewer options, my clothes will probably fit better than a woman’s without tailoring. (More).

27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time. (More).

28. If I buy a new car, chances are I’ll be offered a better price than a woman buying the same car. (More).

29. If I’m not conventionally attractive, the disadvantages are relatively small and easy to ignore.

30. I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

31. I can ask for legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest, since that kind of violence is called “crime” and is a general social concern. (Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.)

32. I can be confident that the ordinary language of day-to-day existence will always include my sex. “All men are created equal,” mailman, chairman, freshman, he.

33. My ability to make important decisions and my capability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.

34. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.

35. The decision to hire me will not be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.

36. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.

37. Most major religions argue that I should be the head of my household, while my wife and children should be subservient to me.

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks. (More).

39. If I have children with my girlfriend or wife, I can expect her to do most of the basic childcare such as changing diapers and feeding.

40. If I have children with my wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers.

41. Assuming I am heterosexual, magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media is filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal to me sexually. Such images of men exist, but are rarer.

42. In general, I am under much less pressure to be thin than my female counterparts are. (More). If I am fat, I probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do. (More).

43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover. (More).

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.” (More: 1 2).

45. Sexual harassment on the street virtually never happens to me. I do not need to plot my movements through public space in order to avoid being sexually harassed, or to mitigate sexual harassment. (More.)

45. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

The term “patriarchy” (defined as “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; control by men of a disproportionately large share of power “) is often met with an eyeroll but in a nation where male privilege exists across all other social barriers and only 17 senators (39 in total historically), 2 supreme court justices (4 total in history), and 0 presidents have been women it is difficult to suggest that women – and the rights held by women – have not been overwhelmingly ruled and decided by men.

What does living in a patriarchy mean for American women (and for men)?  Bills like HR 358 (the “Let Women Die”) bill pass through the House of Representatives despite the bill expressly allowing hospitals to deny life-saving abortions in direct opposition to the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.  A male representative (Joseph Pitts, R-PA) decided for his female constituents that their potential fetuses are more valuable as human beings than they are.  That a grown woman who’s only “mistake” was being born capable of getting pregnant should pay for that with her life if a hospital deems it inappropriate to terminate a fetus so that she may survive.

For men this means lost wives and daughters, lost friends and coworkers.  It means holding on to a woman you love as she’s dying in a hospital emergency room and being told that to save her life you must leave and go to another hospital (perhaps hours away) and hope with all your might that they are willing to perform the procedure to save her life.

It can also mean having a female contender for the Republican presidential candidate actually endorse the idea that women should do as they’re told by their husbands and fathers – endorsing the literal and traditional rigid definition of patriarchy.  Not only is this obscene for a woman who professes to be capable of running the largest political office in the country to say, it’s offensive to imply that a woman is incapable of making decisions about her own life, or that while she may be able to make decisions that a male would automatically make a better decision by virtue of his Y-Chromosome.

Historically it has meant the nation as a whole refusing to constitutionally guarantee women equal rights and legal protection and only 21 states to grant it in their constitutions.  The ERA saw several introductions and defeats before disappearing, all by male-dominated (and in many states, male-exclusive) governing bodies.

What all of this boils down to is this: yes, the United States is a patriarchy.  No, this is not a conscious decision by most men to oppress women.  It is a tradition passed down from generation to generation, across party lines, something that has been lulled into society and will take an actual awakening to be rid of.  It will take women realizing that they are still oppressed, and men realizing that they are benefiting from having societal station over women, and both of those sides coming together to say, “this is unacceptable,” for anything to change.

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