The Patriarchy: Reform or Displace?

17/11/2021

This is one of three mini essays submitted for a political science assessment. Given the limited word count and my struggles to adhere to “academic writing”, they’re likely not the best pieces, but ah well, uploading them for shits and giggles. This one discusses the patriarchy, some brief examples and history of it, and an intersectional approach to abolishing it. While not denying the importance of reform, it argues there must be radical change to ensure the full liberation of women in society.

Patriarchy, literally “rule of the father”, in its simplest form refers to the dominant role played by the father, by men, in the traditional family structure. In feminist thought, this definition is expanded to include the broader societal discussions of male dominance in most, if not all, aspects of life and their institutions. For many feminists, fathers as the centre of family life “symbolises male supremacy in all other institutions”, and that this “reproduces male dominance in all other walks of life” including “education, at work and in politics.” (Heywood 2021).

There are countless examples of this male dominance, both in pure numbers and in attitudes towards women. The Me Too movement sparked worldwide discussion of sexual assault and harassment, not just in the US film industry, but from all sectors globally. Sexism in the workplace, particularly male dominated sectors, contributes to poor mental health outcomes for women (Rubin, Paolini, Subašić, Giacomini 2019), and representation in positions of power, such as politics, is lacking. As of June 2021, Tasmania and the ACT are the only state and territory in Australia with more women than men in government, along with the Federal Senate, while the House of Representatives only has 47 women, 41.1% (Hough 2021). In healthcare, the relative lack of study, knowledge of, and public awareness about endometriosis – including by medical professionals – has underestimated and prolonged diagnosis (Rowlands, Montgomery, Hockey, Rogers, Mishra 2020).

These are contemporary issues stemming from a long history of oppression, and are being approached with a comparably recent history of feminist struggle. From Mary Wollstonecraft (1772) arguing for women’s “immortal soul” to be improved through understanding and reason, to more recent discourse surrounding intersectionality (Heywood 2021), large strides have been made for the rights of women but are nowhere near complete. The question of how to “solve” the monolithic problem of patriarchy is one without clear answers and, like all struggles for the betterment of a demographic or people, will take time to see a resolution. It is clear, however, that progressive reform alone will not be enough, and neither will making patriarchal systems more accessible to women.

One important reason for that is the additional angles of oppression introduced by race and class. Crispin (2017) is extremely critical of women (mostly white) in positions of power, as the institutions themselves are inherently oppressive. She cites two examples, one being Hillary Clinton’s role in dismantling welfare programs that directly affected poor women and families and the United States’ brutal foreign policy endeavours, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s involvement in cover-ups that resulted in employee deaths (Crispin 2017). Acceptance of their own oppression, whether through rejecting modern perceptions of feminism (Crispin 2017) or simply generational experience (hooks 2015), is also evident, enforced and compounded by other factors.

Intersectionality also allows for a deeper look into how these modes of oppression interact. Mikki Kendall describes her experience as a black woman is different from both white women and black men, as these inseparable layers of an individual’s identity interact in various communities (Kendall 2020). She also explains how the sexism she experiences from black men, particularly in poor areas, differs and how black communities must sort out their own internal issues alongside dealing with external racial and gendered oppression.

So while reform has certainly improved the status of women in society, and will continue to do so, it can only go so far and often does little for those on the margins. Radical change must take place at some point, but carefully. While unjustifiable structures of power ought to be dismantled in favour of more free and just alternatives, there needs to be some form of support or replacement to ensure any such change is viable or even useful (Chomsky 2013; Crispin 2017). Crispin uses the example of traditions and the nuclear family, things that, while currently in an oppressive state, do provide a “[community] and a sense of belonging” (Crispin 2017).

While supporting reform, abolition of the patriarchy is a necessary goal for the liberation of women, but it cannot be done in isolation. One of the many challenges feminists face is building, from the foundation level, new societal structures that promote truly equal status.

References

Crispin, Jessa 2017 Why I am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto Carlton: Black Inc.

Heywood, Andrew 2021 Political Ideologies: An Introduction 7th ed. London: Red Globe Press.

hooks, b. (2015). Feminism Is for Everybody. In T. Bell, R. Dagger &  D. I. O’Neill (Eds.), Ideals and Ideologies: A Reader (pp. 421-426). New York, NY. Routledge.

Hough, Anna 2021 Composition of Australian parliaments by party and gender: a quick guide Canberra: Department of Parliamentary Services.

Kendall, Mikki 2020 Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists Forgot London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Rowlands, I; Abbott, J; G, Montgomery; R, Hockey; P, Rogers and G, Mishra 2020 ‘Prevalence and incidence of endometriosis in Australian women: a data linkage cohort study’, International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 128(4): 657-665.

Rubin, Mark; Paolini, Stefania; Subašić, Emina and Giacomini, Anna 2019 ‘A confirmatory study of the relations between workplace sexism, sense of belonging, mental health, and job satisfaction among women in male-dominated industries’, Journal of Applied Social Psychology 49(5): 267-282.

Wollstonecraft, Mary (1772). Vindication of the Rights of Women. In T. Bell, R. Dagger &  D. I. O’Neill (Eds.), Ideals and Ideologies: A Reader (pp. 401-406). New York, NY. Routledge.

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