First, to be clear, I’m not a psychologist. I admit there’s a lot about this that I am still learning, and I’m certain that there are others whose lived experience, and expertise, could add volumes to what I’m about to get into. But, I also believe it’s a topic worth getting into, discussing, defining, and even labeling so that we can get the help and support we need to heal it. And yes, I’m saying “we” because I believe the vast majority of us are somewhere on the Spectrum of Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome, including myself.
Why call it a “Syndrome”?
Because, we only look for or offer healing if we first define something as an illness that needs treating. Up until now, we have normalized Toxic Patriarchy, and it is time to call it what it is: an insidious illness that is killing us and the planet, generation by generation. And it is our generation here and now, that has reached the crisis point when we can no longer ignore how sick we have become.
Why “Toxic Patriarchy” and not “Toxic Male”?
First, it’s not just men who exhibit it or keep it in place, although it does show up differently for different genders. Patriarchy is a paradigm, a world-view that affects all human beings in some form or another, and through our actions it affects the world.
Second, there is no benevolent patriarchy. Patriarchy itself is toxic by its very nature, and we are all paying the price for it.
What is “Patriarchy” vs “Matriarchy”?
Patriarchy, in its simplest and most basic form, is a paradigm that defines and organizes society around passing one’s legacy on to a male child, and recounting family ancestry through the male lineage. Matriarchy is passing one’s legacy on through the female child and recounting the family ancestry through the female lineage. Both are provide ways of deep, personal identification through last name, family, traditions, and more.
What makes Patriarchy toxic while Matriarchy is not?
Let’s be clear, there are and always have been toxic individuals within societies, regardless of the overarching paradigm. Here, I’m not talking about individuals. I’m talking about the overarching paradigm that defines a society at every level from its values, to its family and social structures, to its institutions, to its laws, etc.
Both Patriarchy and Matriarchy define ones’ family tree through a parent. Because of the basics of biology that I don’t feel the need to explain, women know who their child is. Men do not. For a man to know a particular child is, in fact, truly his, he must have absolute control and dominance of a woman before and during pregnancy, and continuing after until she is no longer of child-bearing age.
The outgrowth of this one basic principle has ripple effects throughout history and at every level of society. While today we have science that can help answer the question of paternity, these paradigms — and the underlying toxic symptoms associated with them — began before humans understood biology. And because paradigms are imbedded at such a deep level, they are handed down generation to generation, institutionalized and systematized, perpetuated and compounded unless or until they can be brought to light, examined, and deconstructed.
What are just some of the ripple effects?
In Matriarchal societies, historically, there is far more freedom and equality for all. Women know who their child is. They don’t need to worry about who the father is. Nor do men need to worry about who their child is.
Sit with that one thought for a moment and recognize how many different aspects of our lives, choices, and laws are wrapped around that one idea alone: knowing who a child has come from.
Men can be loving parents and partners without any stigma around “being a man.” The mindset around sexuality and who has the right to decide what happens to whose body shifts entirely.
Matriarchal paradigms are not the opposite of a Patriarchal paradigm as most deeply ill patriarchs fear; a matriarchal paradigm does not mean that women become the dominating controllers.
In fact, no one is taught to control or dominate, because there is no need to control or dominate another human being in order to pass down one’s lineage or legacy. Men are as free to choose who they choose to be as women are in a matriarchal paradigm.
Let me say that again: men are as free to choose who they choose to be as women are in a matriarchal paradigm.
In Patriarchal societies, historically, equality does not exist in any form. The basic need to dominate and control in order to not only have a legacy to pass on but to ensure it is passed on to the right child, creates unhealthy hierarchies at every level of society.
Men are taught that they are only men if they dominate, control and prove themselves in the world as “men”. The idea of “getting your wife under control” still exists today. Fathers must both keep their daughter’s safe from men, and ensure she is given to a man who can take care of her by protecting her from other men, from poverty and from the world. If she is out in the world, she may wind up bearing another’s child, after all. And so, this underlying need to ensure one’s own seed is the only seed she has access to, winds up defining everything.
Boys are encouraged to fight to win, to protect their homes and livelihoods from other males, to do battle, to conquer.
Girls become objects, a financial transaction, nothing more than breeding stock. To dominate and control them is to take away their personal power, and power over their own bodies. To emasculate another man includes taking his woman, and raping her to ensure he doesn’t know who his own child is. Rape culture itself is born out of patriarchy.
This brings us to The Spectrum of Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome
At one end of the spectrum, the benevolent patriarch is the man who protects and provides, while doing his part to create a loving relationship in which he respects the women he cares for, their choices and voices heard and taken into consideration (although he retains the final say), and today, they’re allowed to work, to create a life, and to be individuals in their own rights — so long as they remember their place.
Yet, a woman’s body is still regulated by laws dominated by patriarchal thinking, women are ogled as objects, and still bear the burden of responsibility over the expression of men’s desires. She is still blamed if she is raped, regardless of the situation. Her male partner is still judged for a role he may take on in the household, and he may struggle emotionally if he earns less financially than she does. The need to “be a man” is still wrestled with.
At the other end of the spectrum, is the worst of the worst, of course. The ones who make toxicity obvious in everything they do or say, even to the point that other men step in to say it’s wrong.
Notice however, women still need other men to step in because of the power dynamics within patriarchy. A woman who has strong boundaries and stands up for those boundaries is further harmed verbally, emotionally or even physically in an effort to “put her in her place.”
Toxic Patriarchy in Women is Real
In Patriarchy, women are only safe if they are with the right man; a man who can take care of her financially, physically, and emotionally from the rest of the world. In order for Patriarchy to be perpetuated, women must be complicit in it and it shows up in several ways.
In Patriarchy, it is a man’s duty and responsibility to dominate and control, and so if a woman does not want to be dominated, she must, in some way, make herself invisible to males. If she does not, the consequences are her fault. She wore a shirt cut too low, a skirt cut to high, she looked too long in his direction, etc. So, women teach their daughters and other women how to “dress professionally” and act in ways that don’t send the wrong message.
In short, women teach each other that it is our responsibility to keep ourselves safe from men’s desires rather than teaching men that their desires and behaviors are their own responsibility.
What does this look like? It’s giving our daughters pepper-spray when they go for a walk in the park or feeling the need to send our sons with them to help keep them safe. It’s teaching them to walk down the middle of the street at night rather than on the sidewalk if there are bushes someone could be hiding in. It’s teaching them to avoid vans in a parking garage and to lock their doors the moment they’re in the car. It’s training them to stay small, stay invisible, stay silent and always remain diligent.
It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome in women in an effort to keep themselves and each other safe while perpetuating the very thing that is making their world unsafe.
Another version of Toxic Patriarchy in Women is the use of sexuality to create her own version of dominance and control.
Sexuality is the only true power women are afforded in a patriarchal paradigm. If a woman is to truly have power over herself and her world, she must either fully embody the sexual feminine or become as masculine as she can and deny her femininity entirely. Either way, ultimately, she is undermined, cast aside, called names, and considered inappropriate company to keep by both men and women who uphold patriarchal values. After all, the appropriate woman in a patriarchal paradigm is the one who wants to bear children and be the wife who’s taken care of by a “real man.”
Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome is Rampant
Just because something has existed for a long time, does not make it right or healthy. Just because the majority may be doing it, doesn’t make it right or healthy. And just because we may not know any different, doesn’t mean it needs to stay in place.
Humans in ALL walks of life suffer because of Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome. The need to dominate and control leads to unhealthy hierarchies including but not limited to sexism, ageism, and racism; it leads to raping the earth, changing her natural cycles, and killing the very planet we live on; it leads to war and ultimately to death.
Like all Syndromes, there are ways to manage its symptoms to try to live as healthy of a life as possible. And there are those among us who are finding ways to do that, and always have. Whether through active benevolence or through silent tolerance, they work to live with and illness they may not even know is infecting their thoughts, choices, actions and lives.
They don’t yet know there is a better way; they can be healed.
Ending Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome
Healing our lives, our culture, our world, and the very planet we live on calls for healing Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome. I don’t have all the answers. It will take time, energy and effort. I see many ways in which there are those who have already begun the healing process and are actively working toward greater healing for all. Yet, they have not yet reached the tipping point of their uphill climb.
First, we must raise awareness. Understand that this is not about an “us” or a “them.” This is not a male problem, nor a female problem. It is a system of thinking we are ALL so deeply imbedded in that we have forgotten there are other ways of being, healthier paradigms worth exploring and embodying that create a world that can work for everyone.
Patriarchal culture fears change because change itself is perceived as falling from the top and submitting to something. What Patriarchal culture does not see is that the perceived falling from the top is merely an illusion.
The courage to transform from the inside out is the greatest hero’s journey any of us can ever embark on, and moving toward a world in which we finally face our fears and insecurities in order to greater recognize and honor the spirit that exists within every being, is not a fall from anything, but a step up into our true potential for greatness.
So let’s stop pointing a finger at each other, and begin to look at what the three pointing back at us are trying to tell us: change begins within.
Where might Toxic Patriarchy Syndrome be manifesting in your own life, and from within your own thinking? Where are you a victim of it? And where are you a perpetrator perpetuating it?
How might we begin to do better, today?