I should probably clarify a common misunderstanding before I go about the business of suggesting ways to dismantle the patriarchy. Oxford Dictionaries defines patriarchy as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. If you’re thinking this is feminist rhetoric, you only have to look around to see that men hold more power than women in most places. This is the patriarchy. Furthermore, feminism is not about man-hating or penis envy or burning bras. For those of us who are already woke, the idea that feminism is any of that probably just got a hard eye roll. But many people identify feminism with anger, radical feminism, and militant feminism. And, yes, sometimes angry, militant, and radical describe how we feel about certain issues. But it’s not the sum of who we are, and smashing the patriarchy is doing a thing that will also benefit men.
Wait- what? Benefit men? Why would we want to do that when men already hold so much of the power?
The patriarchy is a system that hurts both men and women. Case in point: I just finished reading Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. It outlines how throughout Ginsburg’s service, she has fought for equal rights for both men and women, making sure that gender does not preclude anyone from equal opportunity. For example, it was once common for stay-at-home dads not to receive health or life insurance benefits from the working wife’s employer because it was assumed the man works and the woman stays home with the kids. Clearly, this does a disservice to the many men who choose to assume that role, just as it was once a disservice to women that they could not be employed outside of the home.
The patriarchy rigidly defines the role of men and women. It limits all genders from being able to have equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. It also teaches children that their gender limits their aptitudes and career opportunities. My daughter is 4, and already she has come home from preschool saying that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and this or that activity is for one particular gender or another. She didn’t learn that at home, and I have to work hard to undo the cultural conditioning that could potentially steer her in a direction not of her choosing. But this isn’t just about my daughter being able to be an engineer one day if she so chooses; this is also about my son feeling free to be a stay-at-home dad or wear pink or be a nurturing human. It’s about both of them being able to live up to their full potential with equal opportunities.
While the 2016 election still rankles and is a sore spot for the majority of voters, it goes to show that a competent woman can still lose out to an unqualified man. In fact, throughout the campaign, sexism reared its ugly head. We got an up close look at rape culture (see Trump audio recording, “grab ’em by …”; Brock Turner sentencing, etc) during that year as well as misogyny. Criticisms of Hillary Clinton were primarily that she didn’t seem likable (a trait that no one required of her competitor) and her husband was unfaithful (ignoring the opposition’s frequent infidelity and multiple marriages). Rape culture and misogyny are all a direct result of patriarchy, and it hurts both men and women.
On Wednesdays, we smash the patriarchy. I’m not sure who originally authored this, but it’s on t-shirts and mugs and all manner of feminist novelty items. But I love it, and while I think we should smash the patriarchy every day of the week and twice on Sundays, it gives us a midweek reminder to never give up. And smashing the patriarchy shouldn’t be a female-only activity. But here are a few ways, some could be considered social experiments, to begin dismantling the very system that seeks to limit our potential:
Women: Say “I know” along with “Thank you” when complimented by a man.
Teen Vogue reported this based on a Twitter feed where women who responded to compliments by acknowledging their accuracy were subject to abuse from the man who paid the compliment. It’s an intriguing idea. This isn’t about ego. This is about body positivity, confidence, and loving oneself. Just try it and see what kind of reaction you’ll get. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/people-react-to-women-saying-i-know-to-compliments
Women: Partake in manslamming.
HuffPo defines this as not moving out of the way of men when walking. Apparently, there’s an expectation that the woman will move. Smashing the patriarchy means smashing all of those rules and expectations. Why should it be expected for only one gender to yield to the traffic of another? This is definitely a fascinating social experiment to throw in on a Wednesday. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/09/manslamming_n_6444842.html
Men or Women: Experiment with how people react based purely on gender.
The Guardian reported that when women signed emails as male colleagues, doors seemed to fly open. Signing as women often resulted in resistance or complaints. Someone also did an experiment online where they created both a male and female profile on a forum to see the difference. The male profile was largely left alone while the female profile received a plethora of sexually harassing messages and images. This is a good social experiment to help men understand what women experience every day simply based on gender. It’s also interesting to watch it play out, although infuriating might be a better descriptor. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/01/penelope-gazin-kate-dwyer-women-sexism
Women: Look into running for a local office.
It can be at school, on a library or other charitable board, in a local organization, or even on the city council. We need more women in politics, and that means there have to be more women willing to run. Men: Look at how to support women in politics. Don’t hold them to a different standard than their male counterparts.
Women and Men: Monitor speech and actions for ingrained and internalized misogyny.
It’s there, believe me. Look for the things that might pop up in a given day. Begin eliminating expressions like man up or comments about whether or not someone has the balls for this, that, or the other. Stop using female genitalia as an insult that equates to weakness. Leave off with the boys don’t cry garbage or gender role policing our children in their play.
Look at the way we view men versus women in work situations. Do we interrupt women when they’re speaking? Do we offer men more leadership opportunities? For teachers, do we encourage male students more than female ones? Do we color code things based solely on gender?
Women and Men: Look for ways to eliminate rape culture.
Call out friends for inappropriate locker room talk. Don’t stand by and watch a man or woman be objectified, harassed, or assaulted without coming to their aid and/or reporting it to authorities. Look out for each other. Men, don’t send women unsolicited messages saying they’re beautiful or hitting them up for sex- or, I should qualify this, don’t do it to strangers. It’s unpleasant.
Women: Stop responding to unsolicited messages.
Just because someone sends a message, it doesn’t mean they’re owed a response. I quite often get this from strangers on Facebook and Instagram because I have a public profile for work purposes. Not responding feels impolite, but we can’t dismantle anything if we aren’t willing to go outside of our comfort zones and challenge the status quo.
We can’t dismantle the patriarchy in a day. But it’s a start.