This Is Why We Need More Women to Write
If you were silenced, writing is how you can reclaim your voice.
Patriarchy is a strange thing. Even though I know it exists, I’m hesitant to write about it. I’ve been silenced by society before — also when talking about feminism. Many of my male friends don’t see the need for it anymore. To them, it appears that equality has already been achieved.
This in itself tells me that patriarchy persists.
It frames conversations by dividing the world into a binary construct: male and female. It keeps us dwelling on the material expressions of “equality” (such as women’s right to vote) which may make it seem like everything’s already done.
Interestingly, it’s usually men who claim there’s no further need to talk about patriarchy.
And I don’t blame them. Overcoming patriarchy can’t be accomplished by the tools of blame. But I’m starting to recognize that those who can’t see the patriarchy are usually the ones speaking from a position of privilege.
These are males who simply don’t have the insight into the experience of women. Or, white folks who have no idea how it feels to be a person of colour. Or, straight people who don’t take the time to explore the perspective of the LGBTQ community.
Patriarchy created all sorts of dualities where one side of the equation is more privileged than the other. And for those in power to understand the less privileged, there’s no other way than for the oppressed to speak about how they feel.
I don’t want to contest patriarchy by blaming anyone. As the popular slogan tells us, we’re all in this together.
I recognize that patriarchy isn’t just about the male-female duality. That’s just one dimension of the whole paradigm of inequality. However, I’d like to focus on the binary gender issue — just because I have direct access to the experience of it.
In their book Why Does Patriarchy Persist? Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider deconstruct patriarchy as a psychological phenomenon. They point out that patriarchy shapes the psychology of both women and men. Nobody benefits from this process.
This is why I don’t want to contest patriarchy by blaming anyone. As the popular slogan tells us, we’re all in this together. And while, in many cases, male privilege is unquestionable, it’s important to also talk about what patriarchy takes away from the men.
Gilligan and Snider write about patriarchal structure as something that takes us away from authentic relationships. As we transition from childhood to adolescence and then adulthood, society denies us the right to connection. We’re told we need to “grow up.” In the patriarchal paradigm, this often means depriving us of the right to express ourselves.
This happens differently for boys and girls.
That difference is what creates the ground for privilege and oppression to flourish in the adult world.
As an example of how it happens for boys, Gilligan and Snider tell the story of Adam. Adam is a teenager who, at some point, decides to abandon his dearest childhood friend. He does so after realizing that his friend is probably gay. Even though he values the friendship, he doesn’t want his social circle to associate him with a gay man.
He understands that if he wants to be seen as “manly,” this relationship needs to go. Further, Adam gets a sense that boys at his age aren’t supposed to have “best friends,” but rather, be more self-reliant and independent. As he recounts years later:
“I had achieved exactly what I had set out to achieve. I had distanced myself from my best friend at a time when boys aren’t supposed to have best friends anymore, and certainly not best friends who might be breaking the love laws.”
While boys are expected to give up any notion of weakness or vulnerability (attributes labelled as “female”) as they grow up, girls are taught to give up their voice and become good, compliant women.
Society pictures it as a virtue for a woman to be modest, selfless, and silent. We’re not encouraged to stand up for ourselves or express our desires.
Iris, one of the teenage girls participating in Gilligan’s research put it very accurately:
“If I were to say what I was feeling and thinking, no one would want to be with me, my voice would be too loud.”
As I keep reading Why Does Patriarchy Persist?, I can’t help but see my story in it. I, too, was silenced by society. And because patriarchy is so omnipresent, it took me a while to recognize that this might not be okay. For the longest time, I accepted this as my reality.
Hiding my needs, feelings, and thoughts were just what I was supposed to do as a woman.
Because of the very nature of patriarchy — men abandoning vulnerability and women abandoning their voice — it’s even harder for the silenced ones to communicate their message.
First, the silenced ones are neither used or encouraged to speak their truth. Second, the loud ones are often disconnected from the empathy required to understand the silenced. This is what I believe is one of the reasons why patriarchy persists.
That lack of communication is also reflected in our language. As Gilligan and Snider notice, women and men came to internalize the word “don’t” in two different phrases:
- ‘I don’t know’ — overly used by women.
- ‘I don’t care’ — overly used by men.
This stands in the way of communicating how we authentically feel — and hence, limits the understanding of how both genders are impacted by patriarchy. As Gilligan and Snider write:
“This internalization of the gender binary that allocates knowing to boys and caring to girls marks an initiation whereby some girls come not to know what in fact they know and some boys not to care about both who and what in truth they care about deeply.”
In other words, girls learn to question what they know instead of saying it. At the same time, boys learn to detach from their vulnerability and emotions — which makes it even harder for the girls to speak authentically in front of the boys.
As a result, those who feel the consequences of patriarchy more vividly (women) struggle to communicate what they notice to men.
That’s why men dwell in their conviction that patriarchy has in fact been resolved and that we live in a perfectly equal society.
What’s the way out of this impasse? One of the answers I found is this:
We need more women to write about their experiences in public.
I feel that this publication — Fearless She Wrote — encourages exactly that. I don’t publish here often. But when I do, I’m able to say the things that I wouldn’t have the courage to say elsewhere.
I mean, just read the publication’s tagline:
We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.
Writing may be the way out of suppressing our female voices. It may be hard to speak your truth, especially when you know it won’t be heard. You may feel oppressed or even scared to say what you really think and feel.
I’m here to tell you that this is not your fault. This is a systemic fault of patriarchy to which we are all victims, women and men alike.
The way for the privileged to understand the oppressed usually requires the latter to stand up for themselves. This is how it happened when Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks refused to give up their seats to white passengers on segregated buses in 1955. When no one was coming to save them from the oppression of racial segregation, they mustered the courage to rebel against what they knew wasn’t right.
Today, there’s still a need for women to unapologetically talk about their experiences of patriarchy.
That’s how we make our voices heard.
And when we don’t know how to say it out loud, we have the writing.
Emotionally, it may feel like a safer medium of communication. You don’t have to personally face the rejection if it happens. Even if someone tries to shush you online, you can take a moment and think about whether you’ll respond to it — and how.
Finally, it may be harder to dismiss the female voice when it’s expressed through writing. Once visible, words become more tangible. They don’t disappear the moment you stop talking.
They remain, bolded or even CAPITALIZED if we want them to be. They get passed on and shared if they convey something true for many of us. They are written, visible and hard to erase. They are the testimony that women’s experiences of patriarchy are real, rather than just empty cries for attention.
I wouldn’t have the courage to say much of what I wrote here in front of most people. I would fear that they would dismiss me as talking about made-up problems. I would easily be silenced and cornered into thinking that, maybe, I just made it all up.
Luckily, I have the option to write about it. This way, I ensure that what needs to be said will be said. And I encourage you to do the same.
We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.