I blame the patriarchy (more and more)

Since starting this blog I’ve become a lot more aware of the patriarchy.  I don’t have any formal feminist training, and not much previous exposure except through #2.  (#2 keeps sending links and rants, though.)

However, working on this blog has put me in contact with a lot of fantastic bloggers who have, through discussions and explanations, opened my eyes.

The problem with being aware of the patriarchy is that it makes me angry.  In the past, when I would come across someone being an -ist asshat, but not an overt -ist asshat, I’d feel that something was wrong and not be able to put my finger on it.  I’d counter any empirical claims that were untrue, but didn’t really understand the structure of why the asshat was making those claims and how even making obviously untrue claims is supporting the patriarchy.

I get a lot more angry these days. I see how the patriarchy is causing guilt, inequality, inferiority and keeping people down.  If I point it out, sometimes I’m silenced, and that makes me angry and sad.

But, at the same time, I wouldn’t ask my eyes to be closed again.  Although I burn more frequently with righteous anger, and complain more to #2 and to my partner… I don’t feel half as insecure about things the patriarchy keeps people insecure about as I used to.  More and more I’m recognizing the cues that are supposed to make me feel bad or guilty and from achieving and I’m rejecting them.  The senior professor for whom I keep quiet about my research because it makes him feel bad that he’s no longer doing research… saving his feelings doesn’t help me, and comes back to bite me when he tells me I’m not living up to my earlier promise.  Nor do I need to let him have the only good RA year after year just because he’s a senior professor and an old white male to boot (especially when the most junior is supposed to get hir first pick…  Update:  he got the good RA anyway.  Asshat.).  That’s just the latest realizations.  It’s not my job to save people’s feelings by denigrating or denying myself.  I don’t have to feel guilty for my work/family/etc. situation.

I conclude with a recent exchange with #2.

me: most of all, you know what I hate?
#2: patriarchy?
me : summer heat
that too
#2: oh, that too
hate hate hate
me: if only we could make the patriarchy stay outside in the heat
“you be useful and mow the lawn”
“that’s a manly thing to do”
#2: ha
me: I will allow the patriarchy to mow my lawn.
#2: fair enough. Since that’s what makes you have to have it instead of xeriscaping like a sane being.
me: exactly

Have you had an eye opening experience like this one?

63 Responses to “I blame the patriarchy (more and more)”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I have, but I chose the opposite approach. I worked with a brilliant engineer once but the big negative was that he started to obsess about the company politics and how undeserving people got ahead. He would point out examples to me on a daily basis and eventually, I also became unhappy with what was going on. I got so wrapped up in his issues at work, it eventually effected my performance as well He got fed up and quit, but I stayed.

    I realized that I was better off when I didn’t know or care about company politics and my world was limited to my immediate job and peers. I say I don’t care about what else goes on but obviously I do, because I participate in the women’s network and volunteer board at work. That’s my way of making a difference. Running projects and events that make the company a better place to work for our employees makes me feel like I have some control over change. When I obsessed about the stuff I couldn’t control I was very unhappy at work. No one likes being powerless. I figure if everyone does their little bit that they can control, over time, change will happen.

  2. Foscavista Says:

    That’s okay, I blame the matriarchy too.

  3. Zee Says:

    Hearing people tell me over and over again how lucky I am that my 8 month old baby is so pretty and thin…. 8 months old! Really we have to start talking about looks and weight at 8 months old? Can anyone guess the gender of my baby?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Interesting. I would make a comment, but that would reveal the gender of our baby… let’s just say it corroborates what you’re saying. We also had a skinny baby.

      • Perpetua Says:

        The idea of a “thin” baby is the most disturbing thing I’ve heard in a long time. I didn’t know there were people – even in our size obsessed culture – who didn’t think fat dimply babies were the cutest things ever. (I mean, I’m sure all your thin babies are adorable! You know what I mean.)

  4. Linda Says:

    I think I haven’t. Or maybe I just can’t recall one right now. It can be difficult to figure out what is underlying all the crap that one deals with on a regular basis. It’s sort of like looking through life with different lenses: use lense A and you see certain things; use lense B and you see others.

    Here’s a little example of what I mean: I just finished walking several blocks through the Loop business district during the busy lunch hour. At least twice I abruptly corrected my course to avoid colliding with a man walking towards me. Did I do this because I have been conditioned by the patriarchy to defer to a man and move out of his way? Or did I do because I didn’t want to take the chance of bumping into a person, and I thought this was the surest way to avoid a collision? (Does the fact that I also dodged a few women and at least one baby stroller color the response?)

    Who’s to say what the heck is going on? Sometimes it’s easy to see, but often it is not.

  5. Ink Says:

    Totally understand. Perspective was shifted forevermore in grad school. And then it became really frustrating when other people couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see the problems too.

    Re: recent comments at my place, you are WISE! Smart words, very much appreciated.

  6. Foscavista Says:

    Rereading the blog, I have a quick question – would you have the same feelings if the senior professor was a woman and did the same things (i.e. get the coveted RA)?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      See, we have female senior professors and they don’t do that. Also, the patriarchy isn’t just about gender. It’s a power structure.

      • Foscavista Says:

        Too bad you are not in my shoes, for I can cite so many women in senior positions that have made my life, other men’s, and women’s lives miserable.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That doesn’t mean they’re not tools of the patriarchy. The idea that, “I had to suffer as a woman in mathematics, therefore you need to suffer too” is also a symptom of the patriarchal structure. (As an example from a female undergraduate professor we had who thought she was a feminist, but actually enforced patriarchal structures.)

        And I dunno, I would think I would be glad that I’m not in your shoes. People in senior positions should not make other people’s lives miserable.

        The more educated of the two of us will give you a link explaining in more detail.

  7. Foscavista Says:

    But, isn’t this the creation of the perfect scape goat?

  8. Dr. Crazy Says:

    “using this new definition of patriarchy is unfair to men (in terms of historical meaning(s) vs modern ones). I propose a new term, and, no, I don’t have one. I will agree (from a historical perspective) that men created the model for patriarchy, but if women participate in it, there should be more of a “gender-neutral” term.”

    N&M asked me to come over to talk about patriarchy if I was bored and didn’t want to do work, so I suppose I’ll start by responding to this last comment.

    1) There is nothing new about talking about patriarchy as a social structure that interpellates people of both sexes. Patriarchy, as a term, is not the “property” of men, but rather it describes a culture that is organized around institutions, practices, and values that accord privilege to those things that are gendered masculine. A classic book (accessible to a general audience) that articulates the history of patriarchy is Gerda Lerner’s _The Creation of Patriarchy_.
    1.a) In this regard, to quote Germaine Greer, “the opposite of partriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity.” The idea is to get beyond a system of binary oppositions in which various things “coded” masculine are privileged over things that are “coded” feminine, or vice versa. I think it’s important to retain the term patriarchy because what we are talking about *is* gender and the way that it influences culture. To apply a “gender-neutral” term would mean we’re talking about something else.

    2) I also wouldn’t say that “men” as a group are to blame for patriarchy, at least not in some straightforward way in which men consciously got together and said, “hey – you know what would be great? OPPRESSING WOMEN. Let’s come up with a model for that.” Instead, I think that the evolution of patriarchy as a set of practices and values emerges more organically, and it has to do with things like ownership of property, lines of inheritance, and the consolidation of wealth and power. The fact that gender became an index (and not the only one – we have to talk about class, race, etc. as other indexes here) of privilege seems more complicated to me than that.

    3) I think that patriarchy is a useful term inasmuch as it illuminates the ways in which the “gendering” in our culture influences status, values, and actions of individuals. HOWEVER. One of my difficulties with the concept of patriarchy is that I do think it becomes to simple to say that everything traces back to this one root cause, and I think our world and our experiences are more complicated than that. To reduce everything to an effect of patriarchy is to ignore the other structures through which our experience is constructed. In many ways, this was a failure of second-wave feminism. For example, Adrienne Rich’s classic essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in tracing sexuality back to patriarchal oppression, basically eliminates the potential for egalitarian male-female sexual relationships. Basically, you’re a bad feminist if you have sex with men, because men “are” the patriarchy. I would entirely disagree with that sort of deployment of patriarchy as a monolith. Sometimes, blaming the patriarchy gets in the way of seeing the other intersecting discourses that are responsible for privilege/oppression.

    Ok, that’s enough for now – I have to get ready to go to my writing group :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Thanks Dr. Crazy! (“Who was that masked educator?!”)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      we <3 Dr. Crazy. We also like to have sex with our men. Equating all sex to oppression is silly. To me, patriarchy INCLUDES things like classism, homophobia, ableism, racism. Feminism includes children's rights as well as women's issues, and also includes men who want to break out of patriarchy (according to Johnson, we ALL participate in patriarchy). You probably have more formal education in this area than we do, though. I hope your writing group went well!

    • Rumpus Says:

      First off, I could come up with some great (economic) models for oppressing women. Sales of women’s magazines would be an excellent outcome variable. I’ll know the model is unstable if everyone ends up owning one.

      Truthfully, it’s good to read a reasoned explanation of discrimination or repression. Most of the time gender inequality, racism, religion, or politics become the topic of conversation I leave the room by the nearest exit because I have a Bayesian model in my head and the conversation priors are all painful because they seem like thinly veiled shouting matches lacking information. Dr. Crazy’s comments (here and below) are a breath of fresh air.

      Now if only I knew what to do about it…I guess one informs oneself and then acts in line with one’s beliefs? It may well have been decades since I actively tried to change the way I see things in such a way.

      (Not counting those arguments in a college psychology class about whether a “person” still exists if you replace the brain with a single neuron and carefully controlled inputs…the teacher was really begging for someone to take the “pro” side of the argument and no one else seemed so inclined. Also not counting non-purposeful changes…while driving my car after playing Stuntman I often heard the announcer’s voice saying “Now scrape by bus!” or “Hit the boxes!” Thankfully I didn’t follow that voice in my head.)

  9. sciliz Says:

    “if only we could make the patriarchy stay outside in the heat”
    I’m not sure, but I think somebody tried that. It’s called “Miami”. aka “concentrated evil”

  10. bogart Says:

    Ah. One of he things that made me craziest, as a young female tenure-track faculty member of a small, mostly male department, was the way in which the staff (female, as it happened) would treat my xeroxing (e.g.) as something I could just do myself, versus the male faculty (I think this extended along gender lines rather than seniority; the two covaried strongly but not perfectly) who needed someone to do it for them. Sigh. And this from staff who characterized themselves as feminist, etc. etc. I should have spoken up, but didn’t, and I don’t think it was a giant conspiracy or anything so much as unquestioned patterns and assumptions.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, that’s really how the patriarchy gets you, unquestioned patterns and assumptions. And it’s true, female profs usually do their own xeroxing. I had no idea admin asst. did such things for professors until I worked as a substitute for the department secretary for a week over the summer in college… male profs asked me to do secretarial work, female profs did their own. Then there’s when things get done… I don’t want to go into detail, but there are have been some disturbing interactions between a white male senior prof and a minority admin assistant who is *not* lazy, despite what the senior prof says in the hallway mostly behind her back. Thankfully most of our professors are less self-centered and more courteous. It would serve him right if he got put last in every queue… except he’d probably cause trouble.

      I usually have an RA do mine– there’s no queue and the RA generally likes the break.

      • bogart Says:

        Yes, agree, on the unquestioned assumptions and patterns.

        There’s an interesting post waiting to be written on faculty-staff interactions, also (probably also can be filed under IBTP but not — as many already have noted is true of the whole IBTP situation, anyway — strictly a “hey, that Man is oppressing me, a womyn!” problem).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m still traumatized by the sexist bitch secretary who was harassing me. Luckily my mom was right and if I just quietly documented what she was doing she would eventually do the same kind of thing to someone more important and get fired. Her replacement is awesome.

  11. Cloud Says:

    I suspect that my consciousness remains incompletely raised in the respect. At least, I am not very educated on the subject.

    But I have been increasing frustrated by the refusal of so many people to see that claiming that a job/career path is incompatible with motherhood, but not with fatherhood, and using this to explain why there aren’t more women in said job/career is sexism, pure and simple.

    Also, that if a job/career IS somehow incompatible with having a family, the problem lies with the structure of the job/career and not the person wanting a family. I am continually surprised that this is not as obvious to others as it seems to me.

    But I suspect that I have some equally mind-boggling holes in my understanding. So I try to be patient.

  12. Z Says:

    In my case, I thought for many years I was conscious of patriarchy and its problems, but came to realize at a later point that I hadn’t been as conscious as I was and still may not be as conscious as I could be. That goes for a few other systems of power / oppression as well.

  13. First Gen American Says:

    One more comment on this and I think it was alluded to in one of the threads. I absolutely hate how there is a subsegment of professional women who are much more competitive with other women vs just everyone. It seems like a lot of women tend to see another woman professional as a threat vs a colleague/ally. It’s really weird. You’d think more of us would want to stick together. Luckily I haven’t observed it lately with my present group of female peers, but it has been rampant in the past.

    I’d be curious to know how you tie this back to the patriarchy. I guess because we’re not seen as equal to men that we only see other women as who we’re competing with?

    This phenomenon drives me crazy. Does anyone see this in other professions?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      They’re also tools of the patriarchy, keeping women down. We really like that quote Dr. Crazy gave, “the opposite of patriarchy is fraternity.”

    • Trish Says:

      I have come across this again and again – I think of it as the need to be head cheerleader, not just one of the squad. It puzzled me too, and I started to (over)think of it from an evolutionary standpoint. Maybe since women can carry only one mate’s offspring at a time, they felt more compulsion to compete with other women to obtain the mate who would be the best provider? Just trying to come up with some explanation to explain something that I find utterly discouraging, since we no longer live in caves and are earning our own way and it would be more helpful to cooperate rather than compete.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The majority of women seem pretty content to be part of the squad though… possibly moreso than men even.

        I think it’s just the availability heuristic. The few jerks are a lot easier to remember than the hoards of not harmful people.

      • First Gen American Says:

        I’ve debated this with my husband too. He’s pretty cool when it comes to gender equality and stuff like that so I wondered what his opinion was. Anyway, his theory is that professional women haven’t been in the workforce for as long as men and we just haven’t figured it out how to play well together in the sandbox yet. For the most part, the men have already figured out the rules of how to work together and have their boys clubs established etc. Professional women on the other hand are in their first, maybe second generation of working (excluding more female dominated fields like nursing, teaching, etc). So as a gender, we’re stumbling our way through the process and learning as we go.

        I personally have always considered myself equal to men, so I don’t feel like I only have to outperform my female peers, hence I don’t really feel more threatened by one gender vs another. I want to outperform everyone. Currently I don’t even have any other women in the same job as me, so even if I wanted to, I have no one to compare myself to but the other men in the group.

        PS. Dr. Crazy does rock my world as well.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Maybe it’s a selection effect though, only hard-ass/narcissistic women could succeed in previous generations.

        Though I have to say all the grande old dames in my male-dominated field are pretty darn awesome.

  14. MutantSupermodel Says:

    Honestly, I think the bigger more huger problem isn’t the battle of the sexes but the battle of the classes. That’s the one that gets me really going. Seriously. I get furious. And yes, the patriarchy is definitely part of it but it’s a much bigger, broader monster and I think it’s the main problem. Always has been and always will be. Things that are influenced by appearances (sex, race, etc) are too inconsistent across cultures. But class struggles? That’s world-wide.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think class struggle is part of patriarchy, actually, but then I am that kind of a feminist that I think that, and not everyone agrees with me.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        You’re so post-modern!

      • Dr. Crazy Says:

        See, and what I would say is that class and gender are distinct and yet also intersecting. For example, if we think about class and gender in terms of masculinity, working-class men are typically seen as adhering more typically to “masculine” gender traits than are middle-or-upper class men. On the one hand, a working-class man holds a certain kind of privilege based on gender – he’s more “macho” – but at the same time, that man is screwed in terms of class status.

        Further, I’m not entirely sure that class is trans-cultural, as MutantSupermodel asserts that it is. Class plays out entirely differently in the U.S. than it does in the U.K., and there is even further difference if we spread out our comparison to say, the Middle East.

        To me, neither class nor gender is “supreme” as an indicator (and, further, I wouldn’t say race is a “supreme” indicator). Rather, I’d say that all of these different indexes influences identity, and that, depending on context, different ones are primary. For example: I was born a working class (to be generous) female. In that context, I actually had more privilege, than my male counterparts (cousins), even given the fact that we are in a patriarchal culture. For a woman of working-class status, it’s much easier to be upwardly mobile (through education or marriage) than for a male of working-class status. And yet, I am still interpellated within patriarchy, and so I am always already denied certain sorts of privilege on the basis of my sex. Short version: it’s not that class matters more than gender, or that gender matters more than class. It’s that each of these categories influence individuals in significant ways, according to context. Or at least that’s my take, as a working-class white woman.

  15. Molly On Money Says:

    I’m in construction and often the only female on site. I’ve NEVER had anyone ask me if I was the construction manager (which I am) but always assume I’m the architect. I get all sorts of assumptions from the men and women!
    Here’s just a few examples:
    I was interviewing for a job as an onsite construction manager for a resort spa. I got the job (yes, I was up against another man that was less qualified). Later one of the female managers told me how happy she was I was there. She went on to tell me that she had spoken up and told the owner and managers that she didn’t think they should hire me because in her mind I would not be as effective at my job because I was a female and she didn’t think the other guy because she didn’t think the contractors on the job would take me seriously.
    Another time I hired someone (a man) in a position that held less responsibility than I had. My boss wanted to pay the guy more than me. I made him give me a raise (I couldn’t have him look like an ass!).
    In a way having my performance be such a low expectation only leads to people thinking I’m Wonder Woman. It a strange twist…..

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You are wonder woman though!

      • Molly On Money Says:

        Yea, yea, I’m going out today to get my outfit ;)
        I’ve often referred to Mexico as having a matriarchy culture (my first husband was a Mexican National). What I saw in my husbands family of 10 brothers and sisters and 45 nieces and nephews was that both genders were ‘stuck’ in specific roles. It was if they were back in the 50’s where most women stayed home and took care of the kids and the men went of to work. The women in his family ran the household down to the finances. They men came home and handed over their paychecks. They were perceived as not being responsible enough to handle the money. (This caused problems in my marriage because my ex would hand me over his paycheck and than ask permission to spend it on everything! It drove me crazy because I didn’t want to tell him what he could and could not spend it on.)
        Now re-reading this and reading Dr. Crazy’s comments I see this was actually a patriarchal society.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Lynda Carter version or the new one with the long pants?

      • Molly On Money Says:

        I’m 42, it has to be the Linda Carter version…..

  16. Foscavista Says:

    So, if, by your own admission, there are patriarchal women, are there matriarchal men?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t understand what that question means. The patriarchy is a construct that describes society. See Dr. Crazy’s explanation and the book chapter we linked to.

  17. Dr. Crazy Says:

    Foscavista, yes, there *could* be matriarchal men, if, in fact, we (and by we I mean the vast majority of people across cultures in the world) lived in a matriarchy. Which we don’t. This is why it’s important to retain the term patriarchy: because it does actually have a precise definition that gives useful information.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Would that be like those horrible R A Salvatore books with the dark elves? Or is that just patriarchy with the genders reversed?

      • Dr. Crazy Says:

        Well, patriarchy with the genders reversed sort of is matriarchy :) That said, your comment was one of those moments when I wished wordpress allowed (as facebook does) for people to “like” comments :)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Glad to be of service!

    • Dr. Crazy Says:

      And just to preempt a comment I see coming, even matrilineal cultures (like, for example, traditional Jewish culture, wherein Judaism is passed from mother to child) can be patriarchal. Just because one aspect of a culture involves a matrilineal line of inheritance, that does not mean that the institutions, structure, or systems of the culture are “matriarchal.”

  18. Z Says:

    Dr. Crazy rocks.

  19. caramama Says:

    In a grad school course on qualitative studies (not in science, but a liberal arts degree), I had a disagreement with a professor pertaining to a case study. I wrote up just the findings in the case study, and she wanted me to take it to another level. She wanted me to basically put out a call for change, basically a change in the patriarchal society which was a major contributor to the oppressive outcome shown in the case study.

    I was not comfortable with that. Though I’d already considered myself a feminist for years, she was very much someone who pushed for change. I believed that I could simply point out the inconsistencies and that change would happen. It wasn’t up to me to flat out say that this was wrong and that change was needed. I should simply show the disparate outcomes without saying what should be done about it.

    She told me that one day, I would no longer be comfortable just pointing out the difference. That one day, ostensibly when I was older and less afraid, I would speak out for change.

    Not being in academia, my feminist arguments now don’t really do any good. In the male-dominated field of IT that I went into, I see all sorts of places where I want to yell out “That’s not fair! Here’s how we need to change it!” Unfortunately, that would not help me or anyone else. So I guess I still don’t call out for change, but I sure do point out the differences to those around me. I sure do support my views and beliefs and work hard to change the world for myself, my coworkers and my children. And though I do blame the patriarchy, it turns out that most supporting the patriarchy tune people out when they start telling them how to change it. So I figure I’ll do what I can to change it myself, including point out where the difference are.

    But I’m really happy there are women out there who do shout for change and who do say what that change should be. I believe we all have our place as feminists. (Long rant, late at night. You just got me thinking and remembering, so out it came!)

  20. Meaty Link Loving: Get it while it’s hot! | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] was a really good discussion back in the day when #1 was just learning feminist […]

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