Why Do We Reproduce Patriarchy?
You’re a boy, you shouldn’t cry.
You’re a girl, you should act elegant.
You should, you shouldn’t, who decided this? I am sure you recognize being told. These are gender norms. Some of them – we are well aware of now, and have started fighting against. It’s important to note that the internalization of these ideas started when we were kids, they were taught by our parents at first, then maybe at school, and reinforced through friends who were taught the same, often our elders. It appears evident that this is linked to society, to culture.
Men have, in most cases, held more power in societies. Power being held by men is the etymological definition of the word “Patriarchy.”
Patriarchy is a word that is easy to misuse. I’m sure you’ve all heard it a number of times, its name held over our heads as the one and only source of all evil. The terrible patriarchy that carries suffering, pain and above everything the exploitation of women by men. The Patriarchy debate is longstanding – what it is or isn’t would require an article to itself, but let’s say it isn’t a model that supports gender equality.
So, how did patriarchy come into place? There are many theories. One I am sure you all know stems from the physical difference between men and women (strength for example). However, beyond protection from external dangers, strength also means the ability to perform physical tasks, such as cultivating a field. According to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the transmission of power to the elder son was for two main reasons: avoiding splitting lands, which led to giving them to a person physically capable of maintaining them. From there, it is easy to make it a tradition, and tradition becomes culture, and isn’t questioned anymore. There is a major problem with this, our societies have considerably evolved from the “farmer model”, why are we still giving more importance to males power-wise?
Sylvia Walby, another sociologist, theorized that patriarchy rested on six structures: the job, domestic work, culture, sexuality, violence and State.
- Jobwise: Higher wages for men, power positions;
- Domestic work mostly done by women, although improving in many cultures (this point has a lot to do with marxism, and I wish I could expand but here’s a link for curious cuties);
- Culture: Why is it so hard to write a realistic female character in adventure fiction? How the media represents women and discusses the topic of feminism;
- Sexuality: Women’s sexuality is still very taboo to this day. Take the topic of masturbation, it can and sometimes is openly discussed among men, but the myth tells that women are sex-less beings;
- Violence: Violence used as a form of control. It is true that most victims of physical abuse in a relationship are women. Here’s another fun fact: in developing countries whatever the age, according to UNICEF, in 2012, 50% of women thought that a man beating his wife can be justifiable; and
- State: Slowly improving in some countries, and lots of progress to be made in others.
In the 80s as female oppression was contested, many women from latino, black or asian backgrounds claimed that the gender norms that were being fought did not necessarily apply to them. This shows how female oppression is inseparable from other factors such as cultural background, social status.
For e.g., Women are mostly, after marriage and kids, expected to be stay-at-home moms, even though this is changing because of economical needs. As such, a majority of these women remain economically dependent on men. In Europe on the other hand, stay at home moms are losing popularity. Even though these two cultures oppose themselves on the topic, they share one thing: the choice you make can and will be criticized by your peers. No culture is alike, but the way elements are transmitted and that norms are reinforced are. The process of socialization (peers and parental education), or representation in media (for magazine covers who influence what an ideal body should be), as well as active enforcement of these norms (laws, physical violence, punishment) all contribute to protecting these norms.
The problem is that women who grow up in this context do not know another way. Some are comfortable, and if someone tried to challenge these, they’d react aggressively, defend what they know, exclude the person from the group, as any other human would do (this is referred to as social disapproval). Sometimes, some actions are repeated, even though they feel it isn’t right because “that’s the way it is”, as for example breast ironing, in Cameroon, which consists of burning girl’s breasts so that they do not grow, as a means of protecting them from men or sexual aggression. Why do they harm their daughters instead of fighting against these abusers? Patriarchy reproduces itself endlessly through certain norms and structures, which are themselves patriarchal in nature. Take for example Catholicism: no woman is allowed to become priest nor pope; however this isn’t something that all Christians share, Protestantism for example has female pastors. Along the weight of tradition, women too have internalized these structures and norms, which has held them back from speaking against them, and against patriarchy.
Educating people on these issues really proves to have results, look at any campaign that fights for women’s emancipation. Slowly our world is changing, progress is being made in some areas, but it isn’t as easy as deciding it’s time to change because it is so deeply ingrained in our societies. But it isn’t impossible, and we can work to change that – one step at a time.