In 2016, living in the city in a generally progressive country and having been raised in a loving home, I get to enjoy the privilege (or basic human right) of being free from the insane idea that my worth as a human being lies in my ability to cook, clean, bear children, or by fulfilling any other rigidly defined gender role called “my duty” in the social constructs of patriarchy, as a woman. However so many of my male counterparts are still “locked up” and dying inside, chained to the idea that their worth lies in their ability to be the dominant and strong “provider” at all times etc. While I get to decide who and how I want to be as an individual, without my asserted sexuality being questioned or doubted, my male counterparts still live under the constant pressure to perform according to archaic and rigidly defined gender roles.
These may seem like peculiar things to say, especially from a feminist, but they are never the less so true, and coming to the realisation of these truths really left me with a lump in my throat thinking of the men I love who have to live with and conform to this truth every day. The realisation came when I read an enlightening article entitled ‘Understanding Patriarchy’ by Bell Hooks.
In the article, Bell Hooks shares some riveting truths about her own experiences with patriarchy before going into some specifics about why patriarchy is bad for everyone in our society, not just women.
This piece was especially enlightening for me with regards to the subtle ways that patriarchy wages war on the male psyche. Thinking about how, especially as I progress into my twenties – many of my male counterparts feel useless because they don’t have the resources and thus the ability to “be a man” financially in today’s modern society.
While they won’t talk about it in the open one cannot deny the delicate truth that many of these men, particularly those from under privileged backgrounds, battle with feelings of shame and worthlessness because of their inability to live up to the patriarchal ideal of “the provider” in this modern world and economy. This brings me to think, how many young men actually break down because of the intense pressure society places on their human shoulders to be ever strong, ever able, all powerful, never feeling, never needy, never weak and always able and ready to “provide”? And worse yet, how many of us, feminists included (male and female), in some subtle ways also uphold these patriarchal views of a man’s role in society?
The picture I am painting is not meant to insinuate that men have suffered from patriarchy more than women, but that they have, and continue to suffer, too. While we cannot deny that women have been at the harshest receiving end of patriarchy since the beginning of time (I would assume), which has manifested in various ways including the denial of basic human rights, violence and terror against the female body, we must acknowledge that as women are freed from these bonds, many of their male counterparts in the same society remain trapped.
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In this regard Bell Hooks proposes that “Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.” While that might seem over the top at first, going back to my opening lines, we cannot deny that we see this assault manifest in our society in various ways.
Admittedly patriarchy might just be the perfect societal construct for a self-centred, strong violent man who is the king of many castles and the richest in the land, with nobody richer or stronger for miles and miles to challenge his “manhood”. However it is not so perfect for the average person, and patriarchy may be downright abusive to the psyche of a ‘Vuyo’ from down the street. And while growing up around patriarchal ideals really encourages men to strive for monetary success and fame, the unfo
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rtunate truth is that not every man will become the quintessential “main man”. Many will be ‘average’ in the sense that patriarchy dictates, but does that make them worthless?
Bell Hooks proposes that, and I would believe in such circumstances, “Patriarchy promotes insanity. It is at the root of the psychological ills troubling men in our nation… Nevertheless there is no mass concern for the plight of men.” This rings true in many respects, and now that a case has been briefly laid out for why patriarchy is bad for men, we need to think about how it applies to us as individuals.
While feminism has a long way to go as far as reaching the upper ranks of society is concerned- meaning seeing more females in significant roles leadership of – feminism is doing quite well on the ground (albeit mostly in modern areas of progressive societies), it is from the ground up that feminism must grow. But there is a double standard in many people’s (misconception of) feminism that we must strive to correct. That double standard is how we (progressive women and men alike) are so feminist in our thinking towards women- but yet we are patriarchal in our thinking towards men. While we break down sexist stereo-types and harmful gender defined roles when it comes to women, many of us hold fast to sexist stereo-types and harmful gender defined roles when it comes to men. This is a problem because upholding some patriarchy is upholding all patriarchy and we need to ensure that we are aware of all the harmful aspects of patriarchy, because patriarchy is harmful to all and has long been “a system [that] has denied males access to full emotional [and mental] well-being”.
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To borrow from Bell Hook’s article, Joy Justice once said, “There is the perspective that men oppress women. And there is the perspective that people are people, and we are all hurt by rigid sex roles.” If we truly believe in equality, we should not leave our brothers behind; we should be as concerned with the latter as we are with the former.
Article accessible at: https://anti-imperialism.com/2014/03/23/understanding-patriarchy-by-bell-hooks/
*Feminism meaning the belief in the equality of the sexes and not the “anti-male activism” that many people often mistake Feminism for.
Guest Blogger, Deborah Mutemwa
Aged 24, Deborah is a young lawyer and passionate feminist and Africanist. She also considers herself an aspiring Advocate and thought leader with a passion for business and human rights and how these two can work together to positively impact society.