During his first run for president Bill Clinton’s ‘war room’ was dominated by James Carville’s hand printed sign “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” It reminded them not to get off message. It worked. Focus on what is important and people will respond positively. It’s a lesson we would do well to learn from.
Patriarchy is the problem. Fighting the patriarchy doesn’t mean fighting men, disenfranchising men, or eliminating men. Fighting the patriarchy means fighting the system currently in power. The system that defines what it means to be male and female and values what is assumed to be male over what is assumed to be female. Bell Hooks reminds us, though, that patriarchy has no gender. It is a system imposed on our theology, politics, and social interactions.
Institutions are embedded in the patriarchy. They get their power and ‘legitimacy’ from shoring up patriarchal values. The church elevates those values to ‘sacred.’ Political systems are so entrenched that resistance to change is concretized.
Here’s the thing: you can’t be a part of the world and not be subject to the patriarchy. That includes everyone: male, female, transgender folk, and gender queer, gender non-conforming. Everyone. Everyone is limited by a system that elevates one gender expression over every other. Everyone is limited when barriers are put up that keep people in or out. Everyone suffers when their expression of humanity is constrained by a system that perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism and all the ‘isms’ that define us as ‘less than’. Men are limited by the patriarchy, too. The only difference is that their gender grants unquestioned power and superiority. Most men don’t realize that it is a constructed and unquestioned system that dispenses their ‘superiority’.
Smashing the patriarchy means that men would necessarily relinquish their assumed superiority. They would need to share power and challenge assumptions about their values. That process could open them to accept parts of themselves they have felt the need to reject. Cis men have been confined and injured by the patriarchy, too. The perks of it are seductive, but the price is disabling.
So what is the point of all this? It’s the patriarchy, stupid.
I am a feminist, a Christian, a lesbian, a minister, and a mother. I have worked construction, waited tables, and served a congregation. I do not let the patriarchy define any of those things about me.
When I talk to my sister about religion and politics she often refers to ‘the church’ in disparaging terms. I get it. My daily traffic with people hurt by the institutional church is endless. It is important to me to claim my path as Christian. Which is very different from the institutionalized patriarchy of the Church. Politically, I am a Democrat. But I disavow the systemic patriarchy of the way the party works as an institution.
Here’s the invitation in two parts. First, become and stay aware of the patriarchal system and how it affects you as you live in the world. Then listen to how others are affected by it. You will begin to see it everywhere. And you should, because that’s where it is. And when you see it, don’t be afraid to name it. We need to stop assuming it is some cosmic or human norm.
Second, resist. The politics of resistance is not complete unless we are working to undermine a system that diminishes and elevates people without regard to what makes us truly human.
Every act of resistance begins from here. Put a sign up on your wall or over your desk, a post-it note on the dashboard of your car, scratch it out on the cover of your notebook, prop it up over your TV:
It’s the patriarchy, stupid!