Come Closer: Let’s Talk about Patriarchy

By now, you have probably recognized that I often refer to critical works from particular scholars, and from those few, I tend to rely namely on black and brown scholars (ie: bell hooks, James Cone, Audre Lord, Patricia Hill Collins, Paulo Freire, Angela Davis, Julianne Malveaux, Alice Walker, Yuderkis Espinosa, Jesus Christ).

While I try to utilize particular voices in addition to asserting my own, I recognize the need to find space in which to articulate more succinctly what I mean when I refer to certain terms and frames of understanding.

To this end, I believe it may be useful to pare out some definitions for various terms in which I often refer. Though, I will also caution that the following definitions were fashioned from a labor of love and experience. My knowledge of ‘The System’ relies on my own space and location and experiences.

I write in hopes that this writing will create dialogue so that others may speak and listen and know.

I have often wished that people, particularly men – but really, anyone in general – would find themselves wondering about the patriarchy in the same innocent way in which one may wonder about the daily weather. There is a sort of curious innocence in this kind of inquisitiveness. A natural inclination, perhaps, to then prepare for the appropriate conditions. If it is snowing – wear a snow coat, pants, boots and wool socks. There is a kind of natural preparedness which occurs. In the same way, I often wish that when one talks about abstract frames and modes, one would also find a natural preparedness.

According to bell hooks in her critical essay, Understanding Patriarchy:

Patriarchy is the single most life-threating social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation…Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.

And, more often than not, most of us, particularly in the Western world – but really, there remains predominate strains of the patriarchy across the globe- remain complicit to societal norms which insist upon the normality of such a system. It is also perhaps important to note that when speaking about patriarchy, there remains a fine line between imperial white supremacist patriarchy and patriarchy, for the vestiges of patriarchy pervade minority communities. However, in particular, when writing about patriarchy, I will be addressing imperial white supremacist patriarchy.

Reflecting upon my own life, I cannot help but begin to notice how such patriarchal thinking was and remains reinforced in every institution. Anglo-theology often insists upon the scripture which reads that ‘God created man to rule the world and everything in it.’ Perhaps, for more conservative scholars or those whom consider themselves Bible Literatists, it is this line in which is problematic, for out of this line of thinking one has found these beliefs, perhaps rather organically, follow:  women are subordinate creatures and were/are created to uphold the man. And, of course it followed that naturally God is male.

While, perhaps at another time, I will delve into the problematics of these schema, suffice it to say that I have experienced that such beliefs can cause considerable spiritual, sexual, mental and physical damage.

As one whom likes to explore critical issues by investigating archetypes, I have found that it is critical than to investigate how patriarchy becomes internalized and perpetuated.

I find, now, that I am quite ready to offer some sort of attempt to concede. To maybe suggest that this inherited system of patriarchy was not the fault of my family’s nor was it the fault of my parents. This knee jerk reaction is part of that internalized patriarchy. That internalized knee jerk to defend ‘white innocence,’ which, if left uninvestigated, will quite certainly pervade those deepest intimate qualities such as one’s spirit. 

It is easy for me to recognize that feeling now.

And, because I have invested some time in to recognizing my own reactions, in turning myself inward so that I can recognize that am more inclined to declare myself wrong for critically thinking(!), for daring to ask questions in which would suggest that the patriarchy is indeed not God nor is it something in which one should worship, than I am to declare myself right, I am able to quite confidently declare the falseness of such a system. For, I know its tenants.

Perhaps you are also familiar with that feeling?

Indeed, the requirement to critically investigate the patriarchy is an inherited responsibility. Likewise, those whom continue to uphold the patriarchy are also inherently responsible, though some in varying degrees of complacency, for upholding and perpetuating patriarchal systems. Patriarchy, like racism is the formidable mutt which continues to breed. It is the mutt which passes through generations, always changing and yet always staying the same.

Consider this familiar paradigm. If you own a dog, and your dog bites another, it is still your responsibility to care, not only for the victim but also to ensure the safety of your dog because you are the owner. And, it would be impractical to suggest that it is not your responsibility simply because you did not personally make the bite. Patriarchy like racism is white people’s dog.

Consider. Growing up, I claimed the following identities: female, heterosexual, cisgender, black, adolescent. And, I was adopted into a, adopted into a nuclear family that was middle-upper class, white, heterosexual, cisgender, relatively rural and Mennonite. 

These modes are important to consider for these modes fundamentally impact particular sociological and pedagogical concepts and identities such as (but not exclusive to) agency, location, space and voice. Indeed, as a child, I was taught that it was my role to serve, to provide comfort and to nurture. Likewise, my brothers were taught that it was their job to be served, to provide, think, be strong and strategize. To be fair, while growing up these traits were not exclusive towards one gender, they were predominately promoted more towards males than females. Consider with me the following. While as children we were assigned chores through a chore chart, as we got older my chores often consisted of dishes, washing and folding laundry, cleaning, cooking and baking, taking out the garbage and the trash. Yet, my brother’s chores were often an assortment of manual labor: garden work, shoveling manure, chopping wood, mowing grass. We lived in farm country. The Bible belt. Perhaps almost unconsciously, our sense of gender roles were emboldened and bolstered by the righteous. We were doing God’s will: men were the head of the household. A phrase I would (and still) hear male siblings utilize in arguments. A flippant, off the cuff remark used to establish power and dominance. A critical function of patriarchy.

Implicit rightness. Male as dominant. White as superior.

As a child, it was easy to confuse critical tenets of imperial white supremacist patriarchy withtheology because the two were so enmeshed. God’s Will was spoken from a pulpit built by men which was created for (white) male pastors. Every Sunday, a white man would preach, and then a woman, often my mother, would play piano. (White) Men were assigned leadership positions: trustee, treasurer, board president. (White) men maintained and promoted a framework in which elevated, empowered and centered (white) men. (White) females were assigned more nurturing positions: Nursery Attendant. 1st Grade Sunday School Teacher. And, women were encouraged to be active participants in things like: Sewing Circle. Women’s Bible Study. Book Club. The framework of power and the framework of God/Church, was one in which required admission through male dominated systems. Radical messages: forgive, confess your sins, accept Jesus. Submit. As a child, it was not easy to distinguish these messages from their postures: for each required a reorienting and a centering. Far too easy was it for me to experience how this reorientation and centering often focused whiteness and maleness.

To be clear, I do not wish to offer that Jesus endorses this message. Nor, was it the explicit purpose (I imagine it was rather a unconscious perpetuation rather than a malicious perpetuation) of the Church to align renewal in Christ with these systems. Instead, I wish to suggest that even despite itself, far too often does the Church function not as a subversive institution but one in which maintains and even promotes systems which ultimately protect and celebrate white male dominance. It is into the unconscious, often uninvestigated meshing of these two – patriarchy and theology – which I find particularly alarming.

As I think about my own theological journey and the ways in which I investigate my own archetypes, I find it important to consider how patriarchy fundamentally challenges my very being. I have found myself critically aware of how owning dual marginal statuses: black and women already push me to the further edges of the societal bell curve. Finding ownership in those spaces is hard and alienating and important. And, it is here in those spaces in which I often investigate my own internalized patriarchal tendencies.

They are tough to dismantle. Tough to spot and it is tough not to succumb to that persistent feeling of resist uncovering/resist investigating/resist wondering why.

Keep persisting.

What do you find yourself noticing about patriarchy? What are your thoughts?

Shalom always,

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