The United States stands at a critical cultural juncture. Targets of sexual harassment and assault are stepping out of the shadows of isolation and fear to challenge abusive patriarchal power, domination, and privilege.
Recently their testimony has taken down several prominent high-visibility men in numerous spheres of life, from political to entertainment and media. Former victims have empowered others to step out and speak up not only against specific men, but most notably against a patriarchal system of oppression.
Though people of all genders are fully aware of the continuing existence of the patriarchal system and have been working tirelessly for its eradication, many others, however, fail to perceive or to deny its existence and its harmful effects on themselves and others.
This apparent invisibility in many Western countries, in fact, not only fortifies but, indeed, strengthens its power by perpetuating patriarchal hegemony in such a way as to avoid detection. In other words, male dominance is maintained by its relative invisibility (though for many of us, it stands as blatantly obvious), and with this relative invisibility, privilege escapes analysis and scrutiny, interrogation and confrontation by many.
Dominance is perceived as unremarkable or “normal,” and when anyone poses a challenge or attempts to reveal its true impact and significance, those in the dominant group brand them as “subversive” or “accuse” them of being “overly analytical” or of being “political.”
Possibly those who make these accusations are not themselves sufficiently analytical. Most likely, they are attempting to hold on, as long as possible, to their power and privilege.
Within a patriarchal society that transmits distorted binary gender extremes, questions inevitably arise by those in favor of the gender status quo:
- How dare women demand their reproductive freedoms, which would reduce or even take away males making the decision whether to carry or terminate men’s genetic offspring?
- How dare a woman choose not to marry a man?
- How dare women compete with a man for a job or for a high social position?
- How dare gay men think of coming on to straight men?
- How dare transmen get any of the privileges by transitioning that men assigned at birth have “earned”?
- How dare transwomen relinquish male privilege and betray their gender (read as betray patriarchy itself)?
- How dare intersex people, in fact, anyone not choose to become or identify as “either one or the other”?
Many people have exposed the truth regarding this fabrication we call “gender roles” as a social construction, one which our society ascribes to each of us as it assigns us a sex at birth.
With the label “female” assigned at birth, society forces us to follow its “feminine script,” and with “male” assigned at birth, we are handed our “masculine” script to perform. As scripts are given to actors in a play, these binary gender scripts also were written long before any of us entered the stage of life.
In fact, the roles in which we were cast have, very often, little connection to our natures, beliefs, interests, and values. These preconceived binary scripts become internalized standardized mental pictures that societies model and pass to future generations.
What it is to be “male” or “female,” “girl” or “boy,” “woman” or “man,” social actors pass on as theatrical actors memorize their scripts and pass to future actors.
Laws are built upon and reflect the society in which they are meant to affect. Our patriarchal individualistic society opposes and inhibits women’s reproductive freedoms, encourages the inequities in salaries between men and women, establishes and maintains the massive development of wealth for a very few while encouraging the enormous financial disparities between the very rich and everyone else, and many other issues.
Throughout history, examples abound of male domination over the rights and lives of women and girls.
Men denied women the vote until women fought hard and demanded the rights of political enfranchisement, though women in some countries today still are restricted from voting; strictly enforced gender-based social roles mandated without choice that women’s only option was to remain in the home to undertake cleaning and childcare duties; women were and continue to be by far the primary target of harassment, abuse, physical assault, and rape by men.
In addition, women were and remain locked out of many professions. At one time, rules required that women teachers relinquish their jobs after marriage. In fact, the institution of marriage itself was structured on a foundation of male domination with men serving as the so-called “head of the household” and taking on sole ownership of all property thereby restricting these rights from women.
And when patriarchal social and family structures converge with patriarchal religious systems, which reinforce strictly defined gender hierarchies of male domination, women and girls’ oppression and oppression of those who transgress sexual-, sexuality-, and gender binaries and boundaries became inevitable.
In other words, women have been constructed as second-class and even third-class citizens, but through it all, women as a group have challenged the inequities and have pushed back against patriarchal constraints.
Toxic forms of hypermasculinity require the promotion and use of firearms to keep at bay the intensive psychosocial compulsive fear and dread of penetration from bullets, and by extension the gaze of gay and bisexual men, and the female gaze since patriarchy promises males the right to the aggressive outward intrusive gaze, the right to penetrate “others.”
The current cultural shift has been long in coming. It must not be considered, though, as arising from a quick and sudden earthquake, but more from a long-simmering and often erupting volcano that changes the entire landscape from time to time.
The latest targets of this patriarchal system to speak out are standing on the strong and firm shoulders of multiple generations over several centuries, to the activists in the first, second, and third waves of feminists, from the courage of individuals like Sojourner Truth to Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Jane Addams to Anita Hill to Anthony Rapp to Christine Blasey Ford to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
As volcanic eruptions alter forever the physical landscape, all the courageous upstanders against patriarchal oppression will forever alter the cultural and social landscape.