A warning: This blog post continues the tangent I am on – a series of posts based on my current exploration into feminist writing. If this type of information is not of interest to you, I’ll return to more “retirement transition – life journey” stuff soon.
This is a continuation of insights from my reading exploration for expanding my feminine consciousness. Previous posts here and here. Recap of books read to date in this exploration: Goddesses in Older Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, Goddesses in Everyday Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson, The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock, When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone, Woman’s Reality by Anne Wilson Schaef, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Peres. If you have another book to recommend, please let me know.
I mentioned in last week’s blog about becoming more aware of the Patriarchal Belief Systems. So what does living in a Patriarchy look and feel like for a woman?
To survive, we have all (white males and non-whites and non-males) learned to live in the Patriarchal Belief System, even if it is not our innate belief system. We have been educationally, politically, psychologically, and theologically trained in it. Our survival for years was dependent on us (even women) knowing and supporting the Patriarchal Belief System.
Anything that is not part of the Patriarchal Belief System is stupid or ugly or crazy or wrong or incompetent or evil. The Patriarchal Belief System is based on logical, rational, and objective thinking; everything can be measured. It has a scarcity mindset when it comes to power and resources. In the Patriarchal Belief System, white males are innately superior and know everything there is to know. Non-males or non-whites simply don’t know as much and are viewed as “not as good” as a white man in anything they do. These underlying beliefs are not necessarily spoken, but behaviors reflect the beliefs.
Women often fully accept the Patriarchal Belief System, as they have learned to live by the rules, looking to it for validation and approval. But women in the Patriarchal Belief System are innately inferior. (As are non-whites.) Being born female means there is something innately wrong with you and you will never be good enough (you will never be a man). Women learn to cope (excellent memories, playing by the rules, male skill development) but will continue to struggle with feelings of having lesser value and being less than.
In more recent history (i.e. the last 100 years) women learned to survive in one of 2 ways: being a traditional “proper” woman (woman’s roles, woman’s jobs, a supportive and subservient wife) or trying to “act like a man.” Being considered “just like a man” in acting/thinking and accomplishment was a huge compliment to many women, but it also implied that you’re not like the other (inferior) women. This superior/inferior duality played out among women in many subtle ways.
Some examples of a women’s reality living in the Patriarchal Belief Systems of our patriarchal culture:
• Male-only design has been around for millennia. In all phases of human technology design, architectural design, medical discoveries, and policy creation, decision makers tend to be white able-bodied men. They make choices and decisions based on the impact on white, able-bodied men data, because that is often the only data that is generated. They are not considering a woman’s needs might be different, and usually data is not generated for women. One case in point: The “male standard” is (still) the design reference for safety, including cars and protective gear. (And many women will tell you seat belts are not at all comfortable because they don’t address our narrower shoulders and other parts!) This is an even more important issue right now, during the pandemic: in the US, women hold about 75% of the health care jobs, 85% of the nursing roles, and 89% of home care workers… and yet mask-fit is still being done on a “male standard” broader cheekbone reference. When masks don’t fit right, they are not effective.
• Men are given preference for health care research. Women are regularly not included in medical clinical trials for diseases that impact both men & women. We are only just hearing about how women’s heart disease presents itself completely different from men’s. And women’s health issues are secondary; case in point: there are 5+ drugs for ED but not one for PMS, and not even any clinical research funded there either.
• Woman (still) do 75% of the unpaid family care work – child-minding & kid drop off/pick-up, household cleaning/housework, parental caregiving, grocery shopping/meal prep, and “on-call care” (keeping an eye on children, being available for eldercare needs). Let’s add at-home teaching to the unpaid work list with the pandemic! Women globally spend 3-6 hours per day on unpaid work; men globally spend between 30 minutes to 2 hours. These factors are irrespective of the proportion of household income the women brings into the home. While there are exceptions, this is the majority of the population – women do the unpaid work of the household. The unencumbered woman (no caregiving responsibilities, low household responsibility) is NOT the norm. [And I now realize I, an unencumbered woman, am not the norm!]
• Double standards continue. When women are encouraged to “be more like a man”, the underlying assumption is male is the “right way” to be! But when a woman then acts more like a man (being forceful, interrupting others), it’s viewed as negative; women are told to watch their tone, be less aggressive, or be less “emotional” when expressing anger. A man being a team player is showing “good leadership”; a women being a team player is a “follower.” An assertive male is confident, while an assertive female is a bossy bitch. Interestingly women traditionally score higher on successful leadership traits: emotional stability, extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to new experiences. Yet, male leaders are still the norm.
The top 3 female specific concerns are: the female body (social autonomy), women’s unpaid care burden, and male violence against women. All are currently being denied/ignored/actively fought against in social programs. If a white-male promotes “woman’s issues” he is praised for being open-minded and thinking broadly; if a female promotes “woman’s issues” she is biased and not thinking broadly.
Male bias is so firmly embedded in our psyche that even gender-neutral terms are read as male. We live in a world of authoritative descriptions that are “male-unless-otherwise indicated.” It’s doctor or female-doctor, lawyer or female-lawyer, scientist or woman-scientist, director or female-director, senator or woman-senator. We are inundated with male thinking and male voices are the primary voices heard. Men have more screen time and more dialogue lines in movies. Even cartoon character speaking roles are predominantly male and video games have predominately male characters.
Companies talk about diversity, but when it comes to action, they falter. I worked for a Company that recognized the gender gap (and the challenges of minorities) and attempted to rectify those imbalances. Not always successful in their policies, but definite attempts through the years. I personally worked through gender-based harassment, being perceived as “technically incompetent” because I was a woman, and having to deal with elder care time-off challenges back when the concept of work-from-home was not perceived as working. Recently, the CEO position became available (as it tends to every 5-7 years) and this time, despite having a highly regarded female successor ready to go (once again), the Company chose the good-old-boy-white-male (once again).
Historically, when women joined an industry in large numbers, the industry shifted to a lower wage, lower prestige industry! Almost all industries linked to anything considered (as pointed out, female) unpaid household work are also low wage, low prestige. Women, in general, are subjected to gaps in wage-earning years for childcare, lower-wage part time work to maintain flexibility for childcare, less job growth/upward movement because of inability to devote more time to work (job growth favors the unencumbered), a continued (acknowledged) gender pay gap, and often long term engagement in lower-wage (female focused) industries. The concept of being “unencumbered” when in your income-producing life stage and able to work at a challenging job, putting in long hours to get ahead, is really a male-only concept.
A woman, being a woman, is seen as the appropriate person to clean up after everyone at the office, the one in the family to write out birthday and holiday cards, the one to go part-time when kids come, the one to be spoken over or ignored, the one to care for sick relatives, and the one to be sexually violated (and then usually perceived as the one at fault for that). It’s just the ways things are. Still today.
“Complex” seems to be the current excuse for not dealing with long-term aspects of the Patriarchal Belief System issues: women’s health is too complex to deal with (so let’s just focus on men); men’s violence is too complex to deal with (so let’s just make women bear the brunt of attempting avoidance). This recent quote last month from Jess Phillips, UK Parliament Labour MP on her personal harassment sums it up: “How about we stop saying men’s violence against women is complex and set about stopping it without relying on women to do the work for free, as usual.”
Some random insights of living in a Patriarchal Belief System based world I found compelling:
• Human on human lethal violence is a male occupation with 96% of homicide perpetrators being men.
• To be talked over, man-splained, belittled, or simply ignored are just ways men exert power without violence.
• There is a gender bias in Google search algorithms, most translation apps, and in voice recognition software – try lowering your voice if Siri doesn’t understand you!
• A stunning worldview: 48% of economically active women in the world report agriculture as their primary economic activity; this increases to 79% in less developed countries.
• When you can afford to pay for traditionally unpaid work, you add to the economy (it’s counted in GNP). But when you do the unpaid work yourself, its economic value is ignored.
• In the “chicken or the egg” question, woman came first (not man). Because, even today, men come from women (It’s biology! – women birth men.)
So much of this made me more aware of the world around me. Did anything here make you think differently about living in a Patriarchy?
Picture Credit: my best picture this week – nothing to do with topic except to note that the male of the species is the brightly colored one, trying to attract the female…the female decides if her answer is yes or no.
Also, I am now doing a weekly Link-up with Denyse Whelan at her blog for #LifeThisWeek.