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The Patriarchy: a society or community organized on patriarchal lines. The Patriarchy is a manipulative and structured system of oppression. This global phenomenon has always been in place in some form. It is of human making, and as such, it influences and oppresses people. Its method of control varies from person to person.
The Patriarchy’s oppression of women is quite extraordinary. We’ve managed to get to a position where we have a national gender pay gap of nearly ten percent, rampant sexism (both institutionally and individually) across the UK, and even whole industries pushing an unrealistic and harmful portrayal of an ‘ideal’ woman. And this is all after the progress we’ve made in our search for equality. Added to this, so many workplaces not only have problems with female sexual harassment, but actively hide these cases. The Patriarchy serves to instil so many problems many women face throughout their lives that I for one, couldn’t imagine dealing with. Whenever friends seem to have more safety concerns than I do I am reminded of this. I wouldn’t think twice about walking home alone from a club, or going for a walk at night. Nobody should. A recent article presented an awful account of one woman’s own experience with sexual abuse. The vast majority of these crimes go unreported. The Patriarchy serves to suppress these stories, and shape the way we talk about them.
The way we talk about ‘creepy guys’ is an example of this diluted discussion. If there is inappropriate sexual contact, it is often dismissed as innocuous and not malicious. ‘Creepy’ is an attribute I’d give to a clown, or an odd look – it isn’t a label I’d give to someone literally groping another person without their permission. This behaviour needs to be stamped out. Too many times I’ve heard a variation of this description: “Nice, but just gets a bit creepy/weird when drunk”. If some people became all of a sudden physically violent for no apparent reason – this would not be tolerated at all, regardless of the extent. So why is this tolerated when it comes to ‘milder’ forms of sexual violence?
Incredibly slowly, the lack of female representation in most professions is being eroded, bit by bit. At the senior level of many institutions, this is clearly shown. Due in part to public opinion, this is changing in politics, but still slowly. At the time of writing, 45% of Labour MPs are women, while 21% of Conservative MPs are. This is better than it was eight years ago, with Labour at 31% and the Conservatives at 16%. We have only ever had two female Prime Ministers in this country, and both have had abysmal voting records on legislation around women’s rights and equality. These deep-rooted structural issues are the work of The Patriarchy.
The Patriarchy’s aggression towards men is not discussed as often. This can be due to the fact that The Patriarchy oppresses women in a more clear and understandable way, and so this area of aggression is often neglected in popular discourse. However, it’s extremely important to discuss the damage it does to men. Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 20-49 – it is more likely to happen to men than cancer, road traffic accidents, heart disease etc.
There are many factors going into this threat. One of these is the culture many young men grow up in. Boys are not taught to express their feelings well enough. Even as I typed that sentence, an instinctive restraint pulled me back off the keyboard. It is the same restraint which I battle through to even type this phrase: sometimes I feel sad. I feel sad about West Brom’s relegation, I feel sad watching tragic events unfold on the news, I feel sad when I realise I’ve finished all of a Minstrels share bag. Of course this is completely natural and fine. But that phrase; ‘I feel sad’. It’s one that I’m willing to bet, based on my own experiences, many men feel uncomfortable thinking, let alone saying.
Now many men have reached a point where they can express their feelings freely, and have broken away from traditional concepts the Patriarchy instills. Phrases like ‘Be a man!’ and ‘Don’t be a pussy!’ are all achievements of the Patriarchy. The latter has always amused me. ‘Pussy’ as an insult seems strange – as if there is anything weak about the vagina, an organ that can literally push out entire human babies and still function. Patriarchal concepts of ‘masculinity’ also perpetuate homophobia. I must stress that as a heterosexual, I was never victimised in this sense. This was my privilege. I certainly witnessed disgraceful homophobia as a child and young man, which I shamefully didn’t object to, and neither did anybody else I grew up with. I didn’t know any better. I cannot imagine what it must have been like, being gay in that environment. I found growing up difficult enough being a privileged middle class male.
Let me be clear. Homophobia is an inherent structural problem that still sadly pervades much of our society. It is not solely caused by the Patriarchy. But patriarchal attitudes do, in my opinion, help spread it. These attitudes are also why I believe boys have more obvious problems at school than girls do. Many boys across the country grow up in an environment where physical strength and sporting ability are the only things that seemingly matter. The current state of schooling in the UK is of course not equipped to dealing with these innate problems in society – but education in the UK is not equipped to bring the best out of most people. As a young boy growing up, I didn’t have either of these things. Like many schoolboys, I saw this as a social failure, and tried to rectify it desperately – to “fit in”. If I could only be better at football. If only I could hit harder. This is not a system that rewards intellect, sensitivity or many other moral values. Fortunately, aside from some ‘normal’ issues like fights and academic failures, I turned out okay. Again, this is my privilege. The problems discussed affect boys nationwide, and have manifested into far worse outcomes. At an early age, these toxic masculine ideals encourage a gang mentality, and gang violence is an epidemic that plagues our inner cities.
The first step to overcoming a problem is by recognising that it exists. Recognising the impact the Patriarchy has on all our lives is this first step. This recognition isn’t a threat, or attack on anybody. It’s just realising that there is an illness that’s been plaguing humanity. It’s time to get rid of the symptoms.