Patriarchy

I have memories of travelling from Jordan into Israel. I remember at the border being questioned by Israeli immigration officers about where my husband was. I was questioned for some time, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. That is ten or fifteen minutes longer than I have ever been questioned at any other international border. They were men who were questioning me. I answered their questions. I did not believe my absent male partner would result in any negative consequences for me entering Israel. It was, however, intimidating. I remember having to keep on repeating my answers, about where my male partner was, about what my ongoing travel plans were. I could see no relevance to their questions. I had been warned however, of the intimidatory nature of Israeli immigration officials. They lived up to their reputation. Would they have questioned a man like this? I don’t know. I do know that during my next week in Israel I repeatedly was confronted by Israeli males, in ordinary, though official roles, bus drivers, train conductors. I was asked about tickets, travel intentions. It was true in my ignorance I had incorrect tickets or faulty information about routes and destinations. Would they have treated my male partner like this if he was alone, or any other male traveller struggling with unfamiliar transport procedures? I didn’t really enjoy my experiences in Israel. The country had an oppressive, dark feeling about it. My border experience, and disputes with men in authority, suggested to me an ugly, patriarchal system ruled here. I certainly wasn’t welcomed. There’s fascinating history in Israel, and it’s a beautiful place in terms of landscape, architecture, but the vibe was not positive, and I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel safe from the rule of patriarchy.

The Patriarchy damages both women and men. Knowing the hallmarks of patriarchy is important so we can free ourselves from its serious constraints and move towards a healthier and more sustaining way of living!

The patriarchy has affected me in very serious and debilitating ways. But not only am I as a woman impacted by the destructive beliefs and attitudes of the patriarchy. Men are equally impacted negatively by the patriarchy. Men however are far less likely to see the damage being done to them by patriarchy’s institutions, rules and authorities. Because of this, men are far more vulnerable to unconsciously passing on patriarchy’s toxic effects to other men, their children, and most significantly, the women in their lives. However, the most toxic effect of patriarchy on men is on themselves. Contemporary women are getting their head around patriarchy and its toxicity. This change is ranking up threatened responses by all those worshipping at the feet of patriarchal values. I want to take one current example to illustrate toxic patriarchy, and then explore the different responses by men and women to this situation. But I’m going to do this by unpacking the recent story about Saudi women fleeing their country and seeking asylum in Australia.

ABC Four Corners broadcasted an episode recently on the fleeing of a young 18 year old Saudi woman, escaping violence and abuse in her home country and seeking asylum in Australia. She never made it to Australia. In transit in Bangkok, Thailand, armed with a legitimate Australian visa, a staff member of Kuwait airlines, took her passport and told her she was booked on a return flight to Kuwait. She was placed in an airport hotel room where the young woman barricaded herself inside. Using social media, she put out a call to the world for help. The result, after hours of efforts to get her to leave her room, the UNCHR finally arrived to help her, and assist in granting her asylum. Australian foreign minister Marise Payne arrived in Bangkok but insisted processes in Australia must be followed. No fast tracking for this critical situation was ensuing. Canada stepped in at this point, and in just a few hours the young woman was granted asylum in Canada and a Canadian visa was issued. On entry to Canada the Canadian foreign minister introduced the young women to those many press and interested parties at the press conference, welcoming her as a “Canadian resident”. The young woman, of extraordinary strength and courage, was finally safe. She had fought successfully, and won her fight for freedom, her fight for her life.
Why didn’t Australia grant her a visa and Australian residency like Canada did? She had a legitimate entry visa, but it somehow got cancelled. Why did it get cancelled? It is alleged other Saudi women have arrived by plane in Australia with legitimate entry visas, intending to apply for asylum. According to four corners investigations, they were refused entry and sent back to their country. It is alleged that when women fleeing Saudi are caught, or returned to Saudi Arabia, they are jailed and tortured, possibly killed. I cannot imagine a legitimate reason to deny desperate women, fleeing for their lives, a home here in Australia. I cannot see how the potential of these women, strong and determined women, could not be seen as a huge asset to this country. These women are not economic refugees, not that I see this as a reason to deny entry anyway, and there is ample evidence of legitimate fear and risk of death if returned. Apparently, immigration officers are apt to ask such women at our border, why they are not being accompanied by their guardian. Would any other women, travelling alone, be asked about a missing male guardian? Would men be asked about a missing guardian? How is that relevant? Why is it the business of such officials to ask about a woman’s male relationships when they are travelling?

My status as single, female traveller (single as in not accompanied by anyone) attracted attention and was not respected. My failings in buses and trains were normal, ignorant, traveller slips, things that happen all the time, to everyone in a foreign country at some point. I believe in Australia, in fact most countries I have travelled, my ignorance would have been met by kindness, genuine assistance and compassion, as I was needing help in a foreign land. Why didn’t that happen in Israel? The answer is Patriarchy.

  • Patriarchy doesn’t see women and men as equals.
  • Patriarchy doesn’t believe women have the same rights, abilities, talents, skills and capacities as men.
  • Patriarchy doesn’t give women the same opportunities to access power and privilege as men.
  • Patriarchy, when dominating a culture lacks qualities such as kindness, care, compassion, understanding, co-operation, justice, fairness, relatedness, connectedness, soulfulness.

I could go on and on. Basically, patriarchy lacks the qualities we can define as feminine, qualities in the realm of the feminine. Anything we could define as feminine, will be lacking in a patriarchy. Feminine qualities are therefore lacking everywhere around the world, EVERYWHERE. There is conditional permission to have these qualities, you can be feminine, women and men can be feminine, but the value placed on these qualities, and therefore the individuals expressing such qualities, is much lower than the value placed on masculine qualities, masculine expression, masculine individuals.

Patriarchy Issues and Counselling

Issues of the patriarchy come to light during counselling regularly. In men I see the denial of the dominance of patriarchy and with many of the women I work with the absence of understanding.

If appropriate, and only when welcomed, I introduce patriarchy as an underlying theme to many of the issues people bring to counselling. It appears in relationship issues, communication problems, traumatic events and in depression and anxiety. It’s mostly unconscious because the attitudes and beliefs adhered to by the status quo are rarely conscious. We are indoctrinated into patriarchy, we’re seeped in it and therefore blinded by it. When so immersed in its power, its influence, and its privilege it is difficult to see and to recognise.

Most resist a deconstruction of the patriarchy and its impact on their life because questioning what we assume to be true makes us uncomfortable. To challenge what we feel privileged to take for granted is disturbing.

Men are privileged by the patriarchy. They receive a greater proportion of our world’s power, a bigger share of its assets, greater recognition for their talents and abilities, more permission to exploit and abuse. They receive significantly higher incomes from which to control those on lower incomes. With patriarchy comes the heightened sense of entitlement.

And in reverse, for many women, is the absence of all these things; less power, less control and less potency in the world.

So privileged and entitled men have great advantage over unentitled and disempowered women in all cultures, including Australia.

Let me share two recent examples where I have witnessed women in my circle, impacted negatively by the patriarchy. These are simple examples and they occur daily, in various forms to all women.

The first involves a young woman who shares a story about her disappointment at no longer being able to attend a much anticipated event. Bookings have been made, arrangements confirmed until a senior member of her family makes a decision to schedule a family event on the same weekend as the much anticipated, booked event. The senior male family member applies pressure on the young woman to cancel her plans and rearrange her weekend to accommodate his family event. Some negotiation on the young woman’s behalf takes place to attempt to change the family event to the other weekend day. However, the senior male family member will not negotiate, will not compromise. The young woman doesn’t feel able to remain true to her plans and attend her long awaited event. She cancels her plans and submits to the senior male family members agenda.

This young woman suffers from depression. Whilst depression is complex and may have multiple causes, I suspect that much of this young woman’s depression is the result of multiple self betrayals centred around prioritizing the needs of the males in her life, or if not the males, the other women members of her life who also prioritize the males needs over their own. 

Being relationship centered, knowing how to consider others needs and be thoughtful of other peoples’ feelings is important, but not, I would argue, at the expense of your own, important, life enhancing, personal needs. Women argue that they can’t do this as it is selfish. But is it selfish???? And if it is selfish, is this really a bad thing?

Example two involves a mature, older woman. She has an old and dear male friend who confides in her and asks her to keep his secret. This secret he expects to be kept from his wife, who is also a dear, long-term friend of the mature women and from other close female friends who are overtly discussing the situation, baffled, confused and impacted by the mystery surrounding it. The mature woman contacts the male friend to confirm an arrangement he has asked her assistance with, an arrangement connected to the secret. The male friend, anxious his wife may get wind of the mature woman being in contact with him and the secret she is privy to, sends an abusive text to the mature woman warning her off her action. Contact ceases and the mature woman is relieved to not be caught up in the drama. Until a close female friend visits her and anxiously asks for information concerning the mutual male friend. The mature woman believes she must keep the confidence of the male friend. This will require her to deny knowledge to her close, female friend and not share her own personal distress and alarm at what has been occurring and her aloneness with the problem.

Patriarchy requires male needs to be prioritized.

Patriarchy requires that female requirements, values, beliefs and needs largely be denied, sublimated, minimised and ignored in the light of more important and significant male needs.

The mature woman suffers personally in this scenario. The male friend has his need for confidentiality met, his bad behaviour and lack of empathy for the impact he’s having on another tolerated and the control of a situation involving a number of others prioritized, (and I doubt he has even given a second thought to these extensive and painful dynamics)

Patriarchy places male needs over women’s needs.

It leaves women holding responsibility in these relationships when the males have failed, lacked consideration or behaved badly. The self-esteem, confidence, self-belief and truth of the woman involved is deeply impacted. Not surprisingly, the man turns the situation around, to attack her about her failure to keep a confidence.

The biggest challenge however is the attack from within her own psyche. The self talk……. She has failed the patriarchal code……. She has not behaved as a good woman should. But really, she has let herself down, in the most important relationship of all….with herself.

Small and similar examples of dominating, soul destroying patriarchy are common, they occur every minute of the day. Thank god, consciousness can destroy patriarchy when followed up by decisive change aimed to prioritize self-value, self-belief and where a rejection of patriarchal values is commended, even celebrated.

The “Me-Too movement” has been addressing just this challenge to patriarchy. Woman in many industries and professions have been challenging these concepts and learning to prioritize themselves over male needs and expectations. I am interested in the self esteem, self empowerment and confidence that will ensue from these behavioural changes.

I anticipate some experiences of requiring anti depressant medication and anti-anxiety medication will be minimised or not existent by the changing dynamic of woman batting for themselves.

To conclude, I shall illustrate the possible impact on the men involved in both narratives in the above examples. I haven’t discussed these situations with them, so I don’t personally know how they are processing their situation. My reflections are musings and questions surrounding the impact on them.

The first story involved the young woman and her senior family member. What are the consequences of patriarchal values on him as he dominates and controls this younger woman? Firstly, the relationship with her can only be unhealthy. This is because there is no shared and equal respect, and no consideration for the feelings and needs of his family member. Any loyalty and commitment shown to this man is tarnished by the fear and potential rejection of favour and/or love that goes with being true to oneself. Communication is not open and honest, genuine intimacy based on real exchange of authentic feelings doesn’t happen. The man is likely to have a distorted view of himself and the relationship because of this. He doesn’t really know this young woman’s nature, her experiences, because she doesn’t share them with him. She doesn’t share them with him because she doesn’t have the confidence that her experiences matter to him, that her needs are seen as important. Sadly, this is largely a false relationship. Mental health issues will flow from this for him as well as her. It’s likely he isn’t aware of this due to the distortions he carries about himself and who he is. He’s not a winner, a man rewarded by good relationships in this situation at all.

The second example involved the long term male friend who asks a mature female friend to keep his secret. Sadly, the same situation as above applied to this man also. There can be no real intimacy and authentic connection when equality of needs and perceptions is not shared. Trust breaches are implicit in keeping another’s secret at one’s own expense. The knowledge of burdening others should weigh on this man, but it doesn’t. Distortion of perception, of entitlement and an inflated belief in one’s own importance, whilst subtle, exist in this scenario. The man is not advantaged by his inflations and distortions. In truth, it weakens him. Being weakened, ultimately mental health will be impacted.

Patriarchy and its values and entitlements has not served anyone in these two narratives. In these narratives four individuals are impacted negatively. Awareness must change for these dynamics to change.

Men and woman are equally negatively impacted by patriarchy and its one sided values.

The disadvantages of patriarchy to women is very obvious and most women are to some degree conscious of this. However, the negative influence of patriarchy on men is seriously impacting mens welfare and their development into the future. These impacts are largely unconscious. Much work must be done to address the patriarchy and its extremely debilitating effect on peoples mental health.

Patriarchy needs discussion in therapeutic settings and more broadly in homes, governments and in the media. These everyday damages caused by the patriarchy can shift only as our understanding takes affect.

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