top of page
  • Writer's picturePebble McCleary

Patriarchy: The Muscle of the 5 Evils of Society

In most cultures across time, patriarchal systems have been a pillar upon which societies are built. When discussing patriarchy as an evil of society, we are identifying the role of power, strength, emotional detachment, and force in intrapersonal, interpersonal, communal, and societal levels of functioning. To quote bell hooks, "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.” (hooks, 2004). There is deep trauma in living in a society founded upon patriarchy, for both privileged and marginalized people.


Patriarchal messaging establishes and reinforces expectations of strength and weakness, superiority, emotional distance, and rights to forceful dominance. People with privilege under patriarchy are conditioned to believe that their “role [is] to be served; to provide; to be strong; to think, strategize, and plan; and to refuse to caretake or nurture others” (hooks, 2004). People who are marginalized under patriarchy experience messaging that their “role [is] to serve, to be weak, to be free from the burden of thinking, to caretake and nurture others” (hooks, 2004). These messages become internalized around the ways the people, regardless of their proximity to power, conceptualize themselves, others, and the world. These messages are traumatizing.


Patriarchy defines for us, as individuals and as a culture, what it means to be strong and to be weak: what is considered strength and weakness, who holds strength and weakness, what happens to those with strength vs. weakness. This directly relates to the constructions of superiority and inferiority. Patriarchy tells us that there are biological imperatives that lead to inherent strength and superiority in men and those who embody masculinity over women and those who embody femininity. We see this manifested in the reality that the majority of people in leadership roles are men and that women who pursue leadership positions receive significantly more criticism. Patriarchy places strength and power in the hands of men and masculinity first and foremost. Patriarchy crafts masculinity as the dominant culture.


There is a deep-seated narrative around which emotions can and can’t be felt or expressed and by whom. Masculinity is typically only associated with emotions that fall under the “angry” and “powerful” segments of a feelings wheel. Femininity, thus, cannot express emotions of anger and power without being seen as masculine, too-much, and grandiose. Patriarchy, in tandem with puritanism–which will be discussed further in other writings–maintains a black-and-white binary of experience, expression, and processing of gendered life. By equating emotions with gender, and by equating genders with strength and weakness, we see a direct link between emotions that portray strength–anger, courage, competition, etc.–and emotions that portray weakness–sadness, anxiety, compassion, etc. When people are able to detach themselves from their “feminine” emotions, they increasingly experience competitive motivations, individualistic tendencies, and hierarchical comparisons.


What does modern-day patriarchy look like? Hoarding of power by men in leadership roles and in relationships. Disconnection from emotions and connection. Hypercriticism of women. Misogyny. Rape culture. Community violence. Substance misuse as avoidance of feelings. Emotional labor placed in the hands of femme folks. Financial responsibility and expectation in masc folks and illiteracy in femme folks. Competitive edge, scapegoating, and taking advantage of others in order to benefit self.


What other examples come to mind as you reflect on modern-day patriarchy?


The symptoms and consequences of patriarchy are hoarding of strength and power, emotional detachment, and brute force. As is true for all of the five evils, these symptoms and consequences of patriarchy become internalized and are reflected in the ways that each of us relate to ourselves, our relationships and people, and the world around us. These manifestations infiltrate our perceptions of safety, trust, power and control, intimacy, and esteem. In this, we see the ways that all people have internalized thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, and mindsets rooted in patriarchy. We see the trauma of living under and within patriarchy.


Internalized about the self, we may believe that our emotions are weaknesses. Masculinity is likely preferred in myself and others. We are safe when we wield power over others. Vulnerability is unsafe. We must just power through. If we are feminine, we should be so in a way that is appealing to men and masculinity. We know better than others, and we are weak if we do not. It is permissible to take power by force, and is seen as a strength if we are able to do so.


Internalized about others, we may believe that others are weak if they cannot maintain composure. We have a right to occupy someone else’s time, space, body, etc, even if that means taking it by force. Others are untrustworthy insomuch as they are also trying to hoard power and strength. Femininity should be submissive; masculinity should be dominant. We may see the act of forcefully taking from someone else as a sign of strength that is worthy of respect, and if someone forcefully takes from us then we must be weak. Anger is a masculine feeling that should be respected when embodied by masc folks and feared when embodied by femme folks.


Internalized about the world, we may believe that the earth is not a thing to care about, it is a thing to wield power over. We do so by exerting strength, occupying, dismantling, and hoarding resources and access. The world and society is unsafe if it is expecting us to feel things, be present, and be compassionate.


When thinking about the ways that patriarchal narratives have infiltrated mental health, we can name its traumatic impact on the mental health field and treatment. We see a hierarchy of gender wherein the “leaders” of the field–the folks who make the theories, come up with new interventions, and are representatives of the field– are largely men. And yet, the mental health field is a “woman’s” field–women do the actual emotional labor and work of applying the logical and conceptual work that men have created. Similarly, we see that most empirically-supported, or otherwise validated and preferred, interventions are rooted in logic and skills development: things that are associated with strength, and things that are associated with masculinity. The goal of these empirically-supported interventions are generally to decrease emotions, suppress feelings, and disconnect from ourselves in order to maintain power and control over ourselves and others. It is only in recent history that other approaches and interventions are being uplifted and supported, but this is generally still happening only when pioneered by the dominant culture. As practitioners, it is expected that clinicians detach from themselves and do not show up as their full selves when working with clients. This perpetuates the idea that to be a whole person, with emotions and personal lives, diminishes the effectiveness of interventions. Being emotional is a weakness, whether those emotions are felt by clinicians or clients.


Unlearning and disentangling from patriarchy will be a life-long radicalization and healing process. This process must take place within the mental health field and those of us who offer mental health services. We need to reconceptualize mental health, shifting from strength and health being associated with suppressing feelings and maintaining control over self and others to an understanding that embodying our feelings and truly connecting with other people are healing practices. We must release the desire to maintain strength and power over ourselves, others, and the world; this desire keeps us stuck in competitive, individualistic, and disconnected traps. Healing from the trauma of patriarchy will require connection, embodiment, and surrender.


As mental health professionals, we can support clients in healing through self-awareness, connection, activism, and skill-building. The mental health field needs to adjust conceptualizations of what is healthy, from mastery over suppression of feelings to effective connection to and responsiveness to feelings.The field must also recognize the well-documented increase in mental health struggles as a direct result of systemic trauma rather than personal failure. We, as providers, will then be better supported in addressing the roots of these struggles more explicitly. This shift towards intrapersonal, interpersonal, societal, and skill-building realms of healing allows the field to address directly the symptoms and consequences of patriarchy: hoarding strength and power, emotional detachment, and brute force.


This work will be life-long. Radicalizing against patriarchy will be hard, messy, and empowering. By unlearning patriarchal messaging, we will also begin to unlearn and disconnect from the other five evils: colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and puritanism. In future writings, I will expand on these other evils of society, the ways that they are internalized, and ways that we may begin to disentangle from them.


Sources

hooks, bell. “Understanding Patriarchy.” Louisville Anarchist Federation, Dec. 2004.


Suggested Readings

Brown, Adrienne M. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. AK Press, 2019.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Taylor and Francis, 2006.

Davis, Angela Y. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle. Haymarket Books, 2016.

Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The Continuum Publishing Co, 1993.

hooks, bell. All about Love: New Visions. William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.

hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. Washington Square Press, 2005.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 2007.

Taylor, Sonya Renee. The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2020.

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page