According to popular belief the only people reading this blog post now that I have mentioned the P word are likely to be either trolls, who will be excited that I’ve so opened myself to ridicule, or some purple wearing feminists over the age of 50.
I’m testing this out because I’ve recently been heartened to hear several feminists, both male and female, issuing a rallying cry to bring back patriarchy. The word that is, because the thing itself sure hasn’t gone away.
I would like to use the word more often because it actually provides a way for us to talk about the cultural and structural systems that perpetuate inequality.
Let’s take the very obvious example of domestic violence.
Currently domestic violence is talked about like any other crime; something we all need to look out for and let people know is not okay, pretty much like drink driving. It is treated as an individual issue that may be responsive to social marketing and a few safety measures like refuges. It is treated and named in a gender neutral way.
In contrast, a response that recognised the centrality of the patriarchy would label the violence as either male violence against women and children, or violence against women and children, or (I’m exploring the idea) patriarchal violence. This would recognise that violence is a reflection of existing power imbalances in our society and that violence happens within a cultural context that still mistrusts or blames women. This is not to say women cannot commit acts of violence, or that men can’t be victims of violence. We know they can. What this says is domestic violence is highly gendered and to end it we need to fix the core power imbalances and social norms that it is an expression of and ensure our institutions do not treat men and women as if they’re on the same even playing field.
In the words of the UN Secretary General’s 2006 In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women:
Historically, gender roles – the socially constructed roles of women and men – have been ordered hierarchically, with men exercising power and control over women. Male dominance and female subordination have both ideological and material bases. Patriarchy has been entrenched in social and cultural norms, institutionalised in the law and political structures and embedded in local and global economies. It has also been ingrained in formal ideologies and in public discourse. Patriarchy restricts women’s choices but does not render women powerless, as evidenced by the existence of women’s movements and successful claims by women for rights.
If we’re to address the problem of domestic violence in this country, a problem that impacts on 1 in 3 women, we need to recognise the social structure that supports that violence. That structure exists and has a name, the patriarchy. I’m keen to hear your views on that.