Lately I’ve been thinking about patriarchy. It is so embedded in our culture that we don’t consider the level of violence required to maintain it in our corporate, educational, governmental and religious institutions. Oppressing half the population (women) requires constant, ongoing violence.
Many feel that because of the advances women have made over the past 40 years – patriarchy is no longer an issue. Think again. Who had authority and power in government, educational and religious institutions 40 years ago? Mainly men. Now, who has power today? Mainly men. Nothing has changed. Today you can count the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies on one hand. Shocking considering women have been working in corporate management for over 40 years. Patriarchy is alive and well and deeply entrenched in boardrooms, on the golf course, and in “good ‘ole boys” networks.
How is the violence of patriarchy perpetrated? This violence can be physical. Thousands of women are raped, beaten and killed each year just in the U.S. alone. Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen has calculated that at least 100 million women are missing in the world’s population. As Catharine MacKinnon notes, “This is violence – genocide – on a massive scale” against women by men.
But the violence against women and girls happens in other ways too. Violence can be emotional, psychological and spiritual. This kind of violence, while not visible physically, can be much more damaging and long lasting. This kind of violence is soul-killing.
And what about the men and women who promote patriarchy? Are they violent too? Just because they may be parents, employees, political leaders, corporate leaders, educators or pastors doesn’t exempt them from colluding with, being culpable for and committing the violence of keeping men in power. No matter how charming or nice they appear on the outside, those who collude with the status quo of patriarchy in families, schools, business or churches are definitely not nice where it counts – on the inside.
I recently read this quote from Upton Sinclair,
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on not understanding it.”