Growing Up Under The Patriarchy & Breaking The Cycle

in mindfullife •  3 months ago 

Exploring my tenuous relationship with the patriarchy is something I’m beginning to devote more time to these days. And I’m guessing my fellow female “tomboys” of the 80s & 90s might be doing the same. I feel this type of self-analysis is necessary to break the hold of the patriarchal systems we’ve all had to navigate and to do so in a mindful way that helps break the cycles for good. (If you’ve already done this hard work, skip down to the bottom and toss your methods into the comment section so we can all benefit from your insight!)

I’ve never really viewed myself as a feminist until recently. Strange, I know. I grew up as a tomboy in the 1980s, was the only female soccer player on my school’s team and worked for years as a female photojournalist in a world dominated by white men. I was also the only bartender at an oyster bar— for years. I was the only woman who could shuck oysters and make martinis. Go figure.

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Gatlinburg, TN. Of course.

Still, through all of that (and so much more), I never looked at myself as a feminist. I just figured if I wanted to do what I WANTED, I had to compete in a man’s world and I had to be better than my peers especially the men. And I was. I never really looked too deeply at the systems I grew up within or that I thrived in professionally. I used my femininity to my advantage when I needed to. I’d flirt with my fellow bartenders because our work environment was beyond sexualized, I would sweet talk my way into access while photographing NASCAR or Dave Matthews concerts. If someone sexually harassed me— I threw it right back at them. No one fucked with me because I made it perfectly clear I could be as vicious as I could be sweet.

But now, in my mid 40s, and in the age of rampant violent misogyny, toxic masculinity and #metoo, I’m questioning my role in it all. It was just something I considered normal— to play in a male dominated world, you had to walk the line of feminine and masculine in a way that is simply outdated and toxic now. I had to suppress the feminine most of the time and only embrace it when it fit into the male paradigm. That’s so fucked up, I get that in hindsight.

I wonder how this toxicity has ingrained itself in my psyche and into my daily activities. Hell, my website business, which I started 7 years ago, serves one of the most misogynistic and difficult male demographics— chiropractors. I know, it’s weird, but I can speak their language and throw the masculine right back at them. And sometimes, I like it. And that’s why, among other reasons, I’m shutting that business down now.

So, I’m writing this article for me and for those like me. The women who stepped into adulthood in the early-mid 90s, after the previous generations of women laid the groundwork for us to even be present in the places we worked and gathered, but before it was truly socially acceptable to do so. We didn’t really have the language of female empowerment (at least not at scale), we had to simply internalize the male language we functioned within and keep our femininity hidden—and intact. We are a part of this shadow feminism that had to embrace the masculine or go nowhere with our careers.

Yet here I am, in my 40s, trying to release that toxicity and adjust to this new world. To look at the word “feminism” through a different lens. Not a lens of victimhood and excuses (which, sadly, is how I’ve classified a large part of the feminism I’ve been exposed to over the years) but through the lens of empowerment and community. And I imagine I’m not alone.

I get it now. Even though I was a huge fan of feminist art in my 30s, I was still fighting to wedge my way into a field that, at the time, was 95% men. And white men, at that. I never connected completely with feminism. I’ve also never fully connected with the capitalistic social structures of my peers.

In hindsight, I see that this was an internal rebellion to a system that has always felt wrong or unnatural. I’ve never married, never had a mortgage, never worked in a cubicle and didn’t get a “real job” until my mid 30s, and that was short lived.

My attitude shifted fully the day T*ump was elected. I knew, as a woman, I was now a target of violent extremism in a way I wasn’t before. I knew my rights as a women would be violated by the power structures of my government. I also knew that as a partially brown woman (second gen Asian-American) I was even more screwed.

As I struggle to navigate this chaotic world we’re muddling through here in America, I find myself turning more and more to feminist movements, language and truly trying to understand just how deep the patriarchy is and how embedded I am within that system.

Just how deep does the patriarchy go? Deep, my friends. The patriarchy flows deep.

According to the wikipedia..
…Lewontin and others argue that such biological determinism unjustly limits women. In his study, he states women behave a certain way not because they are biologically inclined to, but rather because they are judged by "how well they conform to the stereotypical local image of femininity".[67]:137…

This is definitely part of the problem. Our ability to thrive was due in part to our conformity. And for us “non-conformist” the underlying implications of compliance over a lifetime, to a system that we barely acknowledged, are profound. Fighting conformity chips away at the soul and we lose a part of ourselves over time. The true battle is to restore those lost parts. I’m still figuring that one out, but I do have my ways (most of which involve my yoga mat, spending winters off-grid in the desert and working with crystals).

And this gem from the wikis is spot on…
…representation of women in media, and popular culture is "within a patriarchal gaze".[99

My generation of women grew up a time when our popular culture was 100% steeped in this “patriarchal gaze”. Straight up. Look at the movies, sit-coms, music videos and magazines that dominated our childhood. All sexualized, objectified and celebrating the traditional role of the patriarchal family unit.

I could write about this topic for days— years. And many brave women already have. I know I’m late to the game here, but I do believe this is a conversation my generation needs to embrace more often. And we should look within to see how we, specifically, grew up, struggled to thrive within and are now trying to undo a lifetime of conformity within this system.

I’m going to try and wrap this up with some positive solutions so I can take action. Here are several ways I’m working to break this patriarchal system in my own life. Take what works for you or tell me what you’re doing/have done to step out of this system in your own life. Or did you never function within this system in the first place?

  • Shutting down a business that serves a male-dominated demographic.
  • Replacing that work with teaching yoga, selling crystals and supporting/celebrating energy healers.
  • Trying to do more work in the Gift Economy and less in the patriarchal capitalistic system.
  • Eventually unplugging from the technological systems that support and reward misogynistic behavior and give a platform to hatred. (So, this one is tricky. I’ve deleted Facebook multiple times and have Instagram on the chopping block soon. Amazon Prime is on the chopping block and so is twitter. The problem is that all of these structures also power my business in some way. That’s the part I must change— running a business without these tools).
  • Trying to embrace different language that is more supportive of gender equality and less sexualized. (I hate to admit that this one is a tough one)

And so much more, I’m sure. Your turn…tell me your journey below and are you a child of the 80s/90s now questioning the role of the patriarchy in your life?

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I've always questioned the role of the patriachy in my life (I'm a tomboy child of the 80's too - if the boys can jump, so can I - and thus sadly could only proof my worth by being AS GOOD AS or BETTER than).

So much of Australian vernacular is sexist, but it's seen as a 'joke' and if you protest, you're being 'too PC' or need to take stuff 'less seriously'. Woman in politics are criticised for what they wear and are openly called witches if disagreed with. We have one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world and there are serious campaigns to address that culture.

I watched a Jonathon Pie sketch teh other day that was hilarious. It made me annoyed at first, thinking, yes we are the fucking victims, but we DO have bleeding vaginas that CAN be far more hardcore than men's balls. It's just a shame we have to frame it that way. He's English - I found the English more respectful and they have a lot more woman in positions of power than us as well. My English husband cringes at Australia, and often.

Sadly, even Australians are looking at America and feeling sorry for you. Trump does nothing to progress equality, does he? Let alone race. I don't like male/female divisions, but nor do I like sweeping decades of feminism under the carpet because feminism has been an important political movement.

Here's the Australian campaign response to some of the issues woman face

@artemislives, how wonderful to live in a matriachal society.

i'm just glad I'm pretty invisible these days, being an old woman of 48 and all, and barely giving a shit. Condescend to me as a woman and I'll call you out and be damned about the consequences. Younger me? Struggled more. Such as being asked to wear skimpy shorts as a waitress at 18. Being raped at 27 because 'he thought I wanted it' (i was passed out). And all the other 'little things' that make you go - PEOPLE - both woman and men - how the fuck are you raising your children?

48 is not old!! ;) I'm kickin' 44 and I'm running with "40 is the new 30". Thank you for the deep response! That video was pretty funny! It def touches that uncomfortable nerve of victimization in feminism (which I struggle with) and yet shines a light on the truth that yes, we bleed from our vaginas, shove some cotton up there and get shit done. Warriors for sure!

Fascinating that you have campaigns for how to respect women in Australia. It's hopeful and sad at the same time. That we have to have commercials about how to treat others is a sad commentary on where we are as a collective society. But, it's also amazing that Australia thought deeply enough about this issue to design and produce campaigns around it. I couldn't imagine such a thing here in the States right now. Polarization and placing demographics/genders/races against one another is literally the political strategy of the Right at the moment (and of foreign actors trying to influence our politics through social division-- the FBI released that report last month). And our democratic leadership is too weak or complicit to even be bothered with addressing these issues. We literally had a republican congressman say YESTERDAY, that if it weren't for rape and incest the American population wouldn't have survived. And he rambled on for a long period justifying this belief in a public speech. Last I checked, that was the plot for Handmaid's Tale.

And I'm so sorry that sexual violence is part of your personal story. That's awful. It truly does make you wonder how the fuck people are raising their children. And how the society as a whole continues to empower the rapists and violent offenders by placing them in positions of immense power-- over and over again. It's truly terrifying when men who violently abuse women and openly disregard women as "less than" are given complete control over an entire nation. And who then proceed to embolden the insecure and violent young men (and old men) at scale and give them the safety and security to continue the abuse. Most of our mass shootings are conducted by openly misogynistic young men who feel alienated and who hold a deep hatred for women-- many of whom are radicalized online.

That said, I do still see and interact with amazing men who are aware and kind-- and it gives me hope that we will, at some point, find the balance of a matriarchal society like @artemislives has found. I spent some time on a remote island of Indonesia working on a project years back and the matriarchy on that island was present everywhere-- it was so peaceful and balanced. I also found my time in the Middle East and Pakistan fascinating-- particularly the relationship between men and women. The reality is much more nuanced than the media portrays it (captain obvious there). In some instances (or in many instances) the oppression of women is overbearing and heartbreaking. But, I've also never felt safer as a woman while traveling in these countries. I'm not talking about equality in this instance, but personal respect and security. I've only felt scared for my safety, as a woman, in my country. That's saying something.

I'm so glad this post was shared in the @naturalmedicine Monday post! I can relate to so much of this. I cringe at so many things going on in American culture right now (especially here in the South, though it is definitely not totally regional anymore). It amazes me that after all our mothers and grandmothers accomplished, we have gone backwards in so many ways.

Some of my co-workers were having a heated discussion about the #metoo movement yesterday. I didn't catch the beginning of it, nor did I have the time or energy to stick around for the end, but some of the gist was they were talking about if actual physical violence is worse than systemic patriarchy and more subtle forms of disrespect to women's bodies and minds. Neither were saying either is positive, but I think the one was talking about the disparity in punishments. That some men who are convicted domestic abusers can make it back into the celebrity limelight while others like certain politicians perhaps, are shunned for making lewd comments but having a squeaky "clean" record as far as actual reported abuse.

It got me thinking about my own life experiences. I consider myself very lucky to have never been the victim of violent physical or sexual abuse, but I think the subtle daily oppression can be quite destructive in and of itself. I don't think anyone condones physical acts of abuse, however the patriarchy that you speak of continues for generations because in many cases we don't give it enough credit for the disservice it does to our culture as a whole! We brush it under the table because it's not bad enough to warrant close inspection. I don't know if I'm even coming close to articulating my feelings about all this, nor do I think I've even uncovered all of them! Thank you for sharing your experience, though, and I look forward to continuing the conversation both on here and in my own life and relationships.

Thank you so much for jumping into this conversation and so glad you can relate! I'm currently just up the road in South Carolina and the struggle is real! I also cringe on a daily basis and retreat inwardly more and more as we spiral down this dangerous rabbit hole in the US. I went to a #StoptheBans protest in NC a few months back and passed a lovely elderly woman, easily in her mid to late 80s, fully dressed in a sequenced t-shirt, matching hat, with a protest sign tucked under her arm walking determinedly towards the protest in 100 degree heat. I couldn't help be think that this women has been fighting this oppression for decades, and she still has to do this.

NPR recently did a long segment on the double standard you're referring to, that some men commit abuse, undergo a public repentance and jump right back into public life. While others are cast aside for much less offenses and never recover. Kinda fascinating to look at the factors which determine the acceptance of the digression. I have a friend going through a #metoo situation in the court system right now and it's stunning how rigged the system is against women.

I've also been lucky to never be the victim of sexual violence, but did endure extended periods of emotional abuse from boyfriends (coercion) when I was younger. I never even knew was a form of sexual abuse until 20 years after the fact. I just silently carried the shame and berated myself for it for years. I don't even know if it was considered abuse at the time it was happening, but it speaks to that inherent submission of women that's baked into our culture. And that speaks to your point of the daily oppression that is very destructive on its own. The oppression normalizes the harmful behaviors in so many ways-- and we often don't even realize it. The tiny ways we alter behavior and berate ourselves because of this patriarchal system do add up.

It's pretty amazing that we're talking so openly about these issues now in our society so younger generations don't have to submit to men in any way in order to feel accepted or secure. I look at my friends' teenage daughters, raised by women who supported their children in non-patriarchal homes as much as they could, and see how independent minded and how accepting they are of themselves, their body's and their peers. That gives me hope for sure-- even here in the South! ;)

Thanks so much for jumping in and def continue this conversation!!

Oh, I can just imagine that awesome lady! I actually have a client (a 73-year-old man) who grew up here in Atlanta. He was a big activist during the civil rights movement, and continues to join in on rallies for all different causes now. He has two children, one is a daughter who is kicking butt working in the political realm as not only a female rights advocate but also for immigrant children. He is a beautiful man in so many ways, and I'm so proud that he gives me hope for old white men. 😂

I actually had a boss who was quite inappropriate, but I tend to be loyal to a fault and loved all the clients I was working with at the time so I just brushed it off. Later on once he totally self-destructed and lost the business, I realized I should have left a long time before that. My confidence was crushed for quite some time afterwards, but luckily I landed in a much better place so it all worked out in the end. Though I know my experience was so much more benign than so many other women, it is still an example that just about every single woman in our culture will endure some type of abuse or oppression at some point in life.

I can only hope the tide continues to turn, though! The more we keep discussing it and put it out in the open, the more likely it is that things will change. I tend to shy away from conflict of any kind, but as I get older I realize if I want to have any impact on making positive changes I at least have to dip my toes in the water. 😊

Travel. So much of what you write about is cultural and NOT a global experience. I'm 55 and now live in Thailand. Overtly male dominated but totally, totally a matriarchal culture. Great place to be raising my daughter! :) Amazon? I have boycotted for 12 years. No one needs to support that BS.


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I spent my 30s traveling the globe. I've spent extended periods in Pakistan, the Middle East, Indonesia, Europe and India/Nepal. I'm a documentary photographer and spent years working as a photojournalist, so my work has always been to evaluate and document the culture I'm spending time within. Right now, I'm in the States. It's my home country and where my family lives, so I'm close to home for those reasons. That's why I'm turning the lens towards my own culture and my own journey through that culture as it deteriorates and hoping to spawn more conversations with others who are in my culture and haven't traveled abroad. Thailand is on my list and one I haven't had the opportunity to experience yet. But soon! Once my time with my furry child (I have a hound dog that I love dearly and can't leave for long with family) has passed, I'll def be an expat. But for now, muddling through this mess of America is my path and documenting the inner and outer journey is my work. ;)