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Patriarchy and Gender Roles

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

The perpetuation and the effects of patriarchal structures and ideas

By: Ana Palacios

"There is nothing revolutionary whatsoever about the control of women’s bodies by men. The woman’s body is the terrain on which patriarchy is erected." – Adrienne Rich

The patriarchy.

An analytical concept which refers to the economic, political and social structures and institutions formed around the gender inequality between men and women. A way to institutionally ostracize women presenting individuals and women identifiers. All that is seen as feminine is undervalued; antithetically, perceived masculinity is championed. It has become prominent in our vernacular to say we live in a patriarchal society, and we do, yet; we are still to fully understand the extent to which the patriarchy penetrates our lives, and where it comes from. A history of male supremacy.

Contemporary definitions of patriarchy refer more predominantly to the social dominance of men, and subsequent oppression of women through that power dynamic. Essentially, the patriarchy enforces gender roles. Patriarchy was historically built around the belief of male biological supremacy, though most sociologists agree they are entirely social constructs. This social phenomenon is legitimized by stereotypical assumptions between men and women: men should be headstrong, show minimal emotion, while this is allowed for women. Arguably however, this is only due to the fact that, under a patriarchal society, emotion is considered a weakness, thus, femininity is considered ‘weak.’ These stereotypes furthermore play an important part in forming and upholding gender roles.

In their most primordial sense, gender roles can be considered categories in which society places perceived men and women presenting individuals. Examples include the man should be independent, both socially and economically, logical, and unemotional; women expected to be the opposite. These roles became increasingly useful in the post-war period, where productivity, consumption and stability were desperately sought after. We can say that gender roles and capitalism go hand in hand. Gender roles are uniquely utilitarian to a capitalist society. Women's sacrificial role: staying at home, not developing successful or fulfilling careers, and taking on the administrative role in the family, not to mention child-caring if they have children, allows for the financial development of men and increased productivity for the economy. This goes without saying, that both women and men may have successful careers, however, the nuclear family dynamic does not allow for both men and women to flourish in the same manner, especially with children.

Patriarchy and gender roles mutually reinforce each other. On one hand, the social and economic barriers and gendered stereotypes of women contribute to the stagnation of women's social and economic development. One of the most prominent veins in which we see, at least in the West, is in educational institutions, where women are not expected to be successful. What is more, if a woman is able to break through the plethora of stereotypes, she is furthermore subjected to the prospect of sexual harassment. This ranges from catcalling to rape. Making matters worse, a larger number of women presenting to people begin to be catcalled at a younger age.

The subjection of female presenting people to sexual harassment from an early age is not only traumatic but stunts a woman's social development. Now, not only tormented by social stereotypes, a young girl may be scared to participate socially as she has been constantly sexualized. This can also pose worrying threats to mental health, many of them which are disregarded, much for the same reason: women are considered too emotional, irrational, and thus are not believed. The systems that allow for sexual harassment and abuse while simultaneously propagating it by continuing the impunity of those accused are all connected and thrive within a patriarchal society.

Here, I would like to assess the privilege some have under the patriarchy. Simply asserting that patriarchy affects all women and men in the same manner would be too general. It is imperative we recognize that gender roles are dynamic and affect BIPOC women presenting individuals much differently: much of the effects are exacerbated. Further, Black women are often masculinized, another facet of white supremacy, which allows for the further dehumanization and exploitation of Black bodies. Some white women may also benefit from patriarchal stereotypes, especially those in privileged positions, with access to resources and free from the contrasts of institutional racism. Many times, these benefits may translate into the material world. Furthermore, the patriarchy and its rigid gender roles hold no space for Queer individuals, who do not fit the productivity binary, and break the gendered stereotypes modern productive society is based on. Thus, BIPOC and Queer individuals suffer under the patriarchy as well.

In order to deconstruct these stereotypes and prejudices, it will take more than just a group of like-minded individuals: it takes all of us. It is essential to analyze patriarchy with intersectionality, understanding that it will not affect all of us to a similar degree or in the same way.


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