Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sexism and the Patriarchy

I appreciate the contradictions in the things we believe. Very few things in the world are absolutes, and accepting their complexities is I believe a sign of a deeper understanding. Sometimes I don’t have a singular opinion about a topic; rather, I have contradictory thoughts about it. Sometimes two seemingly opposite things are true at the same time. This isn’t indecision; it’s human nature.

I LOVE women. And I love that I love women. Women are awesome! When I am in a group of women I feel a sense of solidarity, purpose, and strength. I groove on our collective experience of growing up in a patriarchal society.

While my women friends include women of color, I long assumed we all shared a similar experience of being women within a patriarchy. It did not occur to me that women of color have a different experience – because our society is both sexist and racist, and they are subjected to both.

Additionally, Black women are subjected to deep-seated stereotypes that deem them angry, hyper-sexualized, exotic – something to fetishize. Because of this, they are treated differently by society and specifically by men. They experience a different side of patriarchy than do white women.

Historically Black women have not been put on pedestals; they have been treated as workhorses. While society rushes to defend the honor of white women, Black women garner no such response.

And while I found it both comforting and empowering to be among women who experienced patriarchy in largely the same way as me, that excludes trans women, gender-fluid, and non-binary people.

If trans women grew up looking like men, they would not share an experience like mine. For a long time I held them apart for not sharing my experience of sexism. However chances are that they were always perceived as different and received as much if not more hostility growing up for simply being who they were. Trans women, especially Black trans women, are subjected to more patriarchy-inspired discrimination, disgust, and violence than cis women (those who have always identified as, and been seen by society as, women).

Also there are men in this society who are the victims of patriarchy. While I do believe that EVERYONE is victimized by, or rather hurt by, patriarchy, I’m referring to men who are bullied, abused, and otherwise targeted for violence. Their perpetrators are most likely to be other men, but not always.

These men too experience the blunt force of patriarchy. And because of toxic masculinity, and victims seen as being weak, men have even more difficulty speaking out against abuse and seeking support.

It may remain true that when I’m in a group of cis-women, I will feel a special connection with them. But the more I learn, the more I expand my understanding of those who are harmed by patriarchy. “Woman” will always have a special meaning to me. But as my feminism grows, it is refocusing away from “woman” towards “victims of patriarchy.”

There is nothing wrong with women coming together in solidarity. But if we are to smash the patriarchy, we need to recognize that we are not the only ones who are damaged by it. We need to stretch our definitions of our identity to include others whose stories do not mirror our own. We need to let go of a need to “protect” the definition of woman, and see ourselves as special in how we are victimized, to learn about other people who are also experiencing the wrong end of patriarchy. More than that, we need to recenter our feminism - so long focused on white, cis women - and put those who have been excluded front and center of our discussions, protests, and plans to smash the patriarchy.

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