Sexism and Patriarchy Issues
Social groups who have been dominated for years are working to fight back against this unfair treatment based on aspects of themselves they cannot control. While reading sections in the textbook, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, I have learned about problems that face our world because of sexism and patriarchy. I am going to talk about how patriarchy has an affect on people’s expectations for each gender, why patriarchy has become so ingrained in our society that many do not think it will change, how a lot of men do not believe violence against women is their issue, and controversies that surround the concept of feminism. I will also touch on ways one may go about creating classroom activities that bring up the topic of sexism and patriarchy, both of the past and of today. Lastly, I will mention some potential problems these methods may have, since nothing is ever completely perfect. Learning about these different aspects of patriarchy and sexism may help to change these systems in our society for the better.
The first big issue discussed in the sexism section of our textbook is how patriarchy not only affects everyday life, but how it also affects our societal system beliefs of each gender. In the United States, men, more so white men, received greater privileges than other subordinate groups specifically because of their gender. Often times men refuse to admit they know of this system or “get defensive because they identify with patriarchy and don’t want to face the consequences” (Johnson, 335). Men’s defensiveness can also demonstrate prevalent disarray about what the difference is between patriarchy and who partakes in it. When one of my high school classes discussed patriarchy and women being oppressed, many of the guys refused to chime in their thoughts and that showed me how they did not exactly disagree with what was being said about the topic. This kind of threw me for a second because I was not aware that people I knew well would ever agree with the oppressive methods used by patriarchy. However, patriarchy is a system that has been ingrained into our society and a lot of people think it is because men are evil and want to oppress other groups. This is opposite of the belief that “racism, sexism, and classism exist because…there are failing members of the black, women, and poor groups that lack the right stuff to compete with white men” (Johnson, 335). This takes some of the blame off of men and reflects it onto subordinate groups.
Patriarchy has become so common in our society that people are hesitant to question if it can be changed. It “normalizes anger, rage, and toughness as dominant and caring, tenderness, and vulnerability as subordinate” (Johnson, 336). The dominant qualities are associated with men and the subordinate characteristics are typical in females so this is a big way that patriarchy appears in our society stereotypes. Another way patriarchy appears in our world is when it is believed that since “men don’t bear or breastfeed children, they can’t feel a connection to them” or that “women can’t be trusted, especially when menstruating or accusing men of sexual assault” (Johnson, 337). These beliefs just assist in normalizing the notion that men are stronger than women and that women are just meant to care for children and allow their husbands to care for them. It ignores the notion that in multiple ways “men are not the physically stronger sex” (Johnson, 337). In many cultures “women perform a huge share of hard physical labor” and their “physical endurance tends to be greater than men’s” (Johnson, 337). In addition, women are “more capable of enduring pain and emotional stress,” which is are useful skills in a society where men commonly beat women and sexually assault them. Lastly, patriarchy is an issue in our world because it “puts issue of power, dominance, and control at the center of human existence” (Johnson, 338). This creates tension in relationships between men and women and among other men as they “compete to gain status, maintain control, and protect themselves from what other men will do to them” (Johnson, 338). I have seen first hand what this tension can do to a relationship between a man and a woman. My aunt’s ex-husband was a very controlling man and he seemed to thrive off the power he would show over her. He also enjoyed showing his dominance over other men as well in the workplace since he was one of the top workers in a decently large company. Our world must start rejecting these common patriarchal practices if people’s beliefs and expectations for each gender will ever change.
An additional problem in our society is that many non-violent men do not consider violence against women as “their problem.” They will use the excuse, “I’m a good guy” (Katz, 344), which has an underlying message that they do not believe it is their battle to fight. However, what many of these men do not know is that “more than 99% of rapes are done by men.” This statistic does not surprise many people, yet these perpetrators are usually treated like they are “strange aliens who landed here from another planet” (Katz, 343), even though our society has normalized males having derogatory behavior towards women. Some of these behaviors include, “paying prostitutes, going to strip clubs, renting sexually degrading pornography, and writing misogynistic music” (Katz, 343). Due to these degrading behaviors, women’s resistance of their oppressed status has been “one of the most momentous developments in human civilization over the past two centuries” (Katz, 345). Women are continuing to fight back against the gender stereotypes that have been instilled on them by a patriarchal society. However, there is an argument that since men are the more “dominant” of the two genders and violence can be used to strengthen male dominance, “it is not in men’s best interest to reduce violence against women” (Katz, 345). This relates to how many males that I know have admitted to me that they do not like the way some guys talk about or treat girls because they do it in derogatory ways, but they would never tell them to stop because it could hurt their reputation. This is just an attempt to try and keep men oppressing women versus empowering them. This battle will continue for as long as men who are not violent continue to think violence against women is not their issue.
Another dilemma currently facing our society involves the controversial topic of feminism. There are plenty of US citizens that fully support this movement, but there are also numerous people who greatly disagree with feminism. A big issue within the topic of feminism has been “our inability to either arrive at a consensus of opinion about what feminism is or accept what definitions could serve as points of unification” (Hooks, 340). A common misconception is that feminism means women want to be fully equal to men. This is an issue in itself since “men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, or patriarch class structure” (Hooks, 340). This misconception causes many women to not advocate feminism since they do not truly know what its meaning is. I definitely fall into this group of women myself and know many other women who do not associate with feminism for this reason. It would be helpful for more women to know that the definition of feminism given in the article is “a struggle to end sexist oppression” (Hooks, 341). Also, many women who show significant interest in women’s rights tend to place themselves into the same group of all oppressed women and typically forget about race and class privilege given to them by our society. Many women who are members of non-white and non-middle or upper class groups would greatly disagree with the definition above for feminism because they are well aware that “all women do not share a common social status” and “many males in their social groups are exploited and oppressed” (Hooks, 340). This makes these women questions why they would want to share a social status with men who are oppressed, while they themselves already experience that themselves on a daily basis. These realities are very foreign to white, middle to upper class women because they would not really ever think of men being oppressed because of their race or class, since our world typically paints men in such a dominant light. If we as people do not cement the true meaning of feminism and stick with it, than this matter may always be controversial.
There are many ways that I could go about creating activities for my classroom that can address sexism and patriarchy in our world today. Firstly, I think it is important for students to understand how “each of us lives within a system that vests us with varying levels of power and privilege” (Collins, 606) and how these levels of privilege are based upon groups, such as, race, class, gender, etc. This can be a touchy subject for elementary school kids, but I would explain it by saying “some people think boys are better than girls just because they are boys, but that is not true” or how “many white people do not like people of color because they look different from them, but what someone looks like should not affect how we treat them because everyone should be treated with respect.” This can bring more awareness to my students so that they are more conscious of how they think about or treat people based on what their identities are.
Another big aspect that is necessary when creating lessons that can address issues of sexism and patriarchy in our society is to work on building student empathy. This is important because it will allow students to learn about “experiences of individuals and groups different than ourselves” and this begins with showing “an interest in the facts of other people’s lives” (Collins, 610). When students show concern in learning about other people’s backgrounds, it can make them more empathetic. Showing empathy is necessary for reversing sexism and patriarchy because these systems are rooted in people oppressing others and not showing empathy to people who are different. If we teach them this at a younger age they could have a stronger impact on these issues.
One problem with making students more aware or trying to build student empathy is that students could not find these lessons engaging and refused to engage in the topics. Young kids are in the developmental stage where they are more concerned about what is going on in their life compared to what is happening in others lives. This could mean some students do not really care about these issues too much because they do not affect them. This thought process would most likely come from students who are white, male, or middle to upper class. Another issue with these lesson ideas is that, depending on the age I teach, some students could already have adopted strong biases on these topics. It does not take as long as we think for these patriarchal or gender expectations to be absorbed by kids, so the older the kids you teach are, the harder it may potentially be for them to want to hear other perspectives. These problems may be a potential roadblock in an attempt to remedy the issues of sexism and patriarchy in the United States.
It is important for students in our modern society to learn about sexism and patriarchy as well as all the controversies and histories behind them. Patriarchy has changed the way that almost everybody views gender expectations. Boys are expected to be strong and not show emotion, while girls are told to be quiet and obedient. This view has become so normal that people wonder if it is possible to change it. Another issue involving patriarchy is that a lot of men do not think violence against women should be their problem. However, each person on this planet should be dedicated to creating a safe and free world for everyone who lives in it. Feminism is also a confusing topic of conversation in our nation and to change this we all need to come to a consensus on what it means to support feminism. Lastly, we need to work on creating activities for classrooms in the United States to learn about problems of patriarchy and sexism. Whether these activities include building awareness of privilege or increasing student empathy, we need to bring these issues into our schools.