Click! It’s Not You, It’s Patriarchy

“It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy,” said the radical 60-something woman at the front of the room with the “War is not good for children and other living creatures” medallion swinging from her neck. She wore a turtleneck encased in a neat blazer and put one leg up on the seat of the chair for leverage as she lectured with more gusto, authority and confidence than anyone I had ever encountered.

After wandering around fairly aimlessly for over a year, running away and living in Maui for a period of that time, I had landed in Sociology 22: Sociology of Women in the fall of 1994 at Los Angeles Valley College. I didn’t know what Sociology was or what it might have to say about women, but it sparked my curiosity. “I’m a woman,” I thought and, “this should be more interesting than meeting my general requirements for a major I’m not too committed to.”

I was raised in a supportive home, both my grandmothers and my mother were not conventional women by any stretch, and my grandfather and father loved these strong women and encouraged me to develop myself fully. I was encouraged to paint, surf, build forts and play with dolls. Some might conclude that I had an advantage in a family that did not enforce suffocating gender roles.

And, to an extent, I did. But the love and support in my home wasn’t forceful enough to keep sexism and patriarchy at bay. Like a specter, patriarchy and it’s supporting ideology, sexism, crept into my life, my experience and my being.

By the time I entered Sociology 22, I had battled an ongoing eating disorder, been in a mentally and physically abusive relationship on and off for more than six years, been raped, dealt with an unplanned pregnancy and felt that I wasn’t smart enough to go to college despite a solid education. I was depressed, felt like a failure, felt without direction and, generally speaking, couldn’t imagine my self-esteem could dip any lower .

It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy.

Learning about patriarchy, sexism, internalized oppression and the intersectionality of gender, race and class shook me to the core–and shook me out of my stupor. It allowed me to slough off the feeling of individual blame and guilt I carried. I felt as if someone had ripped away the “veil of illusion” that prohibited me from connecting my life to the lives of other women, and to the larger system of patriarchy.

Things that I had suspected all along but didn’t have language for were revealed, and the puzzle pieces of my life snapped into place. Click! I was awake. I was pissed and I was galvanized into action with a ferocity and intensity that trumped anything I had ever known. That smart, sassy and seriously fierce lady professor–Pat Allen, who became a life-long mentor–brought feminism to me, and both she and feminism gave me new life and a grander purpose.

Photo of marble head of veiled woman by Flickr user clairity, under license from Creative Commons 2.0.

This post is a part of a week-long blog carnival in honor of Feminist Coming Out Day.

Comments

  1. Cinthia Magaña says:

    I really loved this article, after reading it I found myself relating to a lot of her experiences. Like the author I too was raised in a supportive home were there was no gender roles. My father usually would make breakfast and cook dinner for my mom and when I was growing up my mother was more of the financial supporter at home. Growing up little by little I notice my family was one of the few in which gender roles didn’t define a persons role at home. I thought it was a normative thing but as I spoke to my close friends they often would say my mom was the one “who wore the pants”, what ever that might be. I always ignored it till I got to Middle school and really started analyzing that. I asked my parents why our family was structured the way it was they said they didn’t believe in gender roles. I was very surprised that they even knew about this, only having obtained a middle school education. I really like the fact that the author stressed “it was not me, you’re not the isolated case. It’s the systematic an its called patriarchy” This article opened my eyes to this systematic oppressing that has been cultivated into us since the start. It has made me in to a more conscious women and will only help me build my self esteem cause I constantly finds myself underestimating myself or putting myself down for not assimilating to some of the cultural expectations here in the U.S.

  2. Lacey A says:

    This article forced me to realize the ugly truth, my family has always and still adheres to these “suffocating gender roles” that are enforced upon us daily. Although my mother was never stable and has been in and out of my life for quite some time my father still raised me in a home where the woman (my step mother) takes care of the at home duties and completely fulfills the homemaker role while the father remains working a full time job and is in charge of absolutely nothing else but bringing home the bacon, if you will. The men in my family have always found it necessary to “express their anger in the gym.” After taking Women’s Studies I realize that women are not the only ones who suffer from internalized oppression and although we are effected to a severe degree men too feel the need to prove themselves in a specific manner. I recognize that men such as my father and brother use their bodies as a tool of masculinity, because they feel a lack of power in some aspect of their life. Continuing down the article I stopped and read “It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy.” I read this about fifty times before realizing how much I truly connected with this and treasured this read. The unattainable expectations I hold for myself which in turn is the reason I find myself in and out of a dark place is not to blame on myself. It is to blame on this patriarchal society that we continue to live in. Growing up in a home that supports this patriarchy infuriates me but again, can I truly be mad at them? I can try and deconstruct the reasons why my father is the way he is but I’ll end up in a repetitive circle. This is ALL learned and we are not to blame but we should enforce the change. After taking Women’s Studies classes I have committed to incorporate feminism into my everyday life. I will not revolve my existence around cultural expectations and the attempt to have the stereotypical family structure.

  3. AngelaC says:

    I was raised completely opposite than Klein. I was raised in a violent home that created fear within. My parents were anything but supportive; they never encouraged me to succeed. It was a surprise that I even graduated high school, and the thought of going to college was a fantasy. By the age of 16 I was stuck in an apartment, sharing a bedroom with my disabled mother, while I was her caretaker. I didn’t see a way out of my situation; how do you get out of poverty? Eventually, I reached out to my distant sister, and asked her take the responsibility of our mother. It worked. When I was 19 I moved to Los Angeles. I didn’t realize then, but a lot of my dissatisfaction in life was the cause of sexism and patriarchy. I was 25 when I took Professor Klein’s Women Studies 20: A Global Approach. It was that moment when I took back my life. Feminism saved me. Before I took Klein’s class I was in a psychically and mentally abusive relationship, one that resembled my childhood, and had an abortion that almost killed me. One of my closest friends at the time, Annabelle, raved this class had changed her life, and told me it would help me feel empowered again. The moment I heard Melanie Klein speak, she showed me the confidence and power I craved, ripped off my “veil of illusion”, and exposed the raw truths in the world. I no longer felt crazy. I know now there was a reason why I was so upset, depressed, and angry about the world. Life is hard for women; especially when we live in a patriarchy, deal with sexism, have internalized oppression, and don’t even realize it. When I finally understood, “It’s not you, it’s patriarchy,” I never felt more awake in my life.

  4. Daniel Nikravesh says:

    I agree with Professor Klein’s quote “It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy. Even despite of the writer Professor Klein being raised in a home free of gender suffocating roles, patriarchy still crawled its way into the her life. It is sad to say but this common phenomenon happens everyday and people are subjected to anti-feminine. The foundation for patriarchy is the bank of gender roles that are thrown at children from the moment they are born. It is labeled blue for boy, pink for girl, GI Joe for him and Barbie for her are just a few examples of how gender roles influence and support patriarchy. The only way to stop this oppression is through stopping these gender roles at the home and everywhere else they are portrayed. I don’t truly think that we portray acts of this inside the home too much but we reenact this everyday in society. I believe that one truly learns a lot more from their peers as opposed to their family role models. Odds are, the family has learned the same thing from peers outside of their own homes. If everyone can only stop insisting on these unnecessary roles, then there will be more equality. Both my brother and my sister unfortunately were brought up with gender roles from my traditional family but after hard work and dedication are now self-sufficient, independent women who contribute to society. I really hope that people will stop being judgmental and stop labeling people before they know anything about one another.

  5. Jennifer P says:

    This article is sad but true. I have to agree with the first statement that “It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy.” An infant begins to generate a self – image at a young age due to the environment that they were brought up in. Whether or not you have been in a home that doesn’t involve gender suffocating roles, patriarchy still occurs. I find this sad that and think that it should be stopped. The root for patriarchy advances to gender roles which is constantly being passed onto children from the second they are brought to this world. It starts with the color blue being for a boy. and pink for a girl. Dragon Ball Z for the boy and Barbie dolls for the girls. This is already two examples of how gender roles influence and back up patriarchy. I think that the only way we can stop this systematic approach is by not continuing these gender roles at home. If people stopped demanding on these useless roles I think our equality would be greater. I was brought up with gender roles from my family but now that I have worked so hard and dedicated so much of my time to working and going to school I feel like I am an independent women who can bring a lot of positivity to society. I know that when I’m older and have kids I definitely won’t contribute to gender roles. In fact, I will do quite the opposite and hope that one day men and women can e equal and forget about the patriarchal system that we have brought upon us right now.

  6. I strongly agree with the article on how our society influences our lives and the actions we take. The media and our parents encouraged me to play with boy toys It has became kind of normal to give little girls barbies and little boys action figures. If they didn’t and did the opposite we would be judged or seen as weird. I some what blame television. it influences people and tells them what their kids should be playing with and influences the kids on what is cool for boys or what looks cute for girls. They are to blame for this patriarchy in my opinion, and since the media is male dominated they have no problem showing all the advertisements and TV shows that they do.

  7. Nathan D says:

    I really like this article. I strongly agree that even if a girl is raised in an open minded household with supportive family, she can still be negatively affected by the patriarchal society. It is great that taking a Sociology class could help her get over all she had been through by learning about Feminism and the patriarchal society we live in today

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