A vast and beautiful body of work concerning patriarchy and its insidious and traumatic effects on women already exists. In my experience, however, literature concerning how patriarchy infiltrates and destroys male interactions and the psychological and emotional health of males is somewhat rare. bell hooks discusses the subject in several of her works, and calls for more literature directly focused on patriarchal enculturation and how it distorts and harms male people.
In my interactions with other males recently, I’ve noticed extreme and regular behavioral trends, and I’ve devoted a lot of mental energy to processing these behaviors. It is my intention herein to discuss the effects of patriarchy on males in the interest of 1. eliminating patriarchy as a global force; 2. eradicating patriarchy within my own heart, mind, and interpersonal interactions; 3. to continue moving toward healthy and loving relationships with my friends, lovers, and partners; and 4. to help other males do all of the above.
To be clear about my intentions, this piece is NOT meant to play oppression Olympics or detract from the myriad ways in which patriarchy harms and destroys women. This is not some veiled men’s rights bullshit. Rather, it is meant to be another weapon in this war against dichotomous gender roles, male domination, and the oppression of all human animals by patriarchy. Also, for the duration of this piece, I’ll be using the terms “male” and “man/men” as synonyms; so too with “female” and “woman/women”. Let me clarify now, to dispel any gender-policing trolls who might read this, that I’m talking purely about biological sex herein. None of the terms I’m using refer to people who identify with or are identified as a particular gender.
That being said…..
Patriarchy assaults me every minute of every day. Every interaction I have with another human being is informed by patriarchy, girded by patriarchy, and underscored by patriarchy. It poisons every aspect of my social life, every facet of my internal dialogue, taints my sexuality, and undermines my self-confidence, self-respect, and self-care. Patriarchy’s toxicity is ubiquitous and hegemonic – it poisons my entire life and every other human life.
Every time I interact with another male, patriarchy dictates and defines the limits of our interactions. Every time I subtly or not-so-subtly tear down, criticize, or ridicule another male to boost myself up in social scenes, patriarchy destroys me, destroys my victim, and perpetuates itself. Every time I’m the victim of forced male competition and verbal violence, patriarchy takes the day.
Patriarchy severs any hope I have of having tender, loving relationships with other men. Even now, when I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable with affection in my non-sexual relationships with other males, few of the other men in my life are in a similar place. I’m surrounded by machismo, chest-pounding, brusqueness, and an overall lack of emotional expression. Competition and one-upsmanship beat down intimacy, affection, and love. And, at times, I’m just as guilty of being a bro and allowing the artificial construct of masculinity to prescribe my actions.
Likewise, patriarchy has invaded and will invade the sexual interactions I share with other men. It constantly reminds all queer men that the only point of having an intimate relationship with another man is to fuck, and that the only way to love and to be loved is to fuck. And patriarchy certainly never lets us forget that all sex must be hierarchic and built upon power dynamics. There’s no place for emotional connection or love in sex; sex is only fun if someone’s dominating or being dominated, if there’s an authority figure and someone submitting to it. And perhaps worst of all, patriarchy forces the notion down my throat that this is the only real sex, and that it’s liberatory.
Patriarchy has attempted to teach me a number of pervasive, harmful narratives about relationships with women. These are the myths and stories collectively known as rape culture and porn culture, the stories that inform male sexuality within patriarchal society. These myths teach men that women should only be interacted with if they’re relatives or if they’re the object of sexual lust. And in these sexual relationships that patriarchy insists are the only permissible male-female interactions, abuse and violence are the norm.. Men are taught that love means physically and emotionally hurting the women in their lives, that sex is about dominating women and getting off, usually on them. And this culture of violence and abuse is everywhere, on the internet, television, movies, magazines, music, and manifest in the hetero-normative couples I see abusing each other every day. Every moment of my life, this swill bombards my senses in a non-stop barrage of pornographic ultra-violence. It makes me sick, and it makes me sad. It is exhausting to fight against it, and still see women and girls so viciously abused and killed. And this rape culture and porn culture conquers the hearts and minds of my male friends, making otherwise decent human animals into gross facsimiles of idealized masculinity.
Patriarchy has taught me (and every other male) that to be charismatic, to be heard, is to talk louder than everyone else. It means interrupting others, cutting others short, and talking over them. Patriarchal communication means listening to respond and to refute and to invalidate, not listening to hear and to truly feel what others are saying. Patriarchy tells me that I should be a leader, should tell others (namely women and less “virile” men) what to do (or not do) and how to do it. This heinous form of communication is the death of cooperation and consensus, of respect and empathy. And every fucking external force that tries to hammer its influence into me reinforces this patriarchal rubbish.
Patriarchy reminds me every day that I, as a person whose body has a penis, am entitled to anything and everything I want. My desires are the most important thing in the world, and are certainly more valid than the desires of females and weaker or less skilled men. I really struggle with this one, with entitlement. Even when my actions seem innocuous and unlikely to hurt others, I still sometimes take what is not mine and afterwards wonder why. Patriarchal socialization, and my failure to fully confront it, is the answer.
Furthermore, and related to the previous two points, patriarchy has tried to teach me (and all other males) that the only acceptable emotion to communicate is anger. Patriarchy insists that as a male I am entitled to rage at others, to intimidate and coerce others to fulfill my desires with anger, threatening behavior, and violence. This society’s brutal acculturation stifles, silences, and eliminates male emotional expression. Sadness, empathy, love, and the expression of pain are all seen as weakness, as “feminine”, unfit for the male creature. Likewise, vulnerability and emotional honesty, expressing one’s feelings and desires openly, these are also viewed as unacceptable by the forces of patriarchy, and are therefore punished accordingly.
Patriarchy tried to instill in me as a child that the only pursuits worth doing for a male are those involving competition and hierarchy. Sports as a kid, academia in my formative years up through college, and of course the working world in adulthood. The majority of the skills I value in adulthood I learned in spite of patriarchy, and most of them are considered “feminine”. I’ve given a lot of emotional energy in coming to terms with the fact that I prefer these things to traditionally “masculine” behaviors, and in reconciling these behaviors with my more “masculine” ones. I love sewing, cooking, and cleaning, keeping house, making my own clothes, weaving, and emotionally nurturing others. How many other males feel similarly I cannot say, but I’m sure patriarchal upbringing has stymied and inhibited these behaviors in many men.
It’s taken me the better part of 30 years to undo these bits of conditioning, to be honest and open and real about my emotions, to shut up and learn to listen, and to communicate in healthier ways, to embrace all my interests and skills and to reject the bullshit notions of masculinity and femininity. And now, when I feel I’ve worked toward becoming a whole animal, when I’m finally capable of real emotional connection with others and with the world, even now I’m assaulted by patriarchy every minute of every day. Other males shame me, many of the women in my life are themselves too poisoned by patriarchy to know how to handle an open and honest male, and every single snippet and blurb of civilized media screams in my face that men should not act as I do. One the rare occasion I develop a connection with another male, I find that they are often too constrained by patriarchy for real emotional bonding. Our relationships are relegated to drinking together, playing games, talking about politics and ethics (including passionate conversations about feminism), but rarely, oh so rarely, is there any kind of physical and/or emotional intimacy beyond simple hugging.
This is by no means a complete list of the ways in which patriarchy distorts and destroys male children and men, just some thoughts and experiences I’ve had lately. In working toward abolishing civilization, we must also root out all of its loathsome creations and institutions. Patriarchy and the cultures of rape, abuse, violence, and extreme oppression that come with it must likewise be destroyed. And part of fighting to destroy these fucked up institutions means looking within ourselves, watching and learning from our interpersonal interactions, questioning our behaviors and their motivations, and learning to be honest with ourselves about where we’re at in this war against patriarchy.
I’ve come a long way, and I know I’ve got a long way yet. This war we’re fighting must be won, for our own health, the health of our interactions and our communities, and for the health of the planet itself. I’m exhausted and beaten down by patriarchy (and by the deeper problem of civilized society underlying it), and still I fight. Here’s hoping that all the other radical men in the world get passionate and serious about this problem.
This is one part among many of the work of dismantling civilization. If we’re going to tear down this Leviathan, we must avoid the pitfall of propagating its institutions and methods of control. We must actively un-civilize our hearts and minds, or we’ll forever be restrained in our attempts to create healthy communities.
Let’s recognize all the ways patriarchy has wounded and broken us, heal the wounds, strive to become healthy animals. Let’s be honest with ourselves about our behaviors, and honest with others about theirs. Let’s not call each other out and in so doing replicate the dominant culture’s justice system, but instead call each other in, realize that being real about our patriarchal behaviors and exterminating them is in our collective self-interest. Let’s be stoked about the work we’re doing. Let’s build an alternative culture wherein males are encouraged to express their emotions, wherein men talk with each other openly and honestly, give each other loving and meaningful affection, and wherein men aren’t afraid to be vulnerable with other men and with the women in their lives. And obviously, let’s stop all this feel-good liberal babble about “allyship” and actually fight the fucking war against these poisonous forces. Let’s be real about this, let’s fight, and, crazy though it might seem, let’s actually strive to win!