Our own fear of personal power serves The Patriarchy quite nicely, thankyouverymuch. We need to uproot that #%^&.
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“I want to marry a rich man,” some of my peers said in the 1980s. I tried to control my expression, since these were more often my office colleagues rather than close friends, few of whom valued themselves so little.
These gold-diggers weren’t mired in poverty or hopeless circumstances with little ability to see a future over which they had any control. I worked in an upscale payroll services office crammed with overeducated entitlement-oozing ‘Yuppies’ in expensive suits and a certainty they were Going Places, all of which required flying First Class.
Or marrying it.
Twenty-five years into Second Wave feminism women positioned to Do Better were still willing to give up their power, hand it over to men. I guess a quarter-century wasn’t enough time to erase thousands of years of patriarchy between female ears.
Sure, just let a man run your life. That’s the ticket.
The one abrogating her power the most was the drop-dead gorgeous highest-producing account executive, the lone woman on the sales team.
Solange, oozing a sense of beauteous female entitlement against which her colleagues were powerless, boasted about how a man had to have enough scratch to scratch her itch.
“So the bucks started circling,” she recounted in the office lunchroom after a ski lodge weekend. Her voice oozed with condescending triumph, her face suffused with power. “But you’ve got to pay to play! If you don’t got the dough, you don’t get to go!”
A faint, sick smile crossed my lips listening to Solange reduce marriage — her well-publicized goal — to rank whoredom. She was embarrassing.
Didn’t she realize how unfeminist she sounded? Didn’t she understand rich men expected deference, submission and dependence from their often multiple women, whether they were married or not? A harem is part of the male entitlement package, and each woman is expected to cater unto him and him only.
It’s why they want to be rich. They do it for the p**sy. ‘Scuze me, plural.
Didn’t she understand how domineering and controlling rich men often were?
The word I sought was patriarchal, but it hadn’t joined the vocabulary yet.
Solange was partially the woman I wished I was: Strong, ambitious, successful. She made a lot more money than I. Solange embodied the New Woman birthed from the early labor of Second Wave feminism: Beautiful, street smart, educated, and made her own money. She didn’t have to depend on a man for survival.
Underneath the whip-smarts go-getter was just another self-sabotaging princess willing to give it all up for, if not love, at least a big house in Fairfield County and a country club membership.
The guys sniped behind her back she was the top producer because she slept with her prospects, something they couldn’t do.
It wasn’t an unwarranted, misogynist response. Solange bragged about dating her leads.
Working in that money-crazed office was an early lesson in how unquestioning women give up their power. The women I worked with came from good families, could have supported themselves, had careers of their own, but instead, they aspired to marry a rich man.
Somewhere, the daisies rocked as Jane Austen nodded.
“I don’t want to marry a rich man,” I’d say. “I don’t want to give up my financial independence. Why would you say that? We don’t have to do that anymore! This is the ‘80s! We can do whatever we want, be whatever we want!”
While we organized Take Back The Night marches, maybe we should have also organized a few to Take Back Your Brain.
It’s unreasonable to expect the human race to change thousands of years of male domination — patriarchy — in the century since First Wave feminism brought women’s suffrage to nervous males worried how female votes might cancel out their own or that politics and public policy might distract her from the only things she should be concerned with.
Kinder, Küche, Kirche as they said in Imperial Germany. Children, kitchen, church.
Patriarchal thinking, and submission to male will, dwells as much between female ears as it does male ones.
I don’t know if as many young women still aspire to marry rich men — everything I’ve read about them indicates they’re too focused on their careers to even have sex — but I see how The Patriarchy is alive and well even in feminists.
I researched personal development coaches on LinkedIn the other day and ran across one coaching women on how to nail a ‘high value’ man. A friend tells me he’s seen her, and other coaches like her.
Old habits die hard.
Marriage may be dying, but abusive partnerships aren’t. As smart, capable women gave their power to well-off men thirty years ago, many smart, capable women are still giving their power to controllers and abusers, ‘high value’ or otherwise.
Women bare their teeth, patriarchal thinking fully displayed, when you question whether women are as powerless as they think.
Just because a woman’s afraid to wield her power doesn’t mean it isn’t there. She doesn’t even know it’s there, especially if she’s an abuse victim. It’s buried treasure.
Abusive traps don’t start in the seventh level of Hell. They begin at the top of the staircase, each step a choice the woman makes along the way. The educated, aware woman stops no more than a few steps down and backs away. She exercises her knowledge and power. The less savvy proceed down, giving away a little more of their power with each choice.
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We, as women, need to stop being afraid of our power, to acknowledge we can avoid a lot of ugly drama in our lives, sleepless nights, self-blame and endless rumination on woulda-shoulda-coulda if only we’d known better. The longer we wait, the more w-s-c we accumulate. Not to mention psychological torment and worse.
We live in an ocean of information in the 21st century. Time to stop blaming and start self-educating.
Just as I saw nailing a rich guy as ‘something we don’t have to do anymore’ thirty years ago, I see tolerating control and abuse as something we don’t have to do anymore, today, either.
Female patriarchal thinking is rooted in victimhood identification, the female acceptance of the traditional masculine view of women. We see it in some women’s inability to endure the everyday slings and arrows we all encounter.
We can let every little insult or offense eat at us, screaming about victimhood, or we can choose to push them aside and not give the offender more power over us.
We can be more vigilant and, instead of complaining to our friends how unfair life is for women, recognize it’s unfair for damn near everyone, and we’re not as different from others as we think. We can save our outrage for critical important battles and not waste energy and headspace on ‘microaggressions’ and other minor hypersensitivities.
We can learn from our mistakes and break our own toxic cycles.
We can continue to hold others fully accountable for the transgressions they make against us while acknowledging we must make better choices next time.
We can stop making excuses for ourselves, and for others. When we don’t challenge our friends to do better, aspire better, choose better, we encourage a toxic subconscious dependence keeping women in their place — subservient to the larger patriarchy. We become enablers similar to those encouraging women to go back to their toxic relationships and ‘make it work’, by helping her stay stuck in life without tasking her with asking the woman in the mirror, ‘What can I do differently? What do I believe that needs to change?’
Photo by dawolf- on Flickr(CC BY-NC 2.0)
My mother always said, “Even in an abusive relationship, it takes two to tango — one to abuse and the other to take it. They’ll give it to you if you’re a doormat.”
She was often referring to her friend Marisol, whose husband was verbally abusive.
Mom didn’t tolerate verbal abuse from anyone. Marisol allowed it. And that was almost sixty years ago.
For some, it’s controversial to suggest women can educate themselves better. They can protect themselves against abuse by considering and tracing any ill-considered choices they’ve made already leading to, and deeper into, abusive relationships.
Some self-infantilizing thought is still stuck in the ’80s populated, ironically, by many who hadn’t yet been born. It’s patriarchal residue designating helpless little girls to a realm once lorded over by husbands with near-supreme power.
Just as right-wing gadfly Phyllis Schlafly once feared the liberties and scary new opportunities feminism brought, so, too, do some women still resist, on some unconscious level, personal responsibility for one’s life and safety even as they pay lip service to ‘empowerment’.
When I was growing up young girls were counseled by assault prevention advocates not to ‘act like a victim’. Act strong, confident, walk tall and with purpose, like you know where you’re going. I believe this works. I don’t take a lot of dumb risks like walking down a dark alley alone, and while I attracted far more attention when I was younger, I don’t remember many fearful incidents from my youth.
Now, victim feminists counsel women, “It’s not our job to not get raped; it’s men’s job to not rape. We need to keep the attention on them, and teach them not to rape.”
Classic patriarchal thinking. First, suggest all men are potential rapists. Then give the rapists the power to stop, or not. Don’t seize the power yourself and protect yourself better, or learn how to stay away from patriarchal, misogynist men, thereby reducing the chances you’ll be assaulted or abused.
‘Don’t blame the victim’…rather than don’t be the victim.
My youthful peers were women who didn’t believe in tolerating abuse, who looked out for each other. We reinforced each other. Today, some women reinforce misogyny and patriarchal thinking — in women.
Educated prevention is always better than a cure. That’s what I want women, especially young women, to understand.
We can do better.
We can grow more.
We can take back our power.
We need never give it away in the first place.
This originally appeared on Medium in October 2020.