Patriarchy is Alive and Well

Good news feminists – patriarchy is officially over!  At least that’s what Hanna Rosin argues in her article entitled, The Patriarchy is Dead.  Unfortunately, it seems that the ‘new American matriarchy’ that she describes in this piece is not an accurate description of the average woman’s experience.  By saying that patriarchy is a problem of the past, Rosin is actually hurting the efforts of women who are working to achieve real gender equality.

In my eyes, Hanna Rosin’s denial of the existence of patriarchy proves how essential feminist discussion is.  As I mention in my own feminist manifesto, the sexism that persists today can be difficult to recognize because it’s getting more subtle.  No longer can companies post ‘women need not apply’ on job postings, but women are still passed over for positions because they are perceived as less dedicated to the job or wouldn’t fit into the boy’s club atmosphere.  Growing up in a patriarchal society makes us accept gender roles and expectations as the norm, so feminists need to question those norms to recognize when those gender roles are hurtful to women.

Rosin’s argument seems flawed because she views women’s issues through the lens of her own experience, which I would not say is a reflection of society as a whole.  In this article, she explains how her decision to work fewer hours after having a child was solely motivated by her desire to spend time with her children, not because she was pressured by her husband or because she felt she was fulfilling a duty.  While I am happy that Ms. Rosin was able to make an empowered choice in that moment of her life, this is not the case for all women.  Many women feel pressure from their employers who assume their dedication to their jobs to decrease, while others feel pressure from their families to raise their children a certain way.  Rosin admits that this decision was extremely difficult for her, a complicated and confusing time in her life that led her to sink into a ‘terrible depression’.  Her struggle demonstrates the problem –  achieving a work-life balance is a still a challenge for women, and only for women.  Men are rarely torn between furthering their career and fulfilling familial and societal expectations.  Until women have this same freedom, feminists need to continue talking about it.

In my opinion, the most frustrating this about this article is that she paints today’s feminists as “ungrateful” women who should be satisfied with the progress that has already been made.  She explains:

In the early days of the feminist movement, every small victory was celebrated. There was exultation, liberation, a sense of joy at women’s progress that seems largely absent today. Somehow the mood of the movement has shifted into reverse: The closer women get to real power, the more they cling to the idea that they are powerless. To rejoice about feminist victories these days counts as betrayal.

I’m not sure why Rosin believes that rejoicing victories would be a betrayal to the movement; I see feminists rejoicing victories small and large all the time.  This article, however, is anti-feminist because she wants women to stop fighting for more, she wants us to settle for being ‘almost equal’.  What if previous feminists listened to Hanna’s advice and just accepted their gains?  What if women were satisfied by gaining the right to vote and didn’t push for reproductive rights or fair wages?  The life that we lead today would not be possible if first and second-wave feminists were satisfied with partial equality.  Roxane Gay explains this problem perfectly in her response to Rosin’s piece:

Rosin is not wrong that life has improved in measurable ways for women but she is wrong in suggesting that better is good enough. Better is not good enough, and it’s a shame that anyone would be willing to settle for so little. I cannot think of clearer evidence of how alive and well the patriarchy remains.

Feminism is about constantly questioning the status quo and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for women and I sincerely hope that never changes.  Until we have had a woman in the Oval office, until women hold half the seats in Congress, until women are free from restrictive gender roles and expectations – patriarchy is alive and well.  I am sorry if Hanna Rosin and others are tired of listening to ungrateful feminists complaining about “the patriarchy”, but we are going to keep complaining until gender equality has been achieved.


5 thoughts on “Patriarchy is Alive and Well

  1. One MAJOR problem with this. Women, Women, Women, Women and women. If you are going to talk about gender equality, you need to include men. I would suggest “The Myth of Male Power” written by Dr. Farrel. He has a great analogy in the book that addresses the Work-life issue that women face. Under traditional gender roles Men rowed the right side of the boat, and only the right side. Women rowed the left side of the boat, and only the left side. Feminism has done a great job of freeing women (but not men) of these gender roles. Men are still only able to row the right side of the boat. This means women have the options to betray feminism and stick to the left side of the boat, pull double duty rowing both left and right sides, or row on the right side insuring the boat doesn’t actually go anywhere. The problems you identified are real problems, but you’ve got the solution wrong. The solution is not more advocacy for women, but advocacy for men. The solution is to free men from the traditional gender roles so that you can choose your role based on personal desire not your sex.

    • I agree that male gender roles are a problem as well. Men feel the pressure to provide or be the breadwinner, which stops them from taking on more domestic roles even when their partner works full time. This gender stereotype feeds into the idea that if a woman earns more than her husband, she is in some way emasculating him.

      So, maybe the work life balance issue needs empowerment ok both sides. Unfortunately – patriarchy is about much more than the work-life balance and in most other areas women’s empowerment is the solution.

  2. “Her struggle demonstrates the problem – achieving a work-life balance is a still a challenge for women, and only for women. Men are rarely torn between furthering their career and fulfilling familial and societal expectations. Until women have this same freedom, feminists need to continue talking about it.”

    That’s a good point. I’ve often found women, who defend that they made a “free choice”, not understanding how a social system like patriarchy can impact people’s ability to make choices. We might be telling ourselves that we made free choices, but there are so many behaviors or expectations that we have internalized to such an extent that without being physically coerced to do something, we pursue them ourselves. Of course, this is more subjective and you can’t really prove to someone that their choices weren’t independent of the system. However, at a large scale when we look at the statistics, perhaps it is easier to identify that women still aren’t making entirely independent choices and that their decisions to stick to the stereotypically feminine roles are often tacitly forced onto them. Also, people that claim that patriarchy is over must be quite oblivious to things that are happening outside of their small privileged circle of people. Sadly, for billions of women of the world, situation is still quite grim.

    • I definitely agree. It’s very difficult to determine what motivates our decision making and how much patriarchy plays a role.

      In my own case, I didn’t realize that I had been fulfilling societal expectations until I started college and met women with ambitions that never even crossed my mind. Until I actually met women who were studying to be engineers, surgeons, architects, etc, I couldn’t imagine these options for myself. Somewhere in my childhood, I developed conceptions about what careers are feminine and which are masculine, so although I made my own decisions, I limited myself to what I thought was a female friendly career path.

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