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The Patriarchy Harms Everyone: Why Feminism Isn't Just for Women

Kelly Broder

According to Historian of Ethics, Tom Head, the trend of forcibly sterilizing women—a policy commonly associated with fascist regimes including Nazi Germany and North Korea—was actually first conceived in the United States around 1850 and dealt highly with Indigenous women. 


The National Library of Medicine claims that during a three-year period in the 1970s, about 25 percent of Indigenous women in the United States were stripped of their reproductive rights without their consent. This event does not stand in solitude. As The Washington Post asserts, some 1,500 Puerto Rican women living in subsidized housing were used unknowingly as test subjects for John Rock and Gregory Pincus’s oral contraceptive pill throughout the 1950s. 


Injustices against women in history are not rare, nor should they be perceived as insignificant or non-essential to the United States’ history. 


Gender inequality is a multi-faceted issue, as both men and women face restrictive barriers that prohibit their full, unhindered expression. These barriers imprison the genius and creativity of all who submit to the anonymous authority society wields. 


Humans can’t help but think in terms of binary. All people experience the world differently, not because of bodily anatomy, but because of the social implications that dictate the treatment of all people on the basis of physical appearance and assigned sex at birth. 


Inequity for the female population does not only present itself as the modicum of 82 cents per every man’s dollar,  but it’s also ever-present in the lack of female body autonomy, disproportionate violence against women, and sexist societal gender roles (Forbes). These inequities are even more brutal for Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ women.  


Men also face the restrictive hindrances of gender conditioning. While these limitations propose themselves in different forms than women, they remain apparent in the lives of all men, whether or not they are acknowledged. Men are often expected to provide for others, remain impassionate in the face of hardship, and appear as resolute and dutiful figures in most environments. In a patriarchal society, men are deemed more worthy than women of respect, social privileges, and leadership roles in most spheres of influence. 


A stark contrast between the mistreatment of men and women is the amount of violence and suppression of individuality that comprises women’s oppression. 


This is why the feminist movement needs your help. 


The Problem With Passivity

Although most can agree that oppression of people is iniquitous, men and women alike often remain passive when given the opportunity to disband harmful gender roles. Not enough people with gender privilege speak up in support of feminism. 


Cis-gender men make up a group of people whose gender is not traditionally used as an attribute for discrimination. ‘Cis-gender’ is a term used to describe a person who identifies as the same gender that was assigned to them at birth. To fully grasp this term, one must accept that gender is a social construct; a non-tangible criterion that is widely accepted only because society has deemed it rational. 


The privileges that accompany cis-gender men are often inadvertently used as a reason to remain passive in the feminist movement. While cis-gender men do face stereotypes and repressive gender roles, they do not face institutionalized oppression as women do. 


In a Ted Talk with Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, the idea that men scarcely take on active roles in the feminist movement is discussed. She claims the problem of gender is that “many men do not actively think about gender” (TEDx Talks). Passivity from men on the topic of women’s rights emanates from the falsely perceived lack of need for men’s participation in the feminist movement. It’s not that all men advertently oppress women; but the complications of gender-associated disparities are exacerbated in the absence of support from a diverse group of people, which includes men. 


It’s common that men do not identify themselves as feminists. Is it because men disdain the idea of equal rights for women? Or is it because the external pressure from peers and media forbid men’s association with ‘non-masculine issues’? The latter, being more plausible, is an instance that defines the gender conditioning of men. Society attempts to instill men with the mentality that association with women’s issues invalidates a man’s masculinity. This form of indoctrination is a prime example of the commonly overlooked disservice society bestows upon men. 


Feminism is not a movement whose ideals are exclusive to women’s betterment. According to Sarah Anders, Communications Director for Mayor-Elect of Boston Michelle Wu, the definition of “feminism is believing that men, women, and nonbinary people all deserve equal rights and opportunities” (Anders). In accordance with Anders’ claims, feminism is not an extremist movement whose goals are to pit men and women against one another. Feminism is the unification of all people to spur progress toward equality for all people. 


Change to society’s outlook on women’s rights cannot be made if only a fraction of the population makes a valiant effort to achieve equality. During one of her speeches, Emma Watson asks her audience “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited?” (United Nations). Watson insinuates that men are often excluded from the popularized list of people vital to the success of this movement. The privileges men in a patriarchal society have, including heightened political influence, can be used to gain ground in support of women’s rights. All men can use their privileges to advocate for women’s inclusion, rights, and liberties. 


Feminists are continuously criticized for their “radical” ideas and hopes for equality. Regardless of their gender, feminists are often associated with man-hating and the general disgust of society. Should equality incite defiance and criticism from a group of privileged people solely based on their lack of experience with flagrant oppression? Passivity should not be the baseline for privileged groups of people, regardless of the issue.  


Does the idea of equal rights, liberties, and opportunities for all curtail the privileges a select group possesses? Surely those who belong to this privileged group must be willing to sacrifice their own privileges to experience the inequity they force upon others with their blatant passivity. After all, those who remain silent in the fight for equality are guilty of upholding sexist ideals. 


In the majority, men do not actively think about gender and its social implications. But lack of concern is only part of the problem. Gender inequality is not an issue of gender, but an issue with apathy. Society is in desperate need of more enthusiastic and driven male supporters for the women’s movement. 


The Work of Feminism Is Not Done 

Over a hundred years ago, women procured the right to vote at the hands of female suffrage activists of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Alongside a plethora of motivated women, some notable men also reinforced the ideals of this campaign, namely Upton Sinclair and Thomas Paine. 


If women have already gained the same rights as men, why does feminism continue to complain about injustices? 


Maria Cahill, a seven-year educator of Gender Roles and Women’s Studies at Sandwich High School, explains that “post-feminism is the belief that the feminist movement has achieved all the goals it originally set out to accomplish” (Cahill). The concept of post-feminism is common in the non-feminist community and discourages consistent action against gender oppression. The work of the feminist movement is not yet complete. There remain significant disparities between men’s and women’s rights. 


Social interpretations of women, and feminism especially, have become so tainted that the topic of gender equality has become polarized politically. Cahill asserts that “many people still view feminism as an extremist movement or one that has already been achieved.” 


What’s seen as a success for women is often a mere compromise. This is evident in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which hardly allowed women the right to vote in 1920 after a decades-long battle for suffrage. Women attaining fundamental rights, while it should be celebrated, depicts the struggle and injustice that accompanies women’s resistance to the patriarchy. Men have long had fundamental rights, unlike women. The celebration of the success of a movement that should not have had to take place, such as the women’s suffrage movement, is a sturdy example of the compromises women make on a daily basis. 


The 19th Amendment of the United States allowed women the right to vote. What’s unseen in this proclamation are the invisible privileges wealthy white women had that others did not. Theoretical unhindered suffrage for women of color did not come about until 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed (“A History of Voter Suppression”). These transparent clauses are anything but unacknowledged, as the foundation of the United States inherently discriminates on the basis of sex, race, and social class. 


These spheres each have a set of hierarchical levels of privilege. Intersectionality is the concept that describes the overlapping areas of discrimination which an individual can simultaneously possess. A common example of this, as initially conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw, is the particular layers of discrimination Black women face. Crenshaw, in the late 1980s, coined the term intersectionality to better portray the heightened degrees of prejudice that minority communities face. Intersectionality and feminism go hand-in-hand. One cannot fully embody feminist ideals without acknowledging, and acting purposefully upon, the various levels of discrimination people brave.  


The scholar of Critical Race Theory reinforces this idea by saying that if “feminism does not explicitly oppose racism, and...anti-racism does not incorporate opposition to patriarchy...both interests lose” (Crenshaw). One cannot claim to combat racism if feminism is ignored, and the same vice versa. The semi-newfound intersectionality pillar of feminism is unique to third and fourth-wave feminism. The movements that occurred in the early twentieth and mid-twentieth centuries were highly discriminatory against Black women. 


Historically, feminist movements have excluded Black, indigenous, Asian, and Latin women. The current wave of feminism does not stand for the exclusion of these women, nor will it tolerate prejudice against any member of marginalized communities. Legitimate feminism is not exclusionary to any degree. 


Contrary to the portrayal of feminism in the media, the goals of feminism do not oppose the rights and liberties of anyone. Much like how feminism cannot be bona fide without the acknowledgment of and action against racism, the feminist movement requires advocacy against all forms of prejudice against all people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.  


In 1969, The Stonewall Riots served as a stimulus to the gay rights movement’s upward mobility. Throughout a morning in June of that year, numerous employees and frequenters were forcefully thrown out of the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay club in New York City (“About Marsha P. Johnson”). 


Not only were these people met with immense violence and criticism of their methods of self-expression, but a plethora of other acts of discrimination were also committed against this community. Throughout the vast majority of the 20th century, dressing in drag was treated as a crime. There was a discriminatory “three-article law” that required people at all times to be wearing at least three articles of clothing associated with their assigned gender at birth. Of the well-known drag queens hauled away from the Stonewall Inn, Marsha P Johnson remains a significant figure in the LGBTQIA+ movement in the 1970s (“About Marsha P. Johnson”). 


Marsha P. Johnson was a Black trans woman who aided homeless transgender youth in New York City. She is today remembered as an icon for her unapologetic self-expression, as well as her vivacious and altruistic personality. 


Just as the feminist movement should honor and applaud the work accomplished by Lucy Stone, Jane Addams, and Kimberlé Crenshaw, both trans women’s successes, as well as their hardships, should be highlighted as pivotal events in the timeline of feminist history. Much like the requirement of intersectionality,  deliberate action against the discrimination of the LGBTQIA+ community is imperative in the accurate and modern definition of feminism. 


Injustices Sown By the Patriarchy 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in every 5 women in the United States has been raped in their lifetime. The effects of rape do not cease after the crime has been committed, nor do the emotional effects limit themselves to the victim. Mental and emotional implications include the significant increase in both depression and suicide. 


This is just one disquieting statistic from the United States’ epidemic of women’s oppression. 


Societally-implemented female ideals are propagated toward women of all ages. Girls especially are indoctrinated with sexist ideas frequently present in fairy tales. Female independence is often denied in childhood. The media conveys successful and happy women as those who are deemed valued by a man in one form or another. This may present itself as awaited contentedness achieved only once a woman finds a husband. Girls have a unique task to unlearn these false narratives to become self-sufficient and content later in life. Kathleen Hanna, leader of 1990s feminist punk-rock band Bikini Kill, creates a Riot Grrrl Manifesto, outlining the goals of the band’s feminist agenda. Hanna describes the oppression of women as “impractical lies meant to keep us simply dreaming instead of becoming our dreams” (“Riot Grrrl Manifesto”). In accordance with Hanna’s claims, the expectations and assumptions made of women are often inculcated onto girls at a young age. 


All genders in a patriarchal society have a set of roles or unspoken expectations that predetermine one’s freedom to express individuality. All people are regulated by patriarchal values and are told they must abide by a specific list of stagnant and outdated gender norms often referred to as gender roles. As patriarchies describe the systems that encourage excessive male dominance in politics, social privilege, and more, women bear the brunt of the harm repressive gender roles inflict. There’s a never-ending stream of limitations society drowns women in.


The Los Angeles Times reports that Nancy Wood, a 75-year-old homeless woman in Orange County, California, has been consistently plagued by local officials who neglect to acknowledge her misfortune incited by violence. Nancy’s descent into homelessness began after she was subject to a severe beating by a group of men she believes were police officers. Wood remained strewn in bushes for over 24 unconscious hours. This event, occurring over twenty years ago, has resulted in a plethora of difficulties for Nancy. Not only has she been exposed to violence and crime, but Nancy has also endured heart conditions without receiving adequate healthcare. Nancy’s struggles of homelessness depict the common injustices served to women that have faced violence in the past. Homelessness and lack of access to healthcare are subsequent to extreme violence. Some institutions have been put in place to support victims of assault. 


Even systems designed to aid women and their hurdles are inherently ineffective. In the United States, federally-supplied paid paternity leave is nonexistent. Only 21% of US workers receive paid paternity leave supplied by their employer. Compared to Finland’s 161 weeks of paid maternity leave, the U.S. fails completely. Of the United States, only nine states offer paid family and medical leave. The US Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 remains today the only piece of federal legislation that protects families’ ability to leave work for the birth or adoption of a child, as well as the illness of a family member. Of the 56 percent of Americans who qualify for protection by FMLA, 66 percent are unable to utilize its benefits due to its high cost (Arneson). If the US fails to support its women and families, how can we expect that society will regard all genders as equals? 


An occupational injustice that opposes women is the obstructed ability to achieve high-tier success in traditionally female-dominated fields. From the U.S. Department of Education 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey, 63 percent of high school teachers are female, while only 48 percent of principals are women (Maranto et al.). This gap resembles a significant disparity between the number of women that occupy a specific field and the number of women that are given leadership positions in those same fields. Career-related injustices are not only products of the past. Senator Elizabeth Warren states that in August of 2021, “only 11.9% of [the hundreds of thousands of jobs added to the economy] went to women.” Not only are women unable to receive leadership positions in female-dominated fields, but they are also given fewer opportunities than men to acquire a job in the first place. 


Women must prove their worth to an audience whenever they present themselves or their ideas publicly. There is a societal belief that women are incapable of leadership roles or positions that require confidence and resilience. Dismantling this belief is a goal women often set out to achieve when in a male-dominated environment. 


Appearing “too feminine” is a common worry in women’s internal dialogue due to the social pressures from the patriarchy. However, societally-implemented gender norms forbid women’s ability to appear masculine. Patriarchal values are a restrictive jump rope that prohibits women a moment to rest both feet on the ground at once. There is an expectation for women to appear physically attractive on a daily basis. Historically, have women preferred uncomfortable attire? Are tight shirts the new rib-cracking corsets? It’s due to pressure and media portraying women as constantly manicured, rouged, and dressed to the nines that propel women’s doubt pertaining to their self-worth. 


Of course, feminism does not discourage the self-expression of women. When a woman, or anyone, so chooses to dress in clothes commonly misinterpreted as “attention-seeking,” it is a feminist’s place to support them in their self-expression without criticism. Likewise, some women prefer the roles that are expected of them based on their gender. If a woman chooses to be a stay-at-home mother out of her own free will, it is a feminist’s place to support her decision and celebrate her contentedness. The goal of feminism is not to make all prominent political figures women, it’s seeking to uplift and encourage women on their unique paths of life while changing the systems in place that inherently provide disadvantages to women. 


Women experience violence at rates that have increased exponentially over time. Three in four women are victims of some form of sexual violence (NCADV). This issue cannot be ignored any longer, nor can it be considered “taboo.” The fear of discomfort or lack of knowledge on this topic often exacerbates the problem of passivity, worsening the effects women face. It’s common that violence against women is conducted by figures with some sort of position of power implemented by society or organizations. 


Women not only endure violence from individuals but from government regulation as well. According to the World Health Organization, almost every abortion death could be prevented through safe, professionally-administered abortions. Whether or not one believes in the morality of abortion, the death of 70,000 women globally each year is a tragedy all can agree upon (WHO). Independent of its legal status, women will continue to get abortions for a plethora of reasons: If the child was the product of rape, if the child will lack necessities to sustain life (such as shelter, healthcare, or food), if the child will be exposed to domestic violence in the household, etc. The list goes on, but what’s imperative to acknowledge is that no one should have the authority to determine the validity of a woman’s choice to abort a fetus. 


People so often believe women to be the only victims of gender conditioning. Contrary to this claim, Emma Watson makes the assertion that “men don’t have the benefits of equality either” (United Nations). The treatment men receive from a patriarchal society is not always just, albeit they remain the dominant demographic in terms of power, influence, and privilege. 


Gender conditioning for boys is a prominent facet in the issue of gender inequality. Men are expounded with exhortations from the patriarchal society as everyone else. These include the suppression of emotions, weaknesses, and self-expression. Society has done a great disservice to men, as they are taught from birth that they must hold the majority of laboring responsibilities. Men are forcibly administered the prescription of masculinity, which often includes the escalated state of inhumanity resulting in violence toward others. While 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime, whereas 1 in 71 men have been victims of the same violence (NCADV). Both these figures depict alarming rates of violence toward both genders of people. 


How Can Men Be Feminists?

This movement for equality is not exclusively comprised of women, nor should it be. According to Maria Cahill, men have the ability to remain steadfast for the cause of feminism “by supporting women’s movements, listening to their needs, and allowing women to have a seat at the table where all important decisions are made.” 


Fear of repercussions in the form of scrutiny is a leading cause of the opposition to feminism. Some people may even be a feminist without acknowledging it. According to a survey from Pew Research Center, 69% of non-feminists believe that it is very important for women to have equal rights with men. People generally do not oppose women’s rights, rather, non-feminists tend to associate the feminist movement as an angry, man-hating movement. In contrast with this idea, Cahill asserts that “anyone that believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes is already a feminist.” Polarization of the topic of feminism has done significant harm to the success of the movement. Most self-identified non-feminists do not explicitly oppose the values of equality, rather, non-feminists wish not to associate with the stereotypical angered and hairy-legged feminists. 


From a privileged perspective, men have a unique role to play in the progression of the feminist movement. There are a plethora of ways men can take action to dismantle the patriarchy. 


To begin the practice of being pro-feminist, all people must acknowledge the privileges they hold and actively use them to support feminism. This includes dismantling the behavioral norms some have adopted without conscious recognition. For men, there are consistent expectations to follow. This materializes as a set of harmful practices that result from the exaggerated utilization of masculine traits. Toxic masculinity is the exacerbated set of behavioral norms instilled into men, resulting in harm to others. Values such as strength, assertiveness, and leadership are some examples. These traditionally masculine traits can prove destructive when taken to extremes: domestic violence can stem from over-assertiveness, a dominance of male leadership results in a lack of female representation in a multitude of settings, and the very definition of strength becomes associated strictly with the male gender. The toxicity of this practice is detrimental to creating a safe environment where all people can be regarded equally. To support feminist ideals day-to-day, men must combat toxic masculinity and the inappropriate social implications that accompany this behavior. 


The inclusion of women in traditionally male-dominated fields represents another issue feminism seeks to combat. According to UN Women, only 10 of the 195 countries in the world have had female representatives as Head of State. In an email interview with Massachusetts State Representative Stephen Xiarhos, he identifies the increasing female presence in the political scene. He says that “every election cycle more and more women are elected to serve in the Massachusetts Legislature.” Meanwhile, if the current rate at which women are elected office remains, gender equality in global elections will not be reached for another 130 years (UN Women). While the outlook for local female politicians may appear hopeful, there remain hurdles that can be eliminated solely by a change to our global society as a whole. This shift may come in the form of an increase of support for the feminist movement or, more specifically, a decrease in unwarranted criticism toward female politicians. 


Some pro-feminist men subscribe to the belief that providing women with special accommodations is a form of progressive feminism. This is untrue because it perpetuates the inequality between the sexes. Allowing a woman to receive priority treatment, though polite in nature, sustains traditional sexist trends’ longevity. This invalidates women’s strength and capability by offering special treatment due to a falsely perceived handicap designated by her gender. Protective Parentalism is often confused with feminism. This idea suggests that men should protect women from dangers rather than support them in their strive for equality. Benevolent sexism is a similar concept, which describes the inadvertent acts of discrimination men commit against women. 


Women’s independence and success should not present as a threat to men. Gender roles preach that female success emasculates men. It’s an often occurrence that a woman is capable of completing a “male” task, and an incapable man is perceived as weak and shameful. The principle of feminism is not to tear down men while building the egos of women. On a smaller scale, men can take an active role in dismantling everyday gender roles. Men can do this by acknowledging their own prejudices toward women while continuing to educate themselves on women’s issues. Kindly encouraging a friend to put a stop to subtle misogynistic remarks or thought processes is another example. 


The idea that explicitly supporting women’s rights is emasculating to men is untrue. As stated by a reporter for The Washington Post, Weiyi Cai, four in ten Americans believe the feminist movement to be one that arbitrarily blames men for women’s challenges. Of course, this belief is incorrect. A society that upholds sexist values is to blame for gender inequality; a society, which, contains all genders. Society, as a whole, can actively dismantle the systems of oppression women face. 


People of all genders must deliberately and passionately support feminism in order to foster a more just, equitable, and equal global society. Author of We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Adichie says that once officially declaring herself a feminist, she chose “to no longer be apologetic for [her] femaleness and...femininity.” When all people can confidently and unapologetically take part in a movement whose goals inspire equality on the basis of sex, race, social class, ethnicity, and religion, the effects will last long into the future, sustaining the life of generations to come with an environment inclusive of all people. 




Works Cited

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