Patriarchy and the Problem of Being Born Female by @amymarieaustin

(Cross-posted from The Feminist Writers)

Characterised by unequal power relations between men and women, patriarchy systematically oppresses those who are, through no fault of their own, born female. Ironically even the male reproductive cell triumphs here. If patriarchy wasn’t bad enough, biologically speaking men fundamentally control sex, albeit unintentionally, making it difficult for society (although I say society very loosely, clearly there are many who do so) to refute the ideology that men are biologically ‘superior’. Described as a Social System in which men are at the forefront of social organisation, patriarchy, although historically epitomised through political authority (what’s changed?), is very much in the present. Society tends to have an uneasy relationship with power and power relations tend to be socially constructed. More often than not we are offered a socially formulated interpretation of power based on pre-constructed patriarchal ideals, stemming from hundreds of years of parliamentary history, male rulers and inequality.

Social constructions of gender, like power, stem from patriarchal ideologies- how often have we heard the phrases “man up!” (because you’re acting “like a girl” and femininity equates to feebleness of course) or “you hit/fight/run/throw (you can pretty much substitute this with anything) like a girl!” Meant as an insult because of course, running “like a girl” means that you’re not running “like a man”, and of course not running “like a man”means that you aren’t running properly. Socialisation, whilst imperative in terms of forming independent personal identities, brings with it an air of ‘dirtiness’. The term talks of a process whereby an individual “acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behaviour, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.” ( The word”appropriate” troubles me somewhat. Who are we to define what is or is not “appropriate”, or what does or does not constitute as gender? What does it mean to be male? Why should masculinity define superiority and in turn heroicness? (As a brief side note, as a female music student, the ideology that maleness equates greatness, cannot be more apparent. Often ‘powerful’ diatonic chords and full orchestration create a sense of achievement and direction that are readily utilised by both male and female composers to depict masculinity within music; whilst ‘femininity’ tends to spell ‘weakness’ or ‘simplicity’ in musical style- traits that unfortunately our patriarchal society associate with women.)

As a Feminist, the term ‘gender’ itself is problematic. I am against what gender is and what gender does. Environmentally speaking, gender is independent of sex (implying bodily innateness independent of the cultural variability of gender) and signifies the social constructedness of what maleness and femaleness mean in a given culture. The hierarchy that implicitly positions men above women due to reproductive difference, is a harmful one. This worryingly means that at birth we are ‘assigned’ a set of expectations that as a male or female we must adhere to. People expect things of you because you are male- you must be a leader, you must provide for your family, you must not cry, and so on. You cannot walk into a toy shop without seeing two very separate walls- one adorned with dolls, plastic kitchen equipment, (clearly as a women the kitchen is our natural habitat) and pink things. The other containing cars, Buzz Lightyear and water pistols. A recent trip to John Lewis with my friend and her five year old son, reinforced more clearly than ever, the divide between the ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’; “My Cleaning Trolley” stood out in particular, made me furious and fundamentally depicted the problem with gender stereotyping. Why are we teaching our daughters that they must be domesticated? I understand the choice to be a mother, the choice to be a housewife,  the choice to be working parent or the choice to have no children at all. Regardless, we are our own agents, and surely we must allow our daughters the right to choose.

Sadly, being born female brings with it it’s implications. We should be entertaining our daughters’ right to be whatever they want to be, but instead, more than ever, we are aware of the heightened risks that accompany being born a woman. Sexual assault; child sexual abuse; sexual harassment; sexism in schools, in the workplace, in the street; the risk of unwanted pregnancy and the stress that accompanies having no access to contraception or abortion; the increased risk of Sexually Transmitted Disease, and the prevalence of domestic violence, both physical and mental, in relationships. The list goes on.  Equally, women earn less pay simply for being women (despite doing the same work as men), and pregnant women (who choose to put their careers on hold and have children) often face discrimination in the workplace. Misogyny is so rife in the world that women face violence all over it: FGM and the rape and killings of Lower Caste Women in India to name a few examples, but the list does not end there.

It is not simple anatomy which is harmful to children, it is the forced gender roles which we assign to the sexes that harm them from birth. It is telling girls that they are inherently inferior; it is telling them that they are responsible for becoming victims of sexual assault or violence; it is teaching them that their vulvas are ‘dirty’ whilst men’s sexual parts are ‘something to be proud of’; it is teaching boys that they need to “man up”; it is teaching them that they are allowed to be violent in certain circumstances; and is it teaching them that women are enticing objects of sexual desire. We must begin to educate our sons, we must stop blaming our daughters for dressing “inappropriately” and encourage our sons to respect not only themselves, but their female counterparts.  The term ‘gender’ needs to be abolished. Only then might we be able to move away from a society that fundamentally relies upon patriarchy, to one where we talk freely of female biology and remove the negative connotations that surround the term ‘female.’

The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin 

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