Patriarchy and Feminism are Not Mutually Exclusive

Like many women, I always thought I understood patriarchy. It was, of course, nothing more than a male dominated system designed to oppress and exploit women.

I discovered I was wrong.

Once I found erotic fiction, specifically BDSM fiction, I was forced to reevaluate my ideas of what equated to dominance and submission as well as female empowerment and exploitation. My research led me to ask a lot of questions and look deeper under the surface than what I’d absorbed from my peers and the mainstream media.

What I found surprised and changed my belief system.

I discovered that I was being fed a party line on all three accounts. Patriarchy is not by its nature exploitive, BDSM is not fundamentally abusive, and feminism is not inherently empowering.

What people understand about patriarchy has been skewed by its practice. The definition of patriarchy is nothing more than, “a family, group, or government controlled by a man or a group of men; a social system in which family members are related to each other through their fathers” (Merriam-Webster). That’s it. Nothing more. It is not inherently oppressive. That the practice of patriarchy has become exploitive and oppressive is a result of the individuals within the system not the system itself. It’s like hating all men because a handful rape women. It is the men within the system who abuse their authority which invalidate patriarchy, not the nature of the system in and of itself. Women in power are no less susceptible to corruption: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Nancy Pelosi … I wouldn’t trust any of them as far as I could throw them to protect women.

The reality is that true equality is virtually impossible and someone has to be the tie breaker. A cosmic role of the dice gave us a patriarchal society. This is not mutually exclusive to the protection and empowerment of women as partners and self-determined individuals. In fact, history is dotted with examples of fathers and husbands who ensured their daughters and wives had the freedom and empowerment to determine the course of their own lives.

Ultimately, it was the study of the difference between BDSM and abuse that opened my mind to understanding that patriarchy is a neutral construct in its essence. Much like a gun, until it is used incorrectly to harm someone, patriarchy is, by itself, neutral. Patriarchy is a system of management until it is used to harm or exploit. In a comment exchange I had, I drew the parallel between porn and patriarchy stating:

“The porn industry is not by definition exploitive. The porn industry is designed for the purpose of making money and is therefore amoral. Exploitation of women within porn is a byproduct of the industry as a result of the fact that the majority of the women who enter that industry are not making rational, reasoned decisions.”

The abuse and exploitation within a patriarchal system are by-products of corrupt individuals, not a product of the system in and of itself. When it come to patriarchy, we need to hate the player, not the game – figuratively that is.

The flip side of this, however, is that women are eroding their high ground when Feminism has become nothing more than women oppressing women and using it as an excuse to man-bash. I think we all need to take a collective breath and start looking at the individual act rather than painting these “movements” with such broad brushes. We need to punish the abuser, punish the deed – in both genders – rather than say the system is wrong. Are all men fit to lead? No, but having a vagina doesn’t inherently make women better leaders. It just makes us female.

Leaders prove themselves regardless of sex organs. Our best course of action as human beings would be to eliminate labels and start looking to superiority of action not genitalia.

9 thoughts on “Patriarchy and Feminism are Not Mutually Exclusive

  1. Elene,

    Excellent post, with one error.

    The dominant dictionary definition for patriarchy ignores the etymology of the word; patriarchy is rule by fathers. This definition provides inbuilt qualifications for the men who would be patriarchs. Men who abandon children or deny paternity are not patriarchs; such men make orphans and bastards. Men who cannot negotiate marriages with the mothers of children are not patriarchs; by contrast men who support widows indeed by marriage and children by adoption are husbands and fathers and therefore patriarchs.

    • Thanks. I understand the etymology, but in that case, husbands would have no dominion over their wives of any kind only their children, in which case, you cannot have a sustainable system which is why I believe the etymology is not relevant.

  2. This is great, I just feel that a lot of the things you are claiming are feminist, are in fact not. The feminism I have seen never claimed women were better then men or blamed all men. Also, I do believe that patriarchal ideas can be carried out by average,everyday men in the simple ways they treat women and ignore their privilege.

      • They are attempts clouded by bias and prejudice. If true feminism is equality between all genders then these are failures to understand what that would really look like in our world. Feminism itself isn’t flawed, it is only idea, it’s how we’ve tried to describe the result of feminism, etc. that is flawed.

        • I would argue that as soon as an idea is applied, it becomes a practice. Feminism moved out of the ideology stage, the moment women actually demanded it’s implementation. Also, I’m not sure that feminism is about equality between genders as it is about female empowerment and self-determination without male interference.

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