Why Men and Women are Victims of Patriarchal Conditioning

01.23.2018 Arts & Culture
Lara Wilson
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I’m writing this the same week Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in the Senate race in Alabama, thanks to all the women of color who turned out to vote and totally rocked it.

But the issue today is as non-partisan as it is non-political, as we’ve recently seen from the tearing down of men in power across industries. Part of #metoo’s power lies in its specific targeting of status, with alleged assaulters in entertainment, journalism, sports and government all affected. The stronger a celebrity’s hold on the public, the better a story ignites (or at least that’s how it seems listening to NPR). However, in spite of this rule, Trump still presides. Akin to status, as Brit Marling eloquently described in The Atlantic, is economics or access to money: in many ways, male assaulters, as in Weinstein’s case, control the purse strings of a given industry.

Because of its broadness we need to address — as the movement keeps moving — its enormous complexity.

After listening to Rebecca Traister on the subject, I stand in awe of a world that doesn’t exist, built entirely by women. As she points out, we live in its exact opposite: “We can’t imagine what the world would’ve looked like if this systematic behavior hadn’t been in place. We don’t have the buildings that were built by women or the food that was cooked by women or the comedy that was written and performed by women or the art that would’ve been made by women or the books that would’ve been written by women or the political narrative that would’ve been told by women or the candidates and politicians and political leadership that should’ve been female.”

But I can see the fictitious land’s light and shadows and winding alleyways and overlapping design trends and interwoven lives and missed opportunities and solved or prevented problems as clearly as I can see the complexity of my own life as a woman in the world as we do know it.

I was inspired to write about this topic for a variety of reasons: my interest in women’s issues, my personal experiences as a woman, and, because I realized that my male partner with whom I usually am able to talk freely about current events, was not someone who shared my views, nor could he relate to or even sympathize with, the anger I was feeling. In fact, he had his own views — which I had difficulty accommodating in the same conversation.

In an interview with Kristen Roupenian, who wrote a popular fictional short story “Cat Person” for The New Yorker, I saw a similar deflating experience reflected, as the main character longs for a boyfriend to laugh with her about an awkward sexual encounter. She says, “It’s the irony of heterosexual relationships, that you’re searching for a partner who has experienced the world so much differently than you have, and whose romantic and sexual history is so different from your own. That’s a pain a lot of women I know have felt acutely, especially in this past year, when all of these terrible shared experiences are becoming part of the public conversation. Women try to talk about these experiences with their partners, and they find themselves failing. It’s an isolating feeling for both people involved.”

Marling, Traister and Roupenian share something in common as they write and/or speak.

Their observations of what being female means in an overwhelmingly male world are articulate and brave. But they are also angry.

Traister states, “I’m a feminist who believes this stuff needs to be talked about, who thinks this is a crucial and eye-opening conversation. At the same time, I am hating it. I hate it. It is horrible to live through this every day. It’s horrible to be hearing these stories. We all, on some level, want it to end, and I am probably among those who are most invested in it not ending.”

Many emotions have accompanied the progress of #metoo as I’ve observed it:

1 | Fear that people will become numb to further allegations or angry at the media for reporting them.

2 | Fear of a pendulum swing caused by the discomfort of this conversation.

3 | Empathy for the men I’d admired who were publicly shamed.

4 | Annoyance at myself for feeling empathy.

5 | Amazement for all the women in my social circles who posted #metoo stories.

6 | Anger at my younger self for not speaking up enough when men tried to — and did — impose their desires on me, and for laughing off or ignoring uncomfortable moments and inappropriate sayings in the workplace.

7 | Admiration for the many Marlings, Traisters, Roupenians and others that using their voices.

#Metoo isn’t, and won’t be a simple turning of tables. Instead, it must be a relearning on the parts of men and women — just as those unfamiliar with non-binary genders must now learn to do and adapt.

If I’m honest, I know my own #metoo stories had two sides, as all interactions do. Looking back on a few of them again, I can see the faint outlines of my partner’s argument as I recall my part in them. I didn’t know then that flirtation wasn’t necessarily a compliment, but that it could also be an advantage that was played out. I allowed lines between friendship and romance to blur out of boredom and apathy and the need for attention, just the same as I did from having the lack of right words or a desire to prevent awkwardness.

It’s hard, but I don’t blame myself. I don’t fault my mother or teachers or anyone else who helped shape me. I don’t even resent the men involved. Because they, and everyone else, were also molded.

We all have learned to be complicit in a world where women are objectified, bought for pleasure, and forced to play by men’s whims and rules. I don’t think anyone is surprised by this reckoning, or that these behaviors were happening. We all knew they were. But the climate has made them impossible to ignore — like recurrent natural disasters should be making climate change undeniable.

Women sharing stories, the very premise of #metoo, must help us out of these isolating experiences. We’ve begun to recognize the patterns of the foundation peeking through the patriarchy in which we live.

The house is (finally) coming apart.

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