Earlier this year, in February, the internet broke over the Vogue Cover photo of Rihanna, with a serious and confident expression, leading A$AP Rocky by the hand, their baby cradled in his arms as he affectionately kissed the child’s forehead. The composition of the image bears a notable resemblance to the African Renaissance Monument, albeit with reversed traditional gender roles.
Numerous individuals argued that the mere portrayal emasculates A$AP Rocky (the Men), offering diverse arguments to support their claims. Some even invoked the Green Line theory to justify their perspective, despite the theory lacking scientific credibility and having been debunked by experts as “simply not true”.
Some argue that a woman being subordinate to a man is rooted in culture, while others contend that men are biologically superior to women. However, culture is merely a set of beliefs that can (and should) evolve, much like the abandonment of practices such as the killing of twins in Nigeria. While biological evidence suggests specialisation and complementarity, rather than superiority or subordination, between the male and female.
Regrettably, it is these faulty assumptions and perceptions that are often wielded and exploited by the supporters of Patriarchy to sideline, dominate, or oppress women without remorse, and sometimes unconsciously.
In this piece, we are going to take a critical look at the problems with Patriarchy and suggest what the Feminists think is a better alternative.
But first, what is patriarchy?
What Is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and authority, and keep women in a lower position. This system is made up of both rules and beliefs. The rules make it hard for women to have as much power, privileges, or opportunities as men, while the beliefs say that these rules are okay or even right.
In other words, anyone who supports the idea that men and women are not equal while upholding the idea that men are superior automatically subscribes to patriarchy.
While society has mostly operated under these systems for centuries, it is important to understand that this idea limits and harms women in many different ways (and we will get to those shortly).
However, the increasing educational attainment, labour market participation, and the gradual trend towards women’s emancipation have collectively empowered more women, ultimately leading to a questioning of patriarchal norms.
This is where feminism and feminists come in.
What Is Feminism?
Despite the varied definitions and perspectives that surround it, coupled with the presence of extreme views that can also be problematic, Feminism is, at its core, a movement that advocates for the rights of women and strives to achieve gender equality.
Hence, a feminist is anyone – male or female – who believes this to be right and advocates for it.
“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”– Chimamanda Adiche
To better understand the point of the feminists, it is best first to understand the problems associated with patriarchy.
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What’s The Problem With Patriarchy?
A few days ago, a friend shared a clip of Chimamanda Adichie with me. In the video, she explained how on one occasion she challenged the traditional Igbo practice of breaking Kola nuts, in which the women are neither permitted to break it nor are permitted to be shown the nuts after it has been broken by the men. She recounted how the elders, despite their initial reluctance, eventually agreed to show her the nuts, and this small victory kindled a spark of hope within her that she could gradually reshape the community’s norms.
To many, she was simply prideful, disrespectful, or foolish, but that was exactly her point. Why is it considered prideful, disrespectful or foolish to be treated as equal? What reason justifies the women being denied privileges such as breaking Kola, seeing masquerades, inheriting properties, and so on?
She argued (but not in the clip), that the problem is that women are not being seen as full human beings (Aka, dehumanization of women). Hence, the undeniable cascade of inequalities and injustices that permeate many aspects of women’s lives.
- Gender-based pay inequality: In many cases, when performing identical jobs, women consistently earn less than their male counterparts. This disparity has far-reaching consequences, limiting women’s financial independence, perpetuating poverty, and hindering their ability to provide for themselves and their families.
- Workplace discrimination: Women face a myriad of discriminatory practices in the workplace, from being denied promotions and pay raises to experiencing sexual harassment and assault. These barriers hinder women’s professional advancement, limit their earning potential, and create a hostile and unsafe work environment.
- Limited access to education: In many patriarchal societies, girls are denied access to education, depriving them of the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions about their lives and contribute meaningfully to society. This lack of education perpetuates the cycle of poverty and limits women’s opportunities for social mobility.
- Early and forced marriages: In some cultures, girls are subjected to early and forced marriages, often as young as childhood. These marriages rob girls of their childhood, deny them the opportunity to pursue education and personal development, and expose them to the risks of domestic violence and reproductive health complications.
- Harmful traditional practices: Patriarchal societies often uphold harmful traditional practices that inflict physical and psychological pain on women, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. These practices violate women’s bodily integrity, deny them autonomy over their bodies, and cause lifelong physical and emotional trauma.
- Limited political participation: Women’s voices are often silenced and marginalized in political spheres, limiting their representation in decision-making processes. This lack of political participation perpetuates gender inequality and hinders women’s ability to influence policies that affect their lives and communities.
Sometimes, it gets so bad that even it brainwashes some women into supporting and perpetuating patriarchy in all its extremes and excesses.
The cumulative impact of these patriarchal practices creates a web of oppression that traps women in a cycle of disadvantage, disempowerment, and suffering. The pain and suffering inflicted by patriarchy are not mere abstractions; they are real and tangible, experienced by millions of women worldwide. Saying it can be compared to the problem of racism and bigotry is not far from the harsh reality women face daily.
And, considering women make up about half of the world’s population, the effects of patriarchy ultimately affect the men as well. Patriarchy stifles progress, hinders economic development, and undermines the well-being of families and communities.
But, this is not an argument that men should be less masculine, or that women should start oppressing men. It doesn’t also ignore the fact that men face a lot of challenges and suffer their share of discrimination in society.
It is rather a wake-up call that we can improve on the system we are operating on pretty much like we improved on our technologies. It’s a reminder that we should acknowledge and support competence no matter the gender (just as we try to do despite race, religion, or ethnicity).
Fragile Egos and Abusers [Even More Problems With Patriarchy]
“A$AP is a bitch” he said. “So all ladies who rally behind men are bitches?”. I replied. “Nope, they’re doing their job perfectly”. “Perhaps A$AP is as well” “A man is the head and his woman is support” “Who declared this? Why should we believe it?” “God did.”
It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that many staunch advocates for patriarchy ascribe little to no respect to whoever is beneath. It is also not hard to see how problematic the justifications are.
Rihanna is a successful singer, songwriter, and businesswoman who is widely regarded as one of the most prominent singers of the 21st century. She has accomplished what many can only dream of, demonstrating her intelligence, skill, and grit. And that is besides her being the cynosure of the magazine. Yet, for some reason, her leading was unacceptable. What’s so wrong about a competent woman being in the spotlight whilst, the man tends to his own child?
The answer is Culture. It is simply not the norm. In fact, most people would consider it more acceptable for her to be subordinate to an imbecile or even a kid as long as it is male. A female leading a male – even if she is loving, respectful, and kind – is simply not acceptable.
And, that’s the thing with culture. It often functions as a living entity, with dogma serving as the anti-bodies that fight any foreign ideas even if it is intended to improve the culture. That is the reason Feminism – an idea that promotes the equality, or fair treatment, of both males and females – is considered a threat.
The truth is, if the culture (i.e. patriarchy) had been truly favourable and respectful to the women who have taken the backstage for centuries, there wouldn’t have been so much antagonism – no one would have instantly considered it “emasculation” that a man came second.
The arrogance and ego that Patriarchy feeds hinder the ability to appreciate the diverse skills and insights that each person brings to the table. The result is asphyxiation of society and the flourishing of abusers.
“The more ‘hard man’ the man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is. And then we do a much greater disservice to girls because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of men.”– Chimamanda Adiche
Why Do People Support Patriarchy?
Patriarchy has been the norm for centuries and has over time found footing in almost all aspects of our lives, shaping our values and warping what we perceive as reality itself.
For instance, while most adherents of Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – affirm that God created both men and women in Their/His image, they have historically considered and treated women as objects, or property of men. They may defend patriarchy by insisting that God made women out of the rib of a man (Genesis 2:22), or, more directly, that God has cursed the woman, that she would forever be ruled by the man (Genesis 3:16). Furthermore, the language of marriage is often the language of ownership rather than the language of partnership. This is why we have terms like “Bride prices” – with the woman being paid for like one would pay for a sheep.
However, the interpretation of Biblical passages and their application to modern society is a complex and nuanced issue. For instance, the phrase “he shall rule over thee” in Genesis 3:16 can be interpreted to mean that the man has the responsibility to “protect” and “care for” his wife, rather than suggest that men are superior to women.
While some people may misinterpret or misuse religious texts to justify harmful and outdated practices, it’s crucial to recognize that these interpretations are subjective and do not represent the true essence of the religion or its original intent.
That said, some factors which lead to support of patriarchy include;
- Socialization and Upbringing: From a young age, individuals are socialized into gender roles that reinforce patriarchal norms. Boys are often taught to be assertive, dominant, and leaders, while girls are taught to be submissive, nurturing, and followers. This socialization process contributes to the internalization of patriarchal values, making it difficult for individuals to see them as subjective not to mention challenge these norms.
- Religious Interpretations: Some religious interpretations may be used to justify or reinforce patriarchal norms. This can lead to a conflation of religious beliefs with patriarchal values, making it difficult to challenge these norms without being seen as questioning one’s faith.
- Institutional Structures: Historically, many institutions not only have but often insist that only men hold primary or important positions. This reinforces the idea that men are of more value than women.
- Economic Benefits: Holding top and important positions often comes with a lot of benefits including power and money. The result is that the men (even when less qualified) are incentivised to maintain the status quo and resist challenges to it.
- Psychological Factors: Some individuals may derive a sense of power and control from upholding patriarchal norms. This can be particularly true for men who have internalised the idea that their masculinity is tied to their dominance over women.
- Fear of Change: Patriarchy provides a sense of predictability and order for many individuals. Challenging patriarchal norms can feel unusual, destabilizing, and even threatening, leading some to resist change out of fear of the unknown.
- Lack of Awareness: Not everyone is fully aware of the pervasiveness and negative impacts of patriarchy. This lack of awareness can make it difficult for individuals to identify and challenge patriarchal norms in their own lives and communities.
Mere looking at the list, it can easily be seen that some factors reinforce other facts, and the vicious circle continues. It takes a lot of education, and compassion to break free from such prevailing ideologies.
Is There A Case To Be Made For Patriarchy?
Men and women are not the same. There are biological differences between men and women, and to a significant extent, they influence the roles they are better suited for. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that the differences – in both nature and duty – do not make one superior to the other; but rather complementary.
In ancient times, men played critical roles in the context of protection, particularly during wars. However, this does not automatically elevate their importance over women. Claiming that a man’s duty in battle makes him more significant overlooks the vital roles women played in giving birth, raising children, and even agriculture. These contributions were fundamental to the preservation and perpetuation of society.
While men were often seen as the protectors, women were the nurturers and caretakers, ensuring the continuity of life and the well-being of the community. Their contributions were no less significant, as they formed the backbone of society, providing sustenance, education, and emotional support.
However, in the modern world, the threats and opportunities that exist have drastically changed, hence women do not need to be confined to their former roles (and neither do men).
In this era of modern warfare, physical strength has been largely superseded by sophisticated weaponry, powerful machines, and weapons of mass destruction. Society has evolved to organize itself efficiently, with law enforcement agencies and military forces assuming roles that were once associated with individual acts of violence. Being a sensible person involves taking security measures and defusing/avoiding situations that may escalate into violence.
And, though there are indeed physically demanding tasks (that despite the help of machines) men are more suitable for, and are more willing to handle, it doesn’t diminish the role of women either. Women’s contributions in fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have revolutionized industries and driven progress.
Contrary to popular belief, leadership qualities are not inherently linked to physical attributes such as height, strength, or speed. Instead, effective leadership stems from a combination of intelligence, charisma, and strategic vision which both men and women equally possess. While men have historically dominated leadership positions, this is largely due to societal structures that have granted them preferential access to education and opportunities.
The same principle applies to other areas, such as cooking. While women are statistically more likely to take on domestic responsibilities like cooking and cleaning, this is not due to any inherent biological or divine reason. Rather, it reflects the societal norms and expectations that have traditionally placed these tasks on women.
This is why women such as Queen Elizabeth II (Former Queen of the United Kingdom), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Former President of Liberia), Dr Okonjo-Iweala (Director-General of the World Trade Organization), Sanna Marin (Prime minister of Finland), and, of course, Rihanna (Billionaire singer-songwriter and businesswoman) exist.
Conclusion: Can Male and Females Really Be Equal?
When I was in primary school, a new girl joined the class mid-term. She wore glasses and was chubby; however, she was incredibly intelligent. So intelligent that even we, the guys who usually topped the class, felt like morons compared to her. The class teachers, too, directed their attention to her.
She confidently answered questions and received compliments after tests. I remember feeling a bit intimidated by her, especially after she came first in class that same term. However, she changed schools the next term. I suppose she was too gifted to be in a regular school like ours.
Anyway, it didn’t come as too much of a shock to me, considering my sister is one of such gifted individuals. She came first position throughout her secondary school days and graduated with a first-class degree in mathematics. What am I saying? All my Sisters graduated with a first class.
I’d be foolish not to let them lead in areas where they are experts or more experienced.
Men and women can (and should be) equals. To not respect and empower women is to shoot ourselves in the leg. I think the problem is that we (men) have lost our way. Perhaps, we need to be reminded masculinity is not the same as emasculating women.
In the end, we need more brains and hearts. Because that is what has kept our species flourishing, and it is time we recruit the help of women. It is time to collaborate instead of compete. It is time to understand and adapt to the modern-day requirements of society. It is time we respect and make women also feel important.
I highly recommend seeing this TEDx talk by Chimamanda Adichie to learn more about Feminists and Feminism.
Here are some other content you might find useful on the blog:
- You’re a Product of Your Beliefs [This Is How To Ensure Your Beliefs Are True And Helpful].
- Why Exposure to Different Perspectives Leads To Growth [And How To Become More Open-Minded]
- What Really Controls Your Behaviour: 10 Ways To Develop and Strengthen A Healthy Ego.
- Empathy Vs Compassion: The Dangers of Empathy And Why You Must Develop Compassion To Truly Help People
- How Confirmation Bias Can Impact Your WorldView; And 4 Strategies To Overcome or Minimize it
I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.