Today seems like a good day to talk about patriarchy. Most general definitions of the word define it as a society or system in which males, masculinity, and manhood are privileged and centered over females, femininity, and womanhood. This privileging and centering marginalizes non-males from power and only affords them access to power in the interest in furthering the marginalization of non-males.
In a species in which females are the majority, patriarchy is counter-intuitive. Why would the minority–which is a minority by some form of evolutionary, biological imperative–wield power over the majority? Patriarchy doesn’t make much sense, yet it exists in so many parts of the world. Why? Why do some persons who are designated non-males by their society–for example in the West and Westernized world cisgender women, transgender persons, people of color, differently-abled persons, etc.–practice patriarchy even though it’s designed to harm them?
To begin to address these questions, I want to first lay out my theory for how patriarchy evolved. In a chapter titled “Black Mama Sauce” in my first book, Conjuring Black Funk: Notes on Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality, Volume 1, I first shared my theory:
Through ritual and possession, I have experienced this black ocean and have come to know Her as the first mother, the Great Black Mother. Though we are well removed in time from the first beings emerging from Her as a black ocean, She is a presence and force that has remained significant over time.
The rise of the hegemony of masculinism, male privilege, and patriarchy has dampened our capacities to appreciate Her but their efforts to do so have also evidenced Her power. Men’s will to power over the centuries has been, in part, due to their lack of complete identification with Her. (p. 194)
All of us begin in the womb of our mothers as female. Any changes to that reality are brought about by the introduction of hormonal and genetic triggers that alter our femaleness. Beyond a mere change in gender trajectory, this alteration affects the relationship that one has to the cycles of life on the earth and in the universe. The relationship among women who live in close proximity and between menstrual cycles and moon cycles are two of the few ways that the West has come to understand these many relationships.
Cisgender men don’t have readily observable, routine relationships and connections. They have to be initiated into the rhythms and cycles of life through processes like rites of passage. Cultures around the world have created those orienting process over millennia. Men who have completed rites of passage have had the opportunity to develop relationships and learn connections that other men learn from trial and error, if they are fortunate.
When there is no relationship and connection to the rhythms and cycles of life or those relationships and connections are fractured, it breeds a will to power–a need to fill the spiritual void and energetic dislocation with stuff. The stuff can be power. It can be influence and control over others. It can be accumulated wealth and possessions. That is motivating drive of patriarchy.
Patriarchy developed in numerous societies around the world–oftentimes alongside and competing with other forms of social organization. But it has achieved a dominant position within certain so-called European societies. A number of theorists, including Michael Bradley, Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, and Marimba Ani, have articulated the environmental and sociocultural reasons for that occurrence. Patriarchy fueled the imperialist drive within these societies, which then in turn, helped them import their preference for patriarchy to societies they colonized and supporting patriarchal drives within those societies.
Centuries ago, patriarchy could lead to the mobilization of conquering armies. Now, in the age of nuclear weapons, drones, and the surveillance state, patriarchy can engender so much more violence with the ease and efficiency of technology. Therefore, it is even more imperative now that we heal patriarchy in the world. At the individual level, we need an exponential expansion of rites of passage programs both for youth and remedial ones for adults. On a larger level, the societies driven by patriarchy are in need of social rites of passages–guided by a community of elders and surrounded by ancestors.
This work must be done and soon because the nonsense of patriarchy is leading us to genocide and environmental catastrophe. And the tools of patriarchy are far too efficient and effective to be ignored. Let us do the necessary work of healing the patriarchy in the world.