Following the allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, women who have been sexually harassed have been tweeting or posting the hashtag “Me too” to show the mind-blowing magnitude of sexual assault.
And men are also showing they are prepared to listen and believe the women who report harassment and assault, and to say they’re sorry for the abuse they’ve experienced. It feels like a new day is dawning, a day in which men are finally acknowledging the scale of sexism and mistreatment perpetrated against women.
This week, Christian blogger John Pavlovitz, speaking for all men, wrote,
But I wonder whether mere acknowledgement is enough. Will anything substantive change while ever we operate in a patriarchal system like ours?
WHAT IS PATRIARCHY?
It’s not just that our society is male-dominated, or that most of our politicians and CEOs are men. And it’s not just about the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling. These things are symptoms of a more pervasive system called patriarchy.
We live in a patriarchy because our society has been shaped by European culture, which was organized around the centrality of paternity. The lineage of the great houses of Europe was determined by who your father was. European citizenship was based on your “family name,” which in reality was your father’s name.
So it was absolutely essential for you to know who your father was if you were to make your way in the world. And since so much depended on your paternity, then it became necessary for men to control women. Wives effectively became the property of their husbands, because controlling women was the best way for society to be able to determine everyone’s paternity.
By “locking up” his wife a man could keep an eye on any offspring he produced. He gave those offspring his name and maintained control over them. He “gave” his daughters to other men to do likewise with them. Certain rights and freedoms were afforded to men that weren’t offered to women in order to maintain this system of paternity.
So the chief characteristics of a patriarchy aren’t just male domination or sexism, but more insidiously, patriarchal societies by necessity became societies of control and separation.
Over generations, this control and separation has seeped into every aspect of society.
We separate from self, from others, and from nature. The fundamental structures we have created over millennia are based on dominance and submission, and the worldview we have inherited justifies these things as necessary to overcome both our basic nature and the natural world (seen as separate from us). We pride self-control and frown on “emotionality”; organizationally we operate in terms of command and control; we treat nature as a thing to exploit, use, subdue, and, most recently, convert to commodities for sale; and often we treat others in the same way.
In other words, patriarchy is the superstructure of human society. We have become so habituated to this state of affairs that most of us don’t even see that it is our own creation.
IT’S CHRISTIAN TO USURP THE PATRIARCHY
While men seem prepared to acknowledge the depths of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes and repent of their own complicity in a sexist society, I wonder if we’re ready to let go of the patriarchal values of control and separation, dominance and submission. Can we let go of a society where people use each other?
Compare this system of dominance, exploitation and regulation, with Jesus’ remarkable vision of human happiness from his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10):
- Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Happy are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Happy are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
- Happy are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
- Happy are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
- Happy are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
- Happy are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
- Happy are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What Jesus called the “kingdom of God” is the mirror image of patriarchy. It is about relinquishing control, submitting to one another, and fostering hospitality, justice and kindness. Even when Jesus spoke about marriage he did so in a way that undermined patriarchy, by condemning men for divorcing and discarding wives who couldn’t give them sons (or any children at all).
The early Christians understood his teaching to be about mutual fidelity and devotion, not control and separation. But more than that, they understood the world Jesus was creating welcomed the widow, the orphan, the childless woman, the outsider, into a new family of God.
The reign of God is only a patriarchy to the degree that God is our Father. It is an unimaginable realm in which God rules over a redeemed society of mutual submission, justice, and love.
Fighting the patriarchy shouldn’t be merely a second-wave feminist agenda. It should be a Christian project, one in which we seek to overturn a system of control and dominance. To smash patriarchy is to usurp a system where human beings have made themselves the masters of their own destiny, a world where both men and women thought of themselves as separate from others and from God.
There’ll be more Harvey Weinsteins in the future. Men like him flourish in societies where others are seen as things to exploit, use, and subdue, and where the more powerful a man you are, the more your ability for exploitation and subjugation is enhanced.
Saying sorry helps. But undermining the patriarchy will help much more.