12 Subtle Ways We Uphold the Patriarchy

Last week I talked about patriarchy.  And hopefully managed to at least slightly convince you that we all engage in maintaining some shitty behavioral and hierarchical standards based on gender performance expectations.  But that was all still largely written in the abstract because like most social theories, the abstract with all of its descriptive opportunity, is the easiest place to start defining things sometimes, get people to recognize things.

But we can go further because there are a lot of people on this campus who firmly believe that they are not contributing to the maintenance of inequality between women and men on campus and, therefore, in society (because what is college if not preparation for the *real world*?).

1. Nice guys can’t do shitty things.

Mad Eye Moody’s mantra is constant vigilance, so yours should be too.  If patriarchy and all of its subsequent bullshit can affect literally everyone without any of us noticing then yes, actually, no matter how nice you are, you too can be a shitty human!  Disrespectful team members can be nice guys who don’t realize they are disrespecting the female peer leading them by ignoring her expectations or delegation mandates.  Gender and Sexuality Studies majors can evaluate their female professor by saying she wasn’t caring enough towards the class without even questioning if they would say that about a male professor, let alone evaluate a professor’s efficacy on such standards.

2. Misunderstanding a woman’s message and not asking for clarification does not absolve any sin.

“Oh you said you didn’t want me to come back to your room?”  "I’m sorry, I was so drunk, you know, I wasn't in control of myself.”

“No I know I was trying to kiss you for like 20 minutes and you were too scared of social punishment to push me away, but I was really drunk so I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“He’s not normally like that. He must have been upset or angry about something.”

“You wanted me to CC you on emails? I guess I didn’t think it was important so I didn’t do it.”

“It was just a joke, calm down.”

“You thought this was a serious thing? Yeah, I didn’t so it’s not. Sorry I didn’t say anything about my expectations, you drama queen.”

Making these kinds of arguments where a woman directly or indirectly states a wish, desire, or belief is one way to contribute to the constant invalidation of women’s experiences.  If we absolve men of disrespectful behavior (whether that be through intimidation or undermining) and continue placing blame on the message-carrier for somehow not saying it clearly enough, we maintain the idea that it’s up to women to keep working to make men understand. Only then can work get done or partnerships get made.  Alternatively, we could continue making strides to hold ALL of us accountable for making sure we understand what people we are working or socializing with are trying to tell us.  Don’t understand?  Ask for clarification.  Then we can really start to sort through who doesn’t understand and who’s just using our current social norms to hide the fact that they understood. They’re just disrespectful.

3. Don't interrupt women. Let them speak.

Literally happens all the time.  And I’m a woman that talks a lot.  So like, if it’s even happening to me, imagine the silencing effect this might have on less verbose women around you.  Also not giving up your own space to let others speak is something everyone does to a certain extent and in certain contexts.  The thing is, men have a lot more space to give up.  (There are studies proving this!)

4. Give women control over social spaces. Take responsibility for the physical safety of your guests.

TBH women, we just gotta reclaim our spaces.  Warner’s new policy overtly stating our right to deny or revoke right of entry to people who make our members feel unsafe is one HUGE step.  But we’re not the ones out there every weekend hosting a party.  No, the majority of time out at Davidson is spent in places that groups of men, unaccountable really to anyone, control almost completely.  They can ask anyone to leave at any time. They provide all of the alcohol and make it clear that this is a burden they do not want people taking advantage of.  

When you don’t feel as though you are in any control of a space, the ways in which you act change.  The level of comfort changes.  What’s shittiest is when you are given some semblance of control over the space (typically done by proving you’re “one of the guys” and acting in VERY specific ways as a woman, i.e., not being too girly/emotional/shrill/sexual/asexual) and then it’s revoked for some supposed social ill you have committed.

5. Do not hold women to unfair beauty standards and behavior in hook-up culture.

Tell me ONE MORE TIME the women at Davidson are ugly.  We don’t talk about the looks of Davidson men in such ways.  We might discuss lightly who’s hot and who’s not, but there’s less widespread valuation of worth based on looks for men.  Certainly, we all feel pressure to fit a certain aesthetic, but sit around a typical weekend party and watch who gets hit on as a woman: they will more likely than not be white, slim or athletic, light hair that’s long and straight or wavy, wearing a shell for a top, some “natural” looking makeup, and either shorts or jeans or leggings that are tight. And if you choose not to ascribe to such norms (especially when you’re younger) you can feel incredibly shut out of the social scene.  The same just cannot be said for men who certainly feel pressure but are not as systematically and consistently devalued or written off on such narrow standards.  And by the way, that expectation that men look a certain way also comes from patriarchal standards!

6. Do not withdrawal emotionally.

I get it.  Boys are often raised to not show or engage with their emotions while girls are encouraged to do so to such great lengths that they learn early on they’re not only responsible for their own emotional state but for the emotional states of everyone around them.  But people have emotions, and it's okay to a) feel and b) talk about.  In fact, it’s better to get some of the emotions all out there so everyone is on the same page.  When a woman you’re hooking up with asks “so what are we” you don’t have to go “wow don’t get so attached, we’re like nothing.” Instead, you can respect what that person is feeling and asking and also know that they are responsible for their own emotions and you are for yours.  Instead, you might say something like “Honestly I’m madly in love with you and I’m emotionally in tune enough that I can accept that” or alternatively “I’m really not wanting something serious and I want you to know that you’re not going to change my mind right now, but I am sorry if that wasn’t made clear and I hurt you.”

7. Allow room for emotion as a part of productive academic conversations.

Still in the vein of humans have emotions and they don’t need to be compartmentalized into a corner: think about how we talk in class and how we expect others to talk in class.  Pretty much with no emotion, right?  Like if someone starts crying or gets angry, we’re like “wow too into it, calm down, think rationally and argue as such.”  Don’t get me wrong, cool levelheaded rational arguments are really great!  But they’re not the end-all-be-all!  While we learn how to effectively communicate what we’re learning, why not learn how to deal with conversations that have varying levels of emotions going on and unlearn the weird gendered messaging we learned as kids.

8. Don't assume everyone wants to have sex.

Everyone has sovereignty over their bodies.  She says no, you stop.  She says I only wanna kiss, you only kiss.  First time hookups, drunk hookups… these necessitate some extra communication to make sure you (the person with a lot of the social power on this college campus) and your partner for the evening have equal space to create and respect boundaries.

And like.  If they’re hella drunk WAIT UNTIL THE MORNING OR LIKE ANOTHER NIGHT.


9. Do not assume consent. 

Self.  Explanatory.

10. Take responsibility for your fraternity brothers’ behaviors.

So you’re in a fraternity and that means brotherhood.  It certainly happens that way at Davidson with the social culture and the fact that many men in fraternities participate in campus life primarily if not exclusively through their fraternities.  And yet when people start talking about problem fraternities, y’all disassociate, or worse just shut the conversation down.  Let me be clear: YOU ARE THE EXPERT OF YOUR FRATERNITIES, but that does not mean you know everything.  You see your spaces from a very particular point of view and to say that people who see you all and experience you all from a different perspective are just plain wrong is to say the ways in which they are telling you they have been treated by members of your fraternity just didn’t happen.  We all know that’s an issue when men go around saying their brother who was found responsible of sexual assault “isn’t a bad dude” and “it was a mistake” or better yet, “the bitch lied.”  

11. Stand up to your male friends who are being shitty.

For men in fraternities, this is especially hard for me to watch.  There are so many safeguards built into fraternities to prevent any lasting social backlash on any behavior.  Like you’re all brothers, you all supposedly buy into these values and support each other’s development as people and yet, when problems arise you don’t speak up?  There are meetings where only brothers are present--what better space to be like “guys, I’ve been seeing some shit that I want to make sure we’re at least discussing.”  No one expects you to change 50 men’s beliefs and actions after one try, but without any tries, nothing is changing.

12. Don't distance yourself from the social structures that help maintain gendered power dynamics because you are a “nice guy.”

We’ll end on the same note we started.  It’s great that you think you’re nice.  You probably are really nice.  You are also not immune from the ways in which the world works.  I know and love a lot of nice guys and there are many moments I find myself going “let me finish my sentence” or “just because the theory states that doesn’t mean you understand my experience.”

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