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Cultural Creations: Gender and Patriarchy

By Giovanni Esparza

February 11, 2019

The way someone grows up and the people they grow up around can have a huge effect on the ideologies they hold. Sometimes what one person is taught can be different than what another person is taught. This difference in education is what leads to debates over ideas such as gender and patriarchy. Gender is a hard concept for some people to grasp because they associate gender and sex as synonymous with one another when that is truly not the case. When people hear of patriarchy they either do not believe it exists or they do but they severely misconstrue the idea. Using sources such as West Zimmerman’s “Doing Gender” and Allan Johnson’s “Patriarchy” we can see that both gender and patriarchy are socially constructed and upheld by everyone in modern society.

In our modern day society many wonder whether or not gender is a natural occurrence that corresponds with sex or if society constructs gender. The answer to this question of whether gender is a given is no.  Our society constructs gender through different norms and perceptions of sex and it is not just a natural occurrence. According to West Zimmer in Doing Gender Sex is “what is ascribed by biology: anatomy, hormones and physiology,” while gender is “an achieved status: that which is achieved through psychological, cultural, and social means.”[1] Since birth we teach children what toys they should play with and what they should wear. Even before birth we do this. Every gender reveal exposes either pink or blue colors to describe whether the couple is having a boy or a girl. In fact I just went to a baby shower and my aunt was having a baby boy. Every article of clothing was a shade of blue. Before the baby is even born, we are perpetuating the idea that boys are blue and girls are pink even though these are both just colors in a rainbow. We continue this categorization through their life by deciding what they should wear and how they should act.

According to lecture on January ninth, Doing Gender is: perceptual, interactional, and micro-political. Every person takes part in the system of gender and constantly upholds the gender norms we place around gender and we all do it through these means, which is why it is referred to as “doing gender”. In these terms, Perceptual means how gender is perceived based on the times and culture. There once was a time in which women were subordinate to men and couldn’t take part in politics because they were seen as irrational due to their gender. Now women can vote if they want to and yet makeup is still only marketed toward them; times have changed and yet gender is still constructed. Interactional means how we interpret interactions based on gender. If a woman gets upset and stands up for herself it could be “because of her period”, while if a man does it, he is “strong and advocative”. How we believe women should act versus men is socially constructed and there are still lingering issues on those gender beliefs. However, micro-political describes the small things we do to follow gender roles. The action of a woman moving out of the way when a man is walking toward them on a sidewalk could be considered micro-political because they are upholding the gender role that women are less than men and need to submit to them. Overall, gender is not a given because it is socially constructed through perceptual, interactional, and micro-political ways.

Patriarchy is a term that men fear and many people don’t understand. Many people tend to believe that patriarchy is the idea that men oppress women in all ways possible and women need to rise up and take their power back. This makes it sound like the dystopian future from the handmaid’s tale. However, patriarchy is much more complicated than that because as Allan Johnson defines it, “Patriarchy is a kind of society, organized around certain kinds of social relationships and ideas,” and “a set of symbols and ideas that make up culture”.[2] Patriarchy isn’t just about man and woman, it’s about a system we are all a part of and we all help to uphold. Johnson talks about how we uphold the system by defining men and masculinity as the oppressor and women and femininity as the “other” group. However, women tend to uphold a lot of these ideals and have historically done so for a long time. Patriarchy is just a system in which societal standards are upheld both consciously and unconsciously. Johnson talks about the idea of path of least resistance which is the idea that with many paths to take in every social situation, people tend to take the one that will get them the least resistance because of the way our society has shaped our perception of what is acceptable.[3] This relates to patriarchy because there are certain gender norms that have been around for many centuries that women still uphold today. How common is it to take a man’s last name after marriage versus having the man take the woman’s last name instead? If a woman were to make her significant other take her last name instead of the other way around, they’d be going against the path of least resistance. Most of the time, women take the latter option and take their husband’s last name in order to avoid conflict with societal standards. Although some would call it oppressive, women help uphold the patriarchy because the patriarchy is just societal standards that may put men above women sometimes. Just like gender is constructed, so to is the patriarchy.

Because of the fact that patriarchy is a constructed system that we all participate in, I do believe that we live in a patriarchal society. We seem to be moving out of our patriarchal society in recent days however. There are many women who are now in congress and hold positions of political power and they are moving towards the presidency in 2020. However, although the speaker of the house is currently a woman, the President of the United States of America is a man. We had the capacity to vote in the first woman president in 2016 and yet the long line of male presidents was continued with 45 instead. In fact there was a lot of sexism within political debates during the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton. While Trump accused Clinton of using the ‘woman card’ to her advantage because she called him out on his sexism, he was elected to be our next president as sexism was pushed aside for politics. Yet, we are bringing awareness towards gender norms with children and many couples these days are acknowledging how unfair it is to gender their child before it is born. Some couple even throw gender neutral baby showers to try and alleviate this persistent problem. However, as large as this movement for gender neutrality is getting, we still see girl aisles with pink dolls and boy aisles with blue toy trucks and wrestlers in stores. My girlfriend and I have agreed to have a gender neutral baby shower once we decide to have children down the line because we are going to try not to uphold the gender norms we grew up with. We are also less patriarchal than most other relationships we hear of around us. I try to give her as much power in the relationship as I have so that no one hypothetically ‘wears the pants’. In fact she pays for most meals, and yet when we go out to eat, nine times out of ten the check is placed near me because in our patriarchal society, the man is expected to pay. And although we are equal in the relationship and I am able to wear jeans when I teach in a classroom, she still has to get dressed up for her elementary school children. So although we, as a society, are starting to move towards less of a patriarchy, we still have a ways to go before completely changing the cultural norms that come with gender.

[1] West Zimmerman. “Doing Gender”
[2] Allan Johnson. “Patriarchy”
[3] Allan Johnson. “Patriarchy”

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in each article is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the PUGS editors, Gender Studies program, or UNC. Therefore, PUGS e-zine carries no responsibility for the opinion expressed thereon.