This is all about patriarchal conditioning and how it might be affecting you as a woman, particularly with regard to speaking up and being seen and heard in the world. NB: The topic of patriarchal conditioning could be a whole book or PhD in and of itself so consider this just a short introduction.
Start with the community you grew up in. It had a set of rules and expectations about how you behave, show up for one another, who gets a say, who doesn’t, who’s valued and who’s not. Most children absorb all of that without anyone critiquing it for them, which means they simply take on those ideas as ‘normal’ and assume that’s just the way life is.
If you don’t ever take the opportunity to reflect on those norms, you never get a clear picture of the assumptions you’re operating under, and that has an enormous effect on the way you live your life and the way you interact with others.
In a capitalist democracy for example there’s a myth of meritocracy; that the best just float to the surface and therefore you should only ever employ the best person for the job. Furthermore it’s assumed that that person will always be found because the playing field is wide open.
What that doesn’t account for are the layers of oppression that limits the effectiveness of meritocracies. Systems like patriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, classism, and homophobic thinking all influence the capacity of a meritocracy to operate at all.
So when people say, ‘Just let the best person get the job’, they’re effectively telling you that they haven’t explored their own unconscious biases.
Once you start to open your eyes to this – the spoken and unspoken assumptions driving society and how that’s affecting the way you perceive the world and the ways other people perceive you – then it becomes obvious why there’s a glass ceiling for example. The appropriate responses to that ceiling also change when you realise it’s not women themselves who need to be more masculine or fit in better, but the system itself that needs to be broken down.
Can you be free in a patriarchy?
The short answer is no. Under patriarchy, we’ve all absorbed stories about what it is to be a woman. Stories which aren’t actually true. Patriarchy has defined womanhood in a certain way. Until you deconstruct those stories you won’t be free. Because you can never be free when your experience of yourself is defined by a system that says you are lesser.
So you have to do the work. The work of liberating yourself from a system that’s built to work against you.
Also, you’re not free in your interactions with other people. For example as a white woman, you’re not relating freely with people of colour if you haven’t deconstructed the way white supremacist thinking is affecting your perception of the world. Without taking the time to do that work, you’ll always be unconsciously perpetuating a system that oppresses people of colour and privileges white people.
Espousing the notion that you see everyone the same and you treat everyone the same, when you haven’t done the work of deconstructing the way systems of oppression operate within you, points only to your intention, not to the reality of the situation. It simply cannot reflect the reality of a situation when you’re so steeped – as we all are – in oppressive conditioning that runs so deeply in our psyches.
So how can you start to deconstruct this conditioning that’s keeping you from being free and from engaging with the rest of the world in a liberated way? We’re hosting the Visibility Challenge again soon. In that we look at a few different ways that your ability to speak up and be seen and heard is affected by patriarchal conditioning. It opens your eyes to seeing the conditioning and understanding what to do about it.
How this conditioning impacts on our children
As parents we’re unconsciously passing on systems of oppressive thinking and being, all the time.
If you don’t have a clear understanding of how the system is working within you, you’ll most certainly pass that onto your children. That means they’ll be subjected to the same privileges and disadvantages as you’ve experienced and your grandparents have experienced and so on and so forth. Which all in all, makes for very slow social change.
Starting with the internalisation of these systems speeds things up considerably which is why learning tools to deconstruct oppressive thinking and behaviour is so important. Because once you know how to do this within yourself, you can teach your children to do the same. And once we’ve taught an entire generation how to do this, for the first time in human history we can truly declare ourselves to be free.