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  • Writer's pictureChristina

And Patriarchy Shall Oppress Us All, (YES, Including Men).




It is a well-established fact that the systemic nature of patriarchy has been used to subjugate women for millennia. Articles, podcasts and many other forms of media acknowledge this fact in every space known to modern homo sapiens. Patriarchy has been used to justify the murder of women, (Salem witch trials is one example), the over-sexualization of women (painting Black women as “inherent whores” during Slavery), the dehumanization of women, (viewing women as “adult children”), the shifting of responsibility for male behaviour onto women, (asking rape victims if they invited their attacks), etc., etc., etc. None of this is in dispute. However, as with most systems established by humanity, there are unintended consequences that are damaging on a broader scale. Patriarchy is definitely not exempt from this. It is now time to look at how the systemic nature of patriarchy causes serious difficulties for men.

 

Sylvia Walby, (1989) introduced the idea that there are six structures of patriarchy which maintain male dominance: paid work, household production, culture, sexuality, violence, and the state. An overview of her work can be found here. She defined patriarchy as “system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit

women." In the realm of paid work, women in many countries still earn less than men for the same job and are more likely to be in part-time positions. Many cultures still expect women to be sexually attractive FOR men while being simultaneously shamed for the sexual activity they choose to engage in (the sexuality structure).

 

However, patriarchy is a system. Systems are strict and narrow. Patriarchy oppresses everyone but a very small minority of men. Those who benefit most from patriarchy are cis-gendered, heterosexual, independently wealthy, reasonably young, virile, white men. Anyone else who does not have every single one of these attributes is undervalued by the system. This means that there are elements of this appalling mechanism of control that makes life difficult for a large majority of men. (Older, white men are subjected to ageism despite having social and financial power). This article explores some of those elements to make the point that patriarchy is a system and men are also subjected to its rules. There is a clear and obvious difference as pointed out by Kiran Mirchandani who praised the definition by Walby since it “underlines the importance of viewing patriarchy as a structural phenomenon rather than one perpetuated by the individual exploitative man.”

 

Patriarchy has a very narrow and unhealthy definition of what it means to be “a man”. Two major pillars of “masculinity” upon which patriarchy rests will be examined here: protect and provide on one hand, (Walby’s notion of paid work), and constantly demonstrate sexual prowess on the other, (both sexuality and culture). If a man is unable to do either, (or heaven forbid both), his worth as a human male is so diminished that he may as well cease to exist.

 

This is not an exaggeration as men are more likely to succeed in ending their lives by suicide on a global scale and they attempt suicide at TWICE the rate of women. The Centre for Suicide Prevention in Canada has reported that “middle aged men (40 to 60) die by suicide more than anyone, including young people and women”. The Mental Health Commission of Canada reported that close to 75% of suicide deaths annually were men. This is a consistent trend in Jamaica as well where according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force, in the November 2022 to January 2023 period, of the 27 suicides reported, 23 were carried out by men. The age range is also consistent with the trend reported in Canada where most were over 40. In 2022, 90.6% of victims of suicide were men.

 

Patriarchy tells men that they are “losers”, (or in Jamaica “wutless” or a “waste man”) if they cannot financially provide for the women in their lives and their children. (Women are not immune from placing these expectations on men given the fact that internalized oppression is also “a thing”). There does not appear to be an equivalent word for women who do not work or are not able to financially provide for their male partners or children. This is not to say that career women are not castigated for a variety of reasons or that stay-at-home moms are not devalued. Again, this article is not about that. The focus is on how the gendered word “loser” applies specifically to a heterosexual man who is not working and is being supported by a female partner. This idea is explained in greater detail here.

 

 

When women in relationships out earn their male partners, there is a tendency among them to under report their income so as not to encourage feelings of inferiority in the man. As a professional woman myself with many friends, colleagues and clients who fall into the same category, this is a discussion we have had several times. Many men will outwardly appear unphased by the financial success of the “strong woman” in their lives but quietly carry crippling shame and resentment towards her thereby undermining the relationship. This is evident not just in the research but certainly in my therapy room where men express that although they are consciously aware that their female partners do not have a problem with them earning less, they inevitably “feel like less of a man”. The enduring idea that women are supposed to “marry up” and men are supposed to “marry down” financially illustrates the grip that patriarchy continues to have on the male psyche even though in the Caribbean, more women have tertiary education than men do and more females are in positions of management in Jamaica specifically than men are. The term gender shame captures this idea of feeling as though one does not measure up as a man. This is particularly noticeable in the Caribbean where there is a stronger tendency towards more conservative perspectives in male/female relationships than in other more progressive parts of the world. However, even in more egalitarian societies, this notion does still operate among men.

 

Another patriarchal lie of note is what men are conditioned to believe women find physically and sexually attractive is NOT what women actually find attractive. Men believe that women want heavily muscled men with hair on their heads and nowhere else. The research though, is clear: women do not prefer more muscled men for long term relationships although they will have short term sexual encounters with them. This video lays it out very clearly (here). (The studies referenced in the video are here, here and here) However, on account of this misguided idea, the rates of disordered eating in boys and men is on a dangerous rise. Unlike girls and women, men tend to engage in binge eating in order to “bulk up” because they believe that women are most attracted to that physique. According to Healthline, nearly 25% of young men take supplements and eat more in an attempt to gain the “buff” body type. Even among competitive athletes, there are issues related to weight that encourage dangerous behaviours. They are 2-3 times more likely to engage in disordered eating. The larger issue is that disordered eating has long been thought to be a struggle for women and as a result, they are not as easy to detect in men leading to erasure of men who struggle with these problems. Men are also told that women do not find bald men attractive. This too is untrue as pointed out by this article in Psychology Today stating “research suggests that bald men, though not men with thinning hair, are seen as more attractive.”

 

 

Even more pervasive than misguided ideas about attractiveness is the idea that men are not supposed to have feelings. An awareness of one’s feelings and the capacity to experience and express them is usually highly discouraged according to patriarchy, (as is evident in most cultures where patriarchy is an underpinning principle). Men in patriarchal cultures are supposed to be unfeeling and almost robotic in their navigation of the human experience. This is unrealistic, unhealthy, and unreasonable. As stated before, men are far more successful in their attempts at suicide than women are. Much of this, according to the Centre for Suicide Prevention is because “men are often socialized not to talk about their emotions. As a result, men as a group may mask their stress and deal with emotional pain through harmful behaviours and actions, and sometimes suicide, instead of seeking help.”

 

Consistent with this is the fact that male depression often goes unnoticed because the traditionally identifiable symptoms of depression tend to be tied to female presentations of the condition. According to the National Library of Medicine, symptoms of depression in men include, “irritability; anger; hostile, aggressive, abusive behaviour; risk taking; substance abuse; and escaping behaviour (e.g., over-involvement at work)”. (Full article here). Men’s depression goes unacknowledged until in desperation, the man reaches a point of hopelessness and attempts suicide because he feels he has no more options left. I have had several clients become suicidal at various points. Most of them have been men. As one therapist of millions across the world, I cannot be the only one to report this.

 

 

In my capacity as a therapist, I work with many men on a variety of issues. One of the recurrent goals of therapy is helping men to identify their emotions using a feeling wheel, (my recommendation for one is here). Most of them report to me that they did not even know that there were that many feelings in the human experience when they see the wheel for the first time. My work with them is to help them figure out which physiological sensations correspond to which feeling so that they can expand their feeling vocabulary before we are able to do the deeper work together in therapy. Once they are able to do this, they often have a much better sense of “self” as well as more healthy and connected relationships with their partners regardless of their partner’s sex.

 

 

The only space in which men are allowed to experience emotional closeness is sexual expression. This is the other pillar of patriarchy we will examine which proves very problematic for men. As someone with additional training in sex therapy, what continues to break my heart is men coming in to see me to tell me that something is “wrong” with them because they do not fall into the stereotype of a constantly sex seeking beast and therefore, they are not real men. This is incredibly harmful and reduces men to base animals when they are actually people.

 

Men are raised to believe that if there is an issue with sexual function, it must be the fault of their female partner. Though in sex therapy we acknowledge that rocky relationships are a contributing factor in sexual dysfunction in men and women, blaming one’s partner is easier for many men because it is more palatable psychologically than confronting their shame and sense of inadequacy. To quote Brené Brown, shame in men is appearing weak. If patriarchy socializes you to believe that “manly” men do not struggle with sexual dysfunction and you do, the problem is too shameful to address so it is easier to become aggressive about it. Often though, there is a medical or psychological cause, (usually a combination of them), but many men refuse to seek help out of shame. (These factors will be more fully addressed in another post).

 

On the other side of this issue is the scientifically acknowledged use of sex as a self-soothing mechanism to avoid deeper emotional distress consistent with depression. The National Library of Medicine refers to “another escaping behaviour that has been noted concerns some men’s tendency to become overly sexually active, usually in the form of extramarital affairs or a series of brief, emotionless sexual encounters. It is thought that such behaviour might reflect a man’s effort to demonstrate his sexual prowess in order to counter feelings of inadequacy and to avoid intimacy in relationships that could potentially expose his vulnerability. These signs and symptoms can mask the more typical symptoms of depression (e.g., sadness, crying, feelings of guilt, changes in appetite). Non-academic, medical and psychotherapy aligned men are catching on to this idea. Terry Crews points out that what men really want, is INTIMACY (clip here). Trevor Noah makes the same point (here) that sex is the only space in society where men are able to experience intimacy. This is commonly known to us psychotherapists as men often tell us things they would never dare admit anywhere else. It is time to acknowledge that patriarchy has lied to men as much as it has to women.

 

We do know in the field of sex therapy that HUMANS need, desire and enjoy sex. This is not a gendered issue although patriarchy likes to suggest that it is, (the sexuality structure Walby referred to). The idea that women do not enjoy or seek sex for its own sake is preposterous as is borne out by the fact that the word “cuckhold” exists. In the Jamaican context, the word “jacket” means a child of a woman who engaged in infidelity which is passed off as the child of her relationship partner. This is clear evidence that women DO engage in sex for its own sake despite the high biological and social cost. However, patriarchy forces men to believe that somehow, only THEY should enjoy sex or seek it. If a man is unable or unwilling to do this, his sexual orientation is called into question because in a patriarchal society, the only thing worse than being a “loser” is not being heterosexual.

 

If a man finds a willing partner and is unable to sexually satisfy her, he fears being ridiculed by her and anyone else he assumes she tells. This naturally sets up a very difficult situation for men in which their sense of “manhood” is trampled upon leading to a ripple effect of many psychological and emotional issues and in some cases, avoidance of sex and intimate relationships where they risk discovery. The common types of sexual disorders in men are erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Patriarchy would have us believe that the number of men with sexual health concerns is extremely low because real men are always able to perform.

 

However, erectile dysfunction affects approximately a third of men. In fact, the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that ED affected about 26 percent of men under the age of 40. Therefore, erectile dysfunction is not something that happens to “old men” only. Delayed ejaculation is reported to affect 1-4% of the US male population. In a country with hundreds of millions of people this is a staggering number of men. Premature ejaculation affects approximately 25% of men in Canada. Finally, in regard to male hypoactive sexual desire disorder, “6 percent of younger males (ages 18-24) and 41 percent of older males (ages 66-74) have some problems with sexual desire” according to this article in Psychology Today. Given these statistics, men do need to be encouraged to realize that they are not alone and that although there is a problem, most of them are treatable or curable. It is not shameful to admit to self and to one’s doctors that this is happening. There are literally at least millions of other men globally reporting these issues.

 

This musing of mine has scratched the surface of ways in which patriarchy oppresses men. Since this is not a PhD dissertation, it would be impossible to capture everything here however, reference is made to the fact that men are more likely to be victims of parental alienation (see post here) and more likely to not be granted custody of their children in a divorce/separation preceding because it is thought that women are inherently better parents.

 

What is clear is that BOTH men and women need to work together to dismantle the patriarchal system in which we are expected to function despite its inherently harmful outcomes for everyone but a small minority. The most important idea is to realize that if we objectively examine the situation, we have a common enemy, a system of oppression that manifests differently for men and women but nevertheless is insidious and sick.

 

Men, feminists are NOT your enemy. If you have been socialized to feel that way, it is because that is what the system wants you to believe. Feminists want all of us to have equal rights, safety, and access to resources. Patriarchy sets us the masses against each other for the direct benefit of a very small group at the very top. It may be time to tear that house down together.

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