Patriarchy is a system of relationships, beliefs, and values embedded in political, social, and economic systems that structure gender inequality between men and women. Attributes seen as “feminine” or pertaining to women are undervalued, while attributes regarded as “masculine” or pertaining to men are privileged. Patriarchal relations structure both the private and public spheres, ensuring that men dominate both. Feminist scholarship traces the histories and geographies of patriarchal relations to demonstrate that patriarchy manifests in dynamic and flexible ways in order to sustain patriarchal relations. These approaches theorize the linkages between patriarchy and capitalism, colonialism, and nationalism, arguing that patriarchal relations operate across scales in ways that not only constitute those scales but also order social relations in hierarchical relationships. Such research examines patriarchal relations at the level of the body, the public-private divide, nationalism and citizenship, colonialism, and globalization. As an analytical tool, patriarchy has been criticized as too universalizing and overarching in its conceptualization of the unequal relations between men and women.
Earlier sociological and political definitions of patriarchy focused on domestic social relations organized around the law of the father and the social control that men, as heads of households, have over their wives and daughters. Within feminist scholarship, patriarchy has been understood more broadly as the system in which men as a group are constructed as superior to women as a group and as such have authority over them. In some instances, scholars have distinguished between ‘paternal’ patriarchy to refer to forms of a private, household organization run by the father and ‘fraternal’ patriarchy to refer to the domination of women in public civil society. For geographers, this distinction mirrors the division between private domestic space and public social space. More generally, patriarchy is conceived of as a broadly based system of social, legal, economic, political, and cultural structures and practices, which position men as the dominant social group and as able to marginalize, and exploit women. Some of the most widespread violations of human rights: Violence against women and girls takes many different forms, including domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, child, early and forced marriage, sex trafficking, so-called ‘honor’ crimes and female genital mutilation. It is rooted in the gender inequality that women face throughout their lives from childhood through to old age. One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, and the immediate and long-term physical, sexual, and mental consequences for women and girls can be devastating, including death. Violence negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents women from fully participating in society. It impacts their families, their community, and the country at large. It has tremendous costs, from greater strains on health care to legal expenses and losses in productivity.
At least 155 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, and 140 have legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace (World Bank 2020). But challenges remain in enforcing these laws, limiting women and girls’ access to safety and justice. Not enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished. For a woman to make more money than her male partner is frowned upon, and thus the male partner feels less than. These two examples are all directly linked to the fact that our culture sees parenting and childcare as feminine activity.
If we don’t begin by raising our children to understand that traditional gender roles are antiquated and unnecessary, we will have another generation of women, and society as a whole, living in a rape culture. By not understanding how patriarchy impacts men, we are negating the entire message of feminism: that there should be equality amongst all genders. It is time to change the standards that men and young boys are held up to. Instead of telling young boys that they cannot show emotion, that they must be self-reliant, and that violence is normal; it is time that we show them that being an “alpha male” is not something to aspire to, that being violent and destructive are not traits that we normalize, and that displays of emotion are both normal and encouraged. By doing this, we can restructure society and the way that society treats women.
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