toxic patriarchy

after a conversation in mid-2021 with one of my teacher’s on men’s work, cal, i have started to use the term toxic patriarchy instead of just patriarchy.

cal helped me to see that patriarchy and matriarchy are just systems of organizing power. one of them awards power by default to men, the other to women. note: this is related to but distinct from matrilineal and patrilineal societies

but in truth, neither is necessarily better than the other. it’s possible to have a just matriarchal society in the same way that it’s possible to have just patriarchal society.

the point cal raises is that the reason we have decided patriarchy is bad (and therefore often imply that matriarchy is better) is because the patriarchies we have experienced are actually bad. but the badness is not inherent to patriarchy; it’s related to the ways the societies that are patriarchal have developed. in particular, he has a strong belief (as many others do) that modern patriarchal societies have limited to no rites of passage for the transition from adolescent to adult (see gibran boy psychology pieces). therefore, in a society where men are awarded power by default and yet rarely find their way into adulthood, we have a society that gets dominated by adolescent mind/hearts in the bodies of adults.

but this doesn’t have to be the case.

and, although it has to believe, it is conceivable that matriarchies could also be toxic. if a society defaulted to giving women power but the women in that society were not supported to be just leaders, the system would be just as bad (see book: the power).

my point in writing this up isn’t to actually pit patriarchy against matriarchy. setting up that false conflict actually misses the point. the point of raising this is that seeing patriarchy and matriachy as just systems of organizing power, allows a new focus on the problem. the problem isn’t patriarchy; the problem is how we raise the people who are given power by default.

with this different identification of the problem, lots of solutions become possible. and, in my mind, the broader range of solutions that is possible with this different frame, actually creates lots of space for hope, creativity, and invitation into the work for many people and for a wide variety of reasons.

i won’t get into all of those reasons and hopes here, but i do believe that framing this problem as not a problem of who is in charge but how who is charge is in charge gives me lots of hope of what’s possible as we move towards a more just world.


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