“Patriarchy, the System:
An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us”
by Allan G. Johnson
First, Johnson suggests that in order for us to understand the scope of patriarchy’s role in society, we must look at scaled examples. “We might ask why a particular man raped, harassed, or beat a woman. We wouldn’t ask, however, what kind of society would promote persistent patterns of such behavior in everyday life, from wife-beating jokes to the routine inclusion of sexual coercion and violence in mainstream movies. We are quick to explain rape and battery as the acts of sick or angry men; but we rarely take seriously the question of what kind of society would produce so much male anger and pathology or direct it toward sexual violence rather than something else” (99). While it is easy to over-generalize that society as a whole affects the behaviors of men, I tend to lean towards the fact that society is responsible for creating the ‘individual’. Patriarchy’s role in shaping the individual is undoubtedly based on male-domination. I think when we look at the violence in this passage I constantly feel like men in society are confused as to their roles. Should they be the typical chief/father figure/provider or should they be more sensitive to the needs of women because of certain stipulations now governed by society? While I do not condone violence against women in any way (I was raised by my mother, a very strong-willed woman), I must assert that certain actions against men have definitely left them outraged.
Second, Johnson proposes that patriarchy exists in spite of the collective’s presence or involvement. He also suggests that people are merely involved in a preexisting categorization within society and that their involvement therefore must only exist to a degree. Johnson states, “Patriarchy is a kind of society organized around certain kinds of social relationships and ideas. As individuals, we participate in it….But we are not it, which means that patriarchy can exist without men….” (100). I slightly agree with this statement, but I also believe that we are taught to believe—at least in this society—that individual freedom facilitates perception. And because individual perception is given a higher standard than the collective’s (society as a whole), does not patriarchy theoretically revolve around the individual? I believe this to be the case, and as such, I would argue that we cannot ask the question Johnson proposed in the previous paragraph regarding society’s promotion of persistent patterns of behavior. I do not believe that the ‘system’ is at fault for individual perception. I do not agree that constant exposure to violence creates violent people any more than a sales ad influences people to buy a product. Although, I am a firm believer that the main facilitators of violence are men, and by that standard, I also believe that women are the main objects of violent behavior.
Finally, Johnson implies that despite our denial of the fact, we are involved in this system. He writes, “One of the most difficult things to accept about patriarchy is that we’re involved in it, which means that we’re also involved in its consequences. This is especially hard for men who refuse to believe they benefit from women’s oppression, because they can’t see how this could happen without their being personally oppressive in their intentions, feelings, and behavior. For many men, being told they’re involved in oppression can only mean they are oppressive….” (103). I would have to agree with Allan Johnson’s argument here, because I completely understand what he’s trying to say. I understand that I have benefitted, albeit indirectly, from the oppression of women—of course, I’m a man. Because our male ancestors were able to dominate their female counterparts, these women have less rights, privileges, power, wealth, etc. than most men. Even though women are not the minority they are consistently socially excluded from male privileged environments. The idea that men have no involvement in patriarchy, and also indirectly, women’s oppression is false. This level of involvement has nothing to do with the issue of individual involvement or perception. This is the one case where I can agree that men and women are equally involved in the patriarchal system.
In closing, I would like to say that Allan Johnson presented a good solid argument about the patriarchal system. For the most part I agree that Patriarchy is universal and that we all have some involvement in it. There were, of course, some conflicts that I had completely believing his theory. As a man, I had some reservations about feeling attacked, but on the other hand, it’s nothing compared to the brutality women have faced—unfortunately, perhaps will face—for most of their historical lives. I think that in order for society to truly get past this will take understanding. Maybe men are just confused as to what they need to be sensitive about….maybe women can show them this. Nevertheless, men need to understand that where they tread is a thin line between the protection and possession of a woman.