So much of modern life continues to be defined and ruled by ancient Patriarchy. You’d think we’d smarten up and get rid of it. Even as many people attempt to move their nations in the direction of a Democracy (as our nation is trying to do—with little success), the laws of Patriarchy continue to dominate. In a Democracy, no one would have to fight for civil rights or equality. Are they not inalienable rights? Hello, anybody home???
Patriarchy is defined as “Rule of the Father.” As in “When I say ‘jump,’ ask how high on your way up.” Rule of the Father is code for divinization of the father figure, the rule of absolute power residing in a seriously distorted image of the male. Earlier human history liked the idea that a male God chose male kings (who selected male nobles) and popes (who ordained male clergy) to rule over political, social, and religious life. Patriarchy rules with arrogance, produces opulence and disharmony, destroys as a sign of mastery, understands conflict to be manly and war to be the primary way to gain wealth, determine ownership, and settle differences. We continue to harvest the effects of five thousand years of such delusion.
Men rule. ALL males? Are you kidding? There’s not enough room on the throne.
Most men have held little or no power, but have simply been the pawns, the soldiers, the beasts of burden who served the interests of the ruling male elite. To keep men under control, the patriarchal kingpins told men they were rulers within their own domestic, social, and economic circles. Did that work? Of course! Men had life-and-death control over their “subjects,” meaning their wives, children, servants, field hands, dogs and cats. Life-and-death? Oh, yeah, that’s power!! Even the lowest of men could say “When I say ‘jump,’ ask how high on your way up.”
Females had no status, no rights. Plain and simple. Patriarchal men knew for a fact that women had weak minds and lesser souls (maybe no souls at all). So women had to be contained (in a house) and controlled (beaten) by men lest their imperfection, pollution and corruption should infect the godly male.
It can be argued that men have suffered more deeply from patriarchal oppression than women. Really? Sure, because intelligent women knew they were oppressed, while even intelligent men believed they were superior. Men kept their delusional worldview by disrespecting and trivializing everything about women, and lording it over as many others as would allow it.
When Jesus came along, he reversed things. Everything Jesus did was an explicit refutation of the Patriarchy. Jesus acted deliberately in opposition to the system that set men above women, rich above poor, acceptable above unacceptable members of society. Jesus respected all of creation as it issued from the Creator.
Unfortunately, when Christianity became the religion of Constantine’s Empire, it took on many of the sick trappings of Patriarchy. Money, power, control, abuse, the works. Christianity again denounced the female as the gateway to Satan. Thomas Aquinas (whom some call a saint) referred to females as “misbegotten males.”
Yet, consider. We’ve learned that all humans begin as female. It is only when one X chromosome breaks and becomes a Y chromosome that a male develops. The ovaries become male testicles; the female clitoris becomes the male penis. Both genders have nipples, but the male’s remain inactive. (It is so ironic that Thomas Aquinas said females were misbegotten males! In truth, if one were inclined to reverse Aquinas’ insult, one could say it is the broken–hmmm…defective?–chromosome that produces the male sex.) Bottom line: the female provides the template for life.
Christians, meaning those who look to Jesus rather than Constantine, would do well to consider their treatment of women from another perspective. God creates, God heals, God begets a Son; God acts graciously, bestowing life, applying healing and mercy — all these are acts and attributes we humans consider feminine. By denying the feminine attributes of God, one could say that our patriarchal society and patriarchal church have seriously misinterpreted and distorted the divine relationship with humanity.
God is not a human male or female. But much of this planet has a female/male component. Surely for believers that should mean that the female and male aspects of our nature — equally and together — reflect the divine intention. Domination by either half of the human pair would result in a skewed and misshapen understanding of ourselves.
Misshapen we are. Men have been forced to deny or hide all their qualities that do not align with the aggressive patriarchal warrior. Men who resist are mocked as “weak like a woman.” (Huge insult!) Women have yet to become fully free, fully empowered. Girls learn early on that for them “power” is their ability to gain the sexual interest of men. Another bottom line: our understanding of ourselves as male and female is woefully incomplete.
Feminism is a freedom movement that arose out of a desire to honor the true natures of both women and men. Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement have worked hard to remove oppression from one or another segment of humanity. Feminists are women and men who by definition promote gender equality, who struggle daily to make inroads in a sexist, violence-dominated world, to change the rules of engagement from power-over to respect, shared responsibility and cooperation. Some who participate in freedom movements may themselves have wounds that need healing, but Jesus would recognize and honor their intentions as mirroring his own.
Overcoming the imbalance that has warped humans for millennia will require the vision and efforts of wise women and very wise men to reteach what it means to be human, to rethink our relationship to each other and to other species, and to re-assess our responsibilities to this fragile planet that is our home.
We need to become aware when we are mouthing patriarchal arrogance. And we need to think when we use words like “Democracy” and “Christianity.” Final bottom line: These words have content, they have moral and social implications. We should either mean what they say, or stop using them.