"I'm never going to grow a penis so what's the point?"

As a child in rural Kansas in late 80’s and early 90’s, I can recall the spark of feminism rising from within as early as five. The word feminism was foreign to me then but I saw my mother working hard at a recreational vehicle (RV) factory alongside men who were getting paid more than her.  Hearing her passionate cries when she was denied a raise or promotion made me angry.  As with most things at that age, I felt powerless and she would dismiss my youthful outrage with, “I’m never going to grow a penis so what’s the point?”  Of course, I didn’t understand this at the time and wondered how a penis might be helpful in laying carpet or installing appliances in a RV.  Could men use it as an extra hand or lean against it like a kickstand to reach areas that woman could not? At that young age, I was only starting to become aware of the gender roles and differences.  I constantly heard my mom say that she was doing “a man’s job” but because she wasn’t head-of-household she didn’t get the same wages or opportunity as a man.

Patriarchy was not something discussed in our home though it was felt in my mother’s job and when it came to showing the kids who was boss in our family.  It was my father’s house and it was his rules.  Back in my anarchist days of 7, I would test the rules to the limit and when I failed, the most common threat I heard was “Do you want me to get your father?” The answer was always “No!”  My father was hard-working and the personification of masculinity; he was a Marine at the end of the Vietnam War, was a mechanic and welder, had a motorcycle, rebuilt old cars and would fight for his family.  As a child, I recall asking him, “Dad, how would you eat if mom wasn’t around?” His answer was “I can make toast.”  The gender roles were clear, his wife and three daughters did the household tasks and since he had no sons he handled issues outside the house such as mowing the lawn, changing the oil in the car and taking out the trash. This would change and evolve over the years but not until my sisters and I came to power.

Now, as a social worker in a rape crisis program, I live the feminist life proudly and see the negative results of living in a patriarchal society every day when encountering survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.  This type of society can be harmful not only to women which is what typically drives the conversation but to men and all gender identifications.  Men are required to be tough and never show vulnerability which can be damaging in ways like: needing to prove their manliness through violence, accepting bullying as a way to build character, and showing no outward appearance of weakness or emotions.  The man conforming to the “ideal” in a patriarchal system has intense pressure to provide financially, be physically strong and fit, heterosexual and of the dominant race.  Not fitting into those boxes because of or as a result of oppression, a man can be overcome with the urge to defend their status oftentimes through violence or seeking power over someone else.  Patriarchy has bestowed men with considerable access to resources and social power while also causing and reinforcing other forms of oppression.  When society discusses the harms of patriarchy we avoid the experineces of men and go straight to women, which is important as it is designed to control woman and make them feel powerless but it has negative affect on men as well.  It is time we stop representing the harms of patriarchy as just a “women’s issue” if we ever expect to make real change in the social structure and have a chance to decrease violence.

By Dani E.