Seeing only patriarchal trees, not the forest

Rounding out Women’s History Month 2014 are a couple of NPR news articles that are ultimately about patriarchy even though the word is never used. One takes another look at sexism and appropriately links it to male violence against women, while the other offers a look at quintessential patriarchal hierarchy through the lens of bullying in high school.

Mind you, neither article even comes close to linking patriarchy to these social ills. However, the fact is that patriarchy is the social and cultural sea nearly all of the world’s cultures now swim in. And, if you’re familiar with feminism and the social structure of patriarchy, it’s fairly easy to see the large glowering face of patriarchy lurking, as it does, behind all four issues:

  1. sexism,
  2. male violence against women,
  3. hierarchy built through dominance,
  4. and the devastating patriarchal social mores taught to our kids.

The March 30th article from Lourdes Garcia-Navarro responds to her initial article about sexism questioning which place is more sexist: the Middle East or Brazil? [See my post about it here]. In response to “a lot of discussion about her original article, she replied with “A Few More Thoughts on Sexism.”  Unfortunately, neither Garcia-Navarro, Richard Basas, or many commentators seem to see the patriarchal forest for the trees.

Regarding my analogy here, sexism and sexist practices (or “issues surrounding gender equality” as Basas so obliquely paints it) are the trees.  But naturally, these trees are all grow and thrive in the forest that is patriarchy.

Again, I’m happy Garcia-Navarro is looking at these particular trees, i.e. sexism. I’m less happy that Basas doesn’t even want to classify these “trees” as sexism, but he does hedge toward acknowledging there’s a problem and that it may be tied to gender.  As I stated in my earlier post, although Garcia-Navarro is questioning sexism, she isn’t questioning it very deeply.

Her most recent thoughts do lead her to the crucial connection between sexism and male violence toward women and girls (more trees). She ends her article with general and in my opinion, ingenuous advice:

“Perhaps we should focus a bit less on which place had more sexism and more on how things could be better. A first step is realizing that there is a long way to go.”

Well I say, it’s hard to traverse the terrain of patriarchy until you realize what landscape you’re in, i.e. seeing the forest.

Bullying hurts: patriarchy is the coach.The April 1 article by Maanvi Singh presents findings from sociology professors hailing from the University of California, Davis and Pennsylvania State University around the topic of high school bullying (other prominent trees).  4,200 high school students in North Carolina participated in the study.  The unsurprising conclusion is that the high school “social map” is based on hierarchy and as UC Davis professor Bob Faris, states:

“as kids get closer [to the top], they become more involved in social combat” [bullying].

They also found that the top 4% of kids in high school who have reached “the top”, i.e. the “elite” neither bully or are bullied. They have reached, through terrible patriarchal means, immunity from engaging in further social cruelty and dominance. Again, this is just a microcosm of our greater social macrocosm.

As you can tell, these news articles are simultaneously frustrating and encouraging to me. Encouragingly, these issues of patriarchy are being brought to the fore again in the news. Frustratingly, the larger, greater and much more pervasive issue of patriarchy is not being seen let alone discussed or addressed. Educating ourselves on what the real pernicious problem is, in my opinion, the only true first step for all of us.