Exorcising Patriarchy

The Death Hold of Patriarchy.  Women have made a few advances, a few inroads in the system of patriarchy but so far the system has been able to absorb these advances and often turn the women against ourselves.  This is almost inevitable since women are in so few positions of power.  The patriarchal system has its “tokens” and “queen bees” and it is learning how to utilize the talents of women (not just the labor) to keep other women in check.

This is not difficult to do because even though patriarchy is first of all a legal system it is more psychological than legal. Patriarchy is defined as “the organization of society on the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of the wives and children and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.” 1  In patriarchy the legal principles just mentioned spill over into the general society beyond the family by both law and custom and the supremacy of the father in the family is extended to the belief that the male is superior to the female.  The result is the oppression of women and the over masculinization of society.

Our society is possessed the demon of patriarchy. We must exorcise this demon.

Although we are breading the back of the legal system of patriarchy, the psychological remnants of patriarchy have a dreadful hold on us. This explains why the progress of the women’s movement has been so slow and uneven.  It explains why men remain in control and why they can get women to “do in” other women. The frustration of women in such a system often results in horizontal violence, as women attaching each other.  It explains why some women stay in the background until other women have opened the way and then they push their “sister” aside and take an opportunity away from her.  It explains why women usually do not believe in women and why women so often lack self-confidence.  It explains why women continue to need male support and recognition and why women fail to take bold steps toward change.

The psychological remnants of patriarchy are like a psychosis that affects most of our thoughts and actions. Most of the women and men of our society really believe that women are inferior to men.  Some even believe that women are tainted with evil. Many identify women with sex and they believe sex is evil. So we must reach deep into our psyche and rid ourselves of this demon, patriarchy.  Women must be the exorcists for this exorcism.

Exorcism is not something to be taken lightly. It requires strength, knowledge, preparation and skill as well as dedication and commitment through a long, often painful process.

The Nature of Feminism. If we are going to rid society of patriarchy and its oppression of women we must have accurate and precise knowledge of both patriarchy and feminism. If we are to replace patriarchy with feminism we must have a clear understanding of feminism, what it is and what it is not.  Webster defines feminism as: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” 2 Since men wrote the dictionary it should not be surprising that the definition is lacking an essential element and must be corrected.  Feminism is also the theory of the psychological equality of the sexes.

True feminism insists on the psychological equality of the sexes.  “True” is stressed because now that feminism is no longer a joke and has even become fashionable in some places many people do not want to be openly accused of being anti-woman.  So some people call themselves feminists who hold that women are equal to men but different from men.

These pseudo feminists take a somewhat liberal view of the “equal but different:” theory. They usually hold that women should receive the same pay as men for the same work because the salary should be based on production. This is a switch because the argument used to be that men should receive more than women because being “different” from women, men need more money. The liberal “equal but different” view now also probably argues for the participation by women in the decision making process of society on the grounds that being “different”, women have something unique to offer the system. Of course, the argument used to be that being “different”, woman’s place was in the home, not in the pubic sphere and no one cared what she might have to offer.

No matter how liberally one wanted to try to stretch it, complete legal equality for women in the “equal but different” theory would be difficult to defend. For example, it is hard to see how anyone holding the equal but different” view could support the E.R.A. In fact, the Hayden Rider and the Ervin Amendments were created to solve this dilemma. In essence these bills said women should have the equal protection of the law of the land except when they should be treated differently, because they were “different”. After long battles and many years of struggle these bills were eventually defeated the E,R.A. has come to the states for ratification, clean, so to speak 3.

Anyone who wants to get an idea of how people really feel about women should read the testimony given in the United States Congress on the E.R.A. Read the current Hearings  4 and as well as the earlier ones.  Also read the Papal statements on women. 5 These statements show a movement from anti-woman to an attempt to deny the inferiority of women as previously held but they also show these theorists tripping over their tongues trying to justify equality on the bases of “difference”.

“Equal but different” is a theory which is misleading, to say the least.  In the saying, “equal” refers to the genus and “different” refers to the species. So the saying means that two things are of the same genus, that each exhausts the genus, that one if just as much a representative of the genus as the other. So we can correctly say that an apple and an orange are both examples of fruit, that each exhausts the notion of fruit or, that an apple is just as much a fruit as an orange or vice versa.  However, there is difference. Apples and oranges are said to be species of fruit. The difference is great. Apples and orange have a different specific nature.  They are more different that they are alike. Their likeness are only in the remote classification of their genus, fruit. The differences are so great that one could even argue whether one or another “fruit” such as a tomato, were really not a vegetable. So the saying “equal but different” is properly said of apples and oranges. They are generically alike but specifically different.

But we do not speak that way about male and female. Not even the ancient, anti-woman Aristotle, claimed that male and female are different species. Male and female cats are of the same species, under the genus animal. A woman and a man are also of the same species, human, under the genus, animal. The human being and the cat are equally animal but they are different species. It is the rationality of the human being that makes the difference, although the canonized theologian of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, said that women were defective rationally. On this basis he claimed men are superior to women.

When one says a man and a woman are “equal but different” usually one is trying to say a man and a woman are equally precious as human beings; they are equally human beings. This is correct. The trouble comes when one then tries to stress differences as though the differences were essential, as though the differences caused a different nature. Only essential differences are sufficient to give title to different treatment. Since the difference between man and woman are not sufficient to cause a difference in species they are not sufficient to cause a difference in rights and responsibilities. Since man and woman are of the same species, they are very much alike, they are equally human beings, and have the exact and same title to rights and responsibilities.  And since man and woman are of the same species, “equal but different” cannot properly be said of them. 6

There are also those who call themselves feminists who hold that men and women compliment each other psychologically. These pseudo feminists hold that some characteristics are innate or natural to the male and some characteristics are innate of natural to the female. So a man can naturally have only some of the human characteristics and the same for the female. In order to be whole the male and the female must be joined together. In other words wholeness is found in human nature; wholeness is extrinsic to the individual. Wholeness is gained by attaching oneself to a member of the “opposite” sex.


The complimentary theory is popular but makes very little logical sense. First of all, human nature is an abstract theory that has no actual independent existence. What exists is the individual man or woman who is a concrete representative of that abstract human nature. Secondly, wholeness must be an intrinsic development of the individual, not an external attachment.

Incidentally, in order to complete the analysis it should be noted that a more liberal patriarchal theory on the nature of man and woman would have something in common with the “complimentary” theory of the pseudo feminists. The liberal patriarch would hold that the so called “masculine” and “feminine” qualities compliment each other but that women are inferior to men because their sex stereotyped characteristics are innate and inferior to the characteristics of the male.

The true feminist view is that human characteristics are not sex oriented or stereotyped by sex. Rather, any human being can develop the qualities that we call human. The development is intrinsic and wholeness is a healthy balance of the various human characteristics. Of course there are differences between human persons.  These are individual differences.  These individual differences can be similar between men and women. They are not based on gender. They can be learned or innate.

A true feminist theory would acknowledge that socialization which has been sex stereotyped has brought about some de facto differentiation in some characteristics between some men and some women. These differences are not innate. They are learned, the result of a cultural socializing process. For example, it is probably true to say that more men are domineering than are some women and that more women are submission than are some men. As a result true feminism would work for a society that would foster the optimum development of the individual, regardless of sex.

There is another closely related item that should be brought out explicitly. True feminists want women to participate fully in every aspect of society because it is the birth right of women to do so and not just because women have something special to give to society. Because of sex role stereotyping and the socialization used to maintain it, women and men do often have a different experience of life and women do often tend to develop certain characteristics according to sex classification. For this reason at the present time when the society is so male orientated women do often have something to add to society. But nevertheless, women’s liberation is first of all and fundamentally, a question of justice.  This is very important because justice if the only reason which will stand up to every challenge to the liberation of women.

The currently widespread theory about human characteristics is that some human characteristics are masculine and some are feminine. And so human wholeness is divided. Because the patriarch holds the male is superior to the female, the human characteristic assigned to the female that are called feminine are said to be inferior to those qualities assigned to the male and called masculine. For example: aggression is necessary for dominance. The male develops this characteristic, calls it masculine, and assigns it opposite, timidity, to femininity.  Women are then said to be naturally fearful and lacking in courage.

The patriarchal society then promotes and extols these so-called masculine attributes. Qualities considered masculine are valued; qualities considered feminine are devalued or even held in contempt. For example, early in life we socialize our children into sex-stereotyped roles by value-laden remarks. Meant to be praise to the girl child we often say, “That’s pretty good for a girl: or “You so that like a boy”. Or to the boy child, and meant to be ridicule: “You do that like a girl”. If a boy cries we often say: “Boys don’t cry” and thereby socialize the little boy into a hardness, toughness and insensitivity. We teach the little boy how to be “masculine” and we place a high value on the qualities we consider masculine. (Remember, women as well as men, teach their sons such artificial and unnatural masculinity.) At the same time we allow the girl child some of her natural sensitive qualities. When a girl is young we more or less allow her to be active “like a boy”. We say she is a ”tom boy”. But when she reaches puberty we expect her to become “feminine”. We have very little toleration for her if she does not conform to the social notions of femininity.

In the patriarchal society masculinity becomes the norm. Even the woman who wants to succeed in her own right must become masculinized and the women of the society value the masculine qualities and devalue the feminine qualities just as much as do the men. Thus the society becomes over masculinized, and a false masculinity takes over. Because the so-called female qualities are held in such low esteem, these qualities are almost systematically wiped out of society and its members.

Thus society becomes unbalanced. Aggression, competition and toughness mark the society. Pity, mercy, [i]sensitivity cooperation and consideration or concern for others have no place in the over masculinized society. War, waste and pollution are the natural consequences.  Destruction of the universe is the ultimate result.

The Omnipotent Patriarch. One cannot think or write about patriarchy without considering patriarchal religion and the effect such religion has on the oppression of women. Religion cannot be ignored. It seems to be very deep in the human psyche and its effect is widespread in both the individual and in society. Feminists must come to face squarely the fact the men have created an “omnipotent patriarch” by making God into the male image and by divinizing maleness. Men have also put words into the mouth of God about the supposed inferiority of women. All this has caused serious harm to women for which some men in positions of power must take responsibility. For the future some of the erroneous teachings and practices of religion can be corrected and changed by acknowledging their cultural origins and by realizing that an anti-woman tradition is not consonant with authentic religious values. However to change the tradition of religion is to challenge the authoritarianism of religion. This is very difficult and will take a long time. Since justice is at stake the delay may be too long to bear at this late date.

The real problem, however, is the maleness and divinity of Jesus, the God-incarnate, of a religion like Christianity. The legitimate (male) authority of Christianity (and Christianity is an authoritarian religion) has declared many times 7 that woman cannot participate fully (receive and give all the sacraments) because of the maleness of the God-Christ. In this the male authority of Christianity is correct: if the essence of the incarnate deity is maleness then women cannot represent him adequately and conversely, neither can a male deity represent women adequately. On the other hand if one speculates about the possibility of a female incarnate deity, then we have the problem in reverse. So it seems by refusing any longer to accept a second-class status in Christianity women have sharpened the critique of Christianity. By challenging the maleness of Christ feminists also challenge the uniqueness and hence the divinity of Christ.

Our Last Hope. Feminism is our hope against the unbridled masculinization of patriarchy. Knowledge is the power we need to exorcise the demon of patriarchy.

Feminism can bring about a more balanced society. It can correct the over masculinization of society and end the oppression of women. But it will not do this by making women into men, or for that matter, by making men into women. The male of patriarchy is defective, not the model.

Feminism seeks a new being, a balanced personality: for the first time, a truly human being.

The justice truth and goodness of feminism will make it attractive. When we understand this we sill denounce pseudo feminism and embrace true feminism. When we see that only true feminism can liberate women and men from the restrictions of sex role stereotyping and foster the optimum human development of each individual regardless of sex, and when we become aware that feminism aims to make us free to be ourselves, we will become feminists.

When it becomes clear that feminism can humanize society we will value feminism. Finally, when we realize that feminism may be our last hope to save our species and the world from its own self-destruction we will become sisters. Then sisterhood will be powerful enough to exorcise the demon of patriarchy.

1[i]Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary

2 Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary

3 The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in nearly every Congress since 1923. The Hayden Rider provided that the Amendment “shall not be construed to impair any rights, benefits or exemptions now or hereafter conferred by law upon members of the female sex”. The Ervin Amendment was a substitute amendment: “Neither the United States nor any State shall make any legal distinction between the rights and responsibilities of male and female persons unless such distinction is based on physiological or functional differences between them”.

The E..R.A. finally passed the U.S. Congress in 1972. And of this time (March, 1974) it has been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 States needed to become law. Equal Rights for Men and Women Report, No. 92-689, Senate, 92nd Congress,  2nd Session.

4 Copies of the Hearings on Equal Rights for Men and Women are available from the Congress or government printing office. In the 1938 hearings read especially the statement of Rev. John Ryan of the National Catholic Welfare Conference.

5 The Vatican Council Documents have a number of statements like this, especially the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World. For the exact statement see my “The Human Dignity of Women in the Church” available from Know, Inc Pittsburgh, PA .Dr. Mary Daly does an excellent job of analyzing papal and church statements on women in The Church and the Second Sex.

Many Papal statements can be found in The Woman in the Modern World  (St. Paul edition, 1959).

6 Although one insists that the nature of man and woman is identical in the logical and metaphysical sense, it does not necessarily follow that “nature” is static. Of course there may be hormonal difference that result in accidental differences as opposed to essential differences. These accidental differences vary from individual to individual.

7 Whether these statements are “de fide” or just “official” in some way is in many ways besides the [point. The fact is that women have been excluded from full participation in the church throughout a long tradition and that the males in  power in the church will not ordain women.

This is part of an unpublished paper given by Elizabeth Farians, at a “Symposium on Women” at Emory University (Atlanta), March 11, 1974.

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