Mining the Headlines

Dishing about the legal and psychological implications of the day's news

Patriarchy Is Alive and Well

Women are still unconsciously living out old patriarchal myths...

As I watch the daily news, I see constant reminders that women are still unconsciously living out old patriarchal myths. For instance, we've all watched political wives like Hillary Clinton, Silda Spitzer, Elizabeth Edwards, and Dina McGreevey stand by their men in some very uncomfortable situations. We see celebrities like Rihanna trying to figure out whether or not to stand by her man, Chris Brown, despite the beating she took at his hands.

"Stand by your man" is not the only old myth that still impacts our lives. What about "a woman is less than a man?" Not too long ago, Oprah paid a visit to the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and showcased the FLDS girls, none of whom seemed to have the least problem knowing she would be married to a man who would probably be picked for her by her father, a man who would most likely have other wives. They all knew that their main purpose in life was to bear and raise children. And maybe, in the afterlife, if they were good and pure enough, they would get their heavenly reward . . . if their husband allowed it.

Our "less than" status is not just the province of fringe sects. "Biblical patriarchy" is a concept that is promoted by tens of thousands in the Christian Right movement in total opposition to the modern ideals of gender equality and marriage equity. Groups like Quiverfull are guiding women into wifely submission, constant motherhood, and a dubious "virtue." And even mainstream religions often agree with the traditional Islam saying that "A woman's heaven is beneath her husband's feet." Less than ten years ago, America's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention with 16 million members, revised their statement of faith to explicitly define the pastoral office as the exclusive domain of men, and clearly set out intentions for marriage: "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband ..."

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The great majority of us in the West carry a shared lineage, since all three of the great Western monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - trace their roots back to the patriarch Abraham/Ibrahim. It doesn't matter if we had a totally secular upbringing and have never stepped foot inside a church, temple, or mosque: that heritage is alive and well in our cellular memory, and that heritage is, for the most part, one where men rule and women obey.

Even if you think of yourself as a modern liberated woman, look at your paycheck. Do you make as much as a man would for the same work? In 1951, women made about 64 cents for every dollar earned by men. By 2007, women earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. Still got a ways to go just on economic equality, don't we?

Most people, when I mention that patriarchal ideals still permeate our unconscious thinking, reject the notion. Feminism changed all that, they think. But in fact we're simply not aware of how subtly these ideals are imprinted on our subconscious minds.

How about the myth that "every woman needs a man to complete her?" Most women, no matter how successful or secure, start to panic when they turn 30 or 40 and still don't have a husband. Jane Fonda said in her memoir that she didn't feel complete without a man until she was over 60 and had left "the father's house" of patriarchy when she divorced Ted Turner. Or "if you're too smart, you'll scare men off." Famed opinion columnist for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, blamed her single life on her career success. She said she would have had better luck had she been more like her extended family of Irish maids and housekeepers.

It is our lack of awareness of the hidden beliefs that are guiding our actions that I am trying to expose.

How do you succumb to the old myths? Do you think you'll never catch a guy if you're too fat or too smart? Do you live your life based on what your husband wants or demands? Do you befriend the guys you work with and snub the girls' lunches? Do you think you did something wrong when your guy sleeps with someone else or slaps you around? Where do you buy into male supremacy? And men, do you make remarks to your friends about the "little woman" at home? Are you afraid to show your feminine side? Do you expect your woman to serve you?

Think about it.

Deborah King, New York Times best-selling health & wellness author, speaker, and attorney.

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