There’s a lot of talk about the patriarchy these days.
I sometimes wonder what people mean when they say patriarchy, and usually assume they mean the system that is heavily driven by men and typically dominated by masculine traits. Clearly this holds some truth, being that men generally occupy positions of power and masculine traits tend to be more rewarded in society.
Because of this, women have been historically oppressed and their strengths have often been overlooked.
That’s the patriarchy at a glance—but I think there’s more to this story.
There’s this idea known as logos, which is the fundamental principle of Western culture and Judeo-Christian thought. In Greek, the term logos means “speech or thought,” and was used by Aristotle to convey the divine power of spoken word, which is the force that makes human order out of the chaos of nature.
Logos is the archetypally paternal force that formed the Western world. This is why God is referred to as the Holy Father in the Bible. The mythology of our culture is fundamentally a masculine enterprise, and this is the reason why women have been so used and abused.
Think about it this way: culture is the great father. Nature is the great mother. Throughout our history, culture has asserted itself over nature in order to establish a functioning society, which is perhaps why masculinity has generally been more praised than its counterpart. The mythological role of women has been largely passed over during the cultivation of modern society.
But Western culture is missing a major part of the human story, and many of the social movements that we are seeing today—environmentalism, feminism, LGBTQIA rights, and socialism—are an attempt to bring back this missing element of our world. The problem here is that these movements tend to only acknowledge the tyrannical qualities of the great father and the holy qualities of the great mother, which is just as incomplete of a story as the patriarchy.
Let’s think of it in the context of a household. Mom can be a healer and a nurturer, tending to our wounds after a fall or holding us up as we cry our eyes out, but she can also be a cruel monster when we get on her last nerve. Dad is the same way. He can be cheering us on in the stands at our first little league game or showing us how to throw a strong left hook when we are being bullied at school, but he can also lose his temper and scare the living hell out of us when we push his buttons.
Both Mom and Dad have their positive and negative qualities, and it’s the same with culture and nature. Mom tends to our fundamental needs and Dad encourages us to manifest our potential.
And we need both.
I’m in a strange place with all of this. Most of my friends are completely anti-patriarchy in every way—ridiculing capitalism, Judeo-Christian values, and toxic masculinity every chance they get. Even though I criticize the traditional structures of our culture as much as any other angsty millennial, I’m starting to feel like it’s not super helpful.
So many young people think our society is broken, so the question is: what are we going to do about it?
First, I believe my generation needs to be more engaged in problem solving, instead of complaining about things they don’t actually understand.
I hate black and white thinking. If you think nature is only good, move out of the city and get used to wiping your ass with leaves, also known as nature’s toilet paper. If you think capitalism is only bad, try living in Venezuela or North Korea, or maybe read about what happened in the Soviet Union from 1919 to 1959. Jesus!
We need both the great father and the great mother for the human race to thrive. We need the structures of culture to survive, and we need to be connected to nature to stay in harmony. Don’t be too cynical of the father or too adoring of the mother—they both can be cruel as hell.
I don’t think we need to get rid of the patriarchy, being that it is the only framework for a complex society that has (mostly) worked thus far. I think what we need to do is identify the ways in which our society has been oppressive and try to improve those things without destroying the system itself.
So, how do we improve our “beloved” patriarchy? How do we move toward a more free and equal society within the framework of our modern society?
1. Start with gratitude. Be grateful that we’re able to speak openly about the problems of our culture, and that the vast majority of us live relatively comfortably in relation to past civilizations. Contrary to what it may seem like, we aren’t living in complete and total chaos. Gratitude is always a good place to start.
2. Acknowledge the positive things the patriarchy has produced. We have the scientific method, the legal recognition of the individual, and entrepreneurship and technological innovation. If we don’t identify the good parts of society, our ill-fated and misguided attempts to change it will probably make things worse.
3. Recognize where we’ve been lacking. Think about the structural racism and subjugation of African Americans, the objectification and oppression of women, the absence of viable safety nets for underprivileged people, and the extreme inequality brought about through unfettered capitalism.
4. Study, study, study. We have to be specific about the positive and negative elements of our culture, and have constructive, educated, and nuanced approaches to contending with the problems we see in the world. Read great books and educate yourself!
5. Be the change. We must learn to embody both the great father and the great mother within the domain of our own experience. Find ways to identify with both elements of human experience—the masculine and the feminine, culture and nature—without giving too much importance to one or diminishing the other. We need the fierceness and the call to responsibility of the Holy Father, and we need the reflective and healing power of the Holy Mother. When we utilize each one, where and when we need them most, they will naturally expand outward to help organize the culture and create positive change in the world at large.
Relephant watch: 5 Mindful Things to Do Each Morning.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Waylon Lewis/Instagram
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton