Patriarchy and our sons


From Chapter 2, “The Colic and the Damage Done”:



Since [my] angst-filled first pregnancy, I’ve become convinced that the greatest challenge of the 21st century women’s movement is to raise feminist boys who become feminist men.  I chanted this mantra to myself in 1999 to build up my confidence, to be sure, but the reality is that no part of our culture will change until men make it happen.

If you’ve forgotten, we live under patriarchy.  Men make the world go ‘round.  Women like Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Michelle Bachelet of Argentina, and our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are exceptions, but not the rule.  A 2007 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) discovered that  “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the [world’s] food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”

Successful civil rights movements acknowledge that power can’t be shifted without the consent of the powerful.  Women got the vote by appealing to the consciences of their menfolk.  How will we upend patriarchy?  By raising a generation of boys who reject the rigidity of gendered society in favor of a balance of power that will ultimately benefit everybody.

Deeper minds than mine have probed the motives and psyches of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; I cannot claim to improve on their work here.  But would these broken children have expressed their frustrations differently in a world less accepting of testosterone-fueled violence?  Could some gender flexibility instead of ingrained machismo have allowed Klebold to ask for help with his suicidal ideation?  Perhaps suicide was an inevitable outcome of his mental illness—chronic depression has as high a fatality rate as cancer—but where does a boy get the idea to kill others, too?

The prevailing wisdom is that Harris was an irredeemable psychopath.  Where does such a lack of empathy for others begin?  In the cradle, where boy babies are less likely than their sisters to be held when they cry?

Is it too radical to suggest that feminism could have prevented Columbine?  I don’t think so.  Feminism asks that we critically examine the interconnections between gender roles and social behavior, and there’s no better starting point for such a discussion than in our persistent, almost intractable, culture of violence.



So why the hell are you so angry, fellas?  Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others?  Why do you, yourselves, hurt so badly?

Would you like to talk about it?



4 thoughts on “Patriarchy and our sons

    1. …why the hell are you so angry, fella? Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others? Why do you, yourself, hurt so badly?

      Would you like to talk about it?

      The Radical Housewife

  1. shmiggen- really? what is your point? do you have anything constructive to say? because right now, you are just a beautiful example of Radical Housewife’s point.

  2. i have spent so much time thinking about this lately. i just read a piece at Listen to Your Mother that I wrote about talking to my son about not raping drunk girls at parties in college (he’s just 15 right now). who would have thought a person would need such instruction? but given the rape culture that surrounds our boys, i think all of them could use this talk. despite all my feminist ideals, and despite the fact that my son is a great kid with empathy and many feminist talks about tolerance, equity, objectification, stereotyping etc. under his belt, i can see that the world at large works upon him every day to define masculinity as something reliant on dominance, violence and homophobia. i just keep talking, and keep hoping that his kind and gentle spirit can make it through to adulthood intact.

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