Women's Role in Perpetuating the Patriarchy
Social expectations keep women from reaching their full potential. But have we ever stopped to ask the role we play in it? How much of our own suppression are we endorsing?
When I say social expectations on women, do you think of beauty standards, pressure for motherhood, the need to be palatable but criticised for not pursuing more? It's a steady stream of contradictions and demands placed upon women from the moment they enter the world. And it's normalised.
But what is society? Who is this mysterious entity that sets the tone for how women must behave? It's not just rich white men in looming towers or the fashion and beauty industry; the lawmakers and advertising bodies. It's us too.
The role women play in society.
We must start taking responsibility for our part in the perpetuation of patriarchal standards. Just as we have had to take a hard look at how we have benefitted from white supremacist structures, we must recognise the ways we continue to fuel society's expectations of women.
Why? Because much of the demand comes from how we are perceived. Our appearance matters. It's the currency that keeps capitalism afloat.
The industries that profit from women's vulnerabilities and insecurities are numerous and not always obvious. We are all set to raise our pitchforks to the beauty and fashion industry. But what of the food industry that profits from our menstrual cycles, the latest diet trends, and even our sheer exhaustion from balancing work demands with family?
Women and capitalism
Isn't the best way to woo a woman to take her out to dinner? How much of her willingness to sleep with a man is dictated by the expense of the meal? Have you ever stopped to think about how we value a mother or wife based on her ability to cook comforting meals effortlessly? How many female-led careers depend on the ability to produce Instagram-worthy food photographs?
Have you ever thought about how many of your conversations swing between honouring your sweet tooth and being good? We wrap our identities up in the food-based lifestyles we follow, from paleo proclivities to being plant-based and proud. The most palatable way to demonstrate our discipline and strength is through demure portion sizes and the latest health restriction.
The food industry is the processed dietary dishes, the alternative meals for making a difference, and the items used to defy diet culture. Men may eat plainer, but women are single-handedly fuelling the food industry.
The wellness and self-help industry is no better. All those coaches and handbooks helping us tap into our fiery feminine power are increasing profit margins elsewhere. Why does taking down the patriarchy depend on the latest bestseller teaching us how to overcome our insecurities and take ownership of our lives? Why are these writers and experts not giving us the tools for free?
Women can't seem to start their own business or forge their career path without an Instagram coach or motivational speaker. As for self-care, is there any need to illustrate the industries that profit from pampering women? Is caring for ourselves really the work of resorts, spas, and beauty parlours? Do we need to spend hundreds to meditate or add a little gentle movement into our lives?
Fashion, literature, media, beauty, food, music, wellness, fitness, weddings, maternity - these industries all profit from women's inability to see their capabilities.
Are we endorsing our suppression?
We need to see our part in society. What standards and expectations do we place on each other? What beliefs do we continue to perpetuate and pass down to the next generation because we believe what the previous one told us?
Society teaches women that seeking validation and being rescued is part of the parcel. Everything you consume reinforces this idea. Women learn to be palatable, to say yes, and to validate others but never themselves.
Look at the expectations you place on your close friends and female family members? Isn't the testament of female friendships the willingness to drop everything for each other? When we get hurt, do we expect our friends to ride in and avenge us, validate our feelings, and be there when we need them? Do we call other women cold or distant when they say no?
How many of us have labelled another woman a snob or standoffish for not being warm and bubbly? Do we place these exact expectations on our male counterparts?
We never learn boundaries because society does not benefit if we do. We raise women to serve others while empowering men to explore their full potential. We don't expect men to validate or prioritise anyone above themselves, but we praise them when they do. For men, it is a sacrifice, not a mark of their gender and something women often fawn over.
Nurturing is said to be innate to women, but I know many that would suggest otherwise.
People-pleasing or feminine nature?
People-pleasing is a survival response learned from the continual suppression of one's feelings to make space for the more dominant needs of a parent, partner, sibling, or friend. People-pleasing is not compassion or nurturing. It's a form of manipulation used to offset any potential threat to the person's well-being by telling others what they feel they want to hear.
Teaching women to people please by telling them that their discomfort around certain behaviours and expectations is wrong. Labelling women as difficult or unfeminine when they show rightful reluctance to conform to external standards is gaslighting.
Worse, it fails to teach men that they too can face rejection. It has a considerable part to play in male fragility and toxic masculinity.
As women, we are expected to have a duty of care to others; as human beings, we have the right to care for ourselves first and foremost. It's natural and wholly necessary.
Taking back our power means reducing profit margins
Being a specific size, acting in a particular manner, and reaching milestones laid out by others is not a flex. So why do we continue perpetuating it?
Society will not change unless we stop endorsing it. Could you imagine what would happen if women stopped buying into these industries? Society would collapse if we collectively said "fuck it" to social standards and honoured our authentic selves. A man's world only exists because of women's insecurities. You cannot have one without the other.
Learn to validate yourself, and change will surely follow.