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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Stamped by patriarchy

Patri-what? What is this and what does it do to women and men?

Sexism and patriarchy are about women and men being from different planets, right? Or women as victims and men as insensitive? Not so fast. Author Allan G. Johnson says patriarchy is far more complex.

Writing in The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Johnson said that if we focus on a model of the world that assumes everything begins and ends with individuals, we’re missing the boat. If we think the problem will be solved once we fix those who are “bad,” we provoke defensiveness and denial. “It gets good men off the hook. It’s easy to ... fixate on male guilt, or ‘gender roles,’ ” Johnson wrote.

Anyway, he added, guilt disempowers people and can lead to backlash. It simply isn’t helpful.

For a study guide, see page 28. To
To discuss this story with Mary Streufert, director for justice for women with Church in Society, Nov. 17-24.
That said, we all swim in the waters of the patriarchal system — and it leaves its mark on men and women. Many of us end up paralyzed with no idea how to change things.

The patriarchal system sets women and men at odds with each other, Johnson said. Individual women and men participate in different ways by following what’s called paths of least resistance. Those paths are the easiest possible or most socially acceptable responses. Say a man hears another man tell a sexist joke. He can laugh along, ignore the other or object. Going along is the generally acceptable response. If the man objects, there’s a price to pay — the least of which is social disapproval.

Women, too, can stay quiet and follow the path of least resistance or speak up and pay the price, which may range from being called names that can’t be printed here all the way to extreme violence.


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