At The Body is Not An Apology, a large amount of our work surrounds the topics of gender, sexism, and patriarchy, along with an endless range of topics that relate to radical self love. I have written many editorials for TBINAA concerning gender, especially around the concept of masculinity, the nice guy stereotype, eating habits, and the idea of being too big as a man.
Two of the underlying themes that pop up whenever I write one of those pieces or begin to engage someone in a discussion on something so complicated as masculinity are sexism and patriarchy.
Every time I ask myself: how does masculinity affect sexism and patriarchy, and vice versa? There are very basic and common ways in which sexism and patriarchal power permeate their way into everyday life, as well as through over-arching societal norms and personal beliefs—much of which, unsurprisingly, has to do with the culture of masculinity in the United States.
I want to preface this by saying as some who identifies as a man, I cannot claim to have experienced the effects of sexism and patriarchy in the same way others have, rather I will be discussing the ways in which I have witnessed them, as well as the ways I know others experience them through my friendships, relationship, discussions, reading, and so on.
1. Definitions of Sexism & Patriarchy
Let’s start by defining these terms. Dictionary.com defines sexism (n.) as the following:
1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles.
2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex or gender, as in restricted job opportunities, especially such discrimination directed against women.
3. ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against or hatred of women; misogyny.
Here we have three parts of a definition that sort of build off of each other to come close to how we discuss sexism at TBINAA. First, we have a definition that hints to some of the specificities of sexism that we see in society—the really basic aspects of sexism that are on the more noticeable side. The second part of this definition builds off of that from there: it isn’t just attitudes or behavior concerning traditional stereotypes of gender roles – it is also outright discrimination, directed primarily at women. Now the last part of the definition really hits home for us here.
Sexism is ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against or hatred, meaning the discrimination and attitudes are part of the norms of our society; and it is specifically, in this definition, directed at women, paired with a word that sums up this idea—misogyny. While this is a pretty good definition of such a grandiose concept, there are still aspects that have been glossed over, which we will dive into shortly.
As for patriarchy (n.), Dictionary.com defines this primarily as a family, clan, or tribe that is ruled over by a father—or more generally a man—where his male children automatically take power through heirship.
While this provides the basic definition of patriarchy, it is the last two parts of this definition that interest us most here:
3. a social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favor men and withhold opportunity from women.
4. (often initial capital letter) the men in power in a society (usually preceded by the). Here we see patriarchy is similar to sexism in that it is a social system which directly benefits one group (men) over another (women).
In this way, patriarchy is much more widespread simply based on who holds the power in society.
Not every aspect of life in the United States may be inherently sexist, but everything is greatly affected by the fact that men hold most of the power in most of those aspects:
business, economics, music, architecture, body image, food norms, even fashion. The Patriarchy, then, is the manifestation of that power, it is both the men and their followers who enact their powers onto anyone and everyone.
Therefore sexism is an essential aspect of patriarchal power—how better to make sure men hold power in a society than to spread ideals that automatically make them the better respected of the genders?
The two—sexism and patriarchy—play hand-in-hand with each other, and those who subscribe to those ideals attempt to destroy anyone who dares oppose them. Together, they embody terrorism of the body and the mind, attempting to ensure power stays where it has always been. These two definitions on their own give us a great jumping off point for looking at how we see or don’t see sexism in our everyday lives. However, there’s a bit missing from them, but it would be a little hard to imagine that bit being found in any dictionary definition.
Sexism and patriarchy are much different experiences based on other identities someone holds, especially in terms of race, as well as transgender and gender nonconforming identities.
2. The Indoctrination and Institutionalization of Sexism and Patriarchy in the United States
It is not hard to find examples of the ways sexism has been indoctrinated and institutionalized over the years in the United States. While, according to etymology sources, the term “sexism” didn’t exist until after the 1950’s—funny enough, one of the decades that we typically consider to be the most characterized by sexism—its existence, with the help of patriarchal norms, was well noted long before that. For nearly 150 years of this country’s existence, no woman had the right to vote. This is one of the biggest examples of sexism and, quite literally, patriarchy: men had complete control over the governmental decisions that occurred in our country for a century and a half. This is where first wave feminism came into the picture.
First wave is used to describe women in the first few decades of the 20th century who felt that they should have the same rights and opportunities as men—unfortunately this wave of feminism consisted only of white women, and when voting rights were finally granted to women, it was only the white women who were able to reap this benefit for decades to come. Despite the racialized outcome of the women’s suffrage movement, the lack of access to voting rights at all provides a good example of the basic way sexism exists in the United States.
The primary function of sexism and patriarchy is to classify women as inferior. To say that women aren’t fit to vote on important political decisions, that women shouldn’t be allowed to hold the same jobs as men, that women should only be homemakers, that women should conform to various—often demeaning—styles of dress and behavior, that women can’t make decisions on their own, that women are incomplete without a man and children in their lives, etc. etc., is to regard women as inferior people to men. This is the overarching sentiment, this inferiority, which dictates the ways in which women are treated in the United States.
It is indoctrinated into the mindsets of not only men but everyone through the way we discuss women in schools, how they are treated in the workplace, how they are expected to act, and so on.
3. The Attitudes, Behaviors, Prejudices, and Hatred Bred by Sexism and Patriarchy
With the indoctrination of women’s inferiority firmly set in place for the masses, the next step in completely removing any sense of agency and humanity from women is through actions that vary between blatant and physical and micro-aggressive and nuanced. As I have discussed in an article concerning the social trope of the nice guy, the Isla Vista shooter of 2014 provides a rather sobering example of how one’s attitudes and prejudices toward women can turn outright violent and fatal toward others. For those who aren’t familiar with the event, a 22-year-old man living in Isla Vista, CA—the college town located near University of California, Santa Barbara—killed six people after publishing a manifesto of sorts on the Internet. In this manifesto, he discussed the ways in which he felt he was disrespected by women because they wouldn’t date him or sleep with him, saying that it was an embarrassment to be a 22-year-old virgin, even though he felt that he was a nice guy.
This is a perfect example of the ways that societal beliefs in what women should do for men—sleep with them upon his command, especially if he is nice – and the fragile yet toxic norms of masculinity create a dangerous, and even fatal, environment for women on the regular. Because the idea that women are largely inferior to men continues to firmly force its way into modernity, these kinds of situations where women are treated as either sex objects or as disposable are far too common.
Our culture has bred the idea that women must fulfill certain ideals that remove their sense of agency and are often contradictory. This means women are expected to be both celibate and pure yet are also expected to be available to any man who wants to have sex with her. Women are expected to apologize for someone bumping into them.
Women are expected to dress and be made up a certain way, without repeating the same outfit twice so as to not appear lazy, or without too much make up so as to not look like a whore. Slut shaming, rape culture, fatphobia, these are all examples of the ways patriarchy and sexism attempt to fit women into a closed idea of what is acceptable that really stems from one thing: a hatred towards women, an acting form of body terrorism.
This doesn’t just come from men; internalized sexism often leads to women and other folks perpetuating these expectations rather than questioning them and working to dismantle them. The following points—both deserving of their own 101 entries—delve more into the ways folks with varying identities specifically experience sexism and patriarchy in their everyday lives.
4. Misogynoir and Racialized Sexism
A quick Wikipedia search gives us a definition of the term misogynoir. This term, coined by Moya Bailey, was created to note the ways in which black women experience misogyny. Her point here was to note the ways in which racism and sexism intersect, working together to more heavily and more often oppress black women based on media representation and cultural norms. This points to a much needed intersectional analysis in discussing sexism and patriarchy. We must look at how racism and sexism work hand-in-hand to bring down and dehumanize women of color in the United States.
On the surface, this is found in racialized stereotypes for women of color: black women are expected to be loud, brash, sassy, fierce, and are often referred to as the least attractive group of women, often by black men. Latinas are stereotyped as fiery,exotic,spicy, and are often expected to be extremely promiscuous. Asian, primarily East Asian, women are assumed to be either exotic and wild, often associated with Japanese geishas, or are expected to be completely submissive and meek. All of these tropes are far too common examples of the ways women of color are especially subjected to the powers of patriarchy and sexism.
5. Cissexism and Heteropatriarchy
Throughout this article, I have primarily referred to women as the group that is most affected by sexism and patriarchy, as women—meaning cisgender women—were the primary subjects of the original definitions for these terms. However, the discussion of sexism has grown to include many other groups of people, and rightly so. Here we have two important terms that build off of the discussion of sexism and patriarchy: cis-sexism and heteropatriarchy.
Cis-sexism, in brief terms, is sexism directed toward non-cisgender people, so anyone who identifies as trans, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, etc. This form of sexism involves much of the same aspects of indoctrination, institutionalization, attitudes, and hatred that we typically discuss with sexism towards cis women. However the underlying sense of this indoctrination and hatred is the inherence in believing that people who are not cisgender are weird, abnormal, disgusting, or are flat out liars concerning their gender identity.
Heteropatriarchy, similar to the form of patriarchy we discussed earlier, is a much more large-scale form of cis-sexist beliefs, extending to other members of the LGBTQ community, denoting behaviors that are not in line with normal heterosexual behaviors—marriage, procreation, etc.—similarly as abnormal and therefore wrong. It is a point that we are seeing more and more noticed as with the legalization of gay marriage rather than having communities work harder to fight for trans* and gender nonconforming rights, like job safety, housing, and health care. While this list attempts to cover the broad ways in which we see sexism and patriarchy (and cis-sexism and heteropatriarchy) rear their ugly heads in our society, this is far from a complete analysis or discussion of these ideas.
The Body Is Not An Apology has plenty of other articles that discuss sexism, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, misogynoir, cis-sexism, heteropatriarchy, and a plethora of other related topics. It is important that everyone who reads this article takes the time to go through and read some other articles, especially the other articles in the 101 series, in order to help the discussion of body terrorism and radical self-love grow and change the way we think about all of the isms and social phobias we experience every day.
[Feature Image: Two men sit at table arm wrestling. There is cash on the table under the arms. It is a black and white image with half of the faces cut off.]