Activity and Lesson Ideas
Patriarchy, Discrimination & Women's Issues
What is Patriarchy?
In her Affirmation conference talk in 1993, Cindy LeFevre gave a thought provoking presentation of Patriarchy and the harm that this model of thinking does to men and women. This lesson examines her beliefs and provides questions for discussing the issues around this important topic. Cindy began her talk by providing her description of what patriarchy is:
Contrary to the church's definition, patriarchy is not God's benevolent plan for righteous rule and order in the world. Patriarchy existed full-blown long before the restoration. It existed full-blown long before Christ's incarnation. Some historians use the word patriarchy to refer exclusively to the Hebrews of the Old Testament. I'm using the word patriarchy in its broadest definition. Breaking down the word it means "Archy" or rule, as in monarchy, aristocracy, theocracy, anarchy, and "patri" meaning father. So patriarchy means "the rule of the fathers." This by definition explicitly excludes all women and a great many gay men. Now, I realize that obviously gay men can and do father children, but I think it's safe to say that generally straight men tend to be fathers more often than gay men do. But that's not the point. The point is the word patriarchy in its manifestation at large in the society is defined as a world-wide religion that maintains a system wherein a very few men have most of the money and control most of the resources, which gives them power over everybody else.
Why does Patriarchy thrive?
- What were you taught about Patriarchy growing up in the church?
- What does Cindy mean in her description of "a system wherein a very few men have most of the money and control most of the resources, which gives them power over everybody else?"
Cindy continues her description with this:
I believe that anybody who believes that patriarchy is God's divinely inspired plan for righteousness in the world is doing some severe compartmentalization in his or her understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Patriarchy keeps a few not so good men in power at the expense of the well-being, wholeness and happiness of others. Misogynous sexism is the sustaining root of patriarchy. Sexism feeds and nourishes it, and allows it to grow and thrive. One of the major foods these sexist groups use to nourish patriarchy is the manure of homophobia. Since patriarchy flourishes in the church in a fine, grand form, the sexist roots are deep and we can be certain there is a great deal of this homophobic excrement in the church as well.
Hand out copies of "The Tables Turned" that illustrates what women face in the church (or read or act out if time allows).
- Why does she believe that "misogynous sexism is the sustaining root of patriarchy?"? Can you think of any examples where you have personally experienced or witnessed sexism at church?
- How does homophobia nourish patriarchy?
What does Patriarchy accomplish?
Cindy gives an interesting list of what patriarchy accomplishes:
Patriarchy is consummately misogynist. There are many, many unspoken rules in this system, but the primary, main tenet of patriarchy is this: all men must dominate all women. This is not accidental nor incidental. It is absolutely essential for patriarchy's survival. And let me explain what this accomplishes:
What happens if we reject Patriarchy as the model for how we relate?
- When all men dominate all women, it makes dominance over others normal and a part of everyone's daily life. It's a way of life that goes unquestioned. You are either dominating to or submissive to someone else. And significantly, this dominance and authority over others is not based on quality or worthiness or character or superior intellect or wisdom but it's based arbitrarily on a biological accident.
- When all men dominate all women, it makes dominance based on biology permanent and unchangeable. Transsexual surgery aside, we don't change our sex. Thus, being dominated by others is inevitable. It makes alternatives appear invisible, they cannot be envisioned or if they can, alternatives appear to be a hopeless cause.
- Men dominating women establishes the lowest rung of hierarchy, thus making hierarchy possible. This is very important. Hierarchy is the essential structure of patriarchy. In order to have a few men at the top, you must have a structure underneath them for support. Men dominating women convinces men that not only is hierarchy desirable, but it is essential to the well-being of the entire world. Hierarchy is used in every aspect of society and affects every personal life. We have hierarchy at home, at school, at work, at church, at play, in government, at the federal, state and local levels, in multi-billion dollar corporations and three person offices, in ivy league universities and elementary schools, in the AL and NL and Little Leagues, in "the great and spacious building" and in Beehive classes. This is especially true in the church where I have heard it preached from the General Conference pulpit that the husband is the presiding priesthood holder in the home and his wife is the first counselor and where children ought to have a PPI with their father once a month.
- It encourages blind obedience. In this system of dominance and hierarchy, obedience to authority (authority being defined as the person in the dominating position over you) is the highest law, but it allows for no responsibility or accountability. The person in the dominant position is only obeying the person in authority over him or her, who is also only obeying the orders from his or her boss, and so on up the line. It makes ultimate responsibility for one's own actions avoidable. "I was only doing my job," "I was just obeying orders," "I'm not the one in charge." This Nazi mentality flourishes everywhere. We have all had the experience of trying to deal with an insurance company or the civil service bureaucracy. In the church we have gone from the emphasis of "do what is right, let the consequence follow" and "find out for yourself" to "follow the brethren." In my particular stake, this mentality permeated the entire stake, was strongly encouraged by a stake president and half the high council, who were high-ranking Air Force officers stationed at a nearby Air Force base.
- If men dominate and control women, it reduces the number of people the men in power must control by half. Men will keep women in their place. Husbands will keep wives in line. Men in top positions of power are always quite willing to let others do their dirty work. Another main tenant of patriarchy is: men must be taught and encouraged to be violent. Men must be kept violent so they will be willing to kill to keep the few top men in power. Do we wonder why our society is so violent? We are taught to be violent. Rape, assault, murder are tolerated and maintained at acceptable levels. Especially rape is the unrecorded, unnoticed, invisible crime, because it accomplishes two objectives at once: it keeps men violent and dominating and controlling women. Rape is the subject of some of the most obvious and insidious patriarchal double-speak. Women are blamed for being victims because they were "there." There, meaning any public space, that is really male space. Jogging in "secluded areas," like public parks and roads, parking lots, bars at any time or any place after dark. Women are well aware that most public space is really "male space." Just watch a woman walk past a construction site or any group of men. They are usually subjected to ridicule in the form of cat calls and sexual objectification. Women are warned constantly to keep out of public space where they are likely to be assaulted, raped and/or murdered. The double-speak warning instructs women to stay within the "safety" of their own homes, where statistically they are most likely to be beaten, raped and murdered becoming a victim of male violence. Most beatings, rapes and murders of women are perpetuated by their husbands and/or male lovers. And as a quick aside here I would like to say that we have a right to be here. We do not deserve to be beaten, raped and murdered because we are here!
This description by Cindy sounds familiar:
If the rules for men in the system are to dominate women and to kill to keep those few men in power, what are the rules for women? Women must be trained to take care of everyone, serve the refreshments and clean up the mess, literally as well as allegorically. If women will take care of the men, the men don't have to. Just as men dominating women halves the number of people those in power must control, women taking care of everyone means that they don't have to. And taking care of everyone, serving the refreshments and cleaning up the mess is a full-time job for women. They don't have the strength or energy or time to question or change the system. Women, especially in the church, but also everywhere else in society, are brainwashed into believing that providing slave labor for men is their God-given duty and special responsibility, and that if they neglect this work the entire world will fall apart. Of course, patriarchy is right. If women stop providing slave labor for men the patriarchal world will fall apart, which is exactly what these men are trying to prevent.
An Example of What Can Happen
- What would happen if the women stopped serving the men in the church?
- What can you do to change the system?
- What attitudes have you faced when you tried to change the system?
Again, from Cindy's talk:
About three years ago in the city of Kiev, twenty young men refused to kill. Factory workers were on strike, and soldiers had been called in to "resolve" the disturbance. They were ordered to fire on the workers. Those incredibly brave and wonderful twenty young men refused. They put their rifles on the floor and lay on top of them. And they said, "We will not kill to keep those men in power." What happened? What happened? The world changed virtually overnight. The entire structure of the Soviet Union fell apart. Just twenty young men who were not willing to obey and shoot people changed the world. Can you imagine what would happen if they all refused? Now granted there are still problems to be solved in the Soviet Union, mostly problems that are caused by a patriarchal mentality. To paraphrase Robert Fulgrum, can you imagine how wonderful it would be if those in power remembered the lessons they learned in kindergarten? If governments played fair, shared, waited their turn, didn't hit, and cleaned up their messes?
- What examples can you share of what happened when people challenged the system of patriarchy?
- What kind of model would you replace patriarchy with?
- How did Christ relate to women?
Letter Writing Campaign
Contrary to popular belief, our church leaders really do notice the well-reasoned letters that they receive from sincere individuals. Although they never admit that changes come about because of "bottom up" suggestions and direction, interesting "coincidences" of changes in policy have closely followed these efforts in the past. Take a few moments to write to a church leader to express how you feel and what it is you want from them concerning these issues.
When faced with attitudes and expressions that we know to be contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, no matter what the source, we should be brave enough to stand up to it and teach truth. Don't let comments that demean women go by without clearly stating that you feel differently and why.
For more on Cindy's thoughts about patriarchy, click here to read her complete presentation.