relinquishing the patriarchy

dear men.

this is mostly a note to straight, cis men; but also includes trans men, queer men, and all who participate in masculinity – if you see yourself in these words, this is a love note to you.

patriarchy (the system of society/government in which men hold the power and women are excluded from it) is collapsing, and it’s time for you, too, to give it up, to get yourself out.

it won’t be easy.

i don’t believe total revolution or liberation happens in one generation, but i know from my own life and many lives i have witnessed and accompanied, that it is absolutely possible in your lifetime, in a generation, to personally relinquish an unjust ideology, to begin to practice a more evolved way of being.

when enough of us relinquish injustices that only pretend to benefit us, we tip society towards justice.

in my life i have been homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist and, yes, patriarchal. and i have been able to turn and face each of those parts of myself, to consider that what i know to be right might, in fact, be wrong. is wrong. i’m wrong.

but! right, or more precisely, right relationship, is available to me.

what i have learned is that:
– in the US, ‘normal’ is still understood as a white, us citizen, who has degrees, is (or is married to) a cis male, straight and able bodied.
– there are no people i should fear or disregard or think are lesser because they were born outside of some false concept of ‘normal’.
– the only people i’ve every truly needed to fear are those who believe they are superior to me/others. and the only part of me that is truly monstrous is the part that has been trained to convince me that i am superior to anyone else. superior because of proximity to that false norm – i am american born, light skinned, college educated, cis, briefly able-bodied, etc.
– the pain i have caused others in my life has been born of these false superiorities, which made me believe i deserved more of the goodness of existence for doing less physical, mental or emotional work.

now i am trying every day to do my share. to carry my portion of miracle and suffering, to labor fairly. to examine my privileges and to dismantle the largest unjust systems in this world with my choices and behaviors.

in order to do this work, i’ve had to learn to listen to things i didn’t want to hear, and couldn’t believe.

now i am listening to so many women in my life navigate the fall of patriarchy. they are exhausted, scared, lonely and rushed.

so many of these women have confided in me, ‘i wish sexuality was a choice! if i could choose to be with a woman i would in a heartbeat.’ i do not want to imply here that women are above patriarchy or other disease, or in any way minimize the complexities of queer love. but the frequency with which i have heard this from straight women speaks to a particular desperation, heartbreak, and confusion about how to be met in intimate relationship in this lifetime.*

there are women who are straight, or…mostly straight. and i am watching them battle their way out of patriarchy, only to resign themselves to either painful compromise or dignified solitude.

so i want to offer here a brief primer for men who want intimacy, informed by emergent strategy and pleasure activism, and by life. this is for men who don’t want to be alone. who want to be part of communities. who don’t want to be a burden to humanity. who want to be trustworthy! who don’t want to be assholes and fuckbois and distant dads, but can’t see how they are perpetuating patriarchy.

this is for men who want to know love in their lives.

if a woman tells you she is tired, that the dynamic of labor between you is imbalanced, it means you have been carried without realizing or honoring it. in naming this, she is reaching for interdependence with you.

we are in a set of transition generations, most of us with mothers who were taught to keep their labor out of sight. this means many men grew up in households where the full time work of managing home was intentionally invisible.

this is especially true if you had a father – you would come home from school, see your father come home from working out in the world, see your mother make a meal and serve it with a smile on. then she would clean dishes while your father watched TV and you did homework.

maybe you did one chore, like cleaning your own room, or taking out garbage you’d helped create. you may have learned to do these chores as if they were a rare favor to your mother, rather than a reasonable expectation for a human that makes messes and produces waste as a part of life.

if you grew up with a single mother, you may have been brought into more of this work, helping out your mom. but a good number of you got the benefit of a mother who was trying to cover the ground of both mother and father, guilty in some way for not being able to keep a family together. she may have coddled you even more to make up for what society was telling her was her failure.

what you most likely didn’t see, or saw but didn’t register as crucial labor, was how the laundry, cleaning, fixing, gardening, grocery and clothes and all other shopping, mailing, mending, financial management and planning took place. and how hard and necessary that work is.

i have seen a number of relationships where a man takes on one or two of these areas of crucial labor and thinks things are balanced.

i have seen a number of situations in which men think the work of caring for the children they cocreated is ‘babysitting’ or ‘providing childcare’, briefly inhabiting a role that primarily belongs to a woman coparent.

i’ve also seen how often, when men are left even briefly with labor that women regularly do, they are quickly overwhelmed. the results range from neglect (the home is dirty, the kid is sitting in a poopy diaper, the sick wife is hungry, etc) to full out adult male tantrums (to paraphrase: ‘you didn’t even thank me for doing the things you do every day!!’).

which brings me to my next point: if a woman tells you you are scaring her, you are. and you have been – it usually takes us a while to gather the words of our fear. she is saying this because something in your behavior has become physically or emotionally unsafe. domestic violence isn’t always a bruised eye – there are so many ways to terrorize an intimate. sometimes the fear is the only signal to a woman that she’s in a dangerous situation – there are some fears we can’t trick ourselves out of, even if we love y’all.

i have witnessed men (who i thought “knew better”) in states of road rage, alcohol-induced rage, property destruction, gaslighting/manipulation intended to make their female partners feel crazy, and physical intimidation. if this is what they do in front of a witness – i know it’s worse when they have no concern of being seen.

i have seen men endangering their children in these moments. i have heard stories of men grabbing, hitting, pushing against a wall, and giving silent treatment for days to their woman partners and their children.

men, you must learn to be responsible for your own feelings and actions. and it’s difficult for a number of reasons – most of which add up to codependence training. most men expect to be mothered by women they get involved with.

here are some of the reasons why men’s default relational approach is codependency:

– you aren’t encouraged to feel your feelings. in fact, the opposite is the case. you are told it isn’t manly to cry, to need comfort, to feel longing. you are ridiculed for emotions that aren’t weaponized, for gentleness, for what is categorized as feminine behavior.

– you aren’t encouraged to have friends. activity bros are different – you may have guys you go play ball with, or drink with. you may even have men you complain to, perhaps even clichéd complaints about the demands women are making of you to gr/show up. but at a certain age all humans need mirrors, witnesses, people they can trust to hear their lives, to cut through any victim narrative and help them pivot away from behaviors that harm themselves and others. that’s literally what friends are for. women are actively doing this for each other right now, witnessing each other, reaching for our own lives, holding each other’s hands as we walk towards our power. y’all need to get in right relationship!

– you aren’t encouraged to get professional help. again, many of you think it’s only “crazy” people or women who seek professional help, so you either refuse to see the therapists or healers who could support your growing up, or you wait until it’s so late that you’ve already built a mountain of harm on top of the person who has been carrying your emotional load in addition to her own. you end up unhinged, unstable, not rooted in reality – in many ways acting out the definition of what people call crazy. in my mediations, facilitation and friendships, i’ve learned that roughly everyone has the potential to be “crazy”. the difference in how much negative impact our crazy has on ourselves and others is directly related to who has adequate support structures and rigorous practices when the storms of adulthood come, and who doesn’t. therapy, friends, meditation, repeat.

– not enough of the people who offer professional help recognize patriarchy as a type of insanity. i will say it as clearly as i can – believing that masculinity is a factor of mental, physical, emotional, economic or other superiority that results in doing less labor and having more power is disease. therapists and healers can be of best service when they recognize this and stop normalizing patriarchal expectations. especially with men who carry other socially acceptable diseases, such as white supremacy, or extreme wealth.*

if a woman tells you she needs boundaries, step back immediately, and listen to her. respect the lines she draws between you. if she needs space from you, don’t antagonize her…consider offering her space. and silence.

this can be very hard for men, who are trained to pursue and capture women – seeing women as human, not prey, can be a lifelong journey for men unlearning patriarchy, unlearning woman-as-belonging or woman-as-prize.

it’s also hard for men whose default relationship position is, as mentioned, codependency. i have been shocked at the number of processes i have witnessed and/or supported where men, in absence of friends or professional support, expect the women they’ve worn down and disrespected and sometimes abused to also be their primary support through breakdowns, breakups, new adventures, and figuring out how to adult.

in a word, she can’t help you with that. she’s tired, she’s scared, and she needs her own space to heal.

it is time for fractal accountability – each unit of masculinity has to heal, to become part of a healed identity. you MUST:

– recognize that you are a part of a seductive and dying system of holding imbalanced privilege.

– opt out, even when everything in your system is screaming “double down!”, control her!

– be willing to understand that patriarchy is a million small choices everyday to shirk responsibility, to assume power you haven’t earned, to be mothered by your partners…you MUST learn to see those choices and add more options into your life.

the good news is, there are practices that work. here are steps i guarantee will help you to relinquish patriarchy.

1. recognize that as a man, you are a part of patriarchy. even if you have made some effort to break out of it, the system/insanity of patriarchy is still there for you to fall back into under pressure or duress.

2. be particularly vigilant about your masculinity growing toxic in your 30-50s age range. those are the years for many of us where the weight of adulting gets real and feels too heavy, and the dreams we had for our lives may not be coming true – hence the pattern of midlife crises. this is when men can become strangers to the women who trust them. yes, change is constant, and we all deserve space to change. none of us deserve a pass to change in ways that make us more harmful to those with less systemic power than we have, especially not those who have carried us.

3. don’t get into language supremacy, or read-the-most-feminists supremacy. don’t think that you are better than other men because you know the language of patriarchy, feminism and other isms. it’s the overcharged competitive nature, the desire to be better than, the inappropriate topping itself that is toxic.

4. in practice, release any belief that your mind will liberate you from patriarchy. the change required now is not something you can learn or do with your mind alone. it is something you must practice with your body, emotions, soul. only consistent practice will rewire your mind and liberate your life.

5. practice trusting the women in your life to see what you cannot see. seek, wrestle with, trust, and apply their feedback.

6. practice shared labor. ask to take on tasks and change the dynamic of labor because you want to and/or you should, not as if you are relieving her of a burden or helping her out. don’t ask her how to do these things. she doesn’t just magically know; she has long worked at learning/creating all of this.*

7. practice sitting in groups with other men (a group of two is a fine and valiant beginning) and speaking of feelings. do not offer solutions or try to cheer each other up. invite the feelings as they are – sadness, heartbreak, abandonment, fear, trauma from the process of masculinization. be there for each other. build friendships of radical honesty.

8. practice taking action together. go to marches to protect women’s rights, volunteer to hold the line at abortion clinics, intervene on observed acts of misogyny and patriarchy in private and public!*

9. practice finding something other than women to blame for your feelings. consider that your own behavior might be responsible for the hardships you are currently experiencing.

10. practice listening to the truth: ask the women in your life how they have survived you. this is not to say that all women are innocent, or never abusive/ controlling/ unfair/ harmful. it is to say that women have most often engaged in those strategies in order to navigate staying safe and sane inside of patriarchy. ask her how she carried that emotional, economic, child-rearing, home management, and/or fear burden.

11. practice equality in the workplace – if you are offered a raise, ask who else is getting one. share your salary information with women colleagues so they can know if they are underpaid. if you advocate for a raise, advocate for women’s raises too. if you’re in a position to make those decisions about hiring/pay, never ask how much someone was paid in their last job. pay them relative to those around them.*

12. make a list of things you believe you are owed by the world. if there’s anything you think you are owed that others are not, get curious about that. begin to release that way of thinking. you deserve dignity, belonging and safety. you also deserve love, community, respect. you deserve pleasure and joy. not at the expense of half the world, but alongside us.*

13. seek professional help. require that your therapists and/or healers identify as feminists. this doesn’t mean that they are women. this simply means that they believe in the equality of men and women. not the sameness, but the equality – no sex is superior or inferior.

14. read. i recommend:
– The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. bell hooks.
– Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. bell hooks.
– The Combahee River Collective Statement
– Men Explain Things to Me. Rebecca Solnit.
– Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Brene Brown

men, do those things even if you think you’re already doing it and think you already know all this and think you are already all right. ALL of us have much to learn and to listen.*

the fall of patriarchy is inevitable. it is #metoo, it is #timesup. it is your turn, specifically, to lead by transforming yourself into the kind of man who always feels safe to women and children. those are the men who will be allowed into the future.

this is your invitation.

* shaped by goddesses/woes
image: Maceo Paisley

and here’s a link to more resources to help you in the work!

Author: Adrienne

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Your uprising against the forces of darkness has got to do more than say "no." A fierce, primal yes should be at the heart of your crusade. (rob brezny, long ago)

38 thoughts on “relinquishing the patriarchy”

  1. weeping. I’m so seen by this…my loneliness and solitude. thank you adrienne.

  2. I’m glad that you wrote this. I also want to make it clear to anyone reading that these patriarchal relationship dynamics occur across all kinds of male-female relationships – familial, romantic, professional, collaborative, activist, social movements, etc. I get nervous that the men reading this will think, oh well I don’t treat my partner that way at all, and not reflect on how they might be treating their mother, sister, daughter, colleague, co-worker, intern, supervisor, co-conspirator, etc. But it’s important to conduct this inquiry across all of those relationships and more.

  3. From a man who is constantly trying to fight against the internalized patriarchy within me, I value and appreciate the labor that went into this, and I thank you for offering up this perspective.

  4. Like Joseph, I’m very grateful for this concise, effective analysis that I hope will speak to many of us men. I see many parallels to the tasks we white people need to undertake to undo racism.

  5. As a trans man in partnership w gay cis men, this resonates so hard and I want to validate all afab folks who experience All Of This from their male/masc partners too. ??????

  6. Thank You. I wholeheartedly love this and am personally an active participant in this conversation… which is why I related to and understood much of it.
    I want to share with my partner (white cis male) yet am worried that he isn’t yet in a place of being able to understand and digest half of it. At this risk of sounding lame … it would be incredible to have this same love letter … yet a bit dumbed down for an audience that is new to these concepts but would greatly benefit.
    Something to consider … in the meantime, thank you for providing further reading material. Perhaps they need to do their own educating.

  7. This is such a valuable piece. I’m going to require all the men in my life – all those who want to be in my life – to read it.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  8. I am very choked up after reading this.
    Thank you for your work Adrienne.

  9. You’re an angel. And I feel so SEEN: “so many of these women have confided in me, ‘i wish sexuality was a choice! if i could choose to be with a woman i would in a heartbeat.’ i do not want to imply here that women are above patriarchy or other disease, or in any way minimize the complexities of queer love. but the frequency with which i have heard this from straight women speaks to a particular desperation, heartbreak, and confusion about how to be met in intimate relationship in this lifetime.”

  10. Thank you for articulating all these thoughts and observations so emphatically. As a man, I saw myself, and recognize that I still have much to UNLEARN, LEARN and PRACTICE.

  11. Simply put thanks for sharing. I can only say I wish I had heard them earlier in my life. I am so glad my daughter shared your words with me today. I will in turn share them with my son’s and friends. Take care, hope all is well with you and yours!!!

  12. This is amazing . I read it with heart- pounding urgency. So much yes to all of this. You’ve nailed it. Thank you sooooo much!!!!!!!

  13. i didn’t expect to cry, but i cried because i felt so seen. especially when you talked about chores and family/childhood life. thank you so much adrienne

  14. A powerful call for men to take responsibility for recognizing their socialization into patriarchy and sexism, seeing the harm of these systems for people of all sexes, and changing oneself in order to limit the harms to self and others. Lovingly and powerfully written. Thank you.

  15. Thank you for this post! This is my first time reading your work. Any chance you have a similar post about how white people can navigate giving up white supremacy? I’d really value your take on that as well.

  16. Thank you so much adrienne for your work, labor, time , thoughts and words. They are gifts of wisdom that I appreciate so much and will use as guidance that I will return to over and over again with practice.

  17. Every time I thought “Oh she should mention X as part of this,” you did. I will be forever grateful to you for the thoroughness of this piece, the new words to say what I’ve been saying for so many years, and now have to say to my son. I too am currently choosing “dignified solitude” as my relationship status but hope it will not always have to be so. Men, free yourselves! You’ll be happier, too, I promise! Patriarchy is killing us all.

  18. You see inside our hearts and brains and relationships–and then turn around and SAY IT with such clarity and grace. Thank you for offering this immense gift to the world, AMB. So much love for you.

  19. Beautifully written. And she
    opening to this 50 year old woman. Thank you for that. I hope you keep sharing your insightful ponderings.

  20. I want to add my sincere gratitude for your work here. I took notes, collected quotes, used some phrases for signatures and collected aside any pieces for meditation that pricked me into a deeper sense of my daily responsibilities and my relationship to privilege.
    I am an older man who has worked with the same men’s group for over 40 years. Thanks for the inspiration and clarity. I’ll share this with my three sons, hold it for my grandchildren, use it in community process.

  21. You speak to men as if they have made only ‘innocent’, sexist remarks or mild violence and failed to understand them/their pattern of behaviour, but there are some men who have raped, tortured and even murdered theird ex-wives and girlfriends. How do they heal? Going to a therapist is simply not enough, and I don’t think the worst predators will be able to survive the tides of change. I think they will be suffering and likely die before the day liberation comes. Punishment or not, they are fundamentally unable to be resocialized and reintegrated properly and will face public ostracisation and likely live a miserable life as permanent outcasts – ridiculed, shamed and banned from society, like the “Bookville” sexual offender encampment in Florida. I don’t think you have the imagination to comprehend, how deeply shameful they are of themselves and what they have become. If you ever spot and look into the ‘dead’ eyes of a homeless man, you know what I’m thinking about.

    Also, I don’t think you realize how under-appreciated women are of men’s hard and back-breaking labor. When you work in the industry, it is normal to lift many tonnes of goods every day, which makes you properly exhausted. And especially when you work odd hours and have poor living conditions that almost never make you able to get a full cycle of sleep without constant interruptions. No standard woman could survive such schedules their whole life, and those who do are damn tough. I think it is perfectly reasonable for a man to resign to his couch to watch tv and take a long nap after a devastating day/night of work out of desperation and abandon necessary house chores, but I also don’t think it is not unfair and unjust. It is just a thing that I have noticed than many upper middle-class women fail to understand or consider, that working-class men have far more dangerous and downtearing jobs that make us unable to live a long elderly life, and that some of these jobs are extremely necessary for the well-being of society – otherwise the world economy and stability would break down. Women seem to think that only their invisible and much appreciated household work is what makes the world go around, while the opposite is also true, that dangerous food/energy production labor like mining, farming and oceanic activities are also a key part of the survival of human species, whilst almost completely absent of women in those enterprises. We need you to take part in these structures – not only to abandon them to live an almost hassle-free academic and cultural lifestyle compared to being quite close to death on an everyday basis.

  22. This is rich, lovely and caring. As a man in the 30-50 year old range, I hear and appreciate your clear points and steps to action. It’s tough for men to be vulnerable because men grow up stunted by the patriarchy too, only we’ve lied to ourselves that our warped adaptations to cruelty and inhumanity are beneficial. Our patriarchal toxicity is harming men, women, gender non-conforming people, animals, and the planet itself. Luckily, you have shared the hope that transformation is not only possible, but inevitable. Thank you.

  23. Adrienne, this is everything. This is everything I’ve been feeling for years and wished I could have taught my father, my ex. I wish I had this compassion, strength, patience and gentleness and here you are handing it to me so I can go forward with it. Thank you.

  24. Gratitude for the article and all the comments. Thank you Anonymous, for reminding us that ending patriarchy means ending the enslavement of men as well as women to the roles meted out by industrial capitalism: exploited laborers and privileged managers are also suffering, though in different ways, and most of those roles are filled with male persons. Feminist activism has begun to open the doors of traditionally male roles to women, which is a step toward equality, but not necessarily a step toward ending Patriarchy. Some women are getting jobs and positions and thus more participation and agency in industrial patriarchy this way, but the whole system still operates on a “divide, conquer and take” set of principles. Ending patriarchy not only means ending the way men conduct themselves in their relationships, it means replacing “conquer and take” with “cooperate and reciprocate.” Reaffirming Adrienne’s #8 on the list of practices: the anti-patriarchal male needs to show up, shut up, listen and support women, youth, people of color and LGBTQIA+ leadership in the struggle for institutional transformation as a part of our anti-patriarchy “practice.”

  25. I’ve always suspected something was wrong with me and could never put my finger on it. Always ever so slightly out of grasp. This has spoken to me on a plane I did no know existed inside myself. You’ve penned this as if inhabited by the one closest person to me I’ve unwittingly imposed myself upon. I’m in shock and awe and am thankful and am praying it’s not too late

  26. This piece is a pre-reading my staff and ED are doing for a two day gender justice retreat, tomorrow and Fri. The patriarchy bullshit has to stop in our organization. It must. All the women are sick from carrying the men and tired of fighting to create enough space to think through our collective labor. Tired of pretending to be magical. So we’ve demanded and are now having two whole days dedicated to talking about this shit. Excited to have you be a part of it 🙂

  27. Man made religions, especially Christianity IMO, have built their systems to prop up the patriarchy BS too. Men and those who are toxic, unlearn this brainwashing. Spirituality can be found in the real natural world we are lucky enough to be living in. Everything else is a construct.

  28. Food for thought: its much harder to break these patriarchal chains if you are under priveleged. Some survivors use masculinity as a defense to get by in a society they themselves have been discounted from::: for example, sex workers have to use a cover of power to get by in one of the most preying industries fir vulnerable women on the planet. To break the patriarchy we must first give a hand to those who have to use the patriarchy because of their position in life.

  29. I found this inspiring and difficult. I find all masculinity (including my own) cumbersome, distasteful, and often disgraceful. For as long as I can remember, I have actively distrusted and avoided men. Thank you for reminding me that retreating from men (to protect and comfort myself), also prevents me from being part of the uncomfortable and necessary work to make things better.

    For many years, I shuddered at the word ‘man’ when I was told, ‘You are a good man’. It is still easier to see myself in the ‘good’ than the ‘man’. I have a lot of work to do (both introspectively and in community) before I will be comfortable seeing myself in the word ‘men’.

    (Also, as many others mentioned there are many parallels white supremacy. In fact, I am guilty of fleeing from whiteness just like I have from masculinity. Self-isolation, denial, and exceptionalism are far easier than systemic change.)

  30. thank you for sharing this challenging piece of writing. i will send it on to everyone in my family, not just the men. i feel that it raises a bunch of important issues and provides suggestions for how to grow. i will also see if i can find a similarly challenging piece for women, to find ways to grow in our understandings.

  31. thank you for writing.

    some good guidelines/suggestion in here. As I man, I have been trying to “practice asking yourself what it would be like to be in the same situation as her/as a woman.” and also, in general, “Be cautious about what you claim to know for certain,” which I got from Jensen’s book mentioned below—although this is just good advice in general, for anyone.

    to add to your reading list, I would suggest Gerda Lerner’s classic _The Creation of Patriarchy_ and also Robert Jensen’s much more recent _The End of Patriarchy_.

  32. Simply wonderful to get the information in such detail. So much clarity, so much compassion. Thank you a lot for such wonderful work of art!

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