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The Psychological Toll of Patriarchy on Women

Empower women. Support women. Believe women.

The Psychological Toll of Patriarchy on Women

As we continue to shift our socio-cultural landscape and pioneer forward-thinking rhetoric, more and more antiquated patriarchal systems are getting dismantled in hopes to replace them with a system rooted in female empowerment. Male dominance has insidiously coiled itself in every facet of our lives, impacting everything from our relationships with ourselves to our relationships with everything around us.

When it comes to what the patriarchy does to women, the toll can be felt on a grander scale—like how we interact with corporate America and society at large. But it can also be much closer to home, like how we interact with our partners and our social circles.  

Let’s take some time to uncover the truth behind what the patriarchy does to women, and hopefully spark some fire that fuels revolution.


What is the Patriarchy?

While it’s certainly a buzzword these days, it’s imperative we take the time to most accurately understand what the term really means. Derived from the Greek word patriarkhēs, patriarchy translates to “the rule of the father,” defined as a social system where men control a disproportionately large share of social, economic, political, and religious power. 

There is an overwhelming amount of data and statistics that prove we operate under male privilege on a global scale. Women in some countries have so little power that they are stripped of their basic rights, unable to travel, drive, and even show their faces without the permission of a man. In the UK, it is reported that two women are killed each week by a male partner.

Though social movements like MeToo and Times Up aim to protect women’s safety and autonomy, the violence goes beyond domestic: in the US, one in 16 women reported to have been forced into their first sexual experience. Violence against women globally affects at least 30% of women, and when including psychological abuse, this extends to almost 90%.  

Meanwhile, a study from the American Time Use Survey shows that fathers are happier, less stressed, and less tired than their maternal counterparts who do more housework and childcare, even when both parents work full time.

Largely due to the over-sexualization of women and impossible body image standards in the media, perpetuated by a male-serving agenda, 15% of women will suffer from an eating disorder by their 40s or 50s, though only 27% receive any treatment for it. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and while BIPOC women are just as affected, they are about half as likely to be diagnosed or treated. 

Professionally, the highest-paid jobs are largely held by men, including positions that women are equally qualified for. Whole fields of expertise are predominantly male, such as physical sciences, where women hold just 2% of the Nobel prizes. Globally, 82% of ministerial positions are held by men. 

The discrimination has even bled into medical rooms, where we’re meant to be most protected. Yet, each year, raised concerns are met with nonchalance and dismissal as tens of thousands of women experience life-threatening pregnancy and postpartum complications. Within the maternal mortality crisis, Black women are 2.6 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. 


What is the Patriarchal Perception of Women?

Through a misogynistic lens, women are to be quiet, palatable, and of service. Gender roles in patriarchal society are hardly masked, noted through the direct expectations imposed on women. “Do you have a boyfriend yet? Your clock is ticking, are you planning to have children soon?”

In a heteronormative narrative, we’re sold a story about male saviorship. A woman is supposed to live her life prepping to be chosen by a man, making sure she is beautiful, thin, fertile, and experienced enough to be sensually enticing, but not enough to be a “whore”—all while he lives life at his leisure and builds financial stability. Once paired off, it is then expected that the woman will fall pregnant “while she still can,” upkeeping a home and family while the man hunts and gathers, or whatever men do when they leave.

While it may be easy to bypass this kind of expectation on a societal scale, these kinds of antiquated beliefs can be perpetuated by our own family members, including the women before us who have been confined within male-centered systems for decades without the language or tools to recognize it.

In the workplace, women’s voices are often stifled and their growth potential capped. As we subconsciously ingest the belief that we’re less valuable, it can be seen through even the most minute interactions, like over-apologizing when taking up space or staying quiet during meetings. It can impact the inner dialogue we have with ourselves and the lens through which we perceive the fellow women around us—an effect of psychological patriarchy.


What is Psychological Patriarchy?

Psychological patriarchy refers to the long-term mental health effects of the patriarchy and its interference with our psyche. The cumulative trauma of operating within a sexist system leads to mental distress like anxiety and depression, which women experience at almost twice the rate of their male counterparts.

Psychological patriarchy can also lead to internalized misogyny, in which we begin to judge or silence women, even on an unconscious level. While misogyny is the control, punishment, and policing of people and systems that threaten male dominance, we can be carrying on its mission unknowingly, which is why all genders must remain vigilant when it comes to their own internalized sexism. This includes stereotyping, discrimination, prejudice, devaluation, and marginalization targeting women. In simpler terms, within means of fairness and accountability, be a girl’s girl.


There’s Still Hope For Equality

The most important takeaway here is that a patriarchal society is not a promised doom. Feminism is an awareness of patriarchal control, exploitation, and oppression of women’s labor, fertility, and sexuality, and when the endemic of implicit sexism is publicly confronted, it can destroy patriarchal structures. As it was once built, it can be demolished. 

In fact, there are a number of remote societies that operate fairly within gender equality. This isn’t to say that women and men necessarily have the same roles, but that there is an absence of gender-based power imbalance. The Hadza people of Tanzania, for example, see men and women splitting the care for their children equally, as well as each sharing valuable input in important familial decisions.

From the cocoa-farming Bribri people of Costa Rica to the rice-farming Minangkabau of Sumatra, matriarchal societies are still thriving, more closely mirroring our ancestral communities. Strong female relationships are thought to be the glue that holds a larger community together, and raising children is considered a village task—not individual and certainly not all on Mom.


Ultimately, empowering women looks like giving them the chance to choose their own destiny. Whether it’s motherhood or abstaining from having kids, a traditional marriage or living single and abroad, embarking on a corporate career or leaning into a creative endeavor, it is about letting a girl be the author of her own story. Empowering women looks like recognizing them for their athletic, intellectual, and artistic strides as we would a man, avoiding things like the Nobel Prize gender disparity. Empowering women looks like equal opportunity, body inclusivity, and protecting trans women. Empowering women looks like paid period time off, listening to Black women, no longer policing our bodies by mind-boggling acts like the Supreme Court's efforts to overturn Roe V. Wade, and giving young girls more varied portrayals in media in order to promote bigger dreams. 

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