Wait, DON’T smash the patriarchy — its pieces are seeds

Guest post by Mary Beth Huwe
Wait, DON'T smash the patriarchy -- its pieces are seeds
Intersectional Feminism Shirt from We Empower

Recently I’ve become really uncomfortable with the term “smashing the patriarchy.” Not in the comfort-zone-pushing way, but in the misaligned-self-betrayal way.

So I’ve stopped using it. Because you know who runs around smashing shit?

The patriarchy.

If we look seriously at the situation, I think we find that to “smash” the patriarchy is to recreate it. Sure, maybe it’ll have a different type of carpet, or a nuanced choke-hold on power, or a glossier varnish of exclusivity, but how a thing falls determines how it lands. When smashed, the patriarchy’s pieces turn into seeds of violence and it grows itself again.

I posit that we should let the patriarchy self-destruct. We need something different in kind.

That is the power the patriarchy fears.

The White Lie

Full disclosure: I’m a little shaky about this post, because there’s so much to read that I haven’t read and so much to hear that I haven’t heard and so many damn ignorant things I might be saying.

But here’s the deal: all of the above, every bit of it, is about me fearing how people might perceive me. And if it’s painful for me to think about saying self-entitled dumb shit, I’m probably performing. Or hiding. Or trying to be “good.” A “good white girl.” A “good ally.” Someone who receives awards for her goodness, someone who basks in the warm light of glowing accolades. A fragile white supremacist, in other words.

My self-entitled dumb shit can be my teacher, too, if only I will look at it.

And fuck that shit. I’m not here for that. I’m not wasting my time (or yours) with that to-do list. I’m here to learn. I’m here to ask questions with which to confront my self-entitled dumb shit, because if I don’t, it will whip around and bust up my lip. I’ve seeeeeen it. Self-entitled dumb shit does that, and so my self-entitled dumb shit can be my teacher, too, if only I will look at it.

I have skin that people recognize and accept as “white,” and I have biases rooted in white supremacy that I work to bring to light. I do not have “white pride.” For lots of reasons, but here are the top two: (a) most of the most fucked up things in recent civilization were committed by self-entitled white people seeking to zealously create a permanent, inviolable place for their power-hungry, religious systems and (b) there’s no such thing as “a pure white race.” It ain’t real. It’s a deranged myth, created in service to power and oppression.

So for me, thinking about, talking about — and especially writing about — “whiteness” is confusing. I am recognized as white, benefit from that whiteness, and I think it is a dangerous delusion. How do I engage with that? Here’s what I’m trying out. I’m thinking about (which includes listening to women of color,) talking about (which also includes listening to women of color,) and writing about white supremacy and white privilege — because those fuckers are very, very real. They are the toxic, putrid offspring of the false belief in “whiteness.”

Identifying with the abuser

There’s an awakening movement out there for the white women, should we choose to join it. And waking up, it transpires, is painful.

We can see this in the simple example of a foot that has fallen asleep and is returning to life. Sometimes it tickles pleasantly, but often it flat-out hurts. It burns. What the body had previously cut off from itself is now being reintroduced to feeling, and the first feeling is “OUCH.”

There’s an awakening movement out there for the white women, should we choose to join it. And waking up, it transpires, is painful.

Waking up to white supremacy and white privilege is painful, thus many white women are electing not to do it, or are electing to do it partially (which is the same as not doing it), or are projecting their pain onto others, and lots of other ands, ors, and et ceteras.

Hi, what the fuck? I have a theory, and it’s called “a nasty case of identifying with the abuser.”

The patriarchy says, essentially, that if you follow certain rules you will be okay. Your kids will be okay, your vagina will be okay-ish maybe. You will be protected in direct proportion to your virtue and rule-following. The rules vary, and from my experience and observation they go something like this:


White: Be specifically feminine but not high-maintenance, virginal but not icy, warm but not slutty, witty to the credit of your man, supportive of men’s needs, self-sufficient but still dependent but not needy. Perpetuate the white myth, and do not name the narrative of white supremacy.

Non-white: Do not be. Do not be self-possessed. Do not be seen. Do not make noise. Do not disrupt. Do not resist. Do not speak. You are disposable. Do not name the narrative of white supremacy.

Many white women fear the consequences of declining the rules presented in #1, because of the implicit threat of being put in bracket #2. So they play along, pretending this makes them safe and whole. But it does not; it divides them. The patriarchy’s rules honor only itself.

Framing language, not people

The words we use matter, especially when it comes to sorting through our psyches, shifting social consciousness, and forging new norms.

If we are deliberate and intentional with our language, we can do each other right, partially because the act of being deliberate and intentional with our language requires that we investigate our intentions.

It helps us to know ourselves.

This self-knowledge is a form of self-possession, and it is not the same as policing others’ tones and diction. When we use language as a framework, we create common ground in which we can genuinely connect in discourse. When we use language as entrapment, we dismiss people without hearing what they’re saying. (Patriarchal tactic.)

So when I suggest that we consider a less patriarchal action than “smashing,” it’s an invitation to consider our collective power, our interdependent connection, and the multi-layered opportunity we have right now to create an inclusive and generative change.

Dismantle, abandon, transform… I don’t know. How would YOU like to take it down?

Comments on Wait, DON’T smash the patriarchy — its pieces are seeds

  1. I prefer dismantle. I don’t think we can abandon patriarchy because it won’t let us. We might be able to extract ourselves from it. Transforming it implies it would still be there in a different form, which also implies there is something worth keeping about patriarchy, which I can’t agree with.

  2. I’m not exactly sure what the author is trying to say. There’s some good stuff here, but what’s the “Women” section all about? Is she as a white women trying to describe the non-white experience in column #2? The writing is a bit confusing and despite her claim that it is not tone-policing, it certainly sounds like tone-policing at certain times.

    • Talking about something as confusingly elusive yet pervasive as the power dynamics of this sick culture is bound to stumble here and there. I give her props for trying. I get the sense of someone who wants to start a conversation that one can only come to understand by starting the conversation, and the first effort will not come out smoothly.

  3. My way of dealing with this is getting rid of the cultural default for change: the new young lion slays the old lion, or the upstart prince slays the old and corrupted king. You’re absolutely right about smashing patriarchy making every fragment a seed of itself.

    I replace it with the female dynamic of change: the daughter replacing the mother. I see this civilization as dying, and a new civilization gradually growing to replace it. The daughter lovingly takes over from a mother grown too sick to run things anymore. The old one has become senile and says terrible things, but know that she is just unwell, you don’t have to believe what she says, you don’t have to follow her rules, just ease her inevitable way to the grave and replace her ways with your own. Besides, there’s things you now know that she never had the chance to learn; it’s all right to put your knowledge into practice; there is no disloyalty in outgrowing ignorance.

    But how does this address patriarchy? Didn’t we all, male and female, learn patriarchy from our mothers? Especially since patriarchy often forces a distance between men and their children. Our mothers were infected and didn’t understand the harm of what they taught, but we do, and we can gently but firmly put those diseased teachings aside.

    Patriarchy hurts men and boys as well as women and girls. Think of how lonely it must be to learn only to objectify and to mistake this for love. Think of how stressful it must be to think you’re born in charge of other adult human beings, and every decision you make has to be right for more than just you. Think of how horrible it must be to believe that admitting to error will castrate you. Think of the terror of viewing life as nonstop warfare, like a pitbull who can only please his master by going into the ring again and again to rip up others and be ripped up!

    This needs healed.

    Racism is part of the package, as the writer who started this conversation pointed out. As the man believes that he must think both for himself and his women (and usually gets it wrong because he doesn’t listen, because he’s taught to think she has nothing to say, and because he’s also taught that he gets points for being clever at exploiting others) so our society has instituted all manner of racism on the presumption that the white man has to think for the (allegedly inferior) other races. Take the burden off of these poor, deluded people! Let them know it’s all right, we can run our own lives, we can be trusted with mortgages and tenure and political office and probation instead of prison and management positions and every other way of stepping up and taking power and responsibility. Reassure them that we aren’t wild animals, they don’t have to hold us down to keep us from crime, we aren’t nearly as scary as they’ve been told. All of these are the fever-dreams of patriarchy–let in the fresh air and cool the fever down!

    Maybe we should print teeshirts: Cure Patriarchy.

Join the Conversation