Every morning I drink from a coffee mug that fills me with liquid courage for the work of justice and equality. It reads, “Give me a refill. Patriarchy isn’t going to fight itself.”
The topic of patriarchy is challenging for many Christians, especially for those of us who grew up in a Genesis 3, fallen human, Bible-believing home. When the issue shows up in 21st-century casual conversation, we tend to respond in one of three ways: get angry, get defensive or disengage and get out. My response is rarely number three.
Recently I was at a restaurant with friends describing my favorite coffee mug to the group when one man says, “I don’t think patriarchy exists anymore in America. Women have it really good here compared to women in other countries.” His opinion painfully pricks my ears, only further proving my coffee mug mantra. I momentarily resist the urge to cry out in the name of God screaming, “Let my women go!”
“Patriarchy is the greatest pyramid scheme ever invented; and it was created, not from the beginning, but as a result of the fall.”
The tension quickly intensifies around the table as everyone waits expectantly for my furious feminism to erupt at biblical plague proportions. As usual, I don’t disappoint and unleash a swarm of locust ridden words that leads the conversation down a series of dehumanizing exchanges.
The following morning, I feel the buzz of leftover flies swarming in my head as I reflect on the battle of the sexes from the night before. As I sip my liquid courage from my favorite mug, a disturbing truth leap frogs into my thoughts. Yes, the man’s comments were frustrating, if not factually faulty; however, my perspective was ironically and equally unhelpful. Darkness blinded both sides of our argument. Both perspectives, his and mine, limited patriarchy to women as the only gender experiencing oppression.
Patriarchy is a male-driven, hierarchical system, a top down power structure that organizes society based upon the role of men as father figures and all women and children as dependents under male supremacy. Long ago a lie was told, a lie that laid the foundational bricks of patriarchy. The lie said, “Patriarchy works for everyone – especially men.” But the truth is patriarchy doesn’t work for everyone – even men.
For thousands of years this lie has been promoted by the powerhouse religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, often with the wedding and bedding of religion and state. Patriarchy is the greatest pyramid scheme ever invented; and it was created, not from the beginning, but as a result of the fall.
“For centuries a sign has hung on the patriarchy tower of the United States. It reads, ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’”
Pyramid schemes give the illusion of success, especially for those on top, those who profit the most. The first recorded pyramid scheme was Pharaoh’s Egypt; literally, they built the pyramids. This society was one of the most oppressive patriarchal systems of all time – an unjust system that enslaved the Hebrew people for hundreds of years.
But the Israelites were not the only ones in need of salvation. Unbeknown to them, Pharaoh and his Egyptians were also bearing the bricks of oppression. Under the rule of Pharaoh’s patriarchy, everyone, even his Egyptian male supervisors, were victims of a success driven, 24/7 system that demanded more money, more work, more from everyone – even the men in power.
The burden of the broken system reaches max capacity when freedom pricks the ear of Pharaoh. Pharaoh, like the great and powerful Oz, is pulling all the strings – or so he thinks. However, the pharaohs at the top of the pyramid are no demigods. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says that men in patriarchy have been taught to hide their vulnerability, their weaknesses and even their shame behind a curtain trying desperately to keep up the façade of strength and power.
For centuries a sign has hung on the patriarchy tower of the United States. It reads, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” No one is supposed to look deeper into the soul of the man behind the thin sheets of strength and stability. Everyone is supposed to keep their eyes focused on the illusion which is always a false image, a mirror of a man with muscles to spare.
However, when those trapped under the bricks at the bottom of the pyramid demand liberation the curtain of patriarchy is pulled back. The illusion of the successful system is exposed and the hard truth for all to see is an image of a vulnerable man who has failed to look great and powerful.
In the U.S., this curtain has been pulled back time and time again, often and only by those who suffer the most under the weight of patriarchy. Before “me too” movements there were American descendants of slaves protesting racism perpetuated by patriarchy. Before civil rights movements there were protests for women’s right to vote, to run for office, to work, to wear pants and, God forbid, to pastor and preach in church. Since the first voices of liberation penetrated the rule of American Pharaohs, the U.S. patriarchy has had to face the plagues of change that still continue to this day. Then those who are last to feel the pain of oppression find themselves still clinging to the illusion, clinging to the man hiding behind the curtain.
“Those who are last to feel the pain of oppression find themselves still clinging to the illusion, clinging to the man hiding behind the curtain.”
The last plague, the final straw of hay, hit hard and broke the illusion for Pharaoh. It was the death of the first born, the death of his son, the death of the next great and powerful generation of men. The boy, like so many boys sent to die in wars around the world, highlights the oppression of men in patriarchal systems. No child, no person – male or female – should die at the expense of power structures that perpetuate false peace through violence and oppression.
In America, the arc of history has been bent through the prophetic work of previous generations. But there is a lot of work that needs to be done in our society, a Christianized culture that continues to perpetuate and promote patriarchy. I consistently amplify the voices of great women in my life, fighting against the oppressive systems that keep everyone under the yolk of sexism, racism and all the “isms” of our day. Now, after several hard conversations and many hot cups of coffee, I know it’s crucial to acknowledge and amplify the voices of great men in my life such as my husband, my brothers, my father and all the male colleagues and mentors who have the courage to drink from the same mug that courageously proclaims:
“Give us a refill. Patriarchy isn’t going to fight itself.”