Teaching About Patriarchy

Introduction

Patriarchy is a system of oppression within which men have primary power and dominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. Patriarchy privileges men over women and non-male people and shows up in structural, institutional, intrapersonal, and interpersonal ways. As a social structure, patriarchy normalizes discrimination and oppression based on sex and gender. Patriarchy is oppressive to people of all genders as it imposes on organic growth and development. The United States was and is an example of patriarchy, based on the social facts of men being elevated above non-men and wielding the majority of power and privilege in society. Because society reflects a gender-based hierarchy today, it is important for students to understand the concept and function of patriarchy as a precursor for resistance and social change. Understanding patriarchy as a system of oppression is the first step to dismantling the system itself in the pursuit of social justice and equity. 

Resources

There are a growing number of resources available for teachers to teach about patriarchy. Historically, patriarchy is not a system that is overtly discussed in schools, but in this society of systemic sexism, it is crucial to educate new generations of civic leaders so they can be agents of change in this world.

Lesson Plans

  1. Case Studies on Patriarchy: This compilation of case studies are presented as accessible lesson plans by the We Rise organization. These diverse case studies are accompanied by accessible guiding questions as part of the We Rise Toolkit movement. This “cases and analyses from everyday life” collection cover a range of situations and experiences that are presented in an accessible and empathetic way. The piece by bell hooks “Understanding Patriarchy” is included in this compilation, along with the essay by Alda Facio titled “What is Patriarchy.” This toolkit is an important resource for educators approaching the topic of patriarchy as it provides clear handouts, definitions, and guiding questions that work in tandem with the various case studies to scaffold teacher’s ability to engage students in discussions of gender justice.  
  2. Educating Boys for Gender Justice: Beginning on page 18 of this manuscript, a detailed and comprehensive series of lesson plans is presented for teaching boys about patriarchy and gender justice. These lessons were created and tested in context of a curriculum and empirical study conducted by the Study Hall Educational Foundation. Based in India, the Study Hall Foundation is an innovative leader in gender justice activism in education. The lessons are presented in detailed sequence from Lesson 1: Knowing Ourselves to Lesson 24: Imagining a fairer, gender just world. Each lesson has a clear objective and a description of how the lesson was implemented and received during the study. The results and implications of the study are discussed by the Founder and CEO of the Study Hall Foundation, Urvashi Sahni, in an article for Brookings. 
  3. Feminism is for Everyone: This comprehensive lesson plan for high school students provides an excellent overview of the concepts of roots of feminism and intersectionality, including introductions and discussions of key feminist scholars bell hooks and Kimberle Crenshaw. This lesson is presented in the context of women’s history month but is relevant at any time of year. The learning objective is to “Construct definitions of ‘feminism’ and ‘intersectionality’ and connect them to both Women’s History Month and students’ lives.” The lesson plan includes graphics and activities that seem effective in moving towards understandings of feminism and intersectionality, both of which are important social concepts to discuss and comprehend when considering the idea of patriarchy as a system of oppression. 

Articles

  1. Understanding Patriarchy: This article by intersectional feminist scholar bell hooks explains the concept of patriarchy in clear and comprehensive terms. It is a great place for anyone to start the journey of understanding and criticizing patriarchy as a system and culture of oppression. Her essay is directed towards men who may not realize the detrimental effects of patriarchy on people of all genders and sexes. Within this text, bell hooks introduces the idea of psychological patriarchy as “the dynamic between those qualities deemed ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in which half of our human traits are exalted while the other half is devalued.” The holistic conceptualization of patriarchy that hooks presents is urgently relatable and illuminating as hooks names patriarchy as the root problem of male pain and crisis, as well as female and non-male pain and crisis. This text is relevant to all people and also accessible in an audible format.  
  2. What is Patriarchy: This essay by Costa Rican feminist activist Alda Facio discusses the history and legacy of the concept of patriarchy through a global and de-colonial lens. Facio discusses the different conceptions and presentations of patriarchy throughout history and affirms a general accepted understanding that patriarchy originated within familial structures. She situates her own feminist perception of patriarchy within the history of the concept and explains how structures of patriarchy can be thought of as “institutions” that reinforce each other as well as the patriarchal system of oppression to maintain “consensus on the lesser value of women and their roles.” Facio offers a complex definition of patriarchy that conceptualizes men as a “social category” that through patriarchal institutions are engaged in systems of individual and collective oppression against women as a “social category.” Examples of the various forms of oppression are offered as the appropriation of “women’s reproductive and productive force” and the attempted control of women’s “bodies, minds, sexuality and spirituality mainly through ‘peaceful’ means such as the law and religion.” The structural and institutional perspective on patriarchy is crucial for understanding and criticizing it as a system of oppression.
  3. Teaching Boys to Examine Gender in Patriarchal Societies: This article written by the Founder and CEO of the Study Hall Foundation, Urvashi Sahni, reviews and synthesizes her organization’s action study regarding educating boys about patriarchy and gender justice. Based in India, the Study Hall Foundation is an innovative leader in gender justice activism in education. In the Brookings article, Sahni identifies two principles that serve as the ethical and conceptual guides for the curriculum to educate boys about gender justice. The two principles are: 1) Boys must experience responsive care themselves and 2) Boys must recognize the current social system as unjust. In tandem, this means approaching the development of a feminist consciousness within boys through an ethic of care, respect, and trust for the boys’ lived realities, feelings, and lives. 

Informational Sites

  1. Disrupting Patriarchy in the Classroom:  This site highlights the work of Carol Gilligan, an expert on feminist psychology who has authored a large body of scholarship on gender. Multiple works of Gilligan’s are highlighted on this site, including her “pathbreaking” 1982 book In a Different Voice, in which she detailed the limitations to the prevailing notions of gendered psychological development, and her most recent work Why Does Patriarchy Persist?, which was released in 2018. Gilligan has identified an effective working definition of patriarchy as “a harm-inducing hierarchy that elevates some men over other men, and all men over women.” This article suggests that middle and high school educators can learn more about the history and profession of teaching through the lens of patriarchy to better understand how “the evolution of modern schooling in the U.S. has been shaped by patriarchal values and modes of social organization in significant ways.” This is a crucial understanding of educational hegemony that teachers must possess to effectively and relatably teach about patriarchy. 
  2. Patriarchal Society According to Feminism: This informative article from 2020 defines and discusses patriarchy as a social concept. This is a good introduction to the connections between society, patriarchy, power, and privilege. This essay, published by ThoughtCo., contains several sections that detail feminist analyses of patriarchy. The article highlights Gerda Lerner’s historical 1986 work, The Creation of Patriarchy, and presents an excellent selection of quotations from feminist scholars who discuss patriarchy in accessible and meaningful ways. Quotes are included from bell hooks, Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, Maria Mies, Yvonne Aburrow, Ursula Le Guin, Kate Milllett, and Adrienne Rich. Each of these scholars provides important perspectives and analyses of patriarchy and its effects on society. 

Conclusion

Learning about patriarchy in the U.S. is a necessary step in dismantling the structures and culture that derive from patriarchal systems of oppression. Communicating an understanding of patriarchy and the damaging effects it has on people of all sexes and genders is an important task for educators. It may feel uncomfortable or conflictual to teach about these topics, but it perpetuates the current system to stay silent. We are all agents of change in the work to create a society that is safe and equitable for people of all sexes and genders.

Additional Resources

  1. Unladylike: This book directly tackles issues of teaching about patriarchy and is described as “the guide for women and girls everywhere who are trying to find their way in the world.” Christine Conger and Caroline Ervin co-authored the book and Tyler Feder illustrated. It is widely praised and accessible in many forms, including audiobook and podcast. Included in this publication is an interactive flowchart titled 21-st Century Patriarchy and You that presents the institutions and structures of patriarchy as an accessible visual diagram for young people to engage with. This book contains a compilation of useful tools for teaching youth about patriarchy through a culturally-relevant lens.  
  2. The Will to Change: This book by bell hooks contains the chapter referenced frequently in this resource page titled Understanding Patriarchy. This is an important resource for men learning about patriarchy, as hooks adopts an empathetic tone towards the detrimental impacts of patriarchal culture on men’s potential to know themselves and be in touch with their feelings. Her discussion is framed around the ability to love and be loved and provides practical advice for men who are learning to express emotions that are fundamental parts of who they are. This book is designed to “help men reclaim the best part of themselves” and holds great relevance for educators learning about patriarchy.  
  3. Self-Care: It is important to keep in mind that learning about patriarchy and systemic oppression can be mentally and emotionally taxing for students and teachers, especially those who experience the violence and subjugation of the system. Check out our page on teaching about self-care to find resources for helping students develop tools for taking care of themselves.

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