Devaluing women and genderqueer minorities
December 16, 2021
Merriam-Webster broadly defines the patriarchy as the “control by men of a disproportionately large share of power.”
More often than not, the patriarchy harbors misogyny, denoting femininity to weakness. For Sum, this notion is something that he is intrinsically familiar with.
“I was raised to believe that I’m weaker than my brothers, and while I can get an education, I’d ultimately be better off marrying a rich man,” Sum said.
From cultural beliefs like these to their manifestations in the workforce, the misogynistic undertones of the patriarchy can be found in every corner of society. One example of this is the patriarchal belief that a woman’s job is to bear and raise children, which continues to hinder job mobility for women today.
“Major companies are hesitant to hire women, especially for positions of power, because they could go on maternity leave. That’s something we face every year at Carlmont; it’s something that women in the workforce face all the time,” Cindy Shusterman said.
However, sexism in the workforce isn’t limited to the hiring and promotion policies of a company. It can manifest itself in different ways, from the gender pay gap to the gender-linked jobs that exacerbate generational discrimination.
The education system is one of the most prominent examples of this.
Mainly a female-dominated field but primarily run by men, teachers and administrators are notoriously underpaid. In addition to contributing to the gender pay gap, the education system is also one of many gender-linked jobs that encourages women to stay in lower positions.
This is the patriarchy at work.
However, the patriarchy extends past the workplace and appears in nearly every aspect of life and society. This can be, in part, traced back to influential works and philosophies supported by the patriarchy.
During the Enlightenment, the concept of the individual was popularized, and the examination of this topic found its way into other sectors of life such as education and family. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of many to contribute to this with his book “Emile, or On Education.”
“The writings of Rousseau and his other famous contemporaries created the foundation for modern pedagogy and conceptions of the nuclear family. Although families used to be large and extended, they began to shrink into the ancestors of the modern nuclear family. The Enlightenment’s focus on the individual combined with the completion of capitalism created the western, patriarchal, nuclear family. This singular conception of family was then imposed upon societies across the world due to colonization,” said Ian Chen, a junior at Gunn High School.
Not only has colonization imposed patriarchal constructs onto family structures, but these norms have bled into the relationships many women hold, whether or not they are romantic in nature. Although Sum doesn’t identify as a woman, according to the data from National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 U.S. survey, they are part of the 54% of genderqueer people who have experienced intimate partner violence.
Previously in a romantic relationship that he was guilt-tripped into staying in, Sum said she was mentally, verbally, and sexually abused. They were also slapped in the face once.
“Early in our relationship, my ex-boyfriend would tell me that if I left him, he wouldn’t have the will to live anymore, and I was the only thing keeping him going,” Sum said.
Much of this results from the over-sexualization and objectification of women and genderqueer minorities brought upon by the patriarchal system European colonizers normalized.
People would see her and say, ‘She’s so cute, or she’s such a beautiful little girl.’ It’s usually men who say these kinds of things, and I’d say, ‘Don’t tell her she’s pretty; tell her she’s smart. Tell her she’s kind. Tell her she’s compassionate. Tell her she’s brilliant. Tell her she’s anything but pretty because I know the unlearning I had to do.”
— Cindy Shusterman
Still, since the patriarchy is a collection of societal and cultural norms, it can present itself differently, often varying between communities and geographical locations.
“Growing up in the deep South, my physical appearance in terms of stereotypical Aryan attractiveness was valued over my intellectual abilities. When young girls are given that as a model growing up, even if they have a family like I did who attempted to reteach certain values, there’s still a massive amount of unlearning to do,” Cindy Shusterman said.
When Cindy Shusterman first left her small town in the South to attend a college in Birmingham, Alabama, she began her journey towards unlearning the cultural values and societal views she was surrounded with. Still unsatisfied with the lack of acceptance in the South, she later moved to California.
Now, as a California resident, Cindy Shusterman has firsthand experience with the cultural differences between the South and the West Coast. When she revisited the South, these differences became even more apparent when she noticed the Southern attitudes towards her daughter.
“People would see her and say, ‘She’s so cute, or she’s such a beautiful little girl.’ It’s usually men who say these kinds of things, and I’d say, ‘Don’t tell her she’s pretty; tell her she’s smart. Tell her she’s kind. Tell her she’s compassionate. Tell her she’s brilliant. Tell her she’s anything but pretty because I know the unlearning I had to do,” Cindy Shusterman said.
Looking back on her childhood, Cindy Shusterman describes her experience growing up in the deep South as nothing less than traumatic.
“My brother and I both went through a lot of trauma and really deep dark stuff to get to where we are now — to a place where we, as adults in their 30s and 40s, can finally feel comfortable enough in our own skin to be able to present ourselves the way we truly feel inside,” Cindy Shusterman said.
Although she wishes she could return to her former high school and speak to students about leaving the South, she acknowledges that it’s not that simple. Class, like many other demographics such as race and sexuality, can severely inhibit or encourage social, or in Cindy Shusterman’s case, physical mobility.
“My white privilege and my parents’ financial ability to send me to college allowed me to leave the toxicity of the South,” Cindy Shusterman said.