It always strikes me in how many different ways patriarchy can manifest itself in our society. Having already come to the CSW last year and having worked with gender justice issues for nearly seven years, I thought I was beyond the point of being surprised by these manifestations. Of course, I was wrong and even here on the first day of the CSW I saw patriarchy in possibly the most direct example and functional metaphor I’ve ever been given and in a deeply unnerving and personal way.
The first instance came to me during a session I sat in on dedicated to empowering women in Bangladesh. I learned that in Bangladesh family life it is typical for the husband and other men to be given a larger portion of food relative to the rest of the family. This simple patriarchal cultural norm has profound consequences. Because of the state of poverty in which most Bangladeshi families live, the extra food taken by the husbands leads both their wives and their children to malnutrition. The injustice does not end there. The children also often suffer these nutritional deficiencies during key periods of cognitive development, the negative results of which can greatly affect them for the rest of their lives. I have never been given such a literal example of how patriarchy is limiting the potential of our society. Where one person gains unjustly, another must suffer unjustly. In the case of patriarchy it is inevitably our women and children that suffer.
The next time I meet patriarchy it was within my own mind, which was uncomfortable but also liberating. In another panel I heard a young man speak about the importance of men being allies in the fight for gender equity but also spoke about the dangers that sexism presents to men and their identities. He spoke about how men are trained and cultured to isolate themselves from their families and friends and be emotionally turned off to those support systems, which was nothing new to me. However his next observation sent me reeling. He continued noting that the lack of these emotional connections caused men to dedicate all of their emotional care in the hands of their life partners. This unjust relegation causes men to have unreasonable expectations of the women they care most about and creates an inherently unstable and flawed relationship. This for me was an idea I had never considered before but to which I intend to dedicate much more thought.
Even just after one day operating and living with the space of the CSW I am reminded that patriarchy is a pervasive, systemic, and viciously subtle force. It moves us and in us in ways that we struggle to conceptualize and combat. However this is not meant to be defeatist. Rather it has served to me remind of the diligence and creativity required to overcome these obstacles. Simply put combating patriarchy cannot be a part time job.
-Anthony J. Mell