Following on from their May 20th post which explained the dangers of ‘Man Up’ patriarchy and analysed the context of male illnesses of despair, Christina and John examine the impact of patriarchy on male-female relationships; stereotypes concerning parenting; and notions of what constitutes an equitable, loving and nurturing relationship.
Christina Milarvie Quarrell is a Poet Photographer Artist born and raised in the Govanhill Gorbals communities. Her work celebrates the values of people before profit. Art is her passion and she utilises community arts as a basis for the creation and gathering of working class culture, poems, stories and songs.
John Davis is a professor of Childhood Inclusion at the University of Edinburgh he researches and writes on a range of issues including childhood, disability, inclusion, social justice and anti-discrimination with the aim of supporting children and families to be at the centre of resolving their own life issues.
Criticising Patriarchy – The Aim of This paper:
We seek here to connect our knowledge gained from analysing our own life’s imperfections to knowledge in various sources; including creative writing, music, journalistic pieces, university based research and academic theories. This article does not seek to preach a notion of ‘perfect relationships’ be they within families or between a couple.
Rather, we aim to encourage readers to pose specific questions about their relationships e.g.: What type of relationships do I have? Do those relationships involve mutual support? Do the people involved in those relationship enable me to feel nurtured? Do those people encourage me to grow? Are my diverse identities recognised by those I have relationships with? And, Do the people I am closest to celebrate my capabilities, knowledge and perspectives?
We, also, seek to encourage the reader to use the article as a source of questions about what relationships might be like and become, rather than, as a source of criteria that can be employed to injure other people, who may not be living up to our expectations.
In particular, Part 1 of this paper sets out to define a loving bond as involving relationship of equals. In so doing, it critiques notions of patriarchy that involve male power (e.g. fathers controlling their children’s or spouses aspirations); challenges sexist approaches that overemphasise mother-child attachment (at the expense of supportive male roles with in families); questions ideas that close out the space for men to develop strong bonds with women and children (e.g. that view women and children as possession); and promotes non-patriarchal approaches that enable relationships to be built on processes of mutual appreciation, empathy, support and understanding.
This paper’s starting point is to discuss the difference between patriarchal/hierarchical relationships and equitable male-female (heterosexual) relationships, based on love, mutuality, trust and encouragement. Yet, it should be noted that we believe that these enabling aspects are also the central pillars of quality non-binary and LGBTI relationships. Hence, we believe our writing, and the questions it raises, can be applied to any type of loving relationship.
We were already writing this post when Common Space editor Angela Haggerty posted a message on social media bemoaning men who consider the woman they date as subordinate:
“Ha, this is great. I’ve had men ask me out by telling me that I’m too scary for most men – but they can handle me, of course. Why would you want to date someone you consider subordinate and who can’t challenge you? Traits considered intimidating in a woman are never considered so in a man, they’re seen as qualities (financial independence, healthy career, a strong mind, the ability to speak up and defend one’s self). Anyone who would have you sacrifice or compromise on the very best elements of yourself is an absolute life drainer. Becoming a lesser person to prop up another’s sense of self can never, ever end well, it would be soul destroying…….”
Angela Haggerty also posted a link to an excellent article written by Maria Del Russo (see link here) which critiqued men who say they find women intimidating. Maria Del Russo wrote:
“I started Googling to see exactly what men found intimidating in a woman, all in an effort to fix it in myself. The answers I found were actually super enraging — especially on one particular Reddit post I’d stumbled across. Some answered, “If she’s better looking than me,” while others brought up words like “smarter,” “stronger,” “funnier,” and “outspoken.” Women who made more money than their male counterparts, or had a better job or seemed more successful in general, were also penalized. Basically, it seemed to me that if a woman is better than a man she’s dating in any aspect of her life, she’s automatically cast as “too intimidating.” I was immediately pissed, because a lot of the characteristics that men evidently considered intimidating were fundamental parts of me. I’ve always been incredibly driven in my career, and I consider myself moderately successful. I tend to let things roll off my back, but I’m not afraid to speak up if something pisses me off. I’m independent — I live alone, I support myself, and I don’t need anyone to help me change a lightbulb. (Yes, this is one of the things certain men found intimidating.) And I like these parts of myself a lot.”
Maria Del Russo’s critiques the lengths that women feel they have to go to satisfy male ego’s (smile tightly, hold back opinions, hide your knowledge/experience, shift subjects, don’t change light bulbs, etc.) and concludes:
“If a man is worth his shit, he’ll never make you feel like you need to hide them. Consider your intimidation the best fuckboy filter on the planet. As for me, I’m convinced I’ll one day find a dude who sees the things some call “intimidating” as incredibly exciting. But until then, I’m happy changing my own lightbulbs, thank you very much.”
Angela and Maria raise important questions concerning what innapprpriate male-female relationships look like.
What Do Inappropriate, Disabling And Abusive Patriarchal Relationships Look Like?
Patriarchy involves the dated view that men are superior to women and promotes a hierarchical form of masculinity based on the idea that men should be dominant and supreme over women and not all human beings are equally capable. In contrast, equitable approaches (e.g. ‘peaceable masculinity’) involve: dialogue, shared decision-making, mutual-respect, celebration of each other’s abilities and recognition of the use and miss-use of power (see link here for more).
Patriarchy places low expectation on women. It results in men expecting women to be stowaways in their own lives, to hide their ability and to sacrifice themselves for men. Maria and Angela do not accept that they should be stowaways and wait for male permission to flourish (see the 1993 book ‘The Father Daughter Dance’, by Goulter and Minninger for more on stowaways and patriarchy link here). Maria and Angela are already flourishing but they are aware that patriarchy sends messages of doubt – ‘you’ll end up alone unless you kowtow to men’.
Yet, it is in our power to decide to be, or not to be, stowaways in our own lives. Liberation comes from the fact that Angela and Maria recognise they have a choice and can reject male patriarchy. They are able to confidently assert their different way of being; write in ways that challenge patriarchal male behaviour; assert the validity of their knowledge/experience; and challenge/encourage men to recognise women’s complex abilities, aspirations and identities.
Angela and Maria confidently assert their right to have their self-assurance, capabilities, aspirations and wishes recognised by men. Their way of being enables them to pose the questions: Why are there a dearth of men who can live up to anti-patriarchal ways of thinking and being? Why aren’t more men taking responsibility for altering their-own and their peer groups behaviour? And, Why do so many men seek to substitute love, mutuality and warmth with the desire to control?
Patriarchy sets out to divide. It specifically involves men and women shaming women who step out from the boundaries of male sexist and puritanical values, daughters who seek to have their own identities and sons who do not wish to fulfil rigid male stereotypes. A patriarchal father does not hesitate to put his needs before his children and to make his child’s life a misery when/if they fail to meet his expectations. In contrast, a paternal father values the child and mother permanently for who they are and whom they aspire to be, even if the relationship with the mother ends.
Women who have their own ideas have traditionally been portrayed by patriarchs as dangerous. Patriarchal men seek to control their wife’s and daughter’s bodies, minds and choices. Research blames male intransigence on traditional patriarchal values, indeed, some commentators argue that old fashioned patriarchal men are more prevalent in Glasgow (and the west coast of Scotland) because of the cultures that surround working-class jobs such as Shipbuilding (see BBC link here).
Whilst this may have been the case in the 20th century, there are dangers that such characterisations perpetuate dated stereotypes and give west coast men an excuse not to address their behaviour. Similarly, it ignores the fact that the same behaviour can be perpetrated by middle class men who are members of golf clubs, rugby clubs and university associations.
Patriarchal men send women the message that they are inferior, frivolous, indulgent, stupid and/or rebellious creatures. Daughters are sent the message that men can’t or don’t need to bridge emotional gaps and that men are to be idealised as if they are characters in film, television or literature. Such men don’t expect their wives and daughters to amount to much. Such men can also subject their partners or children to domestic violence (physical, emotional or sexual abuse).
79% of domestic violence in Scotland involves male violence to women. Yet, this is not simply a west coast problem. The areas in Scotland that report higher than average statistics on domestic violence include the whole of the central belt and sadly, Dundee. (Dundee leads the national figures on Domestic Violence with 160 cases per 10,000 population).
By labelling patriarchy and male aggression as a west coast issue – we ignore that this is a Scottish issue that is even worse in urban settings. We also need to recognise that this is a Nordic country problem. 5 out of the top 6 countries with the highest recordings of women who have experienced physical or sexual domestic violence by a current or former partners include Denmark 32% Latvia 32%, Finland 20%, The UK 29% and Sweden 28% (see links here and here) and 5 out of the top 7 countries figures on women who have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence include Denmark 52%, Finland 47%, Sweden 46%, The UK 44% and Latvia 39% (see link here). Alcohol is a major factor in relation to domestic abuse and domestic abuse by a former partner on a pregnant woman is, shockingly, prevalent (see WAVE report here).
We must also now recognise that though the vast majority of domestic violence is a male issue, there has been a considerable increase in the number of cases where women perpetuate domestic abuse. 19% of reported domestic abuse in Scotland in 2016 was perpetuated by a women (it should be noted male perpetrated and female perpetrated abuse are different and that men report less cases of repeated abuse and less severe experiences of abuse).
Patriarchy involves abusive and inadequate men seeking to control women and put them at their mercy. Some researchers suggest that there is more violence against women in Nordic countries because men are threatened by recent equality legislation (and an increases in the numbers of female perpetrators because women are now more liberated) but the reality may be that a more complex interplay of factors are at work, including higher alcohol consumption in such countries.
We need to be clear about what an abusive relationships looks like. Writers have critiqued the various ways that patriarchal men develop relationships with women (see link here). For example, patriarchal men are characterised as seeking to destroy women’s confidence rather than own up to their own limitations. Patriarchal men believe that intimacy is for weak people; ignore the feelings of female partners (and children) and can often, post-childbirth, emotionally or geographically abandon, reject, or neglect their families.
Patriarchal abuse can involve a father persistently failing to support the rights, growth, development and learning of his daughter or wife. For example, if such a man becomes ill or develops a dependency (with drugs, prescription medication or alcohol) they may expect their female partner (or daughter) to put their career on hold to unconditionally support them (irrespective of the woman’s own aspirations or preferences).
Some women who are continually bullied by men, may internalise that bullying and conclude there is something wrong with their own-selves and that they need to do more to please their abuser. Angela and Maria appear to successfully avoid such internalisation and the Scottish government strategy for domestic abuse seeks to provide more support for women to exit such ‘shame-control’ situations.
Other destructive and controlling patriarchal relationships can involve men replacing emotional bullying with financial bullying: using material possessions to pamper, control, spoil or dehumanise ‘their possession’. Such relationships assume men should be the provider and deny the humanity of women by making them objects of the relationship. Such men send women messages that they are entitled to a fairy tale world but not to exist as loving equals.
In our previous article on this site which discussed the concept of shame, we explained the negative outcomes that occur when contemporary austerity and economic recession clashes with old fashioned attitudes concerning masculinity and male parenting. We specifically highlighted that fathers who are unaware of the insidiousness nature of ‘patriarchy’ can experience lack of self-esteem and feelings of uselessness because their ‘power’ (linked to being the main provider in the home) has been taken away from them. Such men internalise their frustration and then lash out. Similarly, Alice Miller (see list of her books here) argues that suppression of our own sufferings, stiff-upper-lip values and survival of the fittest cultures leave us poorly placed to demonstrate empathy for other people.
Patriarchal men tend to control women through over protection and by restricting their opportunity to act as free and independent agents (Isabella Rossellini character in Blue Velvet is placed in such a relationship). We were particularly thinking about men over the age of 40 when we wrote our previous piece. Men who grew up in an age where patriarchal imagery was only just beginning to be challenged by contemporary feminism. What is concerning about Angela and Maria’s article is that they are writing about men from a younger age group who seek to replicate the previous generation by controlling women and ensuring that women down play their abilities.
Not all men expect their partners or daughters to completely down play their abilities. Some men are happy for women to demonstrate abilities but only if they have taught their daughter or partner those abilities. The book ‘The Father-Daughter Dance’ suggests that in some relationships ‘love’ is connected to a Pygmalion situation where the partner or daughter experiences a form of academic bullying – where he is the expert who defines her career choices and she is the apprentice who must fulfil his choices.
We might see such relationships in the sports, musical, arts or financial world – where mentors, coaches, film makers and artistic directors abuse their power. Such abusers prey on their ‘victims’ sense of insignificance; treat their partners and daughters with contempt; and only value women for their ability to be used, not their ability to love, be loved or be successful in their own right. Such men appear, at first, to be great guys who recognise the woman’s ‘potential’ and offer praise, favours, and knowledge. However, such ‘Pygmalion’ men may expect their female partners to put the man’s career first and sacrifice their own life-plans to ensure their husband or fathers’ aspirations are achieved. Such men also seek to make women their highly educated and talented ‘assistants’ who can never be allowed to independently fulfil their potential.
What Do We Need To Do To Call Out Patriarchy?
We need to out flank patriarchy and celebrate the multiple, fluid and ‘differently patterned’ versions of manhood and womanhood that have always existed but not always been recognised (see Connell video link here for discussion of different male identities). In particular, anti-violence and post-war conflict resolution programmes have sought to emphasise that if it is possible for men: to have different identities (e.g. non-violent identities); an openness to more peaceable ways of living (that involve dialogue); and a respect for (and ability to promote) more thoughtful, non-violent, forms of masculinity.
A critique of the way that patriarchy expects men to be violent is provided in Picasso’s Guernica and Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ published posthumously in 1920:
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
(“It is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland)
Connell argues that once we understand that gender identities are always open, fluid and pliable to different constructions/interpretations, it is possible to offer boys and girls the opportunity to discuss the fluid nature of gender relations in a manner that highlights the possibility for more democratic and peaceable ways of being.
The Scottish government have a multi-layered strategy for violence prevention which includes an aim to change the cultures that enable or fail to call out male violence (see link here). Strategies employed in the USA highlight the need for: economic support to families, engagement with influential adults and teaching of healthy/safe relationship skills (see link here).
Writing in the 1990s (e.g. Robert Bly, Sam Keen, John Bradshaw and Steve Bidulph) highlighted the importance of male role models in boys’ lives. It was suggested that boys can’t grow up emotionally without their fathers and that men’s emotionally disjointed/stunted states stemmed for having strained relationships with their fathers (see link here to ‘Raising Boys’, Guardian Sunday 20 June 1999).
This analysis was at odds with the idea that young men encounter emotional issues because patriarchal fathers spend too much time with their sons (and little time with their daughters) and that this time involves patriarchal fathers grinding down their son’s self-esteem by setting too high, violent and competitive standards that their sons can’t live up to.
In the 1990s fatherhood and ‘men’s movement’ writers, were critiqued for overplaying the difference between boys and girls. Feminist writers of the 1990s were quick to respond that father’s need to play active and supportive roles in their sons and their daughters lives and that a father’s role should involve them acting as supportive and enabling roles models – rather than hierarchical demi-gods. Hence, experiencing a supportive father figure is more important than experiencing just any father figure.
There has never been a time when all men have been hard and tough and all women have been soft and pure. An article written last year in the Huffington post made this very point (see link here). It told us to ‘stop talking about a crisis of masculinity’ and asked us to recognise that there has never been a time when masculinity was totally powerful, stable or predictable.
Since the 1990s feminist writers (see here) have argued that girls benefit as much as boys from having and maintaining strong bonds with their fathers (as per Maria Del Russo’s comments about her own fathers support for her identity). Recently, Steven Biddolf, has back tracked on his previous positions and is quoted as saying that gender differences are slight and not universal – in relation to the need for parental: time, input and relationship building (see article here). Yet, Biddolf, as quoted in this article, appears to simplistically blame our current societal ills on parental working hours, children’s use of Tablet technology and over supply of consumer products.
Such a blame approach to parenting appears to come from a very white, Anglo-Saxon and middle-class version of what parenting might be and, potentially, ignores the fact that parents who work more hours often do so because poverty wages in Britain require them to do so. Biddolf’s quoted position does not seem that far from patriarchal perspectives that have, in the past, sexistly blamed children’s life problems on working mothers – replace ‘working mothers’ with ‘working parents’, it is still the same blame game.
In contrast, to middle-class blame games, David Shemmings (professor of child protection research at the University of Kent) places emphasis on enabling our children to read their social relationships and understand what ‘appropriate’ relationships look like.
‘Consider this point made by Thomas Weisner, professor of anthropology at UCLA: “The question that is important for many, if not most parents, is not, ‘Is (this individual) child securely attached?’ but rather, ‘How can I ensure that my child knows whom to trust and how to share appropriate social connections with others?’’ (David Shemmings, A quick guide to attachment theory, 15th February 2016 Guardian see link here.)
‘Who can you trust?’ And, ‘How can you develop and share appropriate relationships with others?’ Thoughtful questions that resonate with Angela and Maria’s articles. Maria Del Russo and Angela Haggerty tell us, from their lived experience, that ‘appropriate’ relationships involve love, equality, confidence building, trust, etc. ‘Appropriate’ relationships do not involve men controlling women or one partner controlling another. By questioning the way that power plays out in their relationships, Angela and Maria encourage us to think about how each partner, what-ever their gender, can recognise the other’s abilities, aspirations and hopes.
Disabling partners, manipulative ‘controlling’ people and judgemental gas lighters inhibit us all, but we should not be so reductionist to imagine that, in all of us, there is does not lurk a person who wants to live their life by controlling other people. Angela and Maria’s words speak of an alienation born of frustration with patriarchal inadequacy. In the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere argues that when others seek to control us – they turn us into inanimate things; they expect us to be emotionally dependent on them; and they seek to prevent us from developing a political/critical perspective on their behaviour, rules, and practices (see link here). But his work also reveals the potential for us to internalise our abuse and begin to act like our abuser.
The men in Angela’s and Maria’s articles blame and shame women for being themselves, this is a form Gas-lighting: Gas-lighting, at its core, involves a drip, drip, drip of emotional abuse; that slowly eats away at your sense of self-worth and seeks to cause you to doubt yourself. A Gas-lighter points out and picks on aspects of your way of being to create the impression that you are “overly sensitive,” “paranoid,” “mentally unstable,” “silly,” “unhinged,” and/or “incompetent” (see link here).
Gas-lighting can also be connected to right-wing patriarchal perspectives that claim that because men are superior to women, men do not have to take account of women’s ‘trivial’ feelings. In our previous article, we questioned the way that men internalise their life pressures and problems. We did so, from a position that was judgemental of patriarchal values and argued that such values harm men – as much as women.
Our previous article concluded that patriarchy kills men (either through male on male violence or through illnesses of despair). It is also clear that patriarchy kills women, either through male violence or because constant criticism and mental abuse wears down a woman’s sense of self. Daughters, wives and ex-partners die as a result of male physical, sexual and psychological violence. There were 59 cases of homicide in Scotland last year and though women only accounted for 1 in 4 of those homicides the majority of those women were killed by a partner or ex-partner (see figures here).
Our position, that patriarchy is harmful to all, does not require us to choose between the rights of different people (whatever their gender or sexuality). Our position is formed from the belief that we all have a right to feel self-empowered in our lives and that we need to talk more about our feelings, aspirations and emotions to ensure that we support each other to feel self-empowered.
Right-wing patriarchal gas-lighters contribute to, enable and are apologists for male violence. All political parties need to stand up to patriarchy and they need to do so very visibly. It is simply unacceptable for political parties to publish strategies to reduce domestic violence, yet, do nothing to reduce the promotion of patriarchy in their own: political parties, local structures or social gatherings (see here for deplorable state of local councils in England and here for lack of gender balance in Brexit negotiating team).
In a recent Common Space article (see link here) we linked patriarchal ‘Man-Up’ ways of thinking to the Tory GE2017 political strategy. We identified the Tory campaign with out-of-date thinking, with notions of shame, with sexist ideas about men and women and with patriarchal mud-slinging (it would appear that a large portion of the electorate also made this connection when the Tories lost their majority).
Similarly, our previous blog post-drew attention to how Theresa May has promoted patriarchal stereotypes that objectified both women and men and suggested that men and women are not equal (e.g. in relation to who puts out the bins). Her chancellor has also been accused of objectify a female MP when calling her hysterical and of dismissing the feelings of people experiencing poverty and low wages (see link here). We (everyday people) exist to be loved not to be victimised, yet, the reality is that Tory politicians such as Ruth Davidson are accused of being addicted to Gas-lighting (e.g. by fuelling sectarianism), of promoting patriarchy (by turning a blind eye to homophobia and sexist Westminster policies) and of consistently employ shame as a weapon against us (see Mike Small’s article here).
We can see Patriarchal Gas-lighting at work in the current media where Tory and Unionist supporting Newspapers attack women who are economically independent, suggest confident women are masculine, objectified female politicians for what they wear (not who they are) and ignore the political decisions that female politicians make, whilst discussing why they have not produced children.
In recent decades powerful black, lesbian, disabled and working-class women have become more represented in the media but greater representation does not mean equal power. Patriarchal thinking and editing is still prevalent in the media. To know that patriarchy still plays, you just need to see the differential pay levels for men and women at the disgracefully establishmentarian and male focussed BBC.
Simplistic patriarchal stereotypes can still be identified in literature and film story-lines that have sought to shame women who have stepped outside of puritanical norms. Such norms suggested that wives and daughters should be pure, saintly and innocent and that women who are sensual: should be treated as sex objects, only exist for male titillation and can be discarded once their objectified bodies are no longer of use.
Movies that treat women as sexual objects are still being made, for example, action films such as Project X and high school movies such 21 Jump Street have been heavily criticised for promoting hypersexualised images of women (see link here). Similarly, around 54% of movies made in Hollywood in 2016 involved a major male lead and only 37% involved a major female lead.
There appears to be a battle going on in Hollywood between patriarchal centric action movies where women are the lead actor only 3% of the time (see link here) and drama, comedy and sifi movies where female lead actresses have achieved box office success (see link here).
In the past, patriarchal values deemed that women who had had many lovers were somehow lesser beings and that it was not possible to love a prostitute (a position still promoted in many TV programmes that often fail to examine the structural causes of prostitution). In the last 4 or 5 years, there have been movies that have sought to challenge such ideas and that have represented female characters as powerful, intelligent, aspirational and inspirational (see for example Silver Linings Playbook 2012 or Wild 2014). Successful TV detective dramas and Nordic Noir inspired movies have involved a series of female leads but concerns still exist regarding the lack of Black, Asian and Hispanic female leads and the disproportionate amount of women appointed as directors of TV and film (e.g. 9% of Hollywood films made in 2015 and 7% of films made in 2016 were made by female directors see link here).
Whilst, there has always been sexism, there have also always been people who sought to challenge that sexism (see an earlier post on this blog here on women challenging sexism through work). We need to do more to recognise and celebrate men who do not fulfil patriarchal stereotypes, replicate those men in the media and support them to act as role models for more equitable and non-violent ways of being.
Similarly, women are not responsible for men’s inadequacies – abusive, controlling errant, patriarchal and run-away men have to take responsibility for sorting out their own life-failings. We also have to recognise that patriarchy is so insidiously knitted into the fabric of our society that it is likely that, at some point, most men will (unwittingly or not) replicate a patriarchal stereotype. Hence, we need to understand the difference between a man who makes an honest human mistake and a serial offender who seeks to destroy the sense of self of his partner. The difference between an abusive man and a supportive man lies in his ability to reflect on his behaviour and not to persistently seek to control others, objectify his partner or down play his children’s abilities.
Most men, and the vast majority of fathers, will be much more positive influence on their partner’s and children’s lives than the patriarchal fathers set out in ‘The Father-Daughter Dance’. But, do we see enough of these men in the media? Do we enable young men to understand what an ‘appropriate’ relationship looks like and do we actually care enough to make a stand that changes our society so that our ways of being supports women to live the lives they aspire to? In recent years, we have also seen a greater profile for Scottish female historical figures (such as Mary Barbour) but more could be done to analyse, consider and discuss the historical context of patriarchy and sexism with young men and women. Specifically, we need to recognise that the antidotes to patriarchal ways of being are matrilineal and paternal approaches that value children for who they are (irrespective of educational league tables, national testing and parental top trumps).
Maria Del Russo’s article specifically sets out that her father brought her up to be confident in her abilities. We rely on our peer group, families, wider relatives and relationships for messages about women, men and sexism. Maria’s father bucked the patriarchal stereotype. We need to do more to promote and celebrate fathers like Maria’s. Indeed, the US website feminist.com (see link here) encourages us to celebrate the non-patriarchal men in our lives every fathers’ day – but one day a year is not enough.
Our position is that the solution to patriarchal relationships is to build equitable, appreciative and cooperative relationships involving mutual-mentoring, intimacy, independence, interdependence and recognition of each-others personhood. A film like Silver Linings Playbook, in some way does this by enabling us to understand the complex identity of the two lead characters (Tiffany and Pat) and to follow the process through which they mutually repair each other’s lives.
Tiffany has a past, but, she is capable of taking on male patriarchy e.g. she takes on Pat’s father’s obsession with sporting statistics, critiques Pat’s fathers need for Pat to be a lucky charm at an American football match and, through dance, encourages Pat to work through his emotions. The film involves sexist moments (e.g. Pat’s mother continually cooking ‘Crabby Snacks and Homemades’ in an extremely under written part: see critique here) and the complexity of mental health recovery is under played (in a, here today – gone tomorrow, way: see critique here). However, the film is able to portray the complex, fluid and changing nature of people’s identities, love lives and life-journeys – in a way that is intimate, caring and enabling.
Closeness, is the key. A loving man seeks to be interested in the different life of his partner, happily exchanges feelings and never tries to control his partner or make all her decisions for her. A supportive man does not expect his partner to be his mother, personal assistant and lover.
Parental roles involve a tension between formal and informal relationship building e.g. they require a balance between partnership (working together on something) and minimum intervention (enabling children to have space to learn). That is, when building relationships with others we need to balance out individual and collective rights.
Angela and Maria’s writing specifically raises the question, how can we identify partners (whatever their gender) who are able to be intimate, value our complex identities and support our aspirations? To ensure that people like Angela and Maria are successful in their aim of finding supportive men, the rest of us need to keep challenging our own conditioning and striving to ensure children have the space to grow into empathetic people. For, if our children are given the space to exist, if boys at all stages of growing are supported to become empathetic men, then we will have sown the seeds for the growth of a closer, more intimate, more caring and more sharing society.
Feminist seek to overcome the negativity of patriarchal male/female relationships by shifting men from perceiving women to only be love/sex objects to experiencing women as equal and fundamentally free people who have abilities, aspirations, wishes. This shift requires men to open their minds up to the fact that women have a right to be recognised for who they are and not who men want them to be. We need to celebrate men and women who are intimate, honest and loving; we need to avoid associating love with relationships of pain/injury; and we need to enable children to grow up appreciating their own virtues – loving themselves and others for what they are, not what they ‘give’.
Strong and lasting relationships involve intimacy closeness, reciprocity and durability. The very attributes that Angela and Maria find lacking in many men. The antidote to inappropriate male-female relationships are relationships where people reciprocate, embrace closeness, respect each other’s identities and recognise each other’s abilities. Angela and Maria may yet find a suitable male partner, yet, there experiences raises the key question (for all of us) of how to enable this to happen.
The characters in Silver lining Playbook have anger issues, express social anxiety and, at times, lack self-confidence. But, by demonstrating empathy, providing emotional support and working collaboratively they build a trusting and loving long-term relationship. The film poses the question: What do appropriate, enabling and supportive relationships look like?
Part 2 of this blog post examines this question in more detail – link here