the pervasive patriarchy problem

This post was swirling around in my head last fall and on the day that my son died I had just put the finishing touches on it and was getting ready to hit “publish.” Then my doorbell rang and the police came to share the worst possible news a parent can ever receive, and we’re crawling our way through each day.

Obviously, it’s been the furthest thing from my mind over the 4+ months, but this past week I realized it was International Women’s Day on Sunday March 8th, and I thought about looking at it again and maybe posting it. Then, Super Tuesday happened and watching patriarchy do its thing so blatantly re-surfaced it even more; Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the race yesterday sealed the deal, and I pulled it up this morning. Like so many others, I feel sick about the pervasive patriarchy problem. It’s exhausting. It’s insidious. It’s worse than we know. Change won’t drop out of the sky; weaved throughout every part of Practicing, change starts with us. And oh, do we have a helluva lot of work to do on this one.

In the book of Acts a blinded Saul has a conversion experience where “something like scales fell off his eyes” and he’s never the same again. My awakening to the realities of patriarchy and our tilted-against-women systems in the churches I was part for years felt a little like that. Once the scales began to fell off my eyes 14+ years ago, I was forever changed. 

I couldn’t un-see it. 

As time goes on, the ugly more-and-more-apparent ravages of patriarchy continue to come into greater focus. 

With this seeing comes not only greater anger and pain, but also a desire to bring it into others’ focus as well. 

We have a pervasive patriarchy problem not just in Christianity but in the world.

It’s cemented into our systems, cultures, groups, families and lives in ways we notice and ways we don’t. 

It’s always present but often it’s like an iceberg. We see the tip peeking out—the extra sharp and obvious stuff—and we think that’s all it is when underneath lurks a massive force that will take generations to break up.

Sure, we’re making some progress. I’ve been pastoring full-time for 16 years and have seen a lot of changes since I started. Women and LGBTQ+ folks sit at more tables than ever before. #metoo and #churchtoo have raised awareness. Social media movements and strong female political candidates and activists have helped move the needle, no doubt. 

We’ve come a long way. 

But we’ve got much longer to go.  

Power still rests fully and squarely on males in most every culture and system—especially in the places of direction and decision-making. 

Women still make far less money than men for equal work. 

Most systems are continually tilted against women advancing past a certain point, with faith-based ones by far worse. 

Women aren’t actually equal even though people keep saying we are. 

Protections for everyone who’s not a white straight male still remain tenuous. 

Patriarchy is much more than irritating comments and subtle exclusion. 

It’s about a deep and insidious problem of male power and privilege and unawareness of how it plays out each and every day for women and non-binary folks across age, race, industry, education, theology, and just-about-anything.

The Donald Trump travesty and his administration has illuminated patriarchy’s (and white supremacy’s) ravages even more clearly. In church circles, John MacArthur’s Beth Moore comments (and the good old boys club laughing along with him, followed by her “let’s just move on” response) is a recent painful example that has stirred up a lot of interesting conversations. And Elizabeth Warren–the most competent candidate and the kind of leader I believe we need–passed over so blatantly illuminates it even more.

As a married, straight, resourced, master’s-degree-educated white woman co-pastoring an egalitarian Christian community and mission center, I know I have it better than many.  

But don’t think for a moment that I don’t bump against the patriarchy all the time when I intersect with life beyond my little community. The stories range from comical to downright disgusting. 

Patriarchy is glaring in almost every direction

Experienced women losing great jobs to men they can run circles around as leaders.

Bright young women being squeezed out of jobs for being “too much.”

Countless male-lead initiatives consistently being fully funded and resourced by donors and supporters while talented gifted women and non-binary friends pay and crawl our way toward our dreams.

Progressive male pastors and leaders with big hearts and huge and blind spots to the insidiousness of patriarchal power. 

It’s disheartening, painful, and flat-out wrong. 

14 years ago, when I was free-falling out of mega-church I pounded out some of my pain by running while listening to the Dixie Chicks “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” on repeat. 

It helped (and I don’t even like country music). 

I’m not ready to make nice

Those words ring in my ear all the time.  Yes, “moving on” can be a response that will help refocus a social media drama.

But I also think it can let a lot of people off the hook–and perpetuates patriarchy. It’s made me think how making nice is praised and respected far more than honest and painful examination and illuminating of patriarchy’s ravages.

We don’t have to move on.

We don’t have to find a nice way to say it. 

We don’t have to find one good thing about a dirty rotten system. 

Yes, we may be accused of being too angry, told we need to build better bridges, go slower, and also possibly be shut out and ignored in favor of less disagreeable women.

This is a core part of the pervasive patriarchy problem

It’s sneaky.

It’s overt.

It’s underneath the surface.

It’s blatant.

It’s everywhere. 

Male-dominated power, money that always flows the same direction, blindness to male (and white and straight and economic) privilege, and a powerful pull toward a false peace. 

Yeah, uncovering, calling out, and working to disrupt the pervasive patriarchy problem is painful, uncomfortable. 

The patriarchy won’t go down easy. 

It’s going to kick and scream and cry foul and call us whiners and ‘those liberal feminists’ and tell us we’re self-centered and impatient and not-nice-enough and Jesus-y-enough and not-all-kinds-of-things-enough and are never satisfied and that we’re not playing the way they want us to play. 

A lot of people liked me more when I was nicer. 

But if there’s one thing I feel clear on related to following Jesus—being “liked” was never the idea. To me, it was and is about smashing oppressing systems by embodying a different way, seeing with new justice-and-mercy focused eyes, and creating a just and equal future together. 

So here’s to scales continually falling off ALL our eyes–not just women’s.

Here’s to being willing to live in these raw, vulnerable places and not try to run back to comfort. 

Here’s to supporting any and all ways to empower women to sustain their leadership despite all the obstacles.

Here’s to grieving the reality of women being passed over and pushed aside when their leadership is what our systems desperately need.

Here’s to practicing chipping away at the pervasive patriarchy problem together–boldly, freely, strongly, clearly, and unapologetically in absolutely every way we can.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

6 Comments

  • So right! Yesterday (or the day before) I read this article: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51751915. Discouraged is an understatement.
    Thanks, Kathy. For always making me feel like I’m not alone. Because we (women) have been silenced/pushed down in submission, sometimes it feels like there aren’t many of us. It helps me to hear that I don’t have to give in to the gaslighting of the patriarchal systems.
    Love you!

    Reply
  • I am an older white man who spent his first 40+ years protecting and propagating the patriarchy. I was SO wrong. I committed the remainder of my days to repentance about 15 years ago, and every time I read something like this I am both humbled and encouraged by the strength and character of strong women who speak truth.

    Please. Never. Stop.

    Reply
    • Kathy, in my life time I’ve seen a lot of headway made for women’s rights, I think as the older generations passes on we will see even more headway naturally as our young people take over industry and politics. Part of the problem is this idea that we are all equal. This concept is built on false foundations. Actually no one is equal to another. We are all unique and different from one another. In fact we all are endangered species. It has only been a little over 100 years since females have been able to vote and in that time they have made huge steps toward equal rights. As our society and our culture changes so will the disparities you see. Really all women want is equal pay, equal treatment under the law, and equal rights to progress in their vocations according to their skills and talents. Life has really never been truly fair for males or females. Believe me there are plenty of areas women are better in and more suited for than men and there are plenty of areas that men are better suited for. Grant it there is a lot of over lapping, but a female will never be a man or a man a female. I don’t even think anybody wants females to to be like males. I think that in you lifetime Kathy you will see most of the changes you want happen naturally. I wonder when we do see these changes and others will this really make Americans happy or is this the real answer to what makes so many of our females unhappy today. This whole area is complex and difficult and may never be 100% corrected since there are so many things we don’t really understand very well in both males and females.

      Reply
  • Couldn’t agree more.

    Thinking of the loss to our nation with Elizabeth Warren out of the Presidential race – this quote seems to capture the influence of patriarchy to keep women in their place…####!!

    “When men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it’s tradition.” by Letty Cottin Pogrebin

    Reply
  • I’m really with you… great post! As in many areas, despite common denials of it, I believe we will follow Europe. While they are not rid of patriarchy either, there have been women heads of state there for many years, they support mothers (and fathers) better, etc.

    On the governance level, I’m confident we’ll have a woman VP as of Jan, 2021. Then, if Biden (assuming here) cannot or decides not to run again, she will have strong prospects to become POTUS! Not the full solution, by any means, but will be a major step ahead.

    Reply

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