The Inner Workings of the Patriarchy

via Redilon on DeviantArt

TikTok is filled with prank videos consisting of heterosexual relationships, in which the woman somehow “defies” the man, or otherwise implies that he doesn’t control/own her. One of my favorite disgusting examples of this is the hand on the thigh prank. A couple is in the car, and the man has his hand on the women’s knee or lower thigh. She then proceeds to remove it, and he gets angry or hurt, putting his hand back on her leg. The punch line of this prank is that the man becomes unnecessarily enraged by the simple act of removing the hand from the thigh. The hand is a symbol of the man’s idea of possession over his girlfriend, and also has sexual attributions. A man needs to be possessive over the object of his affections at all time, or his masculinity is threatened. His masculinity is tied into the idea of ownership over the woman. 

When we deconstruct what may seem to be a simple prank, we look to the way that men exist in a society they’ve built for themselves. In this patriarchal society, men don’t have to work extra hard to ensure their safety and success. This is the definition of privilege, being blissfully unaware. Simple actions have been passed down from woman to women that don’t have equivalents exclusively for men. Men aren’t conditioned to be hyper aware of their surroundings at all times. Men don’t expect to be shamed for their very existence. Despite how many Instagram graphics a guy might repost, and how many women he hasn’t raped, he still holds patriarchal views of women, most likely even subconsciously. It’s not his fault. But it doesn’t make him “good” or “safe”. 

Hypothetically, even if our society were to get to a point with no wage gap and the complete removal of rape culture, misogynistic values would still continue to be perpetuated. What a lot of people, especially women, don’t understand is that misogyny isn’t just sexual violence and slut-shaming. Misogyny is fathers feeling like they have a duty to protect their daughters from romantic and sexual relationships. Misogyny is the internal male gaze. Misogyny is the pornographic industry. When it comes down to it, there are only three ways that a man can view a woman: the Madonna, the whore, and the Hermione. (Yes, I’m borrowing from Freud; maybe if TikTok couples would stop proving him right I’d choose different wording.)

The Madonna: A woman deserving of protection, usually viewed as innocent and weak by the man, i.e. men usually view the Madonna as property. Tying into the previous example of the father and the daughter, the father feels that he is a “good man” and therefore has a duty to protect the daughter from the “bad men” of the world, who she could possibly have sexual or romantic relationships with. These “bad men” are typically men who would view this woman as the whore: a sexual object. The only reason that the “good man” feels that he has to protect the woman is that he knows that these men have no respect for her and don’t see her as a person other than a sexual object. He assumes that the Madonna isn’t capable of protecting herself. He knows this because he likely has his own versions of the whore, so he obviously doesn’t think of his Madonna as a whore. Most men who are protective over women in his life likely view her as a Madonna. And typically, they only are protective of her in context to other men. Any danger that may come to her in terms of other women, he will likely have zero opinion or desire to protect her then. He doesn’t believe that women can hurt other women as badly as men. This is largely based on familial values. Women in a family are typically caretakers, and so he views women as weak and unable to make lasting damage to others, except for men. This man could alternatively believe that all women hate him and are out to get him, and may emotionally manipulate women into giving him their love and affection. 

The whore: A woman whom the man is sexually attracted to. This woman is usually not someone that he knows in real life, but it can be. In the mind of the modern man, sexuality and respect are mutually exclusive. This is why politicians like AOC are criticized for displaying feminine traits. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez wears red lipstick,  which is typically associated with being sexually promiscuous. Even though she has displayed no other traits that would imply inappropriate sexual activity in Congress, she is constantly berated by the media and her male counterparts for the simple act of wearing lipstick in Congress. The red lipstick is also enough to garner less respect than female politicians receive with their short hair and pantsuits, like Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton. Politicians like these had longer hair in their youth, but as soon as they got into electoral politics, began to dress and present themselves in a more masculine way, presumably to help further their career paths. The Madonna-whore complex, originated by Sigmund Freud, is the idea that a man cannot sustain sexual attraction to a woman and respect her at the same time, because the idea goes against standards of both modern femininity and what is sexually attractive in the man’s eyes. Typically, men are attracted to submissive and weak women, who either want or need their protection, going on to inflate the man’s own ego.

The Hermione: a smart or academically advanced woman, typically someone who the man cannot have romantic or sexual attraction to. An example of this in media, and the namesake for this trope, is in Harry Potter. In the fourth book, when Ron is looking for someone to ask to the Yule Ball, he doesn’t consider Hermione until the very last second, after she’s already found a date. Ron says that he forgot that Hermione was a girl. The traits that Hermione displays are typically not associated with femininity. She’s smart, outspoken, and both of her best friends are boys. Her academic success confuses Ron and makes him believe that she is not feminine, and therefore, not someone that he could currently have a romantic relationship with, or even bring as a date to the ball, which is a romantic situation that could even be construed as platonic. The ball is something that Ron, as a man, would be looking for a female to bring to. 

While there are obvious exceptions to these rules, overall, there seems to be a common belief amongst heterosexual men that certain women should be viewed in certain ways based on their sexuality and amounts of feminine energy that they carry. Heterosexuality is a complicated idea, as is human sexuality in general. Patriarchal values branch over to the way that women view men as well, but that’s a whole other discussion.

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