Disclaimer: This article refers to women in the western sense. The arguments presented do not refer to the millions of women living in greater patriarchal and underdeveloped societies.
2017 marked the year that the US began acknowledging intergenerational patriarchy on a mass scale. The #MeToo movement and public exposure of Hollywood sexual perpetrators empowered millions of women to speak out about their own abuse, which is a huge deal. It’s not just meaningful on the personal plane (ie: the women who have been directly empowered), but is arguably more meaningful in the macro sense, or overall cultural shift, of women’s empowerment. However, this mass empowerment is not without criticism or confusion in how to interpret it’s meaning: 2017 seemed to have left a lot of questions unanswered about what it means to be a woman in 2018.
And it is a confusing time to be a woman. We have more freedoms than ever and I believe that the pace is only accelerating towards a more egalitarian society. It’s really exciting and is the best time in history to be a woman. However, these new liberations and cultural acknowledgements of the female experience has also lead us into uncharted territories. Again: What exactly does it mean to be a woman in 2018? What is on the other side of these liberations? What comes after #MeToo?
It’s the cultural experiences, such as the #MeToo movement, that help push our society towards the egalitarian sweet spot. You know, I think a lot of people probably believe that women have total equality in the US, however I have to argue that we’re not there yet, and we won’t be arriving for probably a few decades. Intergenerational patriarchy is still in our bloodline.
The US has always been a patriarchal society, and if we look back in time, we don’t have to go far to see areas where we have only just experienced liberation. Guys, we haven’t even been voting for 100 years yet (the 19th Amendment was added to the constitution in 1919). And even though the cultural events which moves us further away from the patriarchy should be celebrated, there is still quite a bit of sexist gunk planted in our psyche from past generations.
If we think about society as made up of symbiotic systems, we can examine how patriarchy has been passed down through generations. For example, let’s use the Hollywood sexual predator exposures to help us better understand intergenerational patriarchy. The inception of the cinema happened around the turn of the 20th century (Think about this: Motion pictures are older than women’s right to vote). When the first motion picture was being screened in theaters, US culture and society were totally patriarchal, and thinkers who deviated from this were considered morally inept. We’re talking women couldn’t leave their homes without a chaperone type patriarchy. So, actresses were in a position where they had to submit to the male authority in order to be granted roles. I believe the greater the inequality in the relationship, the greater the chance and degree of exploitation. It became the ingroup (Hollywood) cultural norm for females to submit to sexual advances in order to keep and increase their status in the group. Intergenerational patriarchy are the remnants of sexist practices and sexist ways of thinking continuing today. It has taken over 100 years for our society to begin exposing these practices in the mainstream. That is also a big deal.
The Hollywood system is a closed system, outsiders are not allowed access. Therefore, these types of sexual abuses are more easily accepted. It is the same thing as religious groups hiding their abusive practices. Since Hollywood started during a period of overwhelming and almost complete patriarchy, it is going to take more time for these unwritten rules to be rewritten. An argument I heard from a lot of older people about women coming forward was, “Why did they wait so long? Why does it matter now?”. The answer is simple: time. It’s only through time that women felt safe enough to call out these accepted practices. It’s only through time that women in this closed system can expose the patriarchy that has ruled the system. It’s only through time that a closed system (Hollywood) can evolve in the same direction of the greater society (US/Western society).
There needs to be a safe societal environment for women to speak up against what has been accepted in the past. The good news is that the shift has begun, and we are getting closer and closer towards the societal egalitarian sweet spot. This acceleration will only continue if we support each other to question and expose abuses in closed systems. If we continue to blindly take what has been given to us, the intergenerational patriarchy, then we are at danger of slowing down the shift (and in a dystopian Atwood mindset- the potential to go backwards). It is my belief that we have an obligation as 4th wave feminists to support and empower each other so that we will be passing down intergenerational equality, not patriarchy, to the future.