How the Patriarchy Plays Out on Female Bodies

Women must conform.

Occasionally, I meet a woman who thinks that her only currency in life is being sexy, and that never fails to make me profoundly sad. I picture her intelligence, her humor, her creativity, her compassion, and all her other skills atrophying while she focuses intensely on that sexiness for as long as it lasts. (And it never lasts, young ladies. Trust me.) So eventually she’s left with “nothing but” all those underused qualities, and she has to learn late in life how to employ them. Kudos to those who manage to put that off, in spite of so much wasted time.

The most frustrating thing about women such as these is that they definitely did not come up with those warped priorities independently. All young girls get that memo, the world over. They are bombarded with it from all sides, even from friends and family. And the messages can be mixed, too. We shouldn’t be sluts, but we should dress up as naughty nurses for that late night Halloween party. The fact that we all don’t turn into vapid Barbie Dolls who are devoid of genitalia speaks to our resilience and formidable ability to survive.

Even in countries where women are supposed to cover up and remain chaste, there’s this underlying lesson that their sexiness is such a force that the men around them can’t control themselves, and if they don’t dress conservatively, then they will suffer the consequences for bewitching innocent men by not keeping their own power in check.

We are told that we must sit with our knees together. We are told not to be provocative. We are told that we should smile more, even while graciously tolerating unwelcome advances.

Here’s a disturbing statistic for you, found amongst a mountain of disturbing statistics on the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) website. Every 68 seconds another American is sexually assaulted, and 90 percent of those victims are female. Every 9 minutes, the victim is a child. Think of that the next time you’re watching the second hand of the clock, hoping for time to pass. Perhaps if we discarded minutes and instead used rape statistics to measure time, we could learn to talk about it and come up with ways to prevent these weak men from running amok.

While doing research for this post, I came across an article by Dr. Jessica Taylor that turns this female oppression into a fascinating pep talk. I encourage you to read the whole article, but here’s just one intriguing paragraph:

“Men don’t oppress women because they think they are stupid, incompetent, weak or incapable – they oppress women because they know that we aren’t any of those things. They know that given the chance, we will change the world in several ways which will permanently dismantle male supremacy. And they don’t want that.”

She goes on to explain that rape and oppression of women are found the world over, and that there’s no society on earth where females have equal control of their lives, finances, education and governments. This has nothing to do with any flaws we ourselves possess.

It is in the best interest of the patriarchy to keep us from realizing that we are just as skillful, intelligent and powerful as they are. To do so, they must keep us under tight control. They target the most private and intimate parts of us to maintain that control.

Women are expected to conform to men’s standards of beauty. As male tastes change, various female body parts are supposed to increase or decrease in size. We’re supposed to wear more or less makeup and clothing. When we can’t keep up with these ever-changing standards that are so out of our control, we are to consider ourselves failures.

We are expected to submit to or abstain from sex regardless of mood, all at the whim of our fathers, brothers, husbands and often bosses. We are expected to blame ourselves for rape. In many countries we are not even allowed to keep our sexual organs, because our pleasure is threatening and/or intolerable. And many women and girls do not get to choose their mates.

A more sobering quote from that article is as follows: “No one has to work very hard to control or manipulate women and girls who already view themselves as sex objects to be used, abused, controlled or enjoyed by men.”

Another level of control, of course, is that of our fertility. Patriarchal organizations would have you believe that birth control is evil because we must procreate, and if we do get pregnant, we must see it through regardless of our personal wishes, physical or mental health, or finances.

If we suffer when we menstruate, we are emotionally out of control. If we can’t have children, we are barren. If we enter menopause, we are dried up. If a man decides to “spread his seed” with us and we’re underage, then we are teases and jail bait. And the poorer we are, the more likely our wombs will be for sale. We can be surrogates. We can have a bride price. We are given away at the altar, from one man to the next. Having children will keep us close to home.

I had to go to ten different gynecologists before I found one who would tie my tubes, because you never know, I might change my mind. I was 35. I never changed my mind.

According to this article in Ms. Magazine, even our hair is a source of control. We are pressured to dye our hair when it turns grey because the older we appear to be, the less value we have and the less we are seen by society. We are often told how we must wear our hair in the workplace. We are told that some hair colors and textures are more valuable and more indicative of beauty than others. If you didn’t win that particular lottery, then you must spend a fortune to try to make your hair conform, and that’s money we could be investing to get ahead.

On the other hand, some parts of our bodies shouldn’t have hair at all, while other parts should be plucked and bleached and shaped into submission. If you’re too hairy, you’re too manly, too radical, and, heaven help us, unhygienic.

If we were in full control of our bodies, the make up and fashion industries as we know them today would not exist. Surrogacy would look very different. The weight loss industry would disintegrate. The military/industrial complex would be a helluva lot less complex. Plastic surgery would no longer be the cash cow that it currently is.

Every woman on earth has had her body judged. You need to gain or lose weight. Your skin should be bleached, tanned, or moisturized. You’re too this, that, or the other thing. Because of that, you’re not enough.

Your body must be used to attract others. Are you passing or failing in that quest? There is a reason why girls are ten times more likely to have eating disorders than boys. And we are told we can’t be beautiful without the help of beauty enhancing products. So where does that leave our self-esteem?

We can’t be allowed to have positive self-esteem, because that might lead to self-confidence. Then we’d be considered too outspoken. It would be preferable if we didn’t speak at all. We are set up for failure, because our success would lead to patriarchal chaos.

The FBI tells us that 97 percent of crime is committed by men. The femicide rate increased by 33 percent in 2020. Women are all but trained to live in fear of violence, and that impacts our ability to act independently.  How long must we lie back and take this?

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: The verb cleave, according to fundamentalists and Promise Keepers, means sticking to something like glue. As in, we should cleave to our husbands. But they neglect to mention that this word also has another meaning that is equally valid, that of cutting or splitting something apart with a sharp instrument.  

If anyone ever dares tell me I should cleave to a man, I’ll be tempted to say, “Okey Dokey… Brace yourself…”

Now is the perfect time to stay at home and read a good book. Try mine!


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

8 thoughts on “How the Patriarchy Plays Out on Female Bodies”

  1. Where are the dick deodorants for the guys? Let’s have some shame parity.
    And so on.
    And you can be sure that living under pervasive gender crap of any sort is not good for anyone who is nonbinary.
    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    1. That’s another one I hadn’t thought of. We shouldn’t smell like ourselves. Sheesh. And if you’d ever like to write a guest post about what it’s like to be pressured to conform from both directions, I would welcome the insights. Society is cruel, but anarchy would be worse. Surely we ought to be able to come up with some middle ground.

  2. My first child was a such a difficult pregnancy that the doctor said my body wasn’t built for it and suggested aborting. My husband wouldn’t sign and refused to sign for a recommended tubal ligation at the time of birth. I eventually cleaved him from my life. Still, it took until a third high risk pregnancy to legally get my tubes done. Birth control pills failed twice.
    Hate seeing things reverting back to those days, but did we really think weak minded insecure men would give up the abusive power, that gives them an illusion of success, so easily? They fear us more than ever as we rise to claim what is ours. They should be thankful we’re seeking equality and autonomy rather than a vengeful retribution for crimes against our gender. Latest attempt to keep their power… It’s not just about race, but includes control over sexism and gender education as well. Really? The least men can do is feel some healthy discomfort for the injustices they benefit off of. Without that, why would they be moved to change?

    1. Wow. Yet more blog fodder. Excellent points, all (as per usual, dear Lyn). And the patriarchy probably does fear revenge, even though it’s been proven time and time again that vengeance tends to be theirs.
      Sadly, if the anti-vaxxers have taught us nothing else, it’s that healthy discomfort (or well-earned guilt) doesn’t move people to change, it moves them to double down. How do we break that vicious cycle?

      1. Well those anti-vaxxers only seem to respond when faced with their own unhealthy painful death. Hopefully it wakes up those left behind them. As for the patriarchy’s vicious cycle… let’s hope we don’t need to resort to the handmaidens solution to break it. “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”

  3. I am not sure I could get my thoughts together enough to do a guest post on the gender thing, but I can say what I said once before somewhere, that I’d consider a sex change if anyone ever came up with one I like.
    The way some women and girls collude in the oppression of others assigned the same gender, is a shame crying to the stars. If you aren’t part of the solution, etc…
    As for smells, there are many bodily ones I don’t happen to like, but I wouldn’t mind taking those people who reserve the female type for special abuse and dropping them in front of the active face of a landfill. That might shut them up for a while. The Green River Killer once stashed the body of one of his victims near an older part of one, using the proximity of its leachate pond as an olfactory camouflage. They found it anyway, I forget how, but this happened 1 day before I hiked on that road, a trip I didn’t feel the need to repeat, even before I heard the news.
    Aaagh. Is there something nice we could talk about?

    1. Well, keep it in mind, anyway, if the desire to write strikes you.
      The next post is about beauty. After that, another positive one, then two negative ones, then another positive one. I’m nothing if not moody. Thanks for sticking with me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: