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Teaching about Patriarchy and the Status of Women

This discussion of how to help students understand patriarchy and its effects
on the status of women took place on WMST-L in February/March 2008.  A number
of related discussions may also be of interest: see the File Collection section
entitled Pedagogical Issues and Strategies.  For additional WMST-L files
available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 08:52:03 -0500
From: "ClarkCook, Susan" <SCLARK AT BENTLEY.EDU>
Subject: pedagogic question
This is a question I wrestle with every year, and each time it happens,
I think I can make things clear but not so much! I teach psych of
women/psych of men, and both classes have students who find it very hard
to understand how patriarchy acts to keep women down and limit choices
for both sexes.

Last night I got the question, or comment, that since women vote then
they have had the chance to vote for a woman and have "chosen" not to,
so ipso facto, women don't want to lead, and we don't want them to have
the chance. I tried to explain that first, women have only had the vote
for a little over 70 years, and secondly they haven't really had the
"choice" since usually only men have been the "choice".  He really
didn't get this, and since I didn't have all the facts/time to explain
it more fully we moved on.  However he clearly was unsatisfied with my
answer and felt I was misstating and anti male. 

My question is how do others deal with this question, that women have
had the choice and chose not to vote for, or put a woman in office?  I
tried to explain that it was more complicated and that there are many
factors coloring why women haven't run or made it to  high office, such
a financial differentials, sexism, and so on but I just feel I didn't
get it across the way I wanted.

The gist is that they feel that patriarchy and male dominance is right
and that if women really wanted it to be different it could be, after
all the women put the men in those positions.  Ugh, I can't tell you how
frustrated this really makes me!  To be totally fair there are a few men
who "get" it and even say things like women in power have gotten there
mostly by adopting the male attitude and not totally brought the female
view to bear, since if they did they likely wouldn't get elected, or
appointed and so on.

Thanks for any ideas or inputs.

P.S. I love that quote mentioned

If the mind can imagine it, the mind can make it so

Dr. Susan Clark-Cook
Counseling and Student Development
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Natural and Applied Sciences

I am seeking the exact quotation from Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born, 
where she writes something along the lines of "What daughters most 
want from their mothers is the knowledge that their mothers refused 
to be victims."
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 08:03:16 -0600
From: "Brothers, Deborah" <Deborah.Brothers AT LLCC.EDU>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Not to be too simplistic but just because there is a "woman in charge" or a
female leader does not mean that female is necessarily promoting feminist
values.  At least that's how I've approached this charge with students.


Deborah Brothers

Deborah Brothers, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Lincoln Land Community College
deborah.brothers AT llcc.edu
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 09:23:04 -0500
From: "Rothenberg, Paula" <RothenbergP AT WPUNJ.EDU>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Susan Clark-Cook's question makes it clear, at least to me, why it is essential
to adopt an intersections approach and teach about race, class, and gender as
interlocking systems of oppression.  Talking about gender alone will never
explain how the system works - and why it doesn't.

Paula Rothenberg
Senior Fellow, Murphy Institute
City University of New York
rothenbergp AT wpunj.edu
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 09:42:04 -0500
From: "ClarkCook, Susan" <SCLARK AT BENTLEY.EDU>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Very true, but my problem still is how to explain it clearly in the one
module I have on patriarchy-if I was teaching it in a women's study
course, or gender course I could devote more time to make it clear how
the intersections work.  Right now I need to be able to counter
questions about how women are to blame for not being in power, and why
patriarchy isn't a system that, at least right now, promotes equality,
because these young students think it is all done and there isn't a
problem with the system, after all it's been "working" for thousands of
years therefore it must be good, right etc...I try to point out that
there are problems with system, any system, that systematically limits
the rights and choices of 50 (or 51) percent of the population.

If the mind can imagine it, the mind can make it so

Dr. Susan Clark-Cook
Counseling and Student Development
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Natural and Applied Sciences
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 09:19:57 -0600
From: Sandra Shattuck <sdshattuck AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
There's a great questionnaire in _Teaching for Social Diversity and Social
Justice: A Sourcebook_ (ed. Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, Pat Griffin, NY:
Routledge, 1997) called "Status of Women Quiz" (Appendix 7A) that can serve
as a kind of wake-up call. Here are two example questions:

"10. In 1992, of the nation's 6 million employers, ____________ provided
some form of child care assistance.
11. In the United States, fathers currently owe mothers ____________ dollars
in unpaid child support."

Appendix 7B provides answers to the 25 questions in the quiz. Here are the
answers to the above questions: 10. 5,600 and 11. 24 billion dollars.
Sources for the statistics are provided next to the answers. The 24 billion
dollars comes from "Report of the Federal Office of Child Support
Enforcement, 1990." And while these numbers are 15-20 years old by now,
they're still shocking. If one really sits down and thinks, "Of 6 million
employers, just 5,600 provide some form of child care assistance...." When
I've used this quiz in different classes, it's been effective.
sdshattuck AT gmail.com
s.d.shattuck, phd | http://wurdz.wordpress.com
http://spidergrrl.com | http://wordweaver.pbwiki.com
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 10:44:41 -0500
From: Jeannie Ludlow <jludlow AT BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Hi Susan, and all,
Susan, with all due respect for how much you clearly care about what your
students are learning, I think you might be taking on a bit more
responsibility in this situation than you ought. If you are on a fairly
traditional semester system, then it's probably around midterm in your
class. At this point, I would think that it would be OK to turn that
question/challenge out to the class for some discussion (and I would do this
as early as the 3rd or 4th week of a term). Here's what I might say: "You
know, that's a really good question. What have we read this far in the psych
of gender that might help explain the phenomenon of women not moving
overwhelmingly to elect only women?"

Let the students work to bring the course material to bear on the
question--even if they don't embrace the course materials' perspectives,
they should certainly be able to articulate them. Of course, I don't know
what's in your syllabus, but surely some info on internalized sexism,
normalizing gender roles, etc., could be brought up.

And, after a short while (so I don't let these kinds of discussions take up
the whole class time, of course), I might say to the student who initially
asked, "Would you please ask that question again in a few weeks? I think
we'll be able to have a more complete answer to it after the third unit" (or
some such thing, taking into account my course plan). And I really do try to
remember to have him ask the question again.

And then I move on to the topic of the day.

Sometimes, just allowing for a little "interruption" for a side issue does
an awful lot toward encouraging students to see our course materials as
relevant beyond the course focus.

I hope this is helpful.
Take care,
Jeannie Ludlow, Ph.D.	jludlow AT bgnet.bgsu.edu
Undergraduate Advisor
Women's Studies	
228 East Hall	
Bowling Green State U	
Bowling Green OH 43403
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 08:35:26 -0800
From: Sharon P. Doetsch <doetschs AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
i find it helpful, especially when pressed for time, to focus on how students
would like the world to be, a strategy that follows the philosophy of the quote
you include in your signature. Students understand that there is inequality,
and the theories of why that is so are infinite and distracting from the real
point, which is how we want the world to be different.

i've done this in different ways. one is to have students work in small groups
to list what basic human needs are (some of them include education, beauty,
love, and some of them don't, which makes for interesting discussion in
itself), and then to discuss if we have a right to those needs, or which ones,
and what it means that so many people in the
 world don't have these needs fulfilled.

i've also had them, again in groups, come up with one thing they'd like to be
different about the world, a strategy or proposal to make that happen, and a
concrete action that people in the room can do to make it happen.

my research focus is on activism and social movements, so i try to include
readings that focus on how people change their lives and the world, and i talk
about how activism relies on and creates a healthy imagination about how the
world might be.

i know this doesn't address your question of teaching students to understand
oppression and limitations, but i trust most of them will probably come to
understand that as they live and grow, and i think, more and more, that what we
all need is an understanding that we can make a positive difference on the

good luck,

Sharon Doetsch-Kidder
PhD Candidate in English and Women's Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 10:29:24 -0500
From: Debra Michals <drmichals AT VERIZON.NET>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question

I so recognize your struggle. Those of us who teach women's studies know the
material so well sometimes that we internalize it, live it, breathe it, and
that makes it easy to get stumped when students don't see what now seems so
obvious to us.

Here's how I've explained it. Patriarchy is so pervasive that even women
internalize its messages. You can change the externals, like voting, but
until you change thinking, you won't really see change. And thinking takes
more than a generation or two to transform -- especially since old patterns
are resistant and those in power hold fast to it.

Women grow up learning as men do that certain jobs are allegedly "male" or
female. Just ask your students what image they see in their minds when they
hear the word "doctor" or "president" or a host of other privileged fields.
That's patriarchy at work on their subconscious. Women are the first to say
they don't like female bosses, worry about a woman in the white house (I saw
someone say that to a news reporter during one of the primaries), etc. They
are often chosen as jurors in rape trials because they've been shown to be
tougher on rape victims than men (and therefore more sympathetic to
perpetrators.) That is all patriarchal thinking at work -- the boys will be
boys attittude, and so forth. That's because they learned, as one of my
mentors put it, "to play the male game" without even realizing it. It's not
that women can't run the country or make great bosses, it's just that
patriarchy resists the idea and imposes higher (perhaps double) standards on
women in power as a way to prevent it from happening in the first place.

I hope this is making sense. The point, very simply is that women
internalize patriarchy's messages from birth. And even if they seek equal
access to education, careers and other external benefits of capitalist
democracies like ours, they still do it with these internalized messages of
their proper place, of who should be in power and so forth. That's also why
studies show that when women do earn more money and achieve greater success,
they also reportedly do more housework and feign little understanding of
money/ investing, etc. Money is gendered and seen as male and unseemly for
women and even if we now have it and make it, we internalize the notion that
that may somehow be wrong or unfeminine. Again, patriarchy at work.

Language systems are another way you can explain patriarchy at work. Men
still resist any labels that in any way make them seem feminine. Finally, I
have my students do a little exercise every semester that proves how
patriarchy functions in their lives. I ask them to go home over the weekend
and do something (legal) that men typically do (but may not be expected of
women in their circle) and then note the reactions. One student a few years
back told me she unbuttoned the top button of her pants and put her hand
down there, as men often do when they sit on sofas and no one says anything.
But everyone clamped down on her. Another student said she refused to get up
and clear the table after a family meal, and instead joined her father and
brothers in the living room -- both her mother and father came down on her
for that. The list is endless. But when they "do" patriarchy in their lives
like that, then they get why the vote just isn't enough.

Hope that helps.
Debra Michals, Ph.D.
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 11:47:08 -0600
From: Michael J. Murphy <mjmurphy AT wustl.edu>

Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Hi everyone,

I've used a chapter from Alan Johnson's book The Gender Knot to
successfully teach patriarchy as a system (not a person) in a number of my
classes. His examples would be easily adapted for most disciplines. He
does a great job of not demonizing men and showing how we all perpetuate
patriarchy and how we all benefit, though unequally, from it. I highly
recommend it.


Mike Murphy
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 09:18:57 -0500
From: Katha Pollitt <katha.pollitt AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
What if you took the boy's idea seriously? there are plenty of women who
prefer to have men in power, including the small but not insignificant
percentage of women who openly say they wouldn't vote for a qualified woman
from their own party. If you look outside of politics, you'd have to say
that the at least some of the 8 million women who belong to the Southern
Baptist denomination, which bans women pastors and has an official doctrine
that wives should be subject to husbands, aren't too keen on women in
authority!  Our many double standards wouldn't flourish without the assent
and cooperation of women.
Actually i think powerful women make many women quite uncomfortable. Just
look at what women say about Hillary Clinton -- she's 'ambitious,' "cold,"
"I just don't like her,' etc. I'm not saying a feminist has to vote for
Hillary, but the kinds of things so many women hold against her are quite
revealing of their own discomfort with a woman who steps out of the
nice-nice nurturing deferential role.
Katha Pollitt
katha.pollitt AT gmail.com
Just Out from Random House: "Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories"
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 10:45:03 -0800
From: Ophelia Benson <opheliabenson AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Ain't it the truth. Which is why some of us feel a kind of duty to be abrasive,
brisk, chilly, sarcastic, even at times hostile and aggressive. We have to
stake out that territory.
Ophelia Benson, Editor
Butterflies and Wheels
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 14:02:17 -0500
From: Daphne Patai <daphne.patai AT SPANPORT.UMASS.EDU>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
I don't see why women should vote "for a woman" any more than why I should
vote for a brown-haired woman, or a woman with my particular body size, or
religious background, or whatever.  Men too don't "vote for a man" -- they
vote for a particular man and have very strong feelings against those men
they don't want to see in power. Obviously, more women (and other
underrepresented groups) are needed in politics in order for the choice to
trarnscend identity issues, but it's never too early to start trying to
ignore identity and concentrate on more substantive issues.

As for handing over power to others, that too seems to be a characteristic
of many humans, regardless of gender.  Look at all the tyrannical regimes
that have enjoyed either vocal, overt support or at least tactic support
from people afraid to assert themselves.  What else is new?

One of the most interesting things, it seems to me, about the Clinton-Obama
contest and how people are dividing over identity issues, is that the whole
situation in some ways replicates the split that occurred in the suffrage
movement over the 15th Amendment.  At least we do live in interesting times!

Date: Fri, 29 Feb 2008 08:10:52 -0500
From: "ClarkCook, Susan" <SCLARK AT BENTLEY.EDU>
Subject: FW: pedagogic question
[in response to Katha Pollitt]

I think that is exactly right, and I do talk about that in class.  I
know that many women are out there keeping patriarchy in place, and as
is said, are uncomfortable with the idea of any strong woman or having a
woman in power, although for the life of me, it really eludes me why
that is.  So I always acknowledge to them that certainly they are right
that many women don't want women in power, and wouldn't vote for a
female leader.  However I don't think that lets others off the hook,
male or female for continuing to ignore the fact of the strength of male
dominance in keeping women "in their place" and the fact that it still
isn't an equal society.  What also always amazes me a little is the fact
that when we talk about patriarchy they can never go to anything other
than it's opposite, matriarchy and of course always say it would be
just the same, only reversed if women were in power.  In other words not
only do they think women in power would take on the roles that men now
have in terms of aggression, war, violence, competition and so on; but
they can't think beyond that to a different form of society, one that is
more equalitarian in nature. 

Things that continue to surprise and challenge me-for instance I was
giving extra credit to class to go see our college's performance of the
Vagina Monologues and I got the most push back from the women-one women
said to  me that she had seen it and it was "gross", which really
floored me, and seems to me a form of self dislike, to put it mildly.  I
was so surprised that all I could find to say was that I was sorry she
found vaginas gross...she ended up going, but was happy because they had
eliminated some of the more powerful and graphic (to her mind, gross)

All this just continues to make me a little weary.

By the way Katha I heard you on NPR and was very impressed.  I feel we
need women pointing out the things that you did.

And I want to thank everyone for their thoughtful and helpful feedback,
I always need support when I keep trying to "fight the good fight" and
talk especially about patriarchy in a patriarchal society and a very
male oriented business college!

If the mind can imagine it, the mind can make it so

Dr. Susan Clark-Cook
Counseling and Student Development
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Natural and Applied Sciences
Date: Sun, 2 Mar 2008 01:45:14 +0000
From: karen henninger <karendee57 AT HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
I'm a little slow in the response to this thread. I do not know what someone
else should do and I don't want my response to come across as if I do or in
anyway incriminating of anyone else's actions or thoughts, I'm just sharing my
thoughts.... as I thoroughly believe that it isn't just the facts that matter.
It is what the motivation and the heart is doing as well and that which is felt
among persons, especially if that interaaction is unconscious and an obstacle.

Having said that, I wonder how many women studies classes this student has had.
If this is the only women studies class and/or the first, then it is easily
pointed out the imbalance in the education alone is in the boy's experience and
more education would be the answer to his question. It is almost as if the
student is expected to go on faith. The actions seem to say to the student that
he has to believe what you tell him even though he can't see none of it, given
all he's already leaned in this world. Faith is for religion. I'm not sure so
how it is expected to 'work' for us teaching women studies. I understand that
students are expected to just 'go on faith' with all other subjects, but all
other subjects are not 'women studies'. There is a difference, isn't there? So
what to do about it?
I really think location matters and believe that there are differences to
handle the issue depending on the location and circumstances.

I believe a proper women studies full education is necessary and the fact that
we aren't 'there' yet is the reason students won't 'get' it. I am not sure the
expectation is reasonable. I've been going through my own questioning of myself
and my work and what is 'reasonable' for me to expect from others. I've not
come to conclusions. It is frustrating. But I do remember when I didn't know
what I didn't know. Even after 17 years of making women studies my profession,
I'm still aware of how much of what I do and think is rooted in what is outside
women studies. I wish this wasn't the case. There were many things I read and
didn't see at first.

And so the answer is the same for women who don't 'get' it or 'see' it as well,
how much can we expect of women who are taught in mancentric institutions to
not behave or think from what they are taught.

I think the solution overall is for more women studies education
systematically, and I know that doesn't 'help' Susan in her particular
situation now, unless she feels comfortable with that straightforward response.

The student needs more education to understand it.

Date: Thu, 6 Mar 2008 08:48:16 -0500
From: "ClarkCook, Susan" <SCLARK AT BENTLEY.EDU>
Subject: Re: pedagogic question
Hi Karen, I work in a male dominated business college and it is more
than likely that most of my students, especially men, have had no
women's studies courses and actually probably very few psychology
courses as well.  I then feel some pressure (put there by myself
indeed!) to help them at least be exposed to these ideas, and spend a
fair amount of time discussing patriarchy, it's history, impact, and so
on.  I use Alan Johnson's book and a tape of him speaking about it to
help bolster my teaching, especially because it seems in fact, when they
hear it from a "man" it holds more credence for them. I don't ask them
to go on faith, or my lectures alone but encourage thought, dialogue and
debate/discussion in class.  So it's not that I'm expecting them to just
blindly accept what I say, although it seems to me that a lot of other
subjects do that as well, especially in classes where there isn't as
much open discussion and more straight lecture.  So if they can accept
other's credentials and belief that the professor might know more than
they do on this topic (otherwise why teach) then it seems that I might
also be given that slight advantage. Again I don't want any of them to
not question or think for themselves, in fact I spend a great deal of
time encouraging that and fostering open discussion in my classes.
However when presented with many studies, examples, etc...I do hope that
I can expect the students to gain some broader understanding of the
subject that they might never have thought about before.

Please know that I don't think you are saying anything to me personally,
just wanted to explain further why I become so frustrated.  I think many
women, and men who teach probably reach this feeling a lot.  It's like
working for women's rights, and after a while you become weary of it,
explaining, bending over backwards to be careful not to come off
attacking or radical etc...and don't get me wrong, I do love teaching
these topics, I just would like to be more effective and impactful.
There's something also to be said about the acceptance that a male
student gives to a woman talking about these things.

Thanks for your input it all helps.
SClark AT bentley.edu

If the mind can imagine it, the mind can make it so

Dr. Susan Clark-Cook
Counseling and Student Development
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Natural and Applied Sciences

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