“Wait, whaaaat?” (I can hear you thinking this now, as you’re reading the title for this episode.)
When I think of patriarchy, I usually think of a powerful guy in a suit. He’s always white. He probably works in government or maybe high up in a corporation. He’s part of The System, which is just The Way Things Are Done – and he’s never going to listen to me. There’s really not much I can do to impact this system.
And patriarchy isn’t good for any of us. It’s not difficult to see how it represses women and any non-straight, white, hetero-presenting male. But the research base is also pretty clear that it harms men as well, by denying them the opportunity to express any emotion other than anger, which is linked to all kinds of both mental and physical health problems.
But it turns out that a big part of perpetuating the patriarchal system is how women interact with men, as well as how we raise our children. And, suddenly, changing the patriarchal system becomes something that I can directly impact – and so can you.
In this episode we focus on the background information we need to understand what patriarchy is and how it impacts us, and in a future episode Brian and I return to discuss the implications of these ideas for the way we are raising our children.
If you’d like to subscribe to Brian’s newsletter, where he discusses issues related to Building a World of Belonging, you can do that here.
Click here to read the full transcript
Jen: 00:01:26 Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. It’s hard to know even where to begin on today’s topic, which is patriarchy. Now, before you think to yourself, come on, Jen, aren’t you overstepping your bounds a little bit here or maybe even am I listening to the right podcast? If you’re seeing this topic as a bit of a non-sequitur with the kinds of issues that we normally discuss on the show related to parenting and child development, then I’d really encourage you to sit tight because this topic has everything to do with those things. I’m so honored that today we have an incredibly special guest to help us understand more about this topic and that’s Dr. Carol Gilligan. I’m pretty sure there’s a group of my listeners for whom Dr. Gilligan needs no introduction because they probably read and loved her work when they were in college, but for the rest of us, Dr. Gilligan received her Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from Swarthmore College, a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Radcliffe College and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University. Her 1982 book In a Different Voice is widely regarded as a landmark and following her research on women and girls development, she began to study young boys and their parents as well as the relationship between men and women. Dr. Gilligan taught at Harvard for more than 30 years and is now on the faculty at New York University where she co-teaches a seminar on resisting injustice. That was the impetus for her most recent book. This was coauthored with one of her students Naomi Snider, and it’s called, Why Does Patriarchy Persist? Welcome Dr. Gilligan.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:02:47 Oh, thank you, Jen. My pleasure.
Jen: 00:02:49 And joining me today is the listener who’s brainchild this episode was Brian Stout. Brian holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Amherst College and a Masters in International Relations from Johns Hopkins and he has a background in foreign policy, conflict prevention and international development. Brian’s been exploring his role in dismantling patriarchal systems for some time now. So today we’re going to explore what patriarchy is and why it matters to us as parents and then Brian and I are going to be back very soon in a second episode to think through, okay, now we know more about this. What do we as parents do about it? Welcome Brian.
Brian: 00:03:24 Thank you. I’m honored to be here.
Jen: 00:03:26 All right, so maybe we should start at the beginning. Dr. Gilligan I’m a reasonably well educated and widely read person and I’m really not sure I could have accurately defined what patriarchy is until I’d read some of your books and so I knew it was about men and I knew it was not really a good thing, but can you enlighten us a bit more and just give us a working definition, please?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:03:46 Well, you know, it’s interesting because I myself, I mean I think I would have said what you said until I was doing research with girls actually and following girls from when they were beginning elementary school, six, seven years old, really through to 17 to the end of high school. And as they reached adolescence, I saw girls resisting something that was in a sense forcing them to make a choice, which the more articulate or the shrewder girls among them saw was a very problematic choice, which was do you want to have a voice? Meaning do you want to keep on being able to say what you feel and think and know or do you want to have relationships, in which case, you have to basically learn what other people want you to say rather than saying what you feel and think. And I thought this was–you could see it it was not visible, it was untangible but very palpable.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:04:49 And I had to think what is the force? And then I realized it’s a force that takes human capacities. Things we all share as humans, boys, girls across the gender spectrum and divides them into either masculine or feminine. So if I said to you, what is the mind? You’d probably say masculine or what is reason that’s masculine? Or what about emotion? Well, that’s feminine. What about the self? That’s masculine. What about relationships? That’s feminine. But this makes no sense from a human perspective. So basically there was a tension between human development, which is what I study and something that was in the world that was dividing human capacities into either masculine or feminine and then privileging the masculine. And I thought, that’s patriarchy and patriarchy that’s when I got interested in because otherwise people sort of, their eyes glaze over and they think, Oh, it’s some anthropological term about ancient tribes or it’s about hating men.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:06:04 Actually, once I had seen this with girls, I thought, well wait a minute, aren’t boys up against a similar force that says to a boy if you act or says, that’s not how boys should be because boys don’t cry. And you know, boys are kind of, they don’t show kind of tender feelings. That’s kind of girly or maybe gay. And so it’s when children are suddenly up against a force that tastes their human capacities and divides them into either masculine or feminine and privileges the masculine ones. And that’s patriarchy. So whenever you encounter that splitting reason versus emotion, the mind versus the body, the self versus relationships that privileges reason and mind and self over, you know, that’s patriarchy. So that’s how it came into my work. And I saw children resisting it and I said, is the healthy body resists infection? The healthy psyche resist patriarchy.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:07:09 I mean that’s a sort of simple way of putting it. And I saw children resisting it and as graduate student at Harvard who worked, did the study with me where we followed little boys from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten and into first grade. She did that as her dissertation. Her name is Judy Chu and she’s now written this beautiful book called When Boys Become “Boys”, meaning how boys are often said to be, but it’s not really how boys are. And you could see these four-year-olds as they turned five and then six beginning to shield themselves and not show those qualities that would lead them to be seen as girly or gay. And you know, meaning their sensitivity and their emotional and intelligence really. So if you hear of a man described as emotionally clueless, I mean the question has to be what happened to this person? Because none of us start this way.
Jen: 00:08:08 Yeah. It seems as though these qualities, these masculine qualities are really privileged in a way, right? And it ends up elevating some men over other men. So it ends up elevating masculine men over gay men or any person not identifying as cisgendered male and even men of non-dominant cultures as well as of course all women.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:08:28 That’s exactly right. It elevates some men over other men and all men over women. Right. So that’s why usually it’s women who start to speak up against this, but it’s not a woman versus man problem. It’s a culture versus human problem.
Jen: 00:08:46 Yeah. I think I remember Toni Morrison saying something about that. She said, “The enemy is not men. The enemy is the concept of patriarchy.” It’s not that we’re saying, you know, men bad, men are evil, men need to stop doing these things. It’s the idea of patriarchy, the system that we’re working within that’s not working for us.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:09:02 Well, yeah, I totally agree with Toni Morrison. I would say exactly the same thing. And it’s the force that pushes men toward violence and that demands from women’s silence. So in a certain sense, you know, it’s intention with men’s ability to use words rather than force. And I mean for women it’s one of my girl in one of my studies said she was 17 she was a senior, she was the valedictorian of her class. She’d gotten into every college she wanted to get into. She said, “If I were to say what I was really feeling and thinking, no one would want to be with me, my voice would be too loud.”
Jen: 00:09:43 Yeah. I remember that quote from, I think a couple of your books.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:09:46 And which we have to realize is this was rewarded by the educational system. I mean, in other words, because she said what other people wanted her to say. In other words, she became the person other people wanted to be with rather than being herself.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:10:02 I mean, she was promoted, elevated, accepted and so forth. So these are real things in the world. Like the boy who was perceived as girly or gay gets often not only teased by other boys but beaten up and insulted and called not a real boy or not one of the boys and not included among the boys. And in a society where men are seen to be superior then that boy is regarded as inferior. That boy is shamed. We’re not talking about some abstract thing. If you spend time as I did, you know, with girls at the time of this initiation, which is, you know, nine, 10, 11 moving into adolescence and these boys between four, five and six, you see it. I mean parents see it and we’ve called it growing up, but it’s more accurately described as an initiation into a culture that elevates some human beings over other human beings and really is damaging to all human beings in that sense because it keeps everyone from being fully human.
Brian: 00:11:11 Carol, one of the things I loved about the title of the book, Why Does Patriarchy Persist? is that it begs the question or assumes that it didn’t always, that perhaps there was a system before patriarchy. And so I’d love to invite you to speak a little bit about what you see as the origins of patriarchy. I know from some of your earlier writing, you’ve talked about Roman times and how sort of the systems of patriarchy came about. And I think maybe the other thought to name here is we understand that these systems intersect with white supremacy, with other legacies of oppression. And so we’d love to hear maybe just a bit of your thoughts on how do patriarchy come to be to the extent that we know eight thousand ten thousand years ago. I know this is not a perfect science, but I’d love just to hear your thoughts on how the system came about in the first place.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:11:56 Well first of all, let me just say that, you know, patriarchy elevates some voices over other voices. And so the opposite of patriarchy is democracy. And the thing about democracy is it’s based on an ideal of equal voice where everyone has a voice. And if you have equal voice, then you can deal with conflicts in relationships rather than by the use of force or domination. So the other thing is to say that as human beings, we’re all born with a voice. I mean if you are around babies, I mean even before language, babies have the capacity, they have a voice, they can communicate what they’re feeling to other people. And so as human beings, we’re all born with a voice. And also as all the evidence now is really adding up and showing we’re also born almost practically from birth with a desire to engage responsively with other people.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:12:53 So we’re born with a voice and with a desire to live in relationships. So we’re born with basically the requisites for democracy. So why does patriarchy exist? I mean, why does it exist and why does it persist and that, you know, you raise the issue Brian, because if you want to elevate one group of people that say white people over people of color or straight people over gay people or people from the West over people from let’s say other parts of the world, then these relational capacities of humans are in the way. I mean the person on top will feel the feelings of the person on the bottom and the person on the bottom will have a voice and will start to say, I don’t like being treated as inferior. So patriarchy exists at the point where you want to create and maintain structures of oppression, structures of inequality, white privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia. I mean you can in any way of dividing humans into some are superior and some are inferior and it’s antithetical to democracy. So it’s at the point where you want to set up a system that’s not democratic and some people trace it to the beginnings of agriculture where there’s private property involved. And some scholars you can certainly see heightened Rome, how the Republic gave way to the empire and it was at that point that you could see democracy giving way to patriarchy.
Jen: 00:14:29 Brian, I want to just quote, I want to raise your Game of Thrones quote. Do you want to say it or do you want me to?
Brian: 00:14:37 No, go ahead.
Jen: 00:14:38 So you quoted Tyrion Lannister. It’s not often we quote Game of Thrones on the show so I don’t want to let it slide. Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones said, “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor.” And so it seems to me as though it’s kind of like white privilege. I mean it’s essentially is white privilege. If you’re on top, if you’re part of that privileged group then you don’t even see it. The systems are there and they exist and you operate within them and nobody I think explicitly designed them or maybe they did I’m kinda thinking this on the spur of the moment, but they are designed in such a way that the people who sit within them don’t have to examine their role within them. They just get to take advantage of the privilege that they have. What do you think about that?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:15:21 Well, what I’m thinking is the window that I had into all of this is I was studying child development and so for example, one of the surprises of the work that my graduate students and I did, this was the Harvard project on women’s psychology and girls development, and it really was the first project that connected women’s psychology with studies of girls and following girls development. And we were mostly a group of women and we were surprised at how in a sense how outspoken girls were. I mean how strong their voices are is a wonderful story of an eight-year-old. We called our eight-year-olds whistle blowers in the relational world. And there was an eight-year-old who we called Diana and she said that she felt bad because every night at the dinner table when she tried to speak, her brother and sister interrupted her. And this is what Diana said, stealing her mother’s attention. I think of that as sort of relational crimes and misdemeanors, stealing someone’s attention. So the interviewers said, was there something you could do? And Diana said, “I brought a whistle to dinner.”
Dr. Gilligan: 00:16:36 And every time they interrupted me, I blew the whistle. At which point they stopped talking and turned to me. And I said to them, she said, this eight year old in a nice voice, “that’s much nicer”. So these children were really reading what was going on between people and naming it and taking action when relationships they felt bad because they were being ignored or not listened to or excluded or whatever. They would do something about it. So that’s actually, I mean, in terms of psychological health, what we know now is relationships are not steady state. They’re like the tide, they go in and out. We lose touch, we move in and out of touch with ourselves and with other people really all during the day and so forth. The key to relationship is when you lose touch, do you know how to find the other person again?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:17:33 Can you repair the rupture? And what we saw is that those abilities are present right from the beginning. And it was children’s resistance to losing these capacities to basically, you know, to have a voice that live in relationship that was making us aware there was a force in the world that was basically putting pressure on them to do so. So I’ll tell you about the work with little boys and what the surprise was there with the four-year-olds and this is Judy’s work and it’s so beautifully observed. It’s in her book When Boys Become Boys, because what struck her with four-year-old boys, the pre-kindergarten boys was how attentive, how articulate, how authentic and direct they were in relationship with one another and with her. I mean I thought one four-year-old said to his mother, “Mama, why do you smile when you’re sad?”
Dr. Gilligan: 00:18:31 So he’s reading not only what she’s presenting, but the feeling that’s hidden behind her face, if you can think about it that way. And from four the boys moved from pre-kindergarten through kindergarten into first grade, Judy saw them becoming gradually less attentive, less authentic, less articulate and more indirect with one another and with her. And she writes, they were becoming “boys” or how boys are often said to be. And that was my approach, which was seeing children under pressure to become other than who in fact they were. It was as though they had to learn to act as if they didn’t have capacities that they have because girls have voices and boys care and have feelings. And then that was when I began to think, wait a minute. And that was part of their initiation into an order that said for the boys, boys are superior or they should be superior and especially white boys and all the things you were just talking about. So there was a basic tension between who we are as human beings and the structures of patriarchy, meaning simply any kind of, you know, whether it’s a culture or a family or institution or a school system or whatever that divides human capacities into masculine or feminine, either or. You’re either reasonable, rational or you’re emotional and privileges the masculine.
Jen: 00:20:04 Yeah. I just want to stay with boys for a moment before we talk a little more explicitly about girls and I’m just thinking through, you know, how does this happen when we’re trying to, for parents who are listening and thinking through how do we make the theoretical very concrete, and I’m thinking of an example and I’m almost certain it was one of your books, although I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember which one, where a boy was asked by a teacher or I think everybody in the class was asked to sing their favorite song from a list of songs that the students had learned that semester. And the boy was in question stood up and he was about to sing something that was…
Dr. Gilligan: 00:20:39 The lullaby.
Jen: 00:20:40 The lullaby, yes.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:20:42 Which was in fact as he put it, the most beautiful song he’d ever heard, the children had learned a new song each week and they were told at the end of the year they could lead their class in singing their favorite. And for this person there was no question, his favorite song was the lullaby from Hansel and Gretel. “When at night I go to sleep, 14 angels watch do keep.” And he was as a child suffered from night terrors and he would sing this song to himself when he went to bed at night. And he said, “like the song said the angels came and he could go to sleep”. So when it came to be his turn to lead the class, he stood up in front of the class and he started to say the lullaby and he saw this look of horror come across the faces of all the boys sitting in the front row.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:21:35 And he said, “I knew then that the lullaby could not be my favorite song, that I was about to make an irrevocable mistake”. And so what he does is he said, you know what, he had to know then and to “always have known.” So it would be as though it could never have been to really rewrite his own history. So he says, looks at the teacher and he smiles and says, “just kidding”. And then he said, “the song he wants to lead the class in is the Marines Hymn”. “From the Halls Montezuma too the shores of Tripoli.” Well, you know, that really says it all.
Jen: 00:22:17 Yeah. And that happens. That process happens so early for boys, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re talking about the early elementary years, whereas for girls it seems to happen a lot later.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:22:26 Well that’s because patriarchy is much more invested in the boys. And the girls are only of interest when they reach puberty, at which point at least enough girls, some girls have to become the girls to will be, you know, the good colleagues, the good wives, I mean, who will join the men in perpetuating this patriarchal order. And so the pressures on girls in adolescence, but you know, it’s very different to be 11 or 12 rather than four and five when you come up against it because the girls have had more experience and they’re much more cognitively developed. They can reflect on their experience. So they were narrating their experience like, you know, Oh my god, what am I up against? If I want to have relationships, I can’t say what I’m really feeling and thinking.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:23:16 But if I’m not saying what I’m really feeling and thinking, I’m really not in relationships. So either way I’m going to lose relationship either by not saying what I’m feeling and thinking or I’ll say what I’m feeling and thinking and then no one will want to be with me. My colleagues, we called it a crisis of connection. Either way I’m going to lose connection. And they looked at women and said, you know, what do you know about this? You know, there’s a kind of pact I think that as women we often make with girls, which is, look, you know, if you don’t say what you see me doing, I won’t say what I see you doing because we all have come up against this and we all have ways of dealing with it. So for the parents or for the teachers or for therapists, this was a sense of real dilemma and it came up with the fathers of the little boys because I asked these fathers of these four and five-year-old boys, what is it that you see in your son that leads you to say, I hope he never loses that.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:24:16 And the fathers talked about how emotionally out there these boys were. In other words, how emotionally open and present. And they talked about the spunk, how lively these little boys were and the real joy he has in his friends. And these were qualities that the fathers felt that they had had to kind of mute or tamp down on the way to manhood. And so the question was would they have to encourage their son not to show these sides of themselves, you know, or else they knew what would happen. Their sons would be seen as not a real boy or not one of the boys. And there are real consequences for children when that happens. As I said, the little boys get beat up, they get excluded, they get called gay or girly or a mama’s boy. And for the girls at adolescence, it’s this, I mean there’s some parents of girls say, if she really just says what she sees or listens to what she hears.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:25:17 People aren’t going to appreciate that and she’ll get low grades in school and she won’t get into Harvard or she won’t have friends and no one will want to marry her. I mean people, Jen, I’m not kidding people said this, you know, fathers said to me they loved their nine, 10, 11-year-old girls because they were so real. I mean they were so present in relationships and they are so much fun and it was kind of a relief. They would say what they were feeling and thinking, and the father said to me, I don’t ever want her to lose that, that honest voice. And I said, well then you’re involved in social change. I mean you can’t solve this in your family. You can help your child find better ways to navigate this. I mean, but the thing is the thing–and it was really striking and in my experience, a lot of parents found this extremely helpful to realize that the children were up against something that was real and therefore it was not just their child or their family or something that they could do and where you can help the child is to help the child figure out what are constructive ways of navigating this.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:26:37 Because there are some ways that are really very costly for children and there are other ways that are not. It’s basically, it’s not a problem that children on their own can solve.
Brian: 00:26:48 Yeah. I’m having so many feelings come up just listening to you talk and reflecting on my own childhood here. And I think I just want to share one anecdote and then a question. The anecdote is, before my wife and I had our first child, we now have two, we had this debate about would it be harder to raise a boy in America and patriarchy or a girl and my knee jerk response as a future father was, Oh, it’s obviously harder to raise a girl. And then as I unpacked that and as my wife and I talked about it, I had a change of heart and I think for me it was recognizing as a father, my messages to my daughter are all consistent. I want you to be assertive and kind. I want you to be empathetic and strong. I was able to sort of hold the binary and with my son as you just really resonated with the anecdote you were sharing about the boy wanting to sing and that experience and sort of the parents wrestling, for my son it’s this sense of like how do you walk that line between be strong but not a bully, be sweet but don’t get beat up and feeling like as a father I would have to mix my messages and really wrestling with that. So anyway, I named that and I think maybe the question I wanted to invite you to speak to a little bit is what I heard as you were describing the anecdote of the young boy wanting to sing his song is actually the dynamic that came out very clearly for the girls of not knowing what they know to be true. So this boy had a feeling that he knew that was authentic to him and he killed that sense of self. And so I think for me, part of what I felt reading the book, and I think we’ll get a bit into this in a second here, but was this question of identified very strongly with both the male gender dynamics and how we’re socialized around pushing away relationship and not needing connection. And I also found myself identifying pretty strongly with the way women are socialized and how girls are socialized and my sense of killing what I knew to be true inside myself. So I guess I’d be interested in hearing you talk a little bit about maybe exploding that binary a little bit because I heard in the example of that boy what we might typically associate with girls, right? Just denying their sense of self and what they know to be true.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:28:46 Oh, I think, no, I think–by the way, that story about the boy and the lullaby that is told in a book called Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Man by Donald Moss who’s a psychoanalyst and it’s in the epilogue and he remembers how he was in first grade, he tells the story of what happened when he was in first grade and in part he talks about how he was unfaithful to his angels. That is the ones, you know, who protected him from his night terrors. And it was basically telling a false story I mean about himself. It’s beautifully written and I recommend his book and the epilogue of his book and I write about it in the forward I wrote for Judy Chu’s book. So you can also read about it there. But you know, I think you’re absolutely right Brian. I mean I think the question is to basically resist the binary and then for a boy to figure out how is it possible to be strong and also to be emotionally present.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:29:48 You know, I mean that’s a complicated human thing. I mean to have empathy, to pick up people’s feelings, to respond to people’s feelings. And I mean that is in itself you would think of a kind of strength, but in a culture that wants to say, you know, you either have to be strong and tough and be able to not have feelings for people who were the losers or whatever. Or you can be sensitive, but then you’re like a girl or you’re gay kind of thing. I think it’s the question of resisting that binary and I think you’re at where you were going is where I would go with the answer, which is, you know, in a sense both patriarchy affect, because it’s based on gender, so it’s going to affect people across the gender spectrum differently. It affects boys in one way.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:30:36 It affects girls in one way. It affects gender fluid people in another way because they get very upset by those people because they don’t fit the binary. They’re challenging the binary, which is the basis of patriarchy. But the basic thing is that everybody’s learning to kind of present, you could say a false self. And with girls, it was really when I was interviewing girls that I would ask a girl a question and I remember there was one 16-year-old, it was something about herself. And she said to me, “I don’t like myself enough to look out for myself.” And I could have just because I’m a psychologist, I could’ve said, Oh, there’s another girl with low self-esteem. But I thought, no, I’m just going to register that. I’m just going to listen to that. And that struck me as very sad. And I said to her, do you really feel that way?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:31:28 And she said, actually, which was the word I learned to listen for. Actually, she said to me, “this is how I look out for myself”. I never say what I’m really feeling and thinking and that way, whatever anyone says about me, I don’t really care because they have no idea who I am. And then she looks at me and she says, “brilliant, isn’t it?” And I said, well, it is a brilliant strategy, but it’s at the expense of what you said you wanted. ‘Cause she said what she wanted was honesty in relationships. So these are strategies of self-protection that are also really rewarded in the culture that requires boys to act as though they’re invulnerable, as though they don’t have feelings that are associated with girls like sadness and so forth and for girls to act as if they don’t have a voice of their own and it’s not true.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:32:30 So for parents, first of all, you know this, I mean that was the thing that struck me about my work with boys and girls. What I was documenting in my research and observing and discovering were things that were, you can see it, I mean hang out with four-year-old boys and you see this extraordinary how astutely they read the relational world around them. I mean, how did they pick up on people’s feelings? I mean, you know this with a young child, if people are angry, they pick it up. And the pressure on children basically. I mean, so it ends up with girls saying, I don’t know when in fact they do know and boy saying I don’t care when in fact they do care. And so it’s how is it possible for girls to know what they know and boys to care about what they care about and be in this world?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:33:26 Well, I think that’s actually the end of patriarchy. No, it’s true. And then the other thing that came from my research is you start to encourage what I think of as healthy development in children. That what you were saying Brian, that boys should be both strong and tender and girl should have a voice and have relationships. They should be in touch with themselves and they should be in touch with other people. And you start to encourage that and you see the pushback you get, I mean it’s our book, Why Does Patriarchy Persist? Naomi Snider and my book, we start with the story of Adam and Adam is a law student and he’s a jock. And Adam tells a story about how when he had, his best friend was Ali. They were on the soccer team together. He and his brother and Ali were best friends.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:34:17 And when Adam who also liked to sing, wanted to try out for the fourth grade whatever, Ali spent the whole day with him, they made a stage, sound set out of cardboard boxes, so Adam could practice his singing and was the only person outside his family he told. So they were very close. And then when Adam is a sophomore in high school, he learns from some girls. They go to different schools that what he suspected was true. Ali was gay and he feels that he can’t have a best friend who’s a gay boy or his masculinity. I mean ‘cause he’s a real jock and it’s going to be questioned. And he says to his grandfather, I think this is one of the saddest things that he used to have a best friend but he doesn’t anymore. And Adam said that it was, you know, this force that was non-tangible, he said it was like a ghost that was influencing him and that he’s breaking his friendship with Ali.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:35:17 It’s like Donald Moss not singing the song he really loved. He’s now 26, a law student. It was the thing that he most regretted in his life so far. So for our class on resisting injustice, he asked could he as his final project, cause he’s a singer, I mean that’s what he likes to do as well he’s also a law student. I mean could he write a song to Ali and sing it? And wish he would really confront what he had done, how he had betrayed, not just betrayed Ali but betrayed what he, Adam loved. So it was seeing that patriarchy pressures boys in the name of becoming a real man to betray what they love. And it pressures girls in the name of becoming a good woman. You know, not a bad woman, but a good woman to act as if they don’t have a voice of their own.
Brian: 00:36:17 I feel like that whole section is so deep and nuances. I first listened to a podcast interview with you on this book before I read it through, and I remember I almost pulled over the car, it was such a powerful insight, so I’d love to maybe introduce a little bit for our listeners, that book that you just mentioned, Why Does Patriarchy Persist? and then have us maybe exploring a couple of questions here. Some of the work on John Bowlby has done on Attachment Theory.
Dr. Gilligan 00:36:42 Oh yeah, that was the great discovery of our book, which was what is held up as the ideals of patriarchal masculinity and femininity. The heroic man, the man who is self-sufficient, who stands on his own two feet, he’s not a baby, he doesn’t need anybody, he’s strong, he’s not weak, and so forth. That corresponds and also what is seen as the good woman in patriarchy.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:37:09 That is the woman who cares for everybody. She’s always nice. She’s always giving. She cares for everyone. That is what John Bowlby describes as pathological responses to loss and you know, it was like, Whoa, that’s amazing. And the trajectory that Bowlby describes is children’s response to when you lose a relationship, the first response, the healthy response is protest. You know, it’s to protest the loss because you care about the relationship and try to find that connection again in whatever way you can. And that was what we saw with the children at the time of initiation was protesting, having to act as if for girls as if they didn’t have a voice. So for boys to act as if they didn’t have feelings and didn’t care. And then what Bowlby says is protest is followed by despair when the protest is ineffective and then by detachment.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:38:14 And that’s when boys act as if they don’t need relationships. And girls act as if they have no voice. And both of those, I mean talk about false. Those just simply not true. I mean, so if you’re interviewing and a girl acts as if she doesn’t have a voice, the question has to be, wait a minute, where is your voice? Because somewhere within yourself you have a voice and it’s like with boys, wait a minute. You know, why are you acting as if you don’t care? It’s like Donald was acting as though the song he loved most was the Marines Hymn not the lullaby or Adam acting as though it didn’t matter that he had broken his friendship with his best friend, with Ali because Ali was gay. I mean that kind of thing. So the final thing, and this was the, actually to me, the most astonishing finding of our book, Why Does Patriarchy Persist?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:39:11 Which is what happens is, as I said before, to maintain relationships you have to be able to repair the inevitable ruptures or breaks in connection. I mean, we all know that the course of the day you lose touch or in a week or something, you lose touch with your friend, you lose touch with your mother, you lose touch with your child, lose touch with your partner. And how do you repair that rupture? And that’s something we learn in the course of development. It’s part of children’s education is what do you do when suddenly, you know, you’ve lost your disconnection. And what patriarchy does is it shames the capacities that are essential to repairing the ruptures in relationships. So if boys can’t feel the loss as a loss, then they can’t act to undo the loss, you know, to repair the rupture. And if girls can’t say what they really feel and think, then they have to act as though what’s happening isn’t happening. And then so patriarchy imposes a loss, so you can set up this hierarchy where some groups, whites, Westerners, straight people are superior and other people are inferior. And then you subvert the capacity to repair the rupture. So the loss becomes irreparable. And then, I mean, what happens is you’ve laid the ground for any form of injustice or oppression.
Jen: 00:40:40 Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:40:42 You knocked out the capacities that are the human capacities that would lead to protest of the loss of relationship.
Jen: 00:40:51 This is reminding me so much of an interview that I did with Dr. Mona Delahooke recently. And she is a researcher who focuses a lot on anxiety. And in that interview we walked through a very specific example with a boy who was in a class and he had a teacher’s aide because he had developmental disabilities and he would reach over and touch the aide to try and get her attention and his individualized education plan, this document that has a specific list of responses for what people are supposed to do said that if he touches somebody inappropriately, which is basically any kind of touch in school, then the person who is being touched is to not respond and to withdraw emotionally. And so I’m just seeing this and thinking, you know, there’s such a profound shift for boys in early childhood and particularly boys of color who are diagnosed with all kinds of “mental disorders” and their protestations against this lack of connection with adults is just seen as acting out.
Jen: 00:41:53 And Dr. Delahooke’s view was we shouldn’t respond to this behavior by pushing them away and saying, you know, if you’re seeking connection with me, then I am going to ignore you. And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to go to the timeout room. And you’re going to sit there and I’m going to completely ignore you for at least 10 minutes, but instead we should pull them closer to us and pull them closer into a relationship with us, not push them towards diagnoses and suspensions and expulsions. Am I on the right track there?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:42:19 You know, you’re totally, and to me the most moving moment in Anna Deavere Smith’s play notes from the field, which is about the school to prison pipeline, which tremendously affects disproportionately children and particularly boys of color. And she has a teacher who says, you know, again, when a child is misbehaving, closer not further, you pull them closer, you don’t push them further away. And I just, I mean, that really brings me to tears because it’s so profoundly right. That child, even though it looks like the child is pushing people away, the child needs to be drawn closer, not pushed further away. And so often in our culture because of patriarchy, because you know, not needing relationships is seen as masculine and mature and being autonomous and standing on your own two feet and being independent, not being a baby or not being like a girl. We value those qualities and we overlook the importance of really pulling children closer, holding them close and particularly in times where they’re troubled.
Brian: 00:43:29 I’m hoping that parents listening now starting to see more directly the connections between patriarchy and parenting because so much of this is, Jen talks a lot on the podcast about methods of positive discipline and how do we turn toward our children when they’re acting up and it feels, you know, it’s been interesting for me and difficult, I gotta be honest, to unpack and unlearn some of these behaviors for me, which I’ve been socially conditioned into in terms of how you respond when someone is, you know, “acting up”. So I’d love to, maybe you could talk a bit more specifically about attachment theory here. I know we’ve done some work on this. Jen has done some work on this podcast, introducing those concepts to some of our listeners who are probably familiar with it, but specifically the gender dynamics that you discuss in the book and sort of connect back to Bowlby’s work on loss around anxious attachment and avoidant attachment and sort of how that plays out.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:44:16 You know, I’ve now started, I mean I start my–if I teach a psychology class, I teach a class on listening which is my method of research, but I always start my class by showing Edward Tronick. I don’t know if you’ve talked about his work at all.
Jen: 00:44:31 Oh, yes.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:44:32 But have you talked about his still face experiment?
Jen: 00:44:37 We probably did in the attachment episode, but a brief recap would be great.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:44:41 What I would wanted to say to your listeners, it’s two minutes and just Google still face experiment.
Jen: 00:44:49 I’ll put a link in the references.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:44:50 Yeah, put the link in the references because what you see is it’s a baby who’s less than one-year-old and how exquisitely sensitive this baby is to when the mother is told by Tronick to make her face unresponsive, to make her face still. The baby picks it up. This is like a one-year-old picks it up instantly and then the baby’s first move is to move to repair the relationship, the rupture, and she repeats everything that got a response from her mother. She points, she makes sounds and when the mother doesn’t respond, you see the baby’s posture go rigid and then the baby sort of cadenced relational voice turns into this high pitch screeching and it’s almost, it’s literally two minutes.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:45:41 It’s almost unbearable to watch it. And then at the end of the two minutes the mother turns and says, Oh baby. And it’s just visceral. We’re so relieved to see them connect again. So I’m thinking of what you said, Brian, about how often, I mean if we in responding to children, make our faces unresponsive and try to, you know, not give into them or what all the language around that is. I mean that’s really terrifying for the child and what you’re pushing the child to do is, this is the Bowlby work is to move from a protest to despair and detachment and/or the forms of, if you put it, anxious attachment or avoidant attachment. And what Bowlby talks about is compulsory self-reliance, which is, you know, that’s patriarchal masculinity. I don’t need anyone, I can take care of myself. You know, if I lose one woman, there’s always another woman, that kind of thing.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:46:44 Or compulsive anxious attachment, compulsive caregiving. I keep caring for other people compulsively in the hope that maybe someday someone will notice that nobody is caring for me. I mean it’s so sad honestly. But you can see it and I teach my students this because the still face mother is supposedly the neutral experimenter. And I say, if you make yourself still face in interviewing somebody, they’re going to do the adult version of the kind of freak out that the baby does when the baby doesn’t get a response. I mean it’s really, it makes us reassess a lot of things that were called positive things and we can see they’re really not.
Jen: 00:47:29 Mm-hmm.
Brian: 00:47:30 Maybe just one thing to interject here, you know, it’s bringing up for me as a husband, in addition to a father, how often we try, and I’ll speak for myself, fail in these dynamics in my own marriage where what I want most is connection, right? Deep connection with my wife. And yet how hard I find it even after years of therapy and all this work to simply ask for what I want and to say what I need for exactly that. If you’re of lost at what you’re describing and when I watch my kids do it, just to give you a quick example, the other day my two-and-a-half-year-old said to me, I was kind of like flipping through the newspaper on the couch. He says, daddy, “I want to play with you” and I was like, you know what, that’s such a beautiful insight. And like why is that so hard for me to express even to my wife after all these years. But I know Jen wanted to share a quote as well.
Jen: 00:48:16 Yeah, I’m just thinking the epiphany that you realized, Carol, as you were doing this work, and I’m going to quote you from the book “Detachment is mistaken for maturity precisely because it mirrors the pseudo independence of manhood, which in patriarchy is synonymous with being fully human.” And so we see this detachment happening in boys and instead of recognizing it as something that’s a problem, we say, Oh, this boy is maturing. He’s becoming independent. He’s doing the things he’s supposed to do. Even though he’s not really doing that. He’s just learned the adults are rejecting them for expressing his feelings. And so he’s just not letting people close anymore. Right?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:48:53 That’s right. That’s right. And then it’s called, look, he’s growing up. He’s becoming a little man, you know. And the same, I want to add that for girls, their honest voice gets called, it’s stupid. I mean I’ll tell you just a little vignette. The end of a five-year-study where we interviewed girls every year I went to speak with the girls about how did they want to be involved and the 13-year-olds who were nine when the study began, they just immediately raised their hand, one of them and said we want you to tell them everything we said and we want our names in the book. You know, that’s that outspoken girl thing. And so I said, well do you want your names at the beginning or next to where we quote? And this 13-year-old Tracy says, because she suddenly imagines coming across her nine-year-old self in a book.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:49:44 And she says, “when we were nine we were stupid”. And I said, you know, it would never have occurred to me to use the word stupid to describe you when you were nine ‘cause what struck me most about you at the time was how much you knew. And she said, “I mean, when we were nine, we were honest”. And I thought between nine and 13 and honest voice had come to seem or to sound stupid.
Jen: 00:50:10 Yup.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:50:11 And then there are other things, rude, too angry, too much, too something. So you learn to mute that voice and cover it with a voice that says what other people want you to say. And then people say, Oh, what a nice girl. She’s so polite, she’s so thoughtful. And you know, you go into that.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:50:33 So I think it’s a very alive, it’s a very challenging moment for parents, for anyone who’s invested in the health and welfare of their child. I mean the capacity of the child to grow up into a person, which I just put as simply who can engage in relationships and play and be close in relationships and also do the work that they want to do if they’re lucky enough to be able to do that. And I think it’s a wonderful moment for parents to talk with one another because I think the problem is real. And you know, people face it in different ways. And you know, you mentioned they’re all the intersections. It intersects differently with issues of race and social class and sexuality and gender. But it is real and that’s this, why does patriarchy persist when we are committed to democratic ideals and values?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:51:30 And the core value of democracy is everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice has to be listened to, not in with agreement but with respect because that’s how you can solve problems in relationship rather than through the use of force or domination. And we’re struggling with that issue as a society right now. But every parent raising children comes up against this moment where they see this conflict, this crisis of connection that what seem to be poor, it has been said to be the path of development involves a sacrifice of connection of relationship, which will come back and be a problem for the child. So how do you deal with that as a parent? I think it’s probably one of the most deeply challenging and important questions for any parent to be facing.
Speaker 6: 00:52:27 So no pressure on Brian and I for our next episode to sort this out for parents.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:52:34 No, I mean, I have three sons, I have six grandchildren and you know, I see it. I think what I want to say to parents is it’s not just your child or your family or your this or what you did. It’s a real issue. It’s a real challenge. I mean we saw that in the fathers group, the fathers of these four and five-year-old boys and among the teachers of nine, 10, and 11-year-old girls, I mean, you know, how were they going to if they weren’t really present in their relationships, how would they help the girls navigate this? It’s almost like a kind of a passage. It’s like a rite of passage. It’s a passage of growing up that they have to find ways to navigate. And I think that what’s true is these differ depending on where you live in social class and race and so forth between what are ways that are more effective, what are ways that are less costly for children, you know, that kind of thing.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:53:37 And then we know of something about that. But I always like to say we know this because we think about this when we feed children that the healthy body resists infection. And so you want to build up the child’s immune system, their capacity to resist infection and the healthy psyche resist the loss of relationship. Because if we lose relationship, we lose touch with what’s going on. And then we can’t really think about what we want to do in an intelligent way. So the healthy psyche, so we want to build up the relational capacities of children and how they can, in fact, when these ruptures happen and when they’re built into the structures of institutions and stuff how are the children going to respond? I think it’s just a key question right now.
Jen: 00:54:24 Mm-hmm. Yeah, and what you’ve been describing I think for the last few minutes is it sounds to me a lot like tone policing and you gave some examples and I want to quote from your book again “We risk being labeled shrill, too emotional, irrational, stupid, ridiculed for not being able to take a joke.” And I think it was Brian actually that drew my attention to professor Kate Manne where I think she calls it the law enforcement branch of patriarchy, this tone policing. And these are techniques that punish women who transgress or threatened dominant man. And of course it’s absolutely rampant online, especially where you can hide your identity. But it also reminded me of work that you had described and you hinted to it briefly here about working with teachers on ways they can better support girls. And these groups have kind of devolved and fallen apart because the women involved in these groups in trying to support girls couldn’t feel they could count on other women. And so how come women do you think better support each other rather than tearing each other down? And then of course there’s the broader issue of, you know, men’s reactions to these kinds of things as well.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:55:26 Well, for the women, I mean I think the best kept secret about women is that women are a majority, not a minority. No, I’m serious because that means that there is, if you want to preserve male power and privilege, you’ve got to divide women from each other. I mean you have to make sure that women are fighting with other women and not recognizing that if women join with other women for concerns that are common. I mean you could say we haven’t talked about Greta Thunberg. I mean, you know, talk about girl resistors. I mean this 16-year-old or 17-year-old who is really kind of leading the climate change resistance, but she’s being joined by a lot of women now and you know, and you thought that would be a good issue for women. Let’s take care of the planet before it’s too late.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:56:17 And you think all women could get behind that. Well that’s a majority vote. So what I think about this, what in my research on girls’ development was very clear and I think my experience is you just say this to a group of women who remember seventh grade and the look of horror comes across everybody’s face.
Jen: 00:56:36 Yes.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:56:37 It’s so tough because that’s when the clique start and they are the in girls and the out girls and you divide women into the good girls and the bad girls and the girls that we want, we meaning the patriarchs want to be with and those other girls, you know, that kind of thing. And girls have permission to turn on other girls. And also that internalized self-critical voice. It’s very easy to project that onto other women. So you’re constantly dealing with, am I thin enough? Am I nice enough? Am I attractive enough?
Dr. Gilligan: 00:57:09 And then you turn it out and you start criticizing every other woman. Well look at her, look at her legs. Look what she said. Did you hear what, you know, we don’t like her, that kind of thing. And I just think honestly, we really have to think that there is a huge investment in turning women against other women. And so when women resist that it’s really interesting and then you see how scared people get and the pressures. But right now I think a lot of women are joining Greta Thunberg and also men, you know, and the idea let’s talk about, let’s take care of our planet and caring gets gendered feminine, you know.
Brian: 00:57:50 I think that’s a powerful note to kind of move towards closure on because I think one of the things that I take great hope from in this moment is that it seems to me the patriarchy is actually collapsing and that it is women who are leading this and often youth, young women graded as sort of no accident that the intersection of her gender and her age is being part of this. So I think I want to just maybe frame a question here and then invite thoughts that you may have about where you see things trending and hopefully in a positive way. But it seems to me that if you take your book and the conclusions you offer seriously what it invites all of us, men, women, everyone in between to do is change. And I think what I’ve found encouraging in this work as a man is recognizing that yes, of course I have lots of work to do but so do is my partner. So do the women in my life. And so I think what you’re saying is for patriarchy to collapse, we each have to do something differently, right? Women have to be better supported and cultivating their sense of selves. Men have to be better supported in cultivating their relational identities. So maybe could you speak a little bit to how you see this happening now? And you alluded to Greta, but other examples, you see where this change is already happening.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:59:02 Well, I want to say that the students at Parkland High School who chose to lead in the activism on gun control. David Hogg and her name is slipping my mind, maybe you’ll think of her name.
Jen: 00:59:14 Emma somebody.
Dr. Gilligan: 00:59:15 That’s right. Yeah, exactly. And these students led that march. And I mean, you know, saying, wait a minute, this society cares more about guns than about children. And so I think where I want to end by saying is yes, we all have to, in a sense, I think it’s just helpful to understand this and to understand why it becomes fraught for a woman to claim her voice and why for a man basically to care, I mean about relationships and so forth. And then to say that we’re all affected by this and we can make different choices around it. And the solution, I’m looking for the word that we have within ourselves, the solution to this problem.
Dr. Gilligan: 01:00:03 I mean, because the fact is when women act as though women don’t know, in fact, women do know. And when men act as if they don’t care, boys saying, I don’t care. They’ll say that about things that in fact they do care about. So I think the impetus for change comes from within ourselves. And I think the more we talk about this, the more we put this framing around it, that we’re living in the midst of a real tension right now between patriarchy and democracy. And we have within ourselves the requisites for living democratically. And you know, that is live a voice in relationship. And so we don’t have to import the solution is what I’m saying. And some ways have to reach within ourselves for aspects of ourselves, which we have sometimes hidden from ourselves. I mean Judy Chu and her book on When Boys Become Boys talks about how boys will replace where she calls relational presence that is being attentive and articulate and authentic and direct with themselves and other people with relational pretense or relational posturing. And so I think that to me is the hopeful thing is that the solution lies within each of us. And then coming together, I think we start to see what’s happened as with Greta Thunberg and with David Hogg and Emma González, I think her last name.
Jen: 01:01:34 Yes. Thank you.
Dr. Gilligan: 01:01:35 You know, leading this active, leading it into action, this impetus, so I think this is a reason for hope and I think that’s a good place to end.
Jen: 01:01:46 Yeah, it’s really interesting hearing you explain it in that way because that’s actually the message of this entire podcast is you have the tools within you to be an amazing parent. So it’s interesting to hear you draw that out. And just if I could try and distill what you just said, it’s almost as though if we’re female or we sort of identify with more traditionally feminine energies, then we can say to the men in our lives when they say something like, I don’t care or something like that. You can say, is this how you really feel? And if you’re a man or you identify as male, or you have more of these masculine energies and you’re interacting with females in your life or people who have more of these feminine energies, you can say, is this what you really think? And instead of allowing the sort of first blush, you know, I don’t care, or I don’t know, to get to just slide through to dig deeper and to take responsibility for asking the other person, is this what you really feel? Is this what you really think and that that could be a huge first step in getting us to where we need to go.
Dr. Gilligan: 01:02:49 I love that. I really, really love that.
Jen: 01:02:52 Oh, thanks.
Dr. Gilligan: 01:02:54 I think it’s a great place to end. Thank you so much.
Jen: 01:02:57 Awesome. I should expect credit if it appears in your next book.
Dr. Gilligan: 01:03:02 Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jen: 01:03:03 Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Carol. I’ve been absolutely honored to speak with you and to work through some issues that have really challenged me and challenged my thinking in the last few weeks, so thanks for sharing your time with us.
Dr. Gilligan: 01:03:13 And thank you Brian too.
Jen: 01:03:15 Of course. Yes. He was my next person to thank for bringing this to my attention in the first place and for coming back. We’re going to chat again in a couple of days and after this is percolated and settled and we have some really concrete thoughts on what parents can do to help move this forward. So thanks to you as well Brian. And so Dr. Gilligan’s book, which she coauthored with Naomi Snider, which is called, Why Does Patriarchy Persist?, can be purchased in local bookstores or on Amazon, and all of the references that we’ve talked about today, the videos, the studies, and everything else can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/Patriarchy.
Brown, L.M., & Gilligan, C. (1992). Meeting at the crossroads: Women’s psychology and girls’ development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
Gilligan, C. (1993). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
Gilligan, C., & Snider, N. (2018). Why does patriarchy persist? Medford, MA: Polity.
Gilligan, C., & Richards, D.A.J. (2009). The deepening darkness: Patriarchy, resistance, and democracy’s future. Cambridge, England: Cambridge.
Graeber, D., & Wengrow, D. (2018, March 2). How to change the course of human history (At least, the part that’s already happened). Eurozine. Retrieved from: https://www.eurozine.com/change-course-human-history/
Illing, S. (2018, February 7). What we get wrong about misogyny: Sexism and misogyny are not the same – and the difference matters. Vox. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/12/5/16705284/metoo-weinstein-misogyny-trump-sexism
Lerner, G. (1986). The creation of patriarchy. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford.
Miller, P. (2017). Patriarchy. London: Routledge.
Sadhguru (n.d.). Dhyanalinga – An equal balance of masculine and feminine. Isha. Retrieved from: https://isha.sadhguru.org/us/en/wisdom/sadhguru-spot/dhyanalinga-an-equal-balance-of-masculine-and-feminine
Tang-Martinez, Z. (2016). Rethinking Bateman’s principles: Challenging persistent myths of sexually reluctant females and promiscuous males. The Journal of Sex Research 53(4-5), 532-559.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.