Episode 50

The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, by Allan G. Johnson

Published on: 21st September, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s book is called The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, and it’s the first text we’ve read that was written by a man since we read John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women several months ago! I have loved reading all of these books by women, but as I read this book it hit me how important it was that a man had written it, and here’s why: One of the biggest lessons I’ve realized in my education on racism recently is that society often places the burden of changing racist structures onto people of color… when the responsibility should be on the people who uphold those structures. So racism is a problem for white people to solve. White people need to own it. Likewise, sexism - which exists in all cultures in various ways - is often treated as a “women’s issue,” so as Jackson Katz says in his TED talk, men often tune out and don’t pay attention. So I love that Dr. Allan G. Johnson, who was a sociologist and college professor - and a man - took on patriarchy as his life’s work. And I was really gratified to see a lot of online reviews of his book written by men, who said this book helped them see things they had never considered before. 

So I’m really excited to discuss this book today, and want to welcome my friend Kasey Cruz to our discussion. Hi, Kasey!

Kasey: (Say hi - I’m so happy to be here! Or whatever comes to your mind) :)

Amy: I met Kasey a few years ago - she became part of our family’s little bubble of safe people during the Covid lockdown and she was our family’s fitness coach when all the gyms were closed down. She is so incredibly energetic, cheerful, optimistic, and hard-working, and she’s just a couple of years older than my oldest daughter so she became a dear friend as we spent hours together chatting between burpees and jump roping. :) 

So one day while we were working out Kasey, you told us about your grandmother and about your great-grandmother, and we were so mesmerized that we stopped mid-exercise and wanted to know every detail. And that conversation led to me asking you to be on the podcast. So I wonder if you can tell us about yourself, and start with the story of your great-grandmother.


My name is Kasey Cruz, I am the oldest of two children. Just me and my brother. My father’s family is Guamanian and my mother’s family is a mix of German and Cherokee and Palentin Indian. I was born and raised in Los Altos, California where I currently live. I recently graduated from Chico State University in the year 2020, sadly during the pandemic. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and a minor in Adapted Physical Activity. For anyone that doesn’t know Kinesiology means, it is the study of the body and its movement. I had many life changing experiences during my time at Chico. I was involved in programs that helped individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities of all ages be involved in sports and exercise. Also, I interned at an elderly care facility for those with dementia and memory loss. There I led group exercise classes.  I also played soccer since I was four years old and ended up playing for about 2 years at the collegiate level. I’ve always had a passion for sports and exercise and loved the physical and mental challenges. At the university, I found a passion for helping others achieve their goals and challenge themselves through physical activity. Which leads me to what I am currently doing, I am a personal trainer, a strength and conditioning coach for athletes, and a group trainer at F45.

Now a little bit about my great, great, great grandmother. As a little girl, we had this family tree project where we had to make a visual board of our family lineage on both sides. My mom was helping me with her side of the family and she told me that my grt grt grt grandmother was Cherokee and she was the chief’s daughter. Her name was Starshine Chitwood and she was traded for a saddle and a horse to be married to my grt grt grt grandpa. She birthed 13 children and her name was later changed to Sarah. As a little girl I was so enamored that I was related to a chief’s daughter. My friends and I would play imaginary games and pretend to live off the land like  but as I grew up and learned more about treatment of Native Americans in our country, broken treaties, murder, etc. . .I started to think about the story told to me years ago and how sad and frustrating that her legacy was about her baring many children and she was traded for goods. 

Amy: What does “breaking down patriarchy” mean to you?

Kasey: When I visualize “breaking down patriarchy,” I think of an old dilapidated building that has cracks, shattered windows, and its foundation is still standing but needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Creating conversations about the history of. . .and sharing our stories of the significance of gender roles in our culture, workplace, school, and our society. Sharing experiences allows for a space for education, compassion, and relatedness which can allow us to break away from these old and outdated perspectives of men and women in society.  

Amy: Thanks so much, Kasey. I’m so interested in your point of view as we talk about this book, because you bring all of those parts of yourself to this topic: the cultural background of both sides of your family, and as a Californian, as an athlete, and also as a young woman. Most of my readers have been in my own age bracket or older, so I’m really excited to hear how this stuff strikes you as a member of the rising generation who will soon be running the world. :) So I’m really eager to hear your thoughts. 

Before we start digging into the book, I’ll just quickly share a bit about the author: 

Allan G. Johnson was born in 1946 in Washington DC. He earned his bachelor's degree in Sociology and English at Dartmouth College, and his PH.D. in Sociology at the University of Michigan. His dissertation focused on women's roles in Mexico City, and after receiving his PhD, he worked at Wesleyan University in the sociology department. After he left Wesleyan, he worked at Hartford College for Women, teaching sociology and women's studies. During this time, he wrote a number of books, including The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy, in 1997, and afterward he became a corporate speaker and freelance lecturer. He was a husband, father, and grandfather, and he passed away in 2017. 

And now, let’s start sharing our highlights from the book! 

The first thing that I want to say is that Dr. Johnson does briefly address gender as a spectrum and devotes a chapter to LGBTQ issues, but the great majority of the book refers to “men” and “women” as a binary and as cis-gender.

So we’ll start trading off chapters! I have the first two chapters.

Chapter 1: Where Are We?

Dr. Johnson starts with a description of a workshop that he does on gender issues in the workplace, where he asks them to list how gender shapes their lives at work (and beyond). He divides them into a men’s group and a women’s group, and describes how both groups describe a system that advantages men and disadvantages women in many, many ways. He says,

“The accumulated sum hangs heavy in the air. There are flashes of anger from some of the women, but many don’t seem to know what to do with how they feel. The men stand and listen, muted, as if they would like to find a safe place to hide or some way to defend themselves, as if all of this is about them personally. In response to questions about how the lists make them feel, one man says that he wants to hang onto the advantages without being part of their negative consequences for women. “Depressed” is a frequent response from the women. (4)

On a scale both large and small, we are faced with the knowledge that what gender is about is tied to a great deal of suffering, injustice, and trouble, but our not knowing what to do with that knowledge binds us in a knot of fear, anger, and pain, of blame, defensiveness, guilt, and denial. We are unsure of just about everything except that something is wrong, and the more we pull at the knot, the tighter it gets.” (4-5)

One of the most important points from this chapter is this one:

“Male dominance promotes the idea that men are superior to women. - and here I want to say that I don’t personally know any men who would say that they believe men are superior to women. BUT they are often in denial of the structure that we all live in that really does place men in a superior position, even if individual men don’t claim superiority. Dr. Johnson says:

“If men occupy superior positions, it is a short leap to the idea that men themselves must be superior. If presidents, generals, legislators, priests, popes, and corporate CEO’s are all men (with a few token women), then men as a group become identified with superiority. It is true that most men in patriarchies are not powerful individuals and spend their days doing what other men tell them to do whether they want to or not. At the same time, every man’s standing in relation to women is enhanced by the male monopoly over authority in patriarchal societies. 

...To see herself as a leader, for example, a woman must first get around the fact that leadership itself has been gendered through its identification with manhood and masculinity as part of patriarchal culture. While a man might have to learn to see himself as a manager, a woman has to be able to see herself as a woman manager who can succeed in spite of the fact that she is not a man. (7-8)

Also on this topic…

Living in a patriarchy means that every woman must come to grips with an inferior gender position and that whatever she makes of her life will be in spite of it. With the exception of child care and other domestic works and a few paid occupations related to it, women in almost every field of adult endeavor must still labor under the presumption of being inferior to men, interlopers from the margins of society who must justify their participation and their right to be counted as ‘one of the guys.’ 

Just last month I was talking with a man I know well and he was talking about having to go to the doctor. He said “I have a woman doctor. She’s actually really good. I really like her. She’s smart, she’s very thorough. I tell her, ‘wow, you’re the first woman doctor I’ve ever had. And I really like you.’ I just tell her she’s not allowed to touch me.” Can you imagine someone saying that about a man? “I have a man doctor, and you know what? He’s actually really smart! He’s really capable!” So I told him “you’re a really good man doctor - you’re just not allowed to do part of your job by examining my body, because, you know, you’re a man.” (Eye roll) Just think of that doctor getting that all the time from people, and then let’s wonder why women report higher anxiety in the workplace. 

Female in the fitness industry 

Being underestimated because I am a female

Back to the quote...

Men may have such experiences because of race or other subordinate standing, but not because they are men. It is in this sense that patriarchies are male dominated even though most individual men may not feel dominant, especially in relation to other men. (22)

This still comes up in conversations with men all the time. Patriarchy does not mean that all men are tyrants or even that all men feel empowered! Being a human is hard, and men and boys struggle with all kinds of things. I see my husband and my son and my brother and my nephews struggle with all kinds of different challenges that are no different than my daughters and sisters and nieces. But in addition to those individual struggles, girls and women have to struggle with structural inequities. (And in addition to those struggles, women of color have to struggle with additional structural inequities.) Just to drive the point home, he goes on to say that some men claim that men are oppressed, and proof of this is that men are drafted into wars:

“Even the massive suffering inflicted on men through the horror of war - which I will add is one of the most tragic horrors of our world, and is also caused by “dominator” mentality - even that is not an oppression of men as men, because there is no system in which a group of non-men subordinates men. (23)

We must remember that as deeply as the patriarchal tree shapes our lives, we are the leaves and not the roots, trunk or branches. We are too easily blinded by the good/bad fallacy that says only bad people can participate in and benefit from societies that produce bad consequences. ...men do not have to feel cruel or malevolent toward women in order to participate in and benefit from patriarchy as a system. This is a crucial distinction that makes the difference between being stuck in a defensive moral paralysis and seeing how to participate in change. (25)


Chapter 2: Patriarchy: An It; Not a He, a Them, or an Us

The something larger that we all participate in is patriarchy, which is more than a collection of individuals. It is a social system, which means it cannot be reduced to the people who participate in it. If you go to work in a corporation, for example, you know the minute you walk in the door that you have entered ‘something’ that shapes your experience and behavior, something that is not just you and the other people you work with. You can feel yourself stepping into a set of relationships and shared understandings about who is who and what is supposed to happen and why, and all of this limits you in many ways. And when you leave at the end of the day, you can feel yourself released from the constraints imposed by your participation in that system. You can feel the expectations drop away and your focus shift to other systems such as family or a neighborhood bar that shape your experience in different ways. (29)

This is such a great way to illustrate this phenomenon. This was something I noticed right away when I started my masters degree and started to have male colleagues and friends who were not Mormon for the first time in my life since high school. There was one class period in particular when I was sitting by my friend Mark, who is probably around my dad’s age, and is a super successful investment banker and board member on all these fancy organizations, and he gave me some compliments about how I had contributed to our cohort and our program, and I remember saying “Oh, I’m just a mom, I just care about people.” And he said “I call it leadership.” And that sank in deep, and I noticed how completely opposite it was from the environment I operated in in my life outside of school, where women only lead children and other women, but are never leaders of adult men. I started to discern that very noticeable culture difference of when I would be on campus with men as my peers… and at church or certain family groups where men were my leaders.

And you can definitely feel that difference in different countries again, and different companies, and all kinds of environments.

Have you ever noticed that difference between more or less patriarchal environments, Kasey?

Being a female athlete 

I always wanted to play with the boys because I wanted the aggression and to be challenged

Many times men would take it easier on me or if I was fouled other men would bag on their teammate saying “She’s a girl”

An old client of mine that I discontinued working with because of the way he spoke to me

Being a young, female he felt like when a conflict came around that he could speak over me and he was to decide when the conversation ended

He did not like that I had my own opinions and feelings that I would speak about 

If it was my father speaking to him, he would’ve handled things way differently


So while on one hand, a system and an institution like a company is more than the sum of its parts, on the other hand, it’s not. If all the people that comprise the company or the church or the family vanished, then that institution would vanish as well, because “Stanford” or “The Catholic Church” is just a construct inside people’s heads. So Johnson says:

Because people make systems happen, then people can also make systems happen differently. 

...When a man objects to a sexist joke, for example, it can shake other men’s perception of what is socially acceptable and what is not so that the net time they are in this kind of situation, their perception of the social environment itself - not just of other people as individuals, whom they may or may not know personally - may shift in a new direction that makes old paths (such as telling sexist jokes) more difficult to choose because of the increased risk of social resistance. (31)

And here I want to say how grateful I am that things have already changed so much!!! Sophie and I were just talking to my aunt the other day, and she was telling us how when she was in theatre in college, she would get literally chased around backstage for guys, and they were always saying sexual things to her, trying to touch her, one guy threw her on a bed backstage and she had to physically fight to get away, a teacher asked her out on a date and when she said no, he said he would make sure she could never get a master’s degree at the university… it was absolutely awful, and I had it so much better. But at the same time, I did get sexually harassed CONSTANTLY, and even people I respected would tell me “that’s just because he likes you.” So I never told anyone when a guy would say explicit things to me, or a guy once shoved me against a row of lockers, or a guy friend of mine just lifted up my shirt in a big group of people. I didn’t know I could say anything - I felt completely powerless.

So to compare, do you feel like things are better than that? What was the environment for you in high school and college? You were in college during the #metoo movement, right?

Lived in a bubble in Los Altos and it wasn’t until college I started piecing things together

Meeting new people from all over who had different perspectives 

Sexually harassed and intimidated 

Its better than before

Allies everywhere and there’s an open conversation about speaking up

On male privilege, he says “you don’t have to feel privileged to have privilege,” and in fact in one of my favorite TED talks, Michael Kimmel says “privilege is invisible to those who have it.” Dr. Johnson says that while he, of course, would never ever harm a woman, he understands that women live in a world where men do commit acts of violence against women, and the system often allows it. He says:

Whether I personally encourage or support this behavior is beside the point. That women may fear and therefore defer to me simply because they identify me as a man, or may seek me out for protection against other men, or curtail their freedom of movement in ways that are unnecessary for me - all of this affects me regardless of how I think, feel, or behave. In such a world, being able to walk about freely at night or look people in the eye and smile when you pass them on the street or dress as you please becomes a privilege precisely because it is denied to some and allowed to others, and the privilege exists regardless of whether men experience it as such. (47)


Chapter 4: “Ideology, Myth, and Magic”

“Sam Keen, for example, describes the “heroic male identity” as a capacity to feel outrage in the face of cruelty, to protect the powerless, and to heal those who are broken. This kind of real man knows how “to take care of the place to which he has been entrusted. . .to practice the art of stewardship, to oversee, to make judicious things, and to conserve for the future. . .to make a decision to be in a place, to make commitments, to forge bonds, to put down roots, to translate the feeling of empathy and compassion into an action of caring.”

“The falseness of this practice is even more striking when we consider that in many ways wahat Keen describes as heroic is more common among women than men. If anyone puts down roots, commits to relationships, and organizes a life around empathy, compassion, caring, healing, and even protecting the powerless, it is women.”

In part of Chapter 4, Johnson tackles the impactful role of gender in society. I found this perspective interesting because I can definitely agree with these specific characteristics aligning with women more than men, based off of gender roles in society. However, with my personal experience of my parent’s separation my father embraced both roles. It was interesting because almost all of my friends’ parents were together and to see how most of the mom’s were always home and involved with the kids. While my friends’ fathers were at work. Any time I was homesick, needed a snack, or needed any type of support I looked to my friends’ mothers. Looking back, my dad had to be the “breadwinner,” had to be my emotional support as I went through my “rollercoaster of emotions” as a teenager, and break all societal stereotypes of a dad. 

I agree that these “heroic” characteristics that Sam Keen describes as a “real man” is more commonly found in women than men. Conversely, my experience broke that stereotype for me. Even though, I witnessed many families around me embody what Johnson affirms I grew up thinking both men and women are compassionate, empathetic, caring, and healing. Also, I think about  “stay at home dads.” That challenges society’s expectations of men and women in the home. However, without that title men may be assumed to be less compassionate, less involved in the home, and overall less caring.

  • Grt grandpa (Mom’s side) raised three girls on his own
  • Wife died suddenly when his girls were around the ages of 7-11 years old 
  • Took on both roles of a mother and father, breaking stereotypes in the 1940s/50s

“According to patriarchal culture, for example, men are aggressive, daring, rational, emotionally inexpressive, strong, coolheaded, in control of themselves, independent, active, objective, dominant, decisive, self-confident, and unnurturing. Women are portrayed in opposite terms, such as unaggressive, shy, intuitive, emotionally expressive, nurturing, weak, hysterical, erratic, and lacking in self-control (especially when menstruating), dependent, passive, subjective, submissive, indecisive, and lacking in self-confidence.”

I REALLY wanted to make this clear before discussing my culture and personal experiences, I have never been to Guam (where my family is from) and I am only speaking from experiences within my home and stories shared to me over the years. This is not a generalization of the Chamorro people and I want to respect my culture. 

  • I do agree that our society deeply roots these characteristics within gender, but personally I never believed that women are weak and men are strong. 
  • Grandma (dad’s side) grew up in clans and tribes, families were big, designated roles for men and women (hunter, teacher, caretaker, weaver, etc. . .)
  • Evolved over time when the United States saved Guam from Japanese rule and exposure to new technology and American government
  • Traditional roles of men and women never changed, men were seen as the providers and women were expected to care for the children and maintain a household
  • Grandma’s stories showed me how women were viewed as submissive, subservient, and dependent upon the men
  • “Did you cook for him?” “When you have children. . .”
  • Reinforces the idea that my life is to have children and serve under a man
  • Despite Grandma’s upbringing she broke many traditional ideals of her culture and expectations as a Chamorro woman
  • Told she couldn’t continue her education and needed to stay home to help with the home
  • She left Guam for the United States because she wanted to receive an education and make something of herself
  • And being from family-oriented culture she made the decision for herself to leave to a country she had not one idea about besides there’s green pastures with cows. 

But I never agreed that was my role in life and I was supposed to be nurturing, passive, dependent, and submissive. Conversely to my culture and my Grandma’s upbringing, my grandma was a single mom who raised a child on one income. Had to be independent, strong, and nurturing. She had to fulfill both roles. Also, when my grandma was living on Guam the reason why she came to the states was because she was told she couldn’t continue her education. My grandma didn’t want to stop learning and wanted to make something of herself so she left. She broke many society’s expectations like “a woman needs a man,” and “men are the ‘breadwinners.” And being from family-oriented culture she made the decision for herself to leave to a country she had not one idea about besides there’s green pastures with cows. 


Chapter 6

“Manhood ideals make an indispensable contribution both to the continuity of social systems and to the psychological integration of men into their community. I regard these phenomena not as givens, but as part of the existential “problem of order” that all societies must solve by encouraging people to act in certain ways, ways that facilitate both individual development and group adaptation. Gender roles represent one of these problem-solving behaviors.”

  • Years women have been expected to maintain order in the home
  • Women expected to encourage order in their own homes and among other women
  • Grt grandmother went to a teaching school and taught music, one of the first women to go to college, raised children, and made her own money

(Kasey reads this quotes and then asks “what were your thoughts on this, Amy”)

Explaining patriarchy away as useful or necessary has become a popular way to deal with gender inequality. Robert Bly, for example, extols “zeus energy,” which he defines as a “positive male energy that… si male authority accepted for the sake of the community… in all the great cultures.” 

All the great cultures have historically been misogynistic! This is not a reason to perpetuate crappy paradigms from the past!!

Insert Jordan B. Peterson rant.


(Kasey reads the next quote as well) 

Sam Keen suggests that patriarchy was an adaptive part of human social evolution that “saved” humankind from the gynocentrism of early goddess-oriented societies. Before patriarchy, Keen writes, societies labored under a “servitude to nature” that was broken by “the transcendent male God” who “sanctioned the development of individualism and the technological impulse to seize control and have dominion over the earth.” ...Keen continues:

‘This God, who stands above the fatedness of nature, commands men to stand above nature and society and woman and take charge of his own destiny… Life in the garden of the goddess was harmonious but the spirit of history called for man to stand up and take charge. [I]t is easy to forget the triumph of that moment when men rebelled against their fate, threw off their passivity, and declared: Thank you, Mother, but I can do it myself.”

I want to share this passage because it’s really important to see what sexist theory looks like. This is that same ancient association of women with the earth and nature, which is seen as a lower level than the masculine, rational, powerful principle. It’s an ancient, obviously deeply sexist archetype, and it’s present in many men’s groups have been on the rise for the past decades. And one reason why Sam Keen and now Jordan Peterson is so popular among white men is because - as we know - so many white men are feeling lost and disempowered, especially as social dynamics change and they don’t know what their place is in the world anymore.

There is a fairly simple response to this:  “power to” vs. “power over.” Men, there is nothing I want more than to see you exercising your power to be the best engineers, wrestlers, actors, writers, ranchers, etc. that you can be. Develop your power to be a great spouse and a great parent and a great inhabitant of this planet. Please, PLEASE be empowered! Achieve your potential - be strong, be as masculine as you want to be. Be your best self!!

But being your best self, having personal power, “taking charge of your own destiny” does not mean that you have power over me any more than me achieving my human potential and taking charge of my destiny means I get to have power  over you. And saying “Thank you, Mother, I can do it myself” is a process we all go through when we become adults. It doesn’t mean we go out into the world to bully women and bully people who are different and bully the earth into submission. That’s actually an extremely immature way of viewing manhood. 


Chapter 7 : What Patriarchy? (We both picked Chapter 7 as being really important, so we’re both going to share quotes from this one)

“Women, however, are seen as biologically endowed with a core connection to life that men simply cannot have. From this feared, hopelessly loved, and held in awe by their children, and until the advent of patriarchy some seven thousand years ago, firmly seated at the symbolic center of goddess-based religions.”

  • Johnson’s perspective eye-opening
  • I’ve always related having a child as fulfilling the expectations of society and “our moral duty,”
  • I viewed pregnancy in a negative light based on learning the treatment of women in history and stories shared amongst family and friends
  • Johnson’s perspective shows the creation of life as powerful and threatening 
  • I think of stories shared about the women on my mom’s side who put themselves through college, worked well-respected jobs, and raised children all at the same time
  • Society at the time may have looked down upon their life choices and jeopardized the order of gender roles

(Amy’s thoughts from Chapter 7)

Perhaps the most efficient way to keep patriarchy going is to promote the idea that it does not exist in the first place. Patriarchy, we might say, is just a a figment of angry feminist imagination. Or if it does exist, it is by reputation only, a shadow of its former self that no longer amounts to much in people’s lives. To pull this off, you have to be willing to engage in a lot of denial, but you can also use some key supporting arguments - that patriarchy does not exist because many women seem better off than many men, that the generally miserable lot of the modern man contradicts the idea of male privilege, that women and men are each affected by parallel versions of a common oppression, and that men and women are equal co creators of every aspect of social life, including patriarchy. (145)

I hear these exact arguments all the time, and they are comprised of true data points - many women are better off than many men. Modern men are miserable in many ways - they don’t feel like they’re thriving in modern society. They see “reverse sexism” at play in initiatives like affirmative action. And when they do observe some aspects of patriarchy (especially within religion, where it’s most blatant), they see women upholding patriarchal norms, so they think women are co-creating this! This is the way women want it!

  1. Many women are better off than many men.

Johnson addressed this over and over: patriarchy is a system, so just looking at a couple of examples of exceptions to the rules doesn’t mean the system isn’t real. 

  1. Many men don’t feel like they’re thriving in modern society - they don’t feel empowered or that they’re benefiting from any special privileges. 

We address this in many episodes, but Allan Johnson says this:

Many men argue that men are privileged only to the degree that they feel privileged. A key aspect of privilege, however, is to be unaware of it as privilege. In addition, even though men as a group are privileged in society, factors such as race, class, sexaul orientation, and disability status affect how much privilege each man has access to and how he experiences it.

Privilege is sooo complex: a man just posted some comments on our Instagram page recently, saying that he is disabled and women often reject him and treat him cruelly. So in a very important sense, he felt that women had power that he didn’t have. I was so grateful that he pointed that out - I have often analyzed the intersection of race - for example, the meeting of Christian Cooper (a Black man) and Amy Cooper (a white woman) in Central Park in 2020. Although Christian Cooper may have some male privilege (especially if he belonged to a conservative religion), Amy Cooper’s privilege as a White women were that she could marshall the forces of racist men, who historically have murdered Black men if there was even a hint that that White woman was in danger and needed to be protected. So it’s complicated. Likewise, for this disabled man… if he joined a conservative religion he could enjoy the privilege of being the “head” of his wife and having access to leadership positions that women are excluded from. And he might not realize that in many contexts, like science or tech or chess and many others, he would automatically be taken more seriously as a man than a woman would be, despite his disability. But in other contexts, a woman would have more power, because of her able body. But never because she is a woman.

3. Reverse Sexism:

The problem with false gender parallels is that the significance of what happens to people differs profoundly from one gender to the other. On the surface, the experience and behavior of women and men may appear to be similar, but this impression falls apart if we look at the larger reality of people’s lives. 

Negative stereotypes about men, for example, can make them uncomfortable and hurt their feelings. This seems to be the most common cause for men’s complaint and a major reason for women’s reluctance even to talk about sexism when men are around. (Just yesterday I was reading this book at my dad’s house, and he walked in and I shut the book and stuffed it into my bag because I knew it would make him uncomfortable, sad, and maybe mad if he saw it) But antimale stereotypes come primarily from women, a subordinate, culturally devalued group that lacks authority in a male identified, male-dominated, male-centered society. In other words, if the source is a woman, the damage that stereotypes can do is confined to personal hurt, with little if any effect in the larger world. This is because antimale stereotypes are not rooted in a culture that regards men as inherently dangerous, inferior, ridiculous, disgusting, or undesirable. Such stereotypes can therefore be written off as the bitter ravings of a group  beneath begin taken seriously. 

Antimale stereotypes also cannot be used to keep men down as a group, to lock them into an inferior and disadvantaged status, to justify abuse and violence against them, or to deprive them of fair treatment. When women refer to men as jerks, for example, they are not expressing a general cultural view of men as jerks. If our culture really regarded men as jerks, the population would be clamoring for female presidents, senators, and CEOs. Instead, we routinely look to men for leadership and expertise in every area of social life, whether philosophy, government, business, law religion, art, science, cooking, etc. To the extent that men are culturally portrayed as jerks, it is only in areas of life defined as relatively unimportant, which is to say, in their intimate relations with women. 

Prejudice against women, however, has deep and far-reaching consequences that do a lot more than make them feel bad, for it supports an entire system that privileges men at women’s expense. Sexist prejudice does not just target individual women, for it is fundamentally about women and strikes at the mere fact of their being women. Each expression of antifemale prejudice always amounts to more than what is said, for it reaffirms a cultural legacy of patriarchal privilege and oppression

One thing I thought of with that quote, where he says that society created gender roles  in order to make things run smoothly  - it was a problem-solving behavior - is that a) That makes sense, if you think of any organization - from a club house with little kids to a church to a family to a company, the simpler you can make the structure, the more easily things will run. So maybe for a time in human history it really did run more easily for high-status men to be in charge of all the other men, and for all men to be in charge of all women. We can look back at feudalism in Europe and how it determined the class stratification in Europe and that little poem that people used to say “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” You’re born into your class, and the whole machine runs better if you’re just a good little cog in that machine. And we see this everywhere in the world, of course - the caste system in India is another example of this system - one group of men comes in and says “this ‘type’ of person does this; this ‘type of person does this.” And then they claim that God made it that way, so everybody buys it.

Is this approach effective to keep society running smoothly? Seems like it is. But is it just? The French Revolution says no. The American Revolution says no. Gandhi and ongoing social movements in India say no. The Women’s Liberation Movement says no. Human beings should be able to fulfill their own unique potential without limits that say “sorry, your last name is x,y,z, so you’re a garbage collector - be the best garbage collector you can be! While meanwhile my last name is a,b,c, so I get all the choices and I want to be a CEO.” And for women, we’re telling men that they never had the right to make those rules in the first place.

Chapter 8: “It Must Be Women”

“Such an assumption, however, forces us to view womanhood as something other than a socially constructed status that women must achieve through effort, training, and sacrifice. It reduces womanhood to a natural result of a girl’s physical maturation into an adult female. All she has to do is wait passively for puberty and then womanhood will happen all by itself.”

  • Symbolic time: girl has her first period
  • Symbolic celebration: Quincenaras
  • Many friends who had quincenaras and it celebrated the transition from a young girl to a woman
  • Boys don’t have that celebration and in many cultures the pressures of obtaining a well-paying job, a partner to create a family with, receiving a quality education, is what establishes your manhood

Chapter 9: Shame, Guilt, and Responsibility

Patriarchy is a legacy handed down to us without our ever being asked to give our consent. Growing up in patriarchy, the path of least resistance is to see it as normal, unexceptional, and how things ought to be. Like people in most social systems, we are largely oblivious to what we are participating in and fall easily into denial and rationalization when the status quo is challenged. But beneath our lack of awareness, the legacy and our connection to it remain. Simply by living under its terms and going along its paths of least resistance, we keep it going and pass it on. (203)

If core aspects of a worldview are disrupted, it is a serious thing because what is happening is not just an idea or matter of fact being called into question, but our overall sense of reality itself. If this is not true, then how can I be sure of anything?  Imagine that all of a sudden people and everything not tied down started floating up into the air. ...Or that the route you drive every day suddenly is no longer the same - streets not where they were, two-way streets now one-way , the signs and names all changed around. Or one friend after another reveals they never really liked you after all. You go along day after day thinking you know what's what, how things work, what to expect, and then something comes along and turns it all upside- down. 

When women, for example, are asked to name the precaustions they take every day to protect themselves from sexual assault, they typcially produce lists whose length surprises many men, whose own lists are altogether empty, reflecting a striking difference in worldviews. (220) 

(Story of Thomas keeping pace with the woman in front of him in Rancho)


Amy: This brings us to the part where we usually share takeaways:

  1. (Amy) Acknowledge that patriarchy exists. 

  1. (Kasey) Pay Attention. First of all, READ. ...You have to be open to the idea that what you think you know is, if not wrong, so deeply shaped by the patriarchal worldview that it misses most of the truth. 

A good place to start is a basic text on women’s studies. Men who feel there is no place for them in women’s studies can start with books about patriarchy and gender that are written by men. Sooner or later, however, men will have to turn to what women have written, because women have done most of the work of figuring out how patriarchy works. (236) Even that bias right there!!! Can you imagine saying to a woman “sooner or later, you’re going to have to a read a book written by a man, because men have done most of the work…” We are so accustomed to living in a men’s world, we don’t even see it.

  1. (Amy) Learn to listen

If someone confronts you with your own behavior that supports privilege, step off the path of least resistance that encourages you to defend and deny. Do not tell them they’re too sensitive or need a better sense of humor, and do not try to explain away what you did as something else than what they are telling you it was. Do not say you didn’t mean it or that you were only kidding. Do not tell them what a champion of justice you are or how hurt you feel because of what they’re telling you. … Listen to what is being said. Take it seriously. Assume for the time being that it is true, because given the power of paths of least resistance, it probably is. 

He then tells a story of how a student of color in one of his classes came up to him after class to say that he kept cutting her off, and that she had noticed that he didn’t do that to his white students. He could have said that he was an expert on inequality and injustice and he would never do that, that he was not racist, etc… instead he thanked her for pointing it out so that he could pay attention and make sure he never did it again. He says:

It is important to note that my goodness or badness as a person was not the issue. The issue was the existence of pervasive racist patterns through which privilege is enacted every day and whether I was unconsciously reproducing those patterns adn, most important, whether I was willing to take responsibility for paying attention tot my won behavior as a participant. I believe most of the time, members of subordinate groups are not looking for dominant groups to feel ashamed or guilty, because this will do nothing in itself to improve their own lives. In my experience, the true goal is to end privilege and oppression and to get dominant groups to commit themselves to doing whatever they can to make that happen. (239) 

4. (Kasey) Little Risks: Do Something

Recognize that the system is just made up of  people - take responsibility for small actions! In something as simple as a man following the path of least resistance toward controlling conversations (and a woman letting him), or being silent in the face of men’s violence, the reality of patriarchy in that moment comes into being. This is how we do patriarchy, bit by bit, moment by moment. Standing up to one sexist or homophobic or racist joke at a time.

Amy: Kasey, thank you so much for being here today! Thanks for reading this book and for sharing your insights - I have loved having this conversation with you!

Kasey: (Thank you so much for having me, etc.)

Amy: I’m really excited to announce something special for our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy. I thought a few months ago that I wanted to research the ways that patriarchy has impacted LGBTQ people, so I identified the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which resulted in marriage equality, as our essential text. I asked my classmate and dear friend Matthew Nelson to be my reading partner, and he not only read Obergefell with me, he also gave me three books of queer theory to read! So next week we will present one of the most important projects I’ve done on Breaking Down Patriarchy: it’s a four-episode series on LGBTQ history, centered on four essential texts: the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which happened in 2015, and you can either read or just read about on Wikipedia, and then if you’re really interested and want to dive deeper, you can also read The Trouble with Normal, written by Michael Warner and published in 1999, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, by Lee Edelman, published in 2004, and Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, by José Estaban Muñoz, published in 2009. We’ll start the whole series just sharing personal stories and it’s a doozy. So join us for these very important conversations, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.

Stuff we didn’t have room for:


Since patriarchal culture identifies power with men, most men who are not themselves powerful can still feel some connection with the idea of male dominance and with men who are powerful. It is far easier, for example, for an unemployed working-class man to identify with male leaders and their displays of patriarchal masculine toughness than it is for women of any class. ...Male identification gives even the most lowly placed man a cultural basis for feeling a sense of superiority over an otherwise highly placed woman. This is why, for example, a construction worker can feel within his rights as a man when he sexaully harasses a well-dressed professional woman who happens to walk by. (9)

So true!! There are certain ways in which a wealthy woman will outrank a man of a lower socioeconomic status, especially if we control for race and compare a woman and a man of the same race. But walking down the street he can still wolf whistle at her. AND in my religion of origin, if they were to get married, any man - no matter who he is -  still “presides” over his wife. And he has access to leadership positions in the church that she does not have access to. And that phrase that it is far easier for any man (he can be a nice guy or a jerk, a classy person or a very base person) to “identify with male leaders… than it is for women of any class” to identify with male leaders - that’s definitely true in my experience at church. Any man at all - in some ways any twelve year old boy - outranks the most wise, intelligent, capable full-grown woman simply by being male. 


The idea of God, for example, is of enormous importance in human life and so it should come as no surprise that every monotheistic patriarchal religion worships a male-identified god gendered as masculine. As Mary Daly arguest in her book Beyond God the Father, this, in turn, puts men in the highly favorable position of having God identified with them which further reinforces the position of women as ‘other’ and the legitimacy of men’s claim to privilege and dominance.” (10)


Interesting chart showing how male-identified and male-centric our culture is: all the films that won the Oscar for Best Picture, from 1968-2013 (this edition of the book was published in 2014): Out of almost fifty films, guess how many had a woman as the central character? Four. 


Chapter 4: Ideology, Myth and Magic

Culture… consists largely of words and ideas that we use to define and interpret almost everything we experience and do. Since every culture is finite and therefore limited in what it can include, it tends toward some versions of reality more than others. Like how the Sami people who life in the North of Scandinavia and Russia have 180 words for snow and ice!! 

If a language does not include pronouns that distinguish sex, such as ‘she and ‘he,’ people who speak that language will be less likelky to see female and male as important distinctions. Whether to note the sex of the person who occupies a social position - as in chairman, policeowoman, male nurse, or actress - won’t come up as an issue or call for a specialied vocabulary. This doesn’t mean that people will experience females and males as being the same, only that the distinction will be less salient, less critical to how they make sense of social life and themselves. Many cultures, however, make heavy use of gender pronouns and suffixes (such as heir and heiress), which protrays sex distinctions as relevant to every aspect of life and not merely reproduction or sexuality. (74)


This next quote is going to remind us of John Stuart Mill - I’m including it because I think it’s so important. He’s talking about how traits like leadership, assertiveness and rationality are thought of as masculine traits, and docility, passivity and emotionality are thought of as being female traits. He says:

As soon as human traits are made gender specific, each gender is encouraged to alienate itself from a substantial portion of what makes us human. On the other hand, patriarchy depends on such decisions, because there is no basis for men to dominate women if we see human beings in all their forms as fundamentally the same - as human.

...This includes, for example, the notion that men’s place in society is defined more by their manhood than their adulthood. What it means to be an adult is fairly constant across societies, - the ability and willingness to take responsibility to care for others, to be productive and contribute to family, community, and society; to be courageous, to live creatively and with awareness. Under patriarchy, however, manhood has to amount to more than this. It has to differ from adult womanhood enough to justify organizing social life in a male- identified, male -centered way. This calls for a vision of male adulthood based on a social, psychological, spiritual, and physical territory that men can identify with and defend as exclusively their own. 

The only way to accomplish this cultural sleight of hand is to gender what are essentially human qualities by pretending they define manhood rather than adulthood. The idea of heroism, for example, has been assigned almost entirely to patriarchal manhood. From movies and television to literature to the nightly news, our ideas of who and what are heroic focus almost entirely on men and what they do. (78)

And one more I just have to throw in:

There are no equivalent female images for courage - ‘having ovaries’ has yet to catch on - but it’s not unusual to hear brave women described as having balls.


“We tend to see women who cry as emotionally expressive, but not men who get angry.” (82)

Yes, AND we are taught to have disdain for crying, and we think of it as being weak. This is a big deal to me. This is an example of a patriarchal system where men get to declare what “being emotional” means, and they decide that a more typically female expression of emotion - crying - is “being emotional, and it’s defined as “weak” or “chaotic,” and men have disdain for it. And they decide that a more typically male expression of emotion - anger - is “strong,” and they excuse it, and they don’t even describe anger as “emotional.”

Several thoughts:

  1. Every human being experiences happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, etc.
  2. Human beings along the spectrum of gender experience emotion in different ways - I know many heterosexual women who are much more even-keel than their husbands. 
  3. Our culture tells boys that they shouldn’t cry (because we understand it as feminine, and that which is feminine is devalued in our society). But boys need to be able to feel and express their sadness in order to be emotionally healthy.
  4. Likewise, society allows very little room for girls and women to express anger. Anger is seen as masculine and so it’s off-putting and inappropriate for girls and women to show anger. But just like boys and sadness, anger is an emotion that needs to be felt and sometimes expressed in order to be processed in a healthy way. WHY DO WE GENDER THIS STUFF???
  5. All human beings need to be able to process all their emotions in a healthy way. Think back to when you were a kid - it’s scary to see a parent crying uncontrollably. It’s also scary - and extremely damaging - for an enraged parent to yell at you. Kids need to be trained to process and regulate their emotions so that they can be healthy, skilled parents. 
  6. And finally, men who have no tolerance for crying because they say crying = “getting emotional,” while they have no problem going on a tirade of yelling when they feel angry and don’t classify that as “getting emotional” need to realize the ridiculousness of that position.

Chapter 6: Thinking About Patriarchy

“There is no conspiracy here, for this is how every social system works. Reality is always being socially constructed. Whatever groups have the most access to and control over resources and institutions through which reality is shaped - from education to the media to religious dogma to political ideology - will see their views and interests reflected in the results.” (125)

This is why all governing bodies need to be comprised of a representative mix of the population they govern. An all-white governing body is going to represent a white point of view, even if it tries to be inclusive. An all-male governing body is going to think from a male point of view, even if it invites token women to give input. An all-straight council is going to make policies that privilege straightness. That’s just the way it works. 



I wasn’t going to talk about warfare (starting on p 130), but maybe we should, since there is so much news coverage of the Taliban right now


Pornography (p 142-143)


Chapter 7: What Patriarchy?


Example of strippers who are men vs. strippers who are women:

When a man strips off his clothes in a  nightclub act, he does not also take off his dignity, autonomy, and power as a human being, because there is nothing in patriarchal culture that would interpret his behavior as giving up anything of real value to the women who watch him perform. If anything, he can get the male-centered satisfaction of having his body admired by women who lack the social power to treat his body like admired property. His relation to women in the audience does not reflect a larger social reality in which men’s bodies are routinely regarded as objects to be sought after and controlled by women. 

But a woman who strips does so in a very different social context that changes entirely the meaning of her behavior and that of the men who watch her. In a patriarchal culture, her body has significance primarily in relation to men who value rights of access and use.  (159-160)

4. Women are co-creating the situation - they freely choose to be in subordinated positions (in marriage, work, church, etc.): Dr. Johnson says:

[It’s false to attribute] the kind of responsibility that goes with free and considered choice to those who accommodate themselves to a system that oppresses them. A coal miner’s son, for example, may be said to freely choose to be a coal miner instead of a Wall STreet lawyer in that no one overtly coerces him to make that choice. We could also say that a Wall Street lawyer’s son might freely choose to follow in his father’s footsteps rather than be a coal miner. But to argue that both are equally responsible for the consequences of their choices on the grounds that each exercised free choice ignores how societies limit the alternatives that people perceive as available to choose from, which is a direct result of living in a particular kind of society that privileges certain classes, genders, and races over others. ... Like men, women participate in a patriarchy into which they were born and raised because they do not see an alternative. They inevitably identify with that society and even defend it to some degree. (154-155) and I would add of course they do, because that’s what they’ve been taught that good girls do. Most children want to be good, and please their parents and teachers, and each society tells kids “here is how you can be a good person,” so the vast majority of kids grow into adults who maintain and even vigorously defend the system they were taught. And, on top of that, we’re all always perceiving where the power lies in any given social group, and we have deep wiring in our brian that wants to align us with the group that has power. Men are bigger and stronger and have all the social power in almost every social group, so we feel motivated to stay on the good side and please that group that’s in power. Not rock the boat, not get on the bad side of the people in power and risk social or physical safety.

Dominant groups are encouraged toward the subtle arrogance of not paying attention to the reality of the oppression that supports their privilege.

Johnson then describes a dynamic that feels so familiar to me, especially with one of my husband’s friends with whom I’ve tried to discuss this once or twice:

He innocently, perhaps earnestly, says he doesn’t understand and would she please explain. She does, but he argues some fine point - a definition of terms or an exception to the rule. Or his attention wanders and still he doesn’t get it. It goes on this way until she gives up, which may not be very long, since this is exhausting work. He may feel stung by her impatience because he thinks he is trying to be sensitive. She feels frustrated, trapped, and furious at his often calm inability to get it (he being calm because somewhere inside himself he feels - even if unconsciously - the male privileged knowledge that he does not have to get it. (151)

Amy’s Quotes and Notes

Chapter 9: Shame, Guilt, and Responsibility

Re: Women’s anger:

Men… can learn not to take it personally, to develop thicker skins, to ...not get sidetracked into arguments about whether they deserve this particular bit of anger. Women’s anger is an important engine for change, and if women have to tiptoe around worrying about whether it might hurt a man’s feelings, they’re going to be silenced. I have seen this over an dover again in workshops where women take care of men by silencing themselves rather than voice feelings about male privilege. Certainly there is room to talk about how women express anger at men, to sort out the individual man from the group as we go along. But occasional misplaced anger is no reason for men to get huffy and defensive if their real concern is doing something about patriarchy. Making room for the anger is a price men have to pay for privilege, and as prices go, it isn’t very high. (200)

That anger often comes from not being heard. (Story about early-morning seminary and then the calling change led to my huge explosion, and me writing “Dear Mormon Man.”)

Men have a hard time acknowledging patriarchy:

My worldview, for example, includes the belief that gravity is real. It has been established by science (also in my worldview) and I therefore do not question its existence. I think I know how it works and how to live in relation to it, so much so that I do not think about it most of the time, and when I hear about someone falling off a roof, I have no trouble understanding why they fall and why they get hurt or don’t survive, which is why I avoid high places. 


Chapter 10: What Changes and What Does Not

Note that all of these [violent] role models act from a profound belief in the rightness of their violence, that they are winning the game or defending justice or righting a wrong or taking back what was taken from them or rescuing a damsel in distress (from the clutches of another man) or justifiably exacting revenge. They are not merely aggrieved or angry or heroic but driven by a sense of entitlement and authority  that flows directly from the core of patriarchal manhood: he has a right, even an obligation, to resort to violence. (214)

We’re seeing this right now in Afghanistan, as the Taliban - one of the most patriarchal institutions on earth today - is righteously taking up arms to forcibly institute their version of the true religion, and put women back in their place. 

Chapter 11: What Can We Do? Unraveling the Gender Knot

Whether we help change patriarchy depends on how we handle the belief that nothing we do can make a difference, that the system is too big and powerful for us to affect. In one sense, the complaint is valid: if we look at patriarchy as a whole, it is true that we are not going to make it go away in our lifetime. So we have to take the long view. ....Gandhi once said that nothing we do as individuals matters, but it is vital that we do it anyway. This touches on a powerful paradox in the relationship between society and individuals. In terms of the patriarchy-as-tree metaphor, no individual leaf on the tree matters. Whether it lives or dies has no effect on much of anything. But collectively, the leaves are essential to the whole tree because they photosynthesize the sugar that feeds it. Without leaves, the tree dies. 

Since we can always choose paths of greater resistance or create new ones entirely, systems can only be as stable as the flow of human choice and creativity. 


Systems shape the choices people make primarily by providing paths of least resistance. We typically follow those paths because alternatives offer greater resistance or because we are not even aware that alternatives exist. Whenever we openly choose a different path, however, we make it possible  for people to see both the path of least resistance they are following and the possibility of choosing something else. … people must reconcile their choice with what they have seen us do, something they did not have to deal with before. (233)


The simplest way to help others make different choices is to make them myself, and to do it openly so they can see what I am doing. As I shift the patterns of my own participation in patriarchy, I make it easier for others to do so as well – and harder for them not to. Simply by setting an example – rather than trying to change people – I create the possibility of their participating in change in their own time and in their own way. I can thus widen the circle of change without provoking defensiveness. (233)



Dr. Johnson then uses the example of Americans’ acceptance of same-sex marriage, which is something Matthew and I talked about on our episode a few weeks ago. I told the story about my experience with Proposition 8 in California, which prohibited same-sex marriage, and I told how almost every single one of our friends was following our church’s leadership, canvassing neighborhoods, making phone calls, donating money, and several of our extended family members were sending us constant emails about the dangers of the “homosexual agenda.” So going along with that momentum and the love and acceptance of our tribe was very much the path of least resistance. At that time we had one gay friend who called our choices into question, which I talked about on the episode, but I didn’t say that we also had another friend – Manuela’s husband Andy – who said “guys, I think you’re not seeing this correctly” and gave us an alternative way… but neither of those friends were inside of our community, so their influence was limited because they didn’t really understand. But I will always remember showing up to the church on a Saturday morning, reporting to get our anti-gay-marriage pamphlets to pass around neighborhoods, and seeing a woman in our congregation named Amanda quietly cleaning the church (that was a Saturday morning duty – members of the congregation took turns cleaning the church on Saturday mornings), and I knew she supported LGBTQ rights and opposed the church’s stance. I will always remember her locking eyes with me and looking so sad as she swept the gym where I was standing with all my other friends getting our pep talk about following the prophet. I saw someone in my same position who was taking the path of incredibly huge resistance, sweeping all alone and refusing to go along with the “prophet” and leaders and all her peers. It wasn’t enough then, but that stayed with me and influenced me in the next years. Her courage made a big impact on me.


So we never know how our example will impact others, especially our example within our own communities.


In addition, here are things we can do:

Organize, organize, organize was the advice given by… Frederick Douglass. …Remember the modern women’s movement’s roots were in consciousness-raising groups in which women did little more than gather to talk about themselves and their lives and try to figure out what that had to do with living in patriarchy. It may not have looked like much at the time but it laid the foundation for huge social movements.

One of the most gratifying things I’ve seen as a result of this podcast is women organizing book clubs around this reading list – reading and studying these books. Please, recommend these books to others. Forward these episodes on to friends and family.


Make noise, be seen. Stand up, volunteer, speak out, write letters, sign petitions, show up. My whole family went to a rally in Salt Lake City last month to voice our support for Utah to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. We wrote letters to our senators. And I wrote several letters to my church leaders throughout my adulthood, asking questions, letting them know how things felt to me. Because if leaders never hear that there is agitation for change, they think everything is fine and nothing will ever change.


Find little ways to withdraw support from paths of least resistance and people’s choices to follow them, starting with yourself.



Dare to make people feel uncomfortable, beginning with yourself. … Some will say that it isn’t nice to make people uncomfortable, but patriarchy does a lot more than make people uncomfortable, and it certainly isn’t nice to allow it to continue.


A bunch of ideas on pp. 242-243, but I thought I would mention:

-Pay attention to and speak out on issues of gender equity in your family. Cultural ideas about wives and husbands, mothers and fathers are linchpins of male privilege. (this is one of the very hardest ones to do)


-Speak out against violence and harassment against women wherever they occur, whether at home, at work, or on the street.


-Join and support groups that intervene with and counsel men who perpetrate violence against women.


-Object to pornography in theaters, fraternities, and neighborhoods and on the Internet. This does not require a debate about censorship – just the exercise of freedom of speech to articulate pornography’s role in patriarchy and to express how its opponents feel about it.


Openly support people who step off the path of least resistance. When you witness someone else taking a risk – speaking out, calling attention to privilege and oppression – do not wait until later to tell them in private that you are glad they did. Waiting until you’re alone makes it safer for you but does them little good. Support is most needed when the risk is being taken, not later on, so do not wait. Make your support as visible and public as the courageous behavior that you’re supporting.


Because patriarchy is rooted in principles of domination and control, pay attention to racism and other forms of oppression that draw from those same roots.



Two more things:

Think small, humble, and doable rather than large, heroic, and impossible. …the choice is not between all or nothing but between nothing or something.


Do not let other people set the standard for you. Start where you are and work from there. Make a list of all the things you could actually imagine doing – from reading another book about patriarchy to suggesting policy changes at work to raising questions about who cleans the bathroom at home – and rank them from the most risky to the least. Start with the least risky and set reasonable goals.


In the end, taking responsibility is not about guilt and blame. …It is to acknowledge your obligation (or opportunity) to make a contribution to finding a way out of patriarchy, and finding constructive ways to act. …As powerful as patriarchy is, like all oppressive systems, it cannot stand the strain of many people coming together to do something about it, beginning with the simplest act of speaking its name out loud where others can hear. (245)



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About the Podcast

Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

About your host

Profile picture for Amy Allebest

Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.