For several years now I have been journeying down a healing path from childhood trauma. And one thing I’ve come up against over and over again is the Patriarchy. It’s at the root of the toxic masculinity that allowed a man to feel entitled to my body without my consent. It’s the mean voice in my head telling me not to be bossy, not to stand out or speak up for myself if it might upset a man’s ego, not to claim space or feel content with myself if I am anything less than perfect. And I am definitely not perfect.
But as this pandemic has shown me, it’s also at the heart of an existential crisis we all face. It’s a thing we constantly hear about. We’ve seen the predicted effects taking place—the flooding, storms, wildfires, rising sea levels. We have been warned of our impending extinction if we don’t act. And yet the climate crisis remains an abstract concept for most of us. As humans we have a hard time accepting our future selves as real, which means that making current changes on behalf of that future self is an act of willpower. And our willpower is not that great. We tend to hang on to a false hope that it’ll all just go away if we keep our heads down and maintain the status quo.
At a Catholic wedding I attended the priest said, “Man was put on this earth to conquer his environment.” Aside from being terribly unromantic, it’s illustrative of the predicament we find ourselves in. So much of the damage has been caused by this patriarchal imperative of conquering.
Conquering people, nations, and environments. We may love that circling hero shot in movies, but the thing about glorifying that final moment of the climax is that we ignore what’s right at the edge of the frame: damage. Our movie hero never seems to care about the wake of destruction in that final scene. They never have to repair, pay for, or experience any consequences whatsoever. They conquered the foe and that’s that. Roll credits.
But in real life Patriarchy is not the hero. Someone always has to pick up the pieces. In our society, that role has typically been handed off to women and people of color. Women are seen as the nurturers, the homemakers, the trophies that the hero wins at the end of his journey. White supremacy has placed indigenous, black, and brown people in the sacrificial role, sentenced to bear the burdens of consequences they did not incur. The patriarchy would love for us all to continue to accept our assigned roles. But we can’t afford to do that any longer. Even if you are lucky enough to be outside of the direct line of oppression, we live in an interconnected world, which means that there is no escape. Dealing with the long-lasting effects of trauma—in all forms—is a slog. But it’s necessary if we want to survive. The consequences are here—the embers still burning, the floods saturating, the ice melting, and the globe warming.
It’s uncomfortable, I get it. The misogyny, the racism, the lack of foresight. These are not things we want to spend a lot of time with. The patriarchy tells us a comforting story about how if we all play our roles and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps we’ll become millionaire success stories and all our worries will dissolve.
But it’s a lie. My healing journey has taught me to become aware of the stories others tell. To decide for myself if they are true for me. The thing about consequence is that it’s not convenient, but it is earned. As a society we have been careless with our environment. We have treated large swaths of fellow Earthlings inhumanely. We have accepted as truth that power belongs in the hands of the privileged few. That it is okay to prioritize money over people. We have allowed the voices of patriarchal power to tell us that all of this is normal, that we should just hope and pray all these ills away. That we don’t have the power to affect real change.
But does that really feel true? As every mom knows, those LEGOS don’t pick themselves up. The dishes don’t clean themselves and the laundry doesn’t fold itself and settle neatly into our drawers. Behind every Pinterest-worthy home is a ton of effort. But it is possible.
I don’t have the answers to these existential problems. What I do have is a lens and a voice. I choose to shine my light through the holes in the story the patriarchy has been telling. The patriarchy is a conman propagating false hope. To restore harmony to our planet and our fellow humans, we must question every story we’ve been told. We have the power to stand up and say no. No to the fear. No to the status quo. No to the inhumanity and racism. It’s time to acknowledge the pain and rage and trauma, and it’s time to start cleaning this mess up. We’ve only got the one home planet.
Let’s take some advice from Marie Kondo. Examine the patriarchy. Pick it up in your mind. Does it spark joy? No? Then it’s time to thank it for the lessons and let that shit go.