Smashing the Patriarchy in the Female Mind

A little more

Photo by Tommy van Kessel 🤙 on Unsplash

If you know me well, you know I am rarely awake before 9:00am and I don’t get to moving until Noon. For some in my family, that is embarrassing. I guess it used to be embarrassing to me. I happen to be lucky enough right now to be able to sleep until I wake up, read some articles, fall asleep again, and really start my day when I am good and ready. I go to sleep very late. I prefer the night to the morning. And, right now in my life, I’m able to keep a sleep schedule that fits my natural rhythmns. I do not take this privelage lightly. Every day I thank God for it.

So, it is unusual to find me wide awake at 4:30am. That is the case at this moment. It is unusual, but not unheard of. Every so often I wake up around 4am regardless of what time I fell asleep and I find my mind swirling with all kinds of thoughts. Sometimes it is worry. Sometimes it is a brilliant idea (that I won’t remember later after I’ve gone back to sleep). Sometimes it is desire. Sometimes it is sermon prep (the story of Jacob and Esau is on my mind today). And today, I am overcome with more thoughts on the subtle ways I want to please men more than women.

I began writing about it before I did fall asleep last night. It was actually a note I had been writing on my phone between a couple of appointments. That beginning said,

“Today’s painful self-realization is that I work a lot harder to make men around me happy than I do to make women around me happy. I want everyone to be happy so I do a good bit to please all the people but I had another one of those moments of feeling my brain go “click” as I realized how much time and energy I spent on just trying to satisfy the men in my life. Hubby will be scoffing about right now. He, of course, gets the least of this time and energy but he still gets more than, say, my sister or my BFF.

Is this what middle-age is? Realizing you have become everything you hoped you would never become?

When the director of a show I’m working on is a male I give just a little bit more attention than I do when the director is a female. Look, I warned you at the top. This is painful. You think it is painful to read? Imagine how I feel!

Most people around me would never notice the difference. It is all more in my mind than in my actions or words. O God, I pray it is more in my mind than actions and words.

This is just the beginning of exploring these thoughts. Painful self-realization will have to continue tomorrow.”

And so it does. Earlier than I had hoped. Here I am. It is tomorrow and I remain flabberghasted at how deeply the patriarchy lives in my very bones, in my spirit, not just my mind. I can’t help but think about all the young women who have been attending high school in Afghanistan who are trying to make sense of the Taliban’s announcement this week that school’s were returning and all boys high school age should return. What does this mean for the young girl who loves learning? She cried speaking with a reporter, “No one has ever told me that I can’t learn before.” There are no clear answers. But, things are not looking good for women in that country. How heartbreaking it must be to have worked so hard for twenty years to make a better place for their daughters and watch it all come crashing down again.

I digress. This post is about my own patriarchal tendencies. Subtle, they may be, but there they be nonetheless. O God, I pray they are subtle! I don’t think I’m alone in these subtle differences. I think women (all women in the USA, but especially those my age and older) have this desire to make the men around us happy, to impress them, to be let into the circle of power that seems to so naturally cycle around them. More often than not, the men I encounter don’t even recognize this power cycle. They have no idea the back-flips we are doing in our minds to make them happy.

I’m a helper. You can ask the Enneagram. She will tell you. So, it isn’t surprising that I want to help people. If they have a problem, my brain jumps into action — how can I help this person solve this problem? This is true across the board, but what brought this painful realization to the surface was one particular problem.

The production manager of the play I’m stage managing has a kid around my kid’s age. They are about to begin all of the rigmarole of taking the Knowledge Test in order to get a teenager a Driver’s Learning Permit. In our state, this is the hardest part of the whole process. The government website is as helpful as all government websites are. Things are not easy to find. Answers to common questions are kept like puzzles to be solved on a monumental QUEST FOR THE PERMIT. So, the production manager knew that my kid had recently conquered the DMV Dragon and was asking me for some help and advice.

Oh, my goodness, when people ask me for help, it floods my brain with all the wonderful chemicals. I don’t really know what they are. Dopamine, I imagine. What I am telling you is that it makes me feel great! Especially in a week when I’m feeling off my game. Maybe I’ll tell that story one day, but right now I’ll stick to how much I want to please men even though writing that very sentence makes me feel like a fraud and traitor to all the women in the world.

That happened two nights ago — this request for help. And, I have been thinking about ways to help ever since. Sometimes when I should have been focusing on upping my game which is definitely OFF, I was instead looking for the driver’s manual that I printed out for my kids so that I could triumphantly deliver it to this man like Indiana Jones coming out of the cave with a Crystal Skull.

If it had been the child’s mother, would I have behaved any differently? Well, that is the question of the day. That is why I’m awake at 4:30 continuing to write about this painful self-realization. Because what I believe to be true when I really stop to analyze things is that it would have been different. How I reacted in the moment would have been slightly different. And, the number of times this problem came to my mind to be solved would have been different. Oh, it is so subtle. Oh God, I pray it is subtle!

No one but me would ever know the difference. If I found the manual that I had printed out, I would take it and share it whether it was mom or dad. I would have offered to help just the same regardless of gender. It is so subtle and the subtle differences are primarily inside my brain, so that if I could keep my loud mouth shut, no one need ever know the differences are even there!

But, they are there. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say the differences are there. I interact differently with men than women. I choose women doctors because the power that a male doctor has over me makes me practically unable to participate in my own care. Now, this is an authority figure thing too. I’m pretty much that way with the female doctors as well. I generally respect anyone in a position of authority. Even as my own doctor will try to engage me in my personal health choices, she will hear me say,

“You are the doctor. I do what you say. Hey, you’re the boss! You tell me what to do”

Again, it is so subtle that it won’t be readily noticed, but I do, at least, find ways to ask more questions when there is a woman of authority working with me. When it is a man, my 49 years of life experience, not to mention way too many degrees of education, disappear and I become a little girl needing a big, strong man to tell me what to do.

Ugh!

No wonder Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected! Oh, I voted for her in the primary, but I don’t think I’m alone in this subtle preference of the male. It is as insidious as our not-so-subtle preference of white in this country.

I used to the think I preferred the company of men. Most of my friends were male and I loved hanging out “with the boys.” I still have a lot of men friends and sometimes it is fun to hang out with them, to get a different perspective on life. But, what this painful self-realization is teaching me, in part, is all the ways I seek to please men with my intellect, my humor, my admiration of them, my willingness to help solve their problems. I preferred the company of men because I was a master at pleasing them in these ways.

No wonder I’m awake at 4am! This is a big one. I don’t think I’ll stop wanting to help, but I do hope I grow better at noticing how and why I treat certain people differently. Maybe if I notice more, I will do it less. It won’t likely mean the young girl in Afghanistan gets to go to school with the boys. It is much more subtle than that. But, oh, God, I hope with each generation, it grows less and less subtle. I hope that one day, whether out there in the world or right here in my mind, the patriarchy is good and truly smashed.

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T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

In no particular order: Writer, pastor, Mama Bear, LGBTQ+ ally, wife, preacher, watcher of TV, seeker, mystic want-to-be