Growing up, I remember my mother telling me she was a feminist; that she was the first female vice-president at her high school; that she never let the boys bully her; that she wanted me to grow up to be a strong, independent woman. I know this is something she was (and still is) very proud to stand by. In my youth, I thought being a feminist was something for grown-ups, like being a Democrat or an atheist. I assumed that because my mom was these things, I would logically follow in her footsteps and define who I was in the process.
When my parents divorced, I was entering puberty. This experience shaped my early understanding of feminism. Upon entering high school as a young woman, I was filled with constant reinforcement from the culture at the time that I had to be attractive, happy and popular if I wanted boys to like me.
I recently watched a couple of movies that were released around that time. They all center on a girl, who at the beginning isn’t the prettiest or most popular, falling for the hot guy every girl wants to be with. As the story unfolds, the girl becomes pretty and popular and finally “captures” the guy. Getting the guy to adore you was the point, and you could only do this if you were beautiful and liked by everyone. That’s what I thought was going to make me happy, so I attempted to change myself into what I thought my male counterparts wanted.
I don’t blame men for this. It’s a misconceptions perpetuated for centuries. The origins of this are embedded in one of the first things we ever learn about ourselves – our gender. When we differentiate ourselves, we automatically separate ourselves from the other – effectively excluding them.
I read an article recently about the response some men had to the Always Super Bowl commercial. The hashtags #LikeABoy and #Meninist quickly began trending. I believe this is because men watching the commercial felt attacked. This is where we can see how men and boys have also become victims of our culture.
When I ask some of the men in my life what the hardest part of growing up was, many of them tell me there were a lot of expectations they felt they had to live up to. To be a man, there were certain ways of behaving and feeling. A man doesn’t cry. A man fights. A man protects. A man is fierce. This #LikeABoy reaction is simply how many men are programmed to act. What is more interesting to me is how women are reacting to this reaction in the same way, suggesting that in order to redefine our understanding of what it is to be a woman, we need to act more like men. Is this our goal as a species? To further alienate each other? I don’t think so.
Gaia University has a name for this matrix of oppression that “artificially separates individuals and groups from the other in order to weaken them against an oppressor and set them against each other creating conflicts that divert their attraction from the larger aggression. Divide and rule is a deliberate application of this effect” (Andrew Langford). We call it the “Patrix” or patriarchal matrix.
So what’s a solution?
It’s very difficult to reprogram your mind, but it is possible. At Gaia U, we call this “Patrix-busting,” and it can be done by accessing our true nature. Re-evaluation counseling is one way we can dig deeply into our patterns of distress, to understand where they originate. Then once we have access to the root of the issue, we can observe it emerge and choose to have a different reaction. Another way is through learning and practicing Non-Violent Communication.
Through the work I’ve done to eliminate the “Patrix” in my life, I have learned that I’m a feminist in the broadest sense of it’s meaning. This includes the notion of being a lover of all humanity and life on the planet. It also encourages me to learn more about other types of oppression in the world, so I become inspired to champion all those who are oppressed. Let’s be champions for each other!