Civil Rights

Is Trump’s presidency the patriarchy’s last gasp?

It’s the last gasp of the patriarchy. 

And that’s a good thing.

A great thing.

About time.

And it’s only fitting that the symbol of the dying world-view is a privileged, greedy man without honor or dignity, Donald Trump. The demagogue of the free world. 

{mosads}We can look deep into the historical roots of the patriarchy, but we don’t have to look far to understand why it exists, and why it’s so wrong. Scholars point to sexual dimorphism and the fact that men generally are larger and stronger than women as laying the foundation of the patriarchy. Since the beginnings of humanity, males have dominated females physically just because they can.


With physical domination comes potential abuse, mental subjugation and oppression. Beyond physical power, the privileged position of males in the patriarchy has then been historically codified in religious texts and secular law worldwide.

The traditional division of labor and gender roles related to the birth and rearing of offspring also play a role. As a result, women have been subjugated physically, emotionally, economically, and reproductively for millennia.

While many men consciously know they are participating in the patriarchy in seriously negative ways–most are oblivious–the consequence of an enculturation process that teaches us to think this way–both men and women. By definition, the patriarchy is conservative and wants to protect the male status quo.

Yet, women and an increasing number of progressive male allies have fought back, striving for equal rights and opportunities that have been slowly, and begrudgingly, yielded by the conservative patriarchy in the U.S during the past 100 years or so. The right to vote.

Economic and educational opportunity. Reproductive choice.

The future looked brighter for progressives since the late 1960’s through the election of President Barack Obama, but then the historic tide turned last November in the United States, and the patriarchy clawed back, goaded on by a conservative media that for a generation has portrayed men, in particular white men, as the victims of women, minorities, and the progressive program and their she-devil: Hillary Clinton. 

I don’t know where I read it, probably on Twitter somewhere, and I’ll paraphrase — “equality looks like discrimination when you have been privileged for so long.”

During the election, the least qualified man ever nominated — let alone elected — President Donald Trump, defeated arguably the most qualified person ever nominated — Hillary Clinton, political flaws aside. An unqualified man being promoted over a more qualified woman is a very old story. Today’s headlines only show that we grossly underestimated the extent of Trump’s ineptitude as well as those he surrounds himself with.

Papa Trump is the historic zenith of the authoritarian American patriarchy — and all roads lead to its perfect caricature — Trump. He almost seems the inevitable consequence. As zenith, Trump demands control over his entire domain — and strikes at his “enemies,” whoever they might be — reporters, Democrats, Khizr Khan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the FBI, the CIA, John McCain, Elizabeth Warren, the 9th Circuit Court, whoever, when his commands dare to be questioned. Of course, he’s always the “victim.”

And it’s just beginning. 

The tools the ultimate patriarch uses when challenged are the same used by other petty patriarchs we all know, maybe fear, and often loathe. The bullying, lies, ridicule, and the physical and mental abuse of the wife or child beater. He finds power, reinforcement, and comfort in his enablers and sometimes his victims, who both fear and envy him.

Like a pimp, he rocks his victims back and forth between abuse and “love,” keeping victims closest to him subservient and obsequious, until they are fortunate enough to break the cycle of abuse. If they ever are. Here two words suffice — Chris Christie. 

If a scandal doesn’t bring the Trump administration down, he will continue to beat his chest on the national and world stages, finding “enemies” everywhere. On the world stage, we’ll see how he fares with other authoritarians: Xi Jinping, Hassan Rouhani Kim Jong Un, and Bashar al Assad come to mind.

But maybe he has already been beaten, compromised and pimped himself. Two words come to mind — Vladimir Putin.

Yet, a movement is growing that is challenging not only Trump, but Republicans across the land. The historic post-inauguration women’s march in Washington and other cities set the stage for a powerful movement that is being led by women.

It continued with the “Day Without A Woman” protests, and we can only hope it will have staying power.

I live in largely Republican rural Iowa, and have seen a resistance that I have never seen before in local town halls and at our capitol in Des Moines. Here in the hinterland, progressives know that protesting Trump would receive little or no attention nationally. The nation only pays attention to us every four years during caucus time. 

Besides, our progressives are too busy protesting locally as Republicans here are moving rapidly to implement their conservative agenda. For the first time in nearly 20 years Republicans hold the Iowa House, Senate, and Governor’s office, and are nearly giddy that they can pass nearly any legislation they wish to.

As much of the legislation they are proposing in Iowa and the rest of the nation is pro-big business and pro-patriarchy, it’s not surprising that the resistance here is led and populated by women. A bi-partisan labor agreement for public employees that stood in place for 40 years has been gutted.

It’s now illegal for state workers to bargain collectively over issues related to health insurance, seniority, vacation and other benefits. They can still lobby over wages, but that provision likely remains only to prevent strikes by public employees.

Iowa Republicans belatedly recognized the bad imagery that came with not allowing first responders to bargain collectively, and so exempted them from parts of the new legislation. While there are certainly female first responders and male teachers, this decision to allow first responders more bargaining tools than teachers was rationalized by saying first responder jobs are dangerous, while being a teacher isn’t.

Tell that to Sandy Hook survivors, as well as those who survived the couple of hundred school shootings since then. The real explanation is the decision reflects the values of the conservative patriarchy.

But the patriarchy rolls on.

Republicans are underfunding schools and teacher salaries, they are working to defund Planned Parenthood, and opposing increases to the minimum wage, all issues important to a majority of women, and they are resisting.

Local town hall meetings are packed like I have never seen before, and the most vocal opponents of the Republican plans are women. Even in our most conservative communities, progressive voters are speaking out when in the past they were silent or not in attendance.

Thousands are flooding legislative sessions, but from what I see the Republican majority is just going through the motions of listening. They have their marching orders from ALEC, the Koch brothers, and the NRA, and that’s all they need to know.

At every event I see on television, and at the larger local events, women are there wearing pink, and often pink “pussy“ hats. Pink “pussy hats” are delightfully vulgar, and push the buttons of conservative women particularly.

Like other marginalized groups before, progressive women are doing with the word “pussy” what social scientists call re-appropriation. In re-appropriation words used by the conservative patriarchy to insult minority groups are taken back, and used against the oppressor. In politics, “Obamacare” was re-appropriated.

President Trump likely inspired the re-appropriation of the word “pussy” in this context he is merely a symbol of a great many men in the conservative patriarchy who think just like he does, and who until recently didn’t have the balls to share their world view.

Thank God.

The word “feminist,” also should be re-appropriated. Sure, while the left fully embraces the simple concept of equality for men and women, it’s been used as a pejorative for a generation or two by the conservative patriarchy — it simply doesn’t fit their narrative.

Given the ideals of equality our nation was founded on, although not often enough realized, the word feminist needs to be reappropriated and elevated. If one truly believes in the foundational principles of America — freedom and equality for all among us — then to be a patriotic American, is to be a feminist.

Likewise, if you are a racist, or a bigot, you are un-American, and most definitely not a patriot.

On February 8, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) silenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) when she tried to read a letter by Coretta Scott King during the Senator Jeff Sessions confirmation hearings for Attorney General. 

It backfired. 

“She persisted,” has become a rallying cry.

On February 11, I attended a town hall meeting in a nearby community, where over 100 people attended. The clear majority were there to protest the Iowa Republican Party’s ultimately successful effort to gut collective bargaining for public employees.

Three Republican legislators were there under considerable pressure from a vocal audience, a majority of them women.

When one woman asked for the school superintendent to come up to clarify an issue, a legislator wouldn’t allow him to speak. When the woman tried to address an issue at the end of the time allotted for the event, her mic was cut off mid-sentence.

Nevertheless, “she persisted.”

The patriarchy has long silenced women, and here in the hinterlands, and across America, progressive women and their allies are rising up to protest not only Trump, but Republican legislation being passed into law across the country.

Here the resistance is being led by women, a great many of them teachers. I’ve talked with them, and watched them shouting and holding signs at marches at the Iowa Capitol and in small town hall meetings, and I’ve seen firefighters and police officers stand arm and arm with them in protest.

When you start pissing off the vast majority of our public school teachers, and when the police and firefighters have their backs, it looks like Republicans are in trouble.

Yet, perhaps I’m being too optimistic. 

Does Trump truly represent the last gasp of the patriarchy? 

We can only hope so. 

To seek equality is not only the right thing to do, if you believe in the vision of our founding fathers, it’s the patriotic thing to do. Which, of course suggests another word that needs re-appropriation — ”patriotism.”  

And here’s one more–”American,” and what it truly means to be one. And let’s take the American flag back while we’re at it–they can have the Confederate flag so many Republicans seem to prefer.

Perhaps my favorite sign I’ve seen at the protests was one held up by a young woman at a teacher’s march in Des Moines that drew over 1,000 people: “Must I use my teacher voice?”

Please do. And wear your “pussy hat” if you wish. Let’s wave the American flag too. Persist. The midterm elections are mere moments away.

Robert Leonard is the news director for KNIA/KRLS Radio in Knoxville and Pella, Iowa. He’s the author of Yellow Cab and more. His work has appeared in the Kansas City Star, Daily Kos and The New York Times. Follow him on Twitter @robertleonard.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions John McCain Mitch McConnell patriarchy pussy hat Trump Women Women's March Women's rights
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