Big lesson of 2018 for women: Patriarchy is the problem, not men

No matter how much we march, women and minorities cannot shoulder the burden of change alone

Published December 20, 2018 2:00PM (EST)

 (Getty/Adam Berry)
(Getty/Adam Berry)

Does all this female empowerment we’re striving for lead to actual power? The kind of power that puts women in charge of our bodies, our workplaces, our laws and our futures? This season on the Inflection Point podcast, I invited people working in politics, business, tech and media who have a lot to say about empowerment to weigh in on these questions. Spoiler alert: the answers they gave led to more questions. But really, really important questions.

The truth is, it’s almost impossible for ambitious, hard-working women to break through glass ceilings, because the system is designed to keep those glass ceilings just out of reach.

Yes, we are speaking louder and in larger groups. Yes, the Women’s March was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Yes, the fashion industry has probably sold us millions of dollars in girl power t-shirts.

And yet . . .  less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only ten percent of Fortune 500 board seats are held by women, even though evidence shows companies with more diverse boards outperform those with majority white male boards. And although the 2018 midterms ushered in record wins for female candidates, Congress maintains a still-low ratio of 23 percent women.

After being witness to The Women’s March, #MeToo, the Kavanaugh hearings, and a historic midterm election in which more American women were elected to office than ever before, I feel like our society is having a Matrix moment: we’re finally seeing the patriarchy for what it is and how it’s subjugated half the population.

The patriarchy treats social power and wealth like a pie, with only so many slices to give out. The more people seated at the table means the less power for everyone.

But what if we started treating social power like a flywheel, where the more people contribute to the system, the more power we generate together?

An equal society isn’t going to happen when women can finally grab a larger slice of the patriarchal pie. It’s when men see that they can actually benefit from shifting some of the burdens of power onto the shoulders of women. We don’t even need shoulder pads!

In the era of the patriarchy, the response to change has always been to suppress or dominate. It demanded that we see the world as a binary full of adversaries: old versus new, black versus white, citizen versus foreigner, man versus woman. Only one could win.

But in this new era, women are positioned to lead us toward a newer, more receptive response to change.

We’re here to empower each other: to listen and respond with empathy, to collaborate rather than dominate, and to respect boundaries while nurturing growth.

If we’ve learned anything from these years of reckoning and resistance, it’s that no matter how much we march, women and minorities cannot shoulder the burden of change alone.

Listen to the latest episode of Inflection Point to hear how we can face the reality of rising up, together.

Find more stories of how women rise up on the Inflection Point podcast with Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPROne. And come on over to The Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small, daily actions.

If these stories matter to you, please support the Inflection Point podcast to keep the conversations going.

By Lauren Schiller

Lauren Schiller is the creator and host of Inflection Point, a podcast and public radio show from KALW and PRX featuring stories of how women rise up. For more rising up stories, follow Lauren on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast on Android or Apple.

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