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110: How to Dismantle Patriarchy Through Parenting
13th April 2020 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:58:59

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We began this mini-series a few weeks ago as listener Brian Stout and I co-interviewed Dr. Carol Gilligan as an introduction to the topic of patriarchy, how it is present in every aspect of raising our children, and the negative impacts it has on our children's lives - both on boys and girls.

The interview with Dr. Gilligan laid the groundwork for us, and in this episode Brian and I are back for a conversation about what we learned and what implications this has for the way we will raise our children. We discuss:

- Why Brian, a cisgendered, heterosexual white male - an apparent beneficiary of patriarchal systems - is so interested in dismantling it

- Some of the specific ways we parents perpetuate patriarchy through our parenting, even if we don't realize we're doing it!

- Why 'masculine' qualities like logic are prized over 'feminine' qualities like understanding the physical experience of the body and recognizing emotions (and why it's ridiculous that these qualities are gendered in the first place)

- How patriarchy hurts men (mentally, emotionally, and physically) as well as women

- Brian's top four conclusions and actions to take to begin the work of dismantling patriarchy in our own families (and, by extension, in society more broadly)


[accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"]

Jen:                                       01:25                    Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today's episode is a followup that my guest today, Brian Stout and I did recently with Dr. Carol Gilligan on the topic of patriarchy and if you aren't very familiar with what this is and the role that it plays in our lives as parents then I definitely recommend that you go back and listen to that one before you listen to this episode. And I'm glad today that we have a bit more time in this interview for me to properly introduce my guest whose name is Brian Stout. And as with so many of the topics that we've covered related to privilege and social systems, patriarchy is kind of one of those things I might never have considered as relevant to parenting and child development if someone hadn't helped me to draw that connection. And the connection was drawn in a really roundabout way.

Jen:                                       02:09                    Brian actually first reached out to me because he had read a series of blog posts that I'd written on how to do a 10-day hike around Mont Blanc with my then 8-week-old daughter. And he wanted more information because he was planning to do a similar trip with his wife and daughter. And we've kept in touch on and off over the years. But it wasn't until recently that I learned a lot more about his work at the intersection of progressive philanthropy and social justice movements. And so Brian holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Amherst College and a Master's in International Relations from Johns Hopkins and he has a background in foreign policy, conflict prevention and international development. He's been exploring his role in dismantling patriarchal systems for some time now. And when I read the second in a series of long blog posts that he'd written on this topic, I wrote to him and I said, dude, I think you're one of the smartest people I know and I want to do at least one podcast episode on this topic.

Jen:                                       02:57                    And so he recommended some books for me to read and we spent quite a bit of time thinking about who would be our ideal guest for this. And we quickly landed on Dr. Gilligan for the introduction to the topic. But unfortunately we weren't able to find a single researcher or thinker who is specifically working at the intersection of patriarchy and parenting, which of course is our main concern. And so we're going to have a chat about the researchers whose work we have been able to draw together ourselves. So welcome back Brian. Thanks for being with us.

Brian:                                   03:26                    Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Jen:                                       03:28                    So, let's start with something that I felt when we first talked about patriarchy a few months ago, we were talking about the podcast and I asked you what you were working on and you were mentioning that you'd been doing a lot of thinking on and work to dismantle patriarchy. And I have to say that my first reaction was one of surprise because not to put too fine a point on it, but you're a white, cisgender, heterosexual male and aren't you essentially the beneficiary of patriarchy. So why would you be interested in dismantling it?

Brian:                                   04:01                    Yeah, thank you. It's a super important question and what I continue to struggle with. I think to some extent I've been in this journey my whole life, but to be honest, I've only been focused specifically on patriarchy for about 2 years. So for the first 35 years of my existence on this planet, I had no meaningful understanding of what patriarchy was or how it operated. And this was despite the fact that I grew up with what I consider a strong feminist mother identified as a feminist since I was a teenager. I took gender studies courses in college. But for me the turning point came when I first read bell hooks. She wrote a book back in 2004 called The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. And there's a line in there that stopped me when I first read it because she says, “Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease, assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation”.

Brian:                                   04:53                    And I confess, when I first read it I thought maybe it was a typo. I’m sure she meant female, right? But she didn't. She meant male. And as I read on, I found myself nodding along and recognizing in her words aspects of my own lived experience that I had ignored or silenced or otherwise not had language for. And honestly for one of the first times in my life I felt seen and I credit bell hooks both with giving me the words with which to understand my own experience, but even more importantly the courage to name that was happening. I think most of what she said in the book was not new to me, but it was more that she gave me permission to trust and believe what I had always felt. And I think, you know, we can talk more about the interview with Carol Gilligan later, but I think one of the things that I found so powerful in Carol's writing and research and work is exactly that, that sense of an alienated voice coming back.

Brian:                                   05:42                    And it's exactly the point you raised. I mean, how could I as a straight white man with class privilege possibly have anything to complain about? And so my own dissatisfaction, my own pain, my own discomfort within the system felt somehow illegitimate. So maybe I can just offer one anecdote to connect this back to my life and specifically with my own quest for belonging in this world and that is that as a child or an adolescent and into adulthood, I was always a sensitive kid, probably somewhere in the empath scale. And I'm the middle child, so I've always been very other-oriented, a people pleaser and I sought out deep relationships. I wanted emotional intimacy even though as a kid I didn't have language for that and I couldn't find it in homosocial spaces. So with groups of boys or men, you know, sports teams, for example, homophobia and the fear of intimacy made that kind of authentic connection that I was looking for impossible.

Brian:                                   06:33                    And while I could get there one on one with some of my male friends, usually they couldn't reciprocate. They didn't necessarily have the emotional tools or intelligence to respond in kind. So I found myself gravitating as a kid and as an adolescent and adult towards friendships with girls and women. They seem to better able to kind of hold these types of conversations. And as an adult, I've sought out feminist spaces. But of course the irony is that I don't belong there either. Right? And even to this day, I still struggle to find places where I feel like I can bring my whole authentic self. And even sort of naming that and giving myself permission to hold that as a loss is part of my own journey in this work.

Jen:                                       07:11                    Yeah. And even the idea that you as a man have some conception of what your whole authentic self is. I mean, aren’t you supposed to be just the solid Oak who doesn't really have any feelings and can't express any emotion other than anger?

Brian:                                   07:23                    So I've been told.

Jen:                                       07:26                    Yeah. And just to go back to something you mentioned right at the beginning about what bell hooks was saying about that, you know, this is something that's hurting men. And it made me think of another book that you told me to read, which was Liz Plank's book. And it's new this year, it’s called For the Love of Men. And she really pulls together a lot of strands of research on specifically how patriarchy is hurting men. Can we talk through some of those?

Brian:                                   07:48                    Yeah, I think again, it's one of those things that we sort of know intuitively but don't name and don't think about. So this series I recommend to folks is there's a podcast series called MEN by Scene on Radio. The same folks who did Seeing White and it's fantastic and they walk through over the course of nine or 10 episodes, different ways in which they sort of archetypes of masculinity hold us back and harm us. So the obvious one that often gets talked about is suicide, right? Men commit suicide rates way higher than women. Another one is just violence, right? We often think of male violence as targeting women and it does, and that's horrible, but 75% of homicide victims are male, right? Most violence among men is targeting other men and targeting ourselves. So that's another component. The other one that often gets talked about in most people in heterosexual partnerships can relate to is around mental health and emotional well-being.

Brian:                                   08:43                    Most men don't have language for their own feelings, didn't get the skillset to articulate them. And there's still a very strong stigma in society against seeking mental health support, seeking help in general. I mean, even to this day, I've been in therapy now with my wife for two years and it's so helpful. And even with all that, I still find it very difficult to ask for help. You know, just even with something simple. I broke my foot two years ago and had a hard time asking my wife to hold the door for me. So even something like that simple is really baked in and it sort of has knock-on impacts throughout the way we move through the world around our ability to really participate.

Jen:                                       09:19                    Yeah and the stress associated with dealing with mental health issues in those ways I mean, it makes men turn to things like alcohol and other not socially acceptable, but I guess it is socially acceptable for men to deal with their emotions in that way rather than seeking out help.

Brian:                                   09:39                    Yeah, absolutely. No, I think there's been a growing literature in the last few years on this subject. Anne Case, and Angus Deaton talked about the Deaths of Despair that initially focused on sort of middle aged white men and Appalachia, but it's a much broader phenomenon now and increasingly includes women too. So it's a bigger concern for American society. But what they found was that basically men's life expectancy is going down primarily as a function of what they call Deaths of Despair, which is men