The word “patriarchal”conjures up the picture of a white haired, kindly old man with a lined face, a father figure who is wise, spiritual and compassionate, a “venerable old man”. The term patriarchal has two sides. The positive side:” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had someone that could handle all of our problems? And I’d love someone who was all knowing to go to with questions”. I’m sure there are other positives but I’m not sure I’d even want to have someone like this in my life. How would I find out for myself what was the truth and what wasn’t if I had someone else tell me what to do?
Now for the dark side. Most Catholic and Mormon families are set up in the patriarchal style. So is the Catholic Church. After all how can you control the masses if they aren’t trained to be obedient? When you tell them not to
practice birth control it means lots of little Catholic babies, which means Catholicism is listed as the most populous of all religions. It’s sort of like mass hypnosis. What a perfect set up, having trained monkeys. No you can’t eat meat on Friday. If you do you’ll go straight to hell (unless you make it to confession before you die). Okay, now you can eat meat on Fridays. We changed our minds. What happened to all the people who ate meat on Friday, died on Saturday before going to confession and are now lingering in the eternal flames? Will the pope let them come out of hell now? Good thing the system is patriarchal. Otherwise the church would never have had the total, blind obedience it requires to survive. Families in the Catholic Church produce patriarchal fathers and set up a duplication of their own religious organization.
Patriarchal family systems are deadly. The father is not just the head of the family; he makes all the decisions and he expects immediate obedience. You do not have an opinion of your own, you never say no and everything he says and does is right. His wife is generally passive and obedient. He chooses her for those qualities. A strong minded, tolerant woman would never attract him. Children who come out of this family are raised from the time they are born to be obedient in everything they say and do. At least this is the way our family was. My Dad and Mom had five little robots, five little potential Nazis. I remember once that my oldest brother made the statement that he liked Chevrolet cars. My dad was a Ford man and Brian was severely chastised for his comment. He never made it again.
A large number of childhood sexual abuse victims come from patriarchal families. It’s such a good fit. A perpetrator needs an obedient child, a child who doesn’t know how to say no. Sexual abuse may start at a young age when the child has no idea what is happening and nowhere to go for help. The pattern is established. Almost every other encounter the child has with someone who wants to use their body for other than healthy reasons will have the same results: guilt, shame and fear. It might be a member of their own sex with early homosexual leanings who convinces the shaky, confused child that “this will feel good; there’s nothing wrong with it”. The truth is that it usually does feel good. Guilt is insured. But our private parts are designed to react to stimuli. That’s perfectly natural. What isn’t natural is someone else coercing you into doing something you don’t want to do.
Inside the mind of a child who had a forced same sex experience will forever be the doubt as to their own sexual preference. Are they gay? Are they straight? Does one same-sex sexual encounter as a child make them gay? These painful questions become buried deep in the mind of that child. They only know two things. Someone violated their body and they must never tell anyone what happened. They now feel that they are “bad”. When you have a true experience that happened to you and you deny its existence, it will fester like a wound, one that never heals. And what’s worse is you will continue down that same road. Early childhood sexual abuse leads to forced sexual activity at a young age, sometimes with one of your own sex. That leads to date rapes and soon you are having sex with anyone that tries to force it on you. You blame yourself. You carry so much shame that you feel you are covered with it. Sometimes the only answer is to never have a sexual relationship again.
Most childhood sexual victims go on to infidelity in a marriage which leads to a need to pretend it isn’t happening and so something must be used to distract the reality that keeps trying to force itself to the surface. It might be alcohol, it might be drugs, it might be obsessing on food leading to obesity or bulimia, it might be sexual addiction or it might be suicidal thoughts that one day becomes a reality.
And all of this started with a patriarchal family system where you were never allowed to say no. In my book, REPAIR Your Life: A Program for Recovery from Incest & Childhood Sexual Abuse I talk about the Patriarchal (or Matriarchal) family.
Most dysfunctional families have both a strong link and a weak one. In a home where sexual abuse occurs, the strong link is usually the father if the home is patriarchal by nature, the mother if it's matriarchal. The supremacy of the father or mother goes a long ways towards promoting obedience, the primary quality needed to be a victim of child sexual abuse. The common denominator here is someone in a position of power who has the character defect of abusing that power.
The weak link is the victim, the child who has been trained almost from birth to do what he is told without question. An obedient child is a sitting duck for a perpetrator.
In a healthy environment, a child learns discipline, not obedience. He is encouraged to say no, to speak his mind, to have his own ideas, concepts, goals, and personality. Thereby he is able to grow, not only physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, but in maturity as well. Even in a patriarchal family, the head of the household has responsibilities, not power. In a healthy environment he provides guidance, knowledge, wisdom, caring, and discipline.
In an unhealthy environment that weak link is exposed to situations where anything other than total obedience is punishable. The child is no match for the power of the patriarch. As the patriarch continues to be obeyed, his power grows, for that which we feed becomes a monster. Fed by this enormous ego, the perpetrator pushes through any boundaries a child/victim could even begin to set as well as any accepted rules of the society in which he lives.
Were you raised in a patriarchal family? How has it impacted you?