Because of the abuses of toxic male-dominated systems, we hear calls to, “Burn the patriarchy to the ground!” Many of us sympathize with this cry. We’ve held the weeping victims in our arms; we ourselves have wept. Speaking for myself as a survivor, toxic patriarchy (which I wrote about here) stood behind much of the abuse and subsequent invalidation I experienced when a ministry’s ol’ boy’s club refused to hold their ol’ boy accountable. I hate toxic patriarchy with a hot hatred.
What’s toxic patriarchy, you ask? Broadly, it is male-dominated culture or religion in which men use power to exploit and oppress women. In a sense, because men have greater power than women generally, the world is a toxic patriarchy. Here’s a supporting statistic: One in three women globally will at some point in her lifetime be beaten, raped, or coerced into sex.
The horrifying condition of womankind can be traced to sin. Sin replaced partnership with
power differential. It was after sin that God said that the man would “rule over” the woman
(Genesis 3:16). Among other layers of meaning, this verse alludes to men’s power advantage over women physically, socially, politically, and financially.
Like a person standing on level ground over a hole, men can use their advantages to protect and elevate women, or not. Unfortunately, most men keep women in the hole rather than lift them out of it. So it is MEN who bear the responsibility for women’s hole-dwelling existence. If that were the end of the story, we could simply burn down the patriarchy and walk away satisfied. But it’s not the end of the story.
Here’s a concept to wrestle with: There is good patriarchy and bad patriarchy. Many of us have enjoyed the book Patriarchs and Prophets. The author, Ellen White, did not apologize for using the word “patriarchs,” nor should she have. Male power advantage is a fact. It’s what men do with that power that ultimately determines whether the fact becomes a tragic fact . . . or not. Bad patriarchy uses power advantage to keep women in the hole. Good patriarchy lifts them out of the hole. Two vastly different outcomes come from two different types of patriarchs.
As pertains to women’s suffering, men do most of the damage. In other words, it is largely men who hurt women. But it is also men who protect them. Men are the problem. They are also, in a sense, the solution. According to a Washington Post piece reporting on a large study, children with fathers in the home are less likely to be abused and married women are less likely to be raped.
So this is a call, not to burn the patriarchy, but to turn it—turn it toward God’s original purpose of using power to lift up rather than push down. This is the way of Jesus.