My first year at UVA equipped me with more social awareness than I dreamed of possessing in high school. Sometime between searching for a prom date and hoping my parents would leave town so I could throw a house party, I must have let discussing contentious issues with my friends fall to the wayside. UVA students’ adeptness at discussing hotbed gender issues made me want to become more socially responsible. A self-proclaimed activist, I came home that summer proudly sporting a new feminist hat.
My interest in gender-related issues persisted, and I became more involved with my campus’ community of sexual assault advocacy groups during my sophomore year. I caught a spot on the forefront of the national discussion regarding university rape culture, and the experience has led me to wonderful places. As a member of the advocacy club One Less, I get to sit beside powerful peers in meetings where school policy is discussed. I’ve been able to competently answer friends’ questions about how to sensitively discuss the topic. The community I’ve found shares many of my values and has helped me find a voice I can use to talk about what matters.
But I haven’t been on board with everything I’ve seen. Lately I’ve cringed each time I hear the overzealous phrase, “f–ck the patriarchy.” I can’t help but recoil from the diluted, pop-culture strain of feminism this terminology lends itself to. Equal parts reckless misandry, groupthink and blind subscription, this superficial form of feminism seems to be another trendy way for individuals to self-identify. Regardless of the intention, I think it’s time we think critically about the implications of saying, “f—ck the patriarchy.”
I fear the words have shed their significance after serving as the primary feminist battle cry. Readily delivered with zeal, the phrase seems to be the default response to sexist sentiments. Yet the statement doesn’t invite people to consider the nature of gender-related issues. It merely references “the patriarchy” as through it were some elusive body wreaking oppression upon us from somewhere far away. “Patriarchy” isn’t some distant, ambiguous force—it’s constantly perpetuated by people around us. Stripping the issue of its nuance like that renders it that much harder to combat.
To be sure, patriarchal structures exist. We still live in a society that favors heterosexual, white cisgender males on a number of institutional and interactional levels—believe me, I’m as angry about it as the next rational person. No one’s arguing gender-based oppression isn’t an issue. However, watering it down and labeling it “patriarchy” is an ineffective means of addressing a major problem.
People dilute feminism when they spit out overused phrases. It’s as though feigning a desire for equality has become the newest trend—a simple Google search can show you a host of girl-power paraphernalia marketed specifically to a “feminist” community. Emblazoning “f—ck the patriarchy” on t-shirts, buttons and coffee mugs turns a complex movement into a commodity to be purchased and worn as an accessory. I worry that in our haste to identify as feminists, and to make sure everyone around us knows, we miss the point of advocacy.
Unfortunately, nay-sayers are looking for reasons not to take feminists seriously. Whether we like it or not, “f—ck the patriarchy” has taken on a connotation related to a feminist radicalism people openly reject. This is not to say we should reform our views for fear of judgment or opposition, but losing sight of the actual issues and alienating skeptics isn’t helping anyone.
Let’s get one thing straight—women have a right to be angry about being marginalized. I’ll be the last person to write anyone off as merely a “hysterical woman”—that phrase is way more problematic than anything I’m calling into question here.
Before we’re vocal about these kinds of issues, we should make sure we understand what we’re saying. I don’t pretend to be an expert on feminist theory, but I am inclined to believe the conversation regarding sexual inequality is a nuanced one. A button on my classmate’s backpack probably won’t spark that kind of discussion.