Updated: May 21
Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that my ex-supervisor subscribes to the belief that those occupying senior positions in an organization should suppress their emotional expression. She insinuated that my neurodivergent traits needed to be suppressed to establish credibility as a senior project manager. This has prompted me to ponder how much of her own identity she has had to compromise to attain her current directorial position and her recent promotion to a higher level.
It is disheartening to witness women feeling the need to conform to societal expectations and suppress their authentic selves to succeed in our world. I refer to this phenomenon as patriarchal loyalty.
Patriarchy, rooted in the etymology of the word meaning "rule of the father," represents a pervasive and pernicious system of oppression that grants men authority and dominance over women in all facets of social and individual interactions. The patriarchal culture, for centuries now, has subjected women to a culture of disempowerment, control, subservience, and a belief in their own inferiority, perpetuated through male-dominated systems, societal norms and traditions. The influence of this patriarchal system has had a profound and negative impact on women, shaping the way they are treated in a multitude of contexts, including the workplace, the home, religious communities, healthcare settings, legal and justice systems, and healing and recovery communities.
The effects of patriarchy are far-reaching and cannot be overstated - it is the most widespread and damaging cultural force in human history, impeding the progress and development of at the least half of the world's population. Despite this, there are still those who dismiss the term "patriarchy" as radical or obsolete, but to do so would be to ignore the root causes of contemporary social problems and the systemic nature of oppression.
As Bell Hooks notes, naming and critiquing these systems is crucial if we are to work towards dismantling them and fostering a more equitable and just world.
The long and intricate history of patriarchal oppression against women is marked by a legacy of violence and exploitation. From ancient Rome, where men held the power of life and death over their wives, to 18th century England where a man had the legal right to punish his wife and children with a weapon no wider than his thumb, women have suffered under a system that enshrines male domination. The "rule of thumb" continued to be practiced in England and America until the late 19th century. Even today, popular media continues to portray violence against women as normal and even erotic. The recent overturning of Roe vs Wade by a predominantly white male Supreme Court serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for women's rights and sovereignty.
The fight against patriarchy has its roots in the feminist movement, beginning with the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention. First wave feminism, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focused on women’s suffrage and the attainment of equal rights and voting rights for women. Second wave feminism of the 1960s and 70s expanded this focus to include a woman’s right to education, work, and equal pay. Third wave feminism of the 1990s broadened the movement's reach to include working-class women, women of color, and the issues faced by trans women.
Fourth wave feminism is a call to action, a radical shift in the status quo that prioritizes the empowerment of women and a more intersectional approach to feminism. It demands a collective effort to acknowledge and rectify the influence of the patriarchal structure, an institutionalized pattern of male dominance that seeks to entrench a dynamic of domination and subordination. The few matriarchal cultures that exist in the world are far outweighed by patriarchal cultures, and even fewer are truly gender equitable. The patriarchal system is not an evil conspiracy of men, but rather a manifestation of unentitled male privilege that is deeply entrenched in most modern communities.
The Traditionalist Theory, with its baseless claims of male superiority and the notion that women's biology makes them inherently inferior and in need of control, has been thoroughly discredited by scholars, feminist writers, anthropologists, biologists, and sociologists. This theory asserts that patriarchal societies have always existed and that they are a natural expression of male dominance over women. However, this idea has been debunked by evidence showing that early human societies were not patriarchal, and that male supremacy is not a biological fact but rather a cultural construct that has been perpetuated for centuries by those who hold power. In the words of Guardian writer Higgins (2021),
"The notion that male supremacy was 'natural' was self-fulfilling, as those who wrote the laws, the poems, the religious books, the philosophy, the history, the medical treatises, and the scientific texts were, very largely, men writing for the benefit of men."
The pernicious influence of the Traditionalist Theory perpetuates the systemic oppression of women and reinforces patriarchal structures that keep half of humanity subjugated and disempowered.
Patriarchal loyalty is a modern manifestation of patriarchalism, a system that perpetuates male domination and perpetuates the notion of men being in authority over women in various aspects of society. This insidious form of patriarchy is not just practiced by men but can also be upheld by women who internalize patriarchal values. This concept transcends gender and is a humanistic issue that is deeply rooted in systemic intersectionality. The impact of patriarchal gender politics is far-reaching and demands to be challenged and dismantled. Patriarchy not only perpetuates male supremacy, but also reinforces a culture of oppression and reinforces inequality.
As Bell Hooks posits, it is imperative that we acknowledge and challenge the malevolent effects of patriarchal structures, and work towards a more equitable and just society for all.
The patriarchal influence in the mental health industry is notable, as evidenced by my former boss, some women reinforce the oppression of other women by adopting patriarchal norms. Moreover, the mental health establishment was primarily designed by and for men. This has resulted in biased research on neurodivergence, leading to a considerable number of undiagnosed autistic women. As the neurotype presents differently in women, societal norms often lead them to mask their traits, exacerbating the lack of recognition.
In the beginning of my job at the Oregon Health Authority's behavioral health unit, I recognized my neurodivergent traits and tried to educate my supervisor about them. I assumed that my boss, working in the same field, would have a basic understanding of neurodivergence and trauma awareness. However, my assumption was incorrect, leading to a difficult and painful experience for both of us. I felt unsupported and misunderstood by my supervisor, while my direct feedback and honest criticisms of my experiences were taken personally by her. She seemed unable to let go of her ego and the facade of perfection that she wears like a crown.
While some may consider my words harsh, I believe they are truthful and accurate. What was truly harsh was the absence of assistance and support when I needed it. It was difficult to endure her presumptions about my capabilities and her authoritative approach in dictating the way I should handle even the simplest task, like composing an email. It was also harsh when my supervisor used my vulnerability against me and prioritized her own personal success over the welfare of a member of her team, causing me to feel gaslit. If my former boss hadn't been moved to an interim position in another unit due to high turnover at the agency, I wouldn't have been able to continue working in my role.
The last interaction we had left me in turmoil, and I had to seek help from the behavioral health crisis line (988) to preserve my mental and emotional well-being. It was either synchronicity or pure luck that she was relocated.
Shortly after my call with 988, I received a brief and vague email from my boss informing me that someone had filed a complaint about one of my personal social media posts. However, I had already developed a plan to address the hostile work environment with HR, thanks to the guidance of the 988 counselor, and had taken action before my boss could interfere. It became apparent that the issue with my social media presence stemmed from my employer's lack of understanding of trauma-informed practices and their own stigmatizing behaviors, which were never addressed. I had used my personal social media platform as a means of expressing my workplace concerns, as it served as a source of community support for me. The individual, whose identity remained undisclosed, expressed displeasure at my decision to publicly share the difficult experiences I had encountered while working with them.
The experiences I went through over those couple of weeks were something that I would not wish on anyone. The challenges that I faced were beyond what I had expected and the impact on me was highly significant. The treatment I received was stigmatizing and discriminatory, leaving me feeling vulnerable and isolated. The lack of support and understanding from my former boss only made things worse, and it was clear that the patriarchal influences in the health care industry are deeply entrenched. It was as if my boss had abandoned any notion of empathy or sensitivity towards my situation, instead prioritizing her own interests and ego above those of the team. This not only added to my distress but also created an unsupportive and unproductive work environment. As a result, it was a difficult period for me both mentally and emotionally.
We need to tackle these issues head-on and strive towards establishing a workplace culture that is truly inclusive and supportive of individuals with diverse needs. This is precisely why I am still working in my role and pursuing the process of diagnosis and formal accommodations. I believe that by sharing my experiences and advocating for a more inclusive workplace, I can help create a safe and welcoming environment for others like me.
It is crucial to mitigate the harm caused by non-inclusive workplaces, and I am committed to doing my part to make a positive change.