Destroying Patriarchy with its Gift

Why am I so triggered by the Kavanaugh news? Why can’t I pull myself away from it all?

“Did someone ever sexually assault you?” my husband worries over tea this morning after I wake up at 4:16 am, feeling helpless and unable to sleep.

“No,” I say. “But I know these kinds of guys. I went to school with them. I partied with them. I slept with them.” Consensually. Although consensually could certainly be explored — was I ever taught that it was okay to firmly say no? Was I really raised with a message that my voice as a girl, as a woman, matters? Do I believe that today?

Still, my reflexive answer to his concerned question is, “No.” I am one of the lucky. I was not sexually assaulted, even though in my younger years I would have been an easy target, even though I can name dozens of friends who were sexually assaulted and could share their stories of betrayal, abuse, and shame.

No. What’s really getting to me is the underlying cause of sexual assault: the patriarchy, and its brazen expressions. Kavanaugh’s angry outbursts, so obviously and smarmily lying about drinking games and terms of endearment for a specific woman and whether he watched Dr. Ford’s testimony. Graham yelling, coddling Kavanaugh as the victim almost as much as Dr. Ford. Trump the Pussy-Grabber tweeting their praises. Posturing. Rubbing elbows. The way all these tantruming, privileged white men posture and band together like a threatened pack of wolves.

Suffering from patriarchy is every woman’s story. For me, it’s a story that began when I was in utero – a story that still pumps through my veins, aches in my bones, wakes me up in the wee hours of the morning and keeps my shaking fingers incessantly hovering over my Twitter feed.

Patriarchy was my birth father and his father — who pressured my pregnant birth mother, 17 years old at the time, into relinquishing me so that my birth father’s life wouldn’t be ruined.

Patriarchy reared its ugly head once I was born when my birth mother had a change of heart, when she decided to keep me. As soon as my birth grandmother — (a force to be reckoned with, still to this day) — excitedly left the hospital to procure diapers and onesies, patriarchy stormed in – in the form of the “go-to” doctor for unwed pregnant mothers — a privileged white guy whose loyalty was to my privileged adoptive uncle, a colleague — shaming my birth mother. “You don’t deserve to keep this baby,” patriarchy told her. “That baby isn’t going anywhere until you come to your senses.”

Patriarchy determined my fate, my family. My birth mother, alone and vulnerable, had no conceivable choice but to succumb to patriarchy. She signed the adoption papers, and then, like women often do in the shadow of unfettered patriarchy, went silent — telling her story only once, to her husband, and not again for 39 years, until I found her.

Patriarchy was my privileged birth father, feeling left out that I had no interest in him — seeking me out, from sheer nosiness, and because small-town gossip got around that I’d found my birth mother and he wanted an invite to the party. Patriarchy was his religious hypocrisy, full of pride over his Foursquare Church and the pastoral care he gives there … then wrapping up our first and only phone call by “breaking up” with me. I must remain a secret from patriarchy’s other daughters. Patriarchy is too privileged to confess a mistake, too determined to maintain a perfect image by admitting to having a “bastard child.” But patriarchy is sure proud of me, he said, as my parting gift.

Thankfully, as it turns out, I would have been all right in either family, my destiny controlled by patriarchy or not. God looks out for us this way. Women are strong this way.

But in the history of my adoptive family, patriarchy had a home there, too.

My mom was a survivor of sexual assault. She was sent to a neighbor’s house as a child for an overnight — a couple who lived down the street. In the middle of the night, the man who lived there snuck onto the couch where my mom was sleeping to grope her under her nightgown and threaten her. She reported the sexual assault. In the 1950s, like in the 1980s and 2018, her story wasn’t believed. Her story didn’t matter. In fact, my mother was scolded for “telling mean lies.” As far as I know, she never brought it up again, confiding this story to me only a few months before she died.

How did my mom grow up in that neighborhood, seeing this privileged white man every day, feeling unsafe? How did she carry on in a family, in a country that refused to hear her voice?

How did my birth mother not crumble after her first child was ripped away from her? How did she carry on to raise a family that patriarchy couldn’t steal away from her this time?

How did I grow up in spite of patriarchy manipulating my life, determining my family? How have I made it through, having absorbed the emotional baggage patriarchy passed on to me through generational wounds and societal baggage?

The same way every woman in this world carries on in the face of the patriarchy:RESILIENCE.

Patriarchy has given each and every woman wounds. Scars — both physical and emotional. Threats — physical and psychological, felt and unfelt. Patriarchy has given us panic attacks. Phobias. Anxiety disorders. Control issues. Patriarchy has given us its laughter, shaming, ganging. Patriarchy knew it was giving all these things to us. Patriarchy just didn’t give a rip.

Unaware, though, patriarchy was also giving us resilience. This is our gift from the suffering we have endured. After all, resilience is only born out of suffering.

Patriarchy doesn’t suffer. Patriarchy forces its way through resistance — sexual or political — until it gets its way. Patriarchy might get its way in the short-term, but patriarchy doesn’t get the long-term gift of resilience.

Resilience was witnessed in Dr. Ford’s courage last week — doing something that terrified her in the face of her fear. Flying on an airplane. Testifying in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

A glaring lack of resilience was on display through Kavanaugh’s emotional outbursts. He’s not used to suffering. He has no muscle to handle it. His only tools were to shout, cry, complain, point fingers, grasp at conspiracy theories, lie, posture, mansplain about high school.

We have been given the gift of resilience, sisters. It’s our tool, as much as we despise its source. Tap into that gift – our ability to bounce back in spite of hardship – knowing we are strong and courageous and we are going to win this battle once and for all — for our mothers, for our sisters, for our daughters, for our selves. The patriarchy must and will come down. It’s on its way down. That’s why patriarchy is making such a fuss.

Stay resilient, bounce back, patriarchy doesn’t stand a chance.

Photo Credit: Ninian Reid Flickr via Compfight cc

Sara Easterly lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has published various articles and essays on motherhood, as well as a children’s book, and is currently working on a mother-daughter memoir. Previously Sara led one of the largest chapters of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and she was recognized as 2009 SCBWI Member of the Year. Visit her at www.saraeasterly.com

2 thoughts on “Destroying Patriarchy with its Gift

  1. Melissa Benaroya Reply

    Sarah – This is beautifully written. Thank you for your candor and being so vulnerable to share those intimate details of your life story.

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