Patriarchy and Family Vacations: Small, Insidious Patterns

About a month and a half ago, I was snorkeling in Tahiti. The water was so blue and clear--it was some Planet Earth shit, with the British narrator and all. Known for its hasty drop off into the deep sea, this particular coast of the island provides access to another world that we are typically unaware of while on land. It is rare that you find such an aquatic escape so close to the shore. After the guide’s brief eco-awareness speech, my siblings and I dove in. We were immediately immersed in the busy and vibrant marine life dwelling just below our feet. It was a pleasant respite from the beef that patriarchal behaviors in my family had been stirring on land. 

Since 2011, I travel every August for a week or two with my immediate family, cousins, aunt, and uncle. When this tradition began, I would eagerly await our next summer adventure every year. My expectations were consistently exceeded by magnificent cathedrals, captivating museums, and excessive amounts of sun on the beach.

However, my joy for these idyllic getaways is fading. I am immensely grateful for such special travel opportunities, but, as my awareness of sexist patterns in my family has risen, I struggle to passively enjoy myself.

It began two years ago when my Tio told my parents, “The girls have not developed the way ________ has. He’ll be fine, but I’m worried about them.” When pressed, he said my sisters were not outgoing and needed more social maturation. But Tio does not hold men to this same standard. He, and society-at-large, consider quiet men to be insightful, secret geniuses, or mysterious in a cool way. Somehow my sisters are “fairly awkward and sort of underdeveloped”.

He was critical of how my sisters are “shy”. Yet I know this to be untrue. Each of my sisters are strong, gregarious, bold people. One is audacious and has an opinion about everything. The other loves to throw parties and is super social. So what compelled my uncle to say this?

Men, including myself of course, constantly criticize women in super problematic ways. Power inequities prescribe this behavior, suggesting that people need to hear men’s commentary on something like youth development. My Uncle could not tell you a single basic principle of psychology! Contrary to his beliefs, he is not a feminist just because he does not hit my aunt. He talks about the size of Amber Rose’s breasts at dinners, demonstrating their size with his hands. Patriarchy in families is especially insidious--it is one of the hardest levels of society to demand change because it is where patterns of behavior are arguably most ingrained. Misogyny OR, conversely, feminism starts at home. 

In this most recent vacation, Dad was the primary culprit. He would repeatedly refer to my older sister and my mom as “divas” when they expressed their opinions about anything. _______ and Mom each have specific dietary preferences and were simply expressing that, as anyone would. This was also in context of Dad asking both of them to plan the entire vacation because he was too busy “providing for the family”. When he decided to unilaterally overwrite their carefully thought-out schedule, they were the stubborn divas for showing frustration, but he was “resolute” and “accommodating”. He refuses to not be the one with the most power. He has to control and dominate, disregarding the labor and invalidating the arguments of others to center his own preferences; if he is not able to do so others are in the wrong. His use of “diva”was so patronizing and came from his assumed-correctness, which really irritated my mom and sister. When women speak up or try to take too much control in my family they get silenced, but when they stay silent they are too shy and awkward. This policing of one’s entire way of being is the kind of subjugation where patriarchy thrives . 

We, cishet men, tacitly permit and carry out misogyny in many subtle tiny ways. Men need to be cognizant of what they do and say and call out other men in their families for problematic behavior. Working to acknowledge and combat patriarchy is a must. The world desperately needs gender equity in the workplace, in media, and definitely in politics, but that all begins with feminism in families. Change must come from the most fundamental level: at home.