This is very long, but it's been building up in me for a while now.
The definition of a patriarchy: social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power.
Is Western white middle-class and upper-class a patriarchy?
Well, let's examine it. Legal dependence of wives-- in Western society, wives are legally independent. Reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line-- well, descent, yes. But that's just a name and if a father is absent or has a dumb name kids can be named for their mother. It's really more the choice of the parents, it's just that traditionalism says it's the guy's name. But moving on, inheritance in our society unless specified goes to the nearest living relative-- the oldest child or a sibling-- and doesn't have to remain in the male line.
Is the father the head of the clan or family? Well, let's think. Mothers are usually working. They are also expected to be the "mature" parent-- dads can play with their kids and be lovable goofballs, but moms have to be authoritarian. In most households today, the mom handles the day-to-day budget (because she buys food and household necessities); she raises the children and oversees their well being; she controls when the couple has sex; heck, she even gets final say in decorating. Now, I'm talking absolutes-- we don't all have this dynamic-- but it is what society, particularly the media, tells us it should be. Mothers "should" be calm, cool, collected, and capable of both working and managing the household, and they should reign supreme in their homes. For white, Western, middle-class and upper-class society, the mother is the head of the family.
According to the strict sociological definition of a patriarchy, we are not a patriarchy. We are a mixture. Aspects of our culture are patriarchal still, like names. Other aspects are egalitarian, like inheritance and dependency laws. And some have even become matriarchal, like who is the head of the household.
Of course, there are some subsets in our culture where not the case, but the fact is that unless you are a devout religious person, uneducated, of a minority that has been traditionally uneducated, an immigrant, or not living in Western culture, you do NOT live in a sociological patriarchy no matter how much you want to complain about one.
But what of the second part, the broader definition? "Control by men of a disproportionately large share of power?" It is undeniable that more men that women are in political office. But why? We have ONE presidential candidate this year who is female. People don't tend to vote solely on the sex of their candidate-- but they can't vote for a woman if a woman doesn't run. I look at the average ballot and there are three or four candidates and maybe one is female. Women aren't running for office-- they are choosing not to. Therefore, until you can prove that when equal numbers of men and women run for public office men will STILL control the political power in disproportionate numbers, I will withhold judgment about it. However, I suspect that were that the case, we would have a much more egalitarian situation.
Why aren't women in politics, then? Surely it is because the men are oppressing them somehow!
...Well, not really. Women avoid politics for a variety of reasons, but the most common ones I've heard are "I wouldn't do national politics because I'd be away from home too much," "I don't want to run for office because politics are nasty and I don't want to have every bit of my past scrutinized," "I don't want that kind of attention, if I become famous I want it to be for _________," and "I wouldn't get elected because I am _______ (a minority/an atheist/uneducated/not pretty enough for TV/too liberal for my area/too conservative for my area)."
Which are all valid reasons to not want to run for office, and the difference is that while many women take them as a sign they shouldn't run, many men just ignore them, and put up with their past being scrutinized, and put up with the attention. I don't know why that is the case-- social conditioning or hardwiring-- but it is the case.
Still, if we live in a political patriarchy you can't blame the men. Most of them would be happy to vote for you if you ran and agreed with them on the issues. Power doesn't fall into anyone's lap, you have to go out and GET it.
And economic power? Many wealthy people in this nation are men. That's because as a WHOLE (not individuals), men are more likely to go into business, or computer science and then invent something, and that's where the money is. Women are more likely to go to college (we make up a larger percentage of college attendees than men except in the computer sciences, theoretical math, and physics) and get jobs that relate to their specific major, but then once they start working, what happens?
Women have to take time off for maternity leave if they want biological children. That's obvious. Most men don't (can't, sometimes won't) take paternity leave, though, and that's a big chunk of time. Then because the women are the head of the household and society says they need to work AND raise children properly, they chose jobs for their flexible hours and benefits, not for their ambitiousness. Naturally those jobs are not as likely to get them up into the CEO rankings. As terrible as it sounds, from an economic position paying women less for the same work makes sense-- women are the ones who stay home to care for sick kids, they have maternity leave, they avoid overtime to get home, and they aren't as likely to push for advancement. This is not universal, but it is common enough that you have to consider the employer's position (note: I'm not saying having a wage gap for the same work isn't wrong).
Some feminists will counter by saying "Women should not have to meet the default standard set by men." So should men have to meet the default set by women? At times, sure. Mothers and fathers should spend equal time off work with sick kids, for example. But women have set an impossibly HIGH female standard-- not just impossible for men, but also for WOMEN. Why are so many women feeling stressed out, overworked, put upon? Because they are fulfilling the "superwoman" ideal, the high-powered executive mom who comes home, cares for the kids and maintains the household, and is always composed and cool-headed. Women will make themselves miserable living like that. Should they go back to being housewives? Of course not, it makes no sense economically to have half your healthy adult population staying in the home, and many women would be even less happy in that situation. But instead, women need to change the image of themselves-- they need to make themselves seem LESS together, LESS perfect, and meanwhile encourage their husbands or male partners to take a more active role in the household-- which doesn't mean giving him assigned chores to do, it means letting them pick wall colors and deciding together if you have the time or money to take little Susie to ballet class twice a week. And they need to teach their sons and daughters that maintaining the household and raising the children is not the province of EITHER parent. In a few generations, you'd see equality in home life-- and once you have men having the same demands at home as women do now, the workplace will be increasingly accommodating towards parents and potential parents, and men and women will see more equality there.
So my points are:
1. Westernized, educated, middle or upper class Americans (or Western Europeans, Australians, etc) are not living in a strict patriarchy.
2. In the broader sense, perhaps we are living in a patriarchy, but that can change easily in time if women approach the issue from the right direction-- which does NOT mean sitting around bemoaning "The Patriarchy!" or fire-bombing the homes of conservative men in the public sphere (however fun the latter might be).
What should women do to affect change?
1. Stop complaining. It alienates people and does little good. Instead, look for solutions.
2. Start small. The smaller the change, the more likely it will slide past the notice of most people-- and the more likely that you will later get what you REALLY want. Exceptions are for life-and-death situations, like fighting domestic violence or hate crimes.
3. Go into politics. Want to change the world? Your vote's not THAT important (but vote anyway). But if you go into politics, you can be a voice for many people. Plus, then you get more women in politics, which is what feminism wants. Even if you don't think you'll get elected, run anyway. Get your opinion out there. And encourage other women to run too, even if it's just for mayor of Podunksville.
4. Go into jobs that will make you a lot of money, and do a damn good job at them. That's how you'll get economic power. Be the next Donald Trump with a business empire or invent a processing system that makes you billions. The only thing holding women back from economic power is ambition. And when you do start making billions, start giving it all away-- want to be loved and remembered by millions? Be an Oprah or a Mother Teresa; and Oprah doesn't have to trudge through shit unless she wants to.
5. Don't try to be superwoman (unless you want to be Oprah). No one seems to get that this attitude is not helpful to feminism. Women can't set the standards for themselves higher than the standards for men, because if they fail, it makes them seem weak. So split household management with your spouse (not just chores). Don't take charge at home unless you have a higher standard of cleanliness you need maintained. Your life won't be perfect, but you will be helping a movement.
6. When it comes to household tasks, sons and daughters are equal. They'll live alone someday, they need to do everything. Teach (or have your spouse teach) them to do their own laundry properly, to vacuum and pick up after themselves, to scrub toilets and mow the lawn. Teach them to cook, too, as it's helpful for #5 when your kids can make you dinner after you get back from work. Household management can and should be gender-neutral, as I said before.
7. Never, ever assume you are oppressed. Instead, assume you are on top of the world, the one in power. Besides making you feel better, this will make other people treat you like you are in control too. It sounds like just "positive thinking" but people assume that whoever is in charge will make themselves known as such and will know what to do. It works.
8. Get into show business, and write/produce movies or TV shows where the man is capable and intelligent, but the woman is not weak. I want to see one TV couple, somewhere, where neither partner is weaker than the other. I'm sick of bumbling goofball dads whose kids don't listen to them, but I don't want to go back to the strong man of the house and the weak, delicate woman who cooks his dinners and tells the kids "Just wait 'til your father gets home!" either. Kids absorb so much of what they perceive as a "normal" family from what they see on TV (I know, scary, huh?), so if the media was more egalitarian, kids would pick up on that. But that can't be done as a gimmick, either.
That and a few generations could change the world. Religious revival is going out anyway.
Now, I want to make one thing clear-- this does not apply to many, many women out there. The vast overwhelming majority of 3rd world and developing nations are truly patriarchal. I do not deny that Saudi Arabia is a patriarchy or even, say, parts of Eastern Europe. It also doesn't apply to immigrant families and pockets of immigrant communities (immigrants themselves and a few generations removed if they don't Westernize), because many of them take the values and family dynamics from the "old country." It also only minimally applies to anyone who is uneducated, especially if they are uneducated and a minority, because I don't know enough about their lives to fairly discuss them. And I acknowledge that in some places religious communities are patriarchal and that is passed on to the mainstream in that area.
But your average "FIGHT THE PATRIARCHY!" feminist is white, educated, from a middle or upper class background, and living in the Western world. They are not truly oppressed, and by focusing on their own "oppression" instead of working to help others who genuinely need help, they are doing the world a great disservice.
Feminism 101 talks about the concept of patriarchy as perceived by feminists.
Patriarchy as defined by Wikipedia.
More on feminist views of patriarchy.
Dads on TV, courtesy of MSN.com.
Children and television-- I think it's a bit outdated, but the point-- that kids learn gender roles from TV-- stands.
The Victorian woman in the black and white photo is Victoria Woodhull, a very interesting character who was more than a little ahead of her time.