Patriarchal Communication 1.0


Chelsea is a recent transplant from Wisconsin. She completed her undergrad in Creative Writing at UW Madison in 2014 and has since developed a passion for studying psychology and Buddhism with a particular interest in trauma and dissociation. She writes nonfiction, literary nonfiction, and the occasional poem when she is feeling rebellious. She loves hiking in the rain and critically consuming media from a feminist and Jungian lens.


I spend a lot of time thinking about the gaps between what people see, what we think people see, and who we really are. I believe Patriarchy creates deep fissures in the human capacity to connect. Like a subtle symptom to an elusive disease, our communication can illuminate where these fissures occur. By becoming aware of the unconscious need behind our communication choices, we can begin to see how the things we say are just that: choices. Choices which we use to mask our innermost desires, fears, anxieties, arousals, hopes, and dreams.

We can understand Patriarchy to mean a hierarchical system of domination in which certain voices are valued above others. The white man’s voice is valued above the black man’s voice. The black man whose voice condemns other black men who are “thugs” is valued above the voice of the black man who embodies the image of “thug.” The man’s voice is valued above the woman’s. The woman whose voice condemns feminism is valued over the woman whose voice celebrates feminism. Voices that work in compliance with the system of domination are most valued. The voices which are less valued within the system of hierarchy are less heard.

Let us not understand Patriarchy to simply mean that sexism exists and that it hurts women. When we look beyond the realm of sexual dimorphism, we can begin to apply patriarchy to our daily lives and see how it affects us unconsciously.

Voices that work in compliance with the system of domination are most valued.

If we can agree that we have clearly benefited from feminism (access to work outside the home, anti-harrassment policies in the workplace, voting rights), then why would a woman choose to use her voice to distance herself from it? What is the unconscious need beneath such distancing? A need to be accepted? A need to belong? A need to survive?

We use communication as a tool for achieving connection. Sometimes the pain we have known from disconnection unconsciously influences our communication.

I grew up in the Midwest with a very patriarchal family and a very patriarchal group of friends. With no one to mirror my feminist, anti-patriarchal views, I learned to question my authentic voice. I experience a tremendous amount of anxiety surrounding my voice over the most mundane things. I overthink my words and I often choose not to speak. When I do speak, I spend an awful lot of energy trying to convince my listener that what I have to say is valid or prove that I know what I’m talking about. I once had a conversation with a man who insisted that homosexuality was a mental illness. The frustration from our lack of mutual understanding followed me for days afterward. I was so angry at myself for failing to reach him, for failing to present the perfect argument to persuade him toward a new perspective. I have since realized the unconscious need behind virtually every aspect of my communication is a need to be heard and believed.

When I started to understand how I shaped my communication surrounding this inner desire, I began to see how others shape their communication around an unconscious need also. I realized that instead of taking what people were saying literally, I could understand that we often don’t say what we really mean. In the case of the man who believes homosexuality is a mental illness, instead of finding this personally offensive, I could have asked him questions to find out what was driving his words. Where did his beliefs come from? What would he risk by changing his perspective?

I subscribe to many ideologies that one might label “radical.” When people talk about things I’m passionate about, my need to be heard and believed takes over. For instance, if I overhear someone calling a woman “emotional” or “hysterical” I want to yell out, “Don’t you know how harmful those words are? Do you know nothing of the history of women’s psychology, you ignoramus?”

If we can find compassion and empathy for ourselves, we can learn to re-frame how we express ourselves and hear others.

There was an article on Everyday Feminism about tone policing. From this article, we can see how emotionally charged subjects influence our communication and can hinder connection. Do not mistake me—as the article makes clear, critiquing someone’s tone or emotional behavior is a silencing tactic. Silencing another detracts from the message they attempt to communicate and minimizes that person’s pain or lived experience. I do not mean to suggest that we should eliminate emotion from our communication. I am proposing we become more comfortable, aware, and connected with the driving factors behind our emotion and words as a means of liberation. If we can find compassion and empathy for ourselves, we can learn to reframe how we express ourselves and hear others. This means that when we encounter people who speak violently, we can begin to extend compassion and empathy toward that person, and do the work to hear the message they mean to communicate, rather than the surface level message we initially hear.

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