The Inner Patriarch is the part of us all that holds the rules and values of the long-standing patriarchal system in which we all live. Dr Sidra Stone says in her book The Shadow King that the Inner Patriarch is passed on to children through their mother, and that even if you identify with being a feminist you will still have an Inner Patriarch affecting you from the shadows. Learn how this powerful self works and you’ll be able to more effectively help create a world where both women and men have more freedom and equality in how we express ourselves and live our lives.
E ven though many cultures have changed over the last few decades due to feminism, and many people – both women and men, particularly in the West, have greater flexibility in their life choices, many of us are not able to enjoy those choices fully because we live with feelings of guilt, confusion and self-criticism and also judgment about other people’s choices and their judgments about ours.
There’s also the fact that outward equality does not really exist anyway (still no equal pay for equal work, limited and expensive childcare, lack of female decision-makers in government and on boards etc), but the focus of this article is the inner process that causes the dissatisfaction to occur and that allows the patriarchal rules to continue to be passed down through the generations.
The Inner Patriarch is a self, one of many selves which are the fundamental units that makes up the psyche – in the same way that the Pleaser, the Critic, the Responsible Parent, the Rational Mind and the Vulnerable Child are selves.
Some selves are included in your personality, which means you use them in your life and they become a part of your identity, while other selves are disowned or unconscious. In many women – even in ardent feminists – one of the unconscious selves is the Inner Patriarch. He (yes, it’s a ‘he’ even if you are female) is interesting because he is not really disowned in the same way that, for example, your spontaneous self might be disowned if you are identified with having control over your life in every way. Sidra Stone describes the Inner Patriarch as living in the shadows because even if he is not a part of your primary self system he is still lurking nearby, influencing you in all areas of your life.
One of the ways the Inner Patriarch affects women is to pass judgment about everything we do – from his patriarchal perspective. So the negativity you feel about your choices as a woman comes from your internal Inner Patriarch.
For example, if you are a successful and powerful business woman, who does not live a traditionally feminine role, you might sometimes feel judgmental of women whose only work is mothering, or at least you might not respect them as much as women who are in the workforce. You might also criticize yourself if you find that you are sometimes attracted to more feminine pursuits or modes of expression. If this describes you then this would indicate that you have identified with the values of your Inner Patriarch, which are basically traditional male values. Each time a more feminine part of your personality emerges, your Inner Patriarch disapproves and so you stop that part from having expression. Or you express it but also dismiss it as not being as important as your ‘serious’ work.
Another example is if you juggle work and family. This should be a perfect situation as it allows women to express many parts of themselves, from the nurturing motherly aspects through to the the business and creative aspects. But the Inner Patriarch disapproves and his disapproval is what you feel if you feel guilty when you leave your children in someone else’s care while you do other work. Inside us he is saying ‘if you were a proper woman you would stay home and care of your children full time’. The contradiction is that if you did do that, he wouldn’t respect you because his underlying belief is that mothering is not as valuable as other work. So the Inner Patriarch respects you if you are in the workforce as you are doing ‘masculine’ work, but at the same time he believes that because you are a woman you shouldn’t really be there. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.
Another way the Inner Patriarch is apparent in women is if you are a full-time mother and you judge women who work full-time, or even part-time, outside the home. The Inner Patriarch in this case is the voice you hear praising you for being a ‘real’ woman and staying home, while judging or being concerned about those women who do not. The problem with this situation is that although the Inner Patriarch is happy that you are at home with the children, he does not place much value on what you do, just as in the previous example. He believes parenting is natural for women and so is not actually work. He will respect you only when/if you go back to ‘real work’ once your children are older. All mothers know that mothering is hard work, but our Inner Patriarch’s don’t believe it, and so we also find ourselves doubting it, possibly feeling as if there is something wrong with us for finding parenting so exhausting.
Both women and men have this patriarchal aspect of the human psyche within them but it causes most difficulty for women. In men it is often an integrated part of their psyche and if men follow its rules, they feel they are being ‘real’ men and this allows them to fit into the existing social structures and succeed in them. It is supportive of most men because it values traditionally male qualities, which many men identify with to some extent, and our social and political structures support the expression of traditional masculinity and value it.
Now just as with any inner self, it is both eye-opening and empowering for both women and men to become aware of this patriarchal aspect of their nature. When women become conscious of their Inner Patriarch, they no longer need to feel victim to his judgments about themselves and others. They can listen to his concerns and deal with them as they see fit.
When men become aware of their Inner Patriarch they realise how their perception of women and of themselves has been affected by him, and how he has influenced their self-expression, their relationships, the policies they form in government, the legislation they pass, and the culture they create in the work environment. So it is certainly not a self that I would ignore if I were a man and I wanted a world to live in that valued all aspects of my nature and those of my partner and children.
By discovering your unconscious patriarchal rules and separating from them consciously, you can save yourself much confusion and negative feeling about yourself and others. And you can be in a position to make better choices about your life that consider not only the patriarchal values that are still so ingrained in us at a deep level but also more feminine-friendly values that support the feminine aspects of our humanity.
One thing to realise about the Inner Patriarch is that although his rules and judgments are restrictive, deep down his motivation is good. He truly believes that women are weaker than men and therefore need men to protect them. He is afraid of women’s sexuality and sensuality and of how that affects men. So he tries to keep women protected and behaving in a ‘proper’ way so that they will not be hurt. He believes that by keeping women in the home and away from the harshness of the outside world they will be safe.
But what he does not realise is that if women could integrate both their feminine and masculine power, and could participate in the world equally, the world would automatically become a safer place. If the feminine aspects of human nature were available and acceptable for us all to express, the world would become a far more harmonious and balanced place.
When you first discover the Patriarch within you, it might seem as if he is an enemy, but once you understand his concerns and can see them with objectivity, then he can become a supportive and caring force that you call on when you choose, rather than having him rule you from the shadows.
How I’ve dealt with the Inner Patriarch while raising my own daughters
Since learning about the Inner Patriarch and not wanting to pass his rule system on to my own daughters, I have tried to be attentive to how he operates.
I’ve discovered that one thing my Inner Patriarch expects is more maturity from my girls about things like politeness and self-care issues than he does of their male friends. I can hear his voice saying things like ‘They are boys, they can’t help being messy with their toys and their food, but little girls should put their toys away when they are finished playing with them and they should eat tidily at the table.’
And although he is proud of my daughters’ achievements and abilities, if there is a boy playing with them, he thinks it’s more important to praise the boy than my girls. One time, when my eldest daughter was five and was playing with a male friend, building towers with blocks, I could see that she had built an equally good tower to the boy’s (or better!). I could feel within myself a force to praise the boy’s tower more, as though it were not as important for her to be praised about this. Yet whenever she is on her own or with female friends, then I don’t feel this same pressure to compliment her with any less enthusiasm.
I would describe myself as a feminist and being extremely supportive and encouraging of my daughters with their achievements yet this Inner Patriarch has views that differ from my own. What I do when I feel his presence is listen into what his concerns are, to what his anxieties are. I can then consider these more consciously and decide how I will act.
Regarding the block towers, my decision was to praise my daughter as vocally and openly as I did her male friend. Yet when I did this I felt, and had to live with, my Inner Patriarch inside me being concerned that I was encouraging my daughter to stand out more than the boy – something he perceived as negative – and, funnily enough, he was worried that the boy might not feel valued enough if he received only equal praise to my daughter, for doing something traditionally masculine.
Maybe the next step for feminism and male/female equality is the exploration of what the Inner Patriarch fears will happen if males are not valued more highly than females. What is it about being equal that is so frightening?
For more on the Inner Patriarch, Sidra Stone’s book The Shadow King is a must-read! Available from the retailers below: