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MSU Class: Understanding Patriarchy Assigned, Syllabus Says, “Keep an Open Mind” About Incest

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

“Patriarchy requires male dominance by any means necessary, hence it supports, promotes, and condones sexist violence”.

Author: Brianna Saroli

Professor Samantha Fox began the Spring 2019 semester by assigning her class Understanding Patriarchy by social activist Bell Hooks.

Dr. Fox teaches Family and Society (SOC315). According to her syllabus, assigned readings will relate to “care work, social reproduction, and global householding.”

“When I first started reading it it sounded like a typical class in the social sciences, slightly liberal...but the syllabus only got worse,” Taylor Rager, an MSU student told The Morning Watch.

Rager, the senior political science student, further expressed how uncomfortable she felt during Week 8 of the class.

“This week starts to examine the subject of incest, and to ‘keep an open mind about this emotionally charged subject.’ She (Dr. Fox) includes a content warning: ‘This subject is controversial. Please take appropriate measures if you are sensitive to discussion of sexual violence.’”

In Professor Fox’s syllabus, she instructs the students to write how patriarchy affects them and their social structure during their everyday lives. She further urges them to be prepared to discuss “how family shapes your experiences and utilization of patriarchy.”

Hooks, the author the piece, addresses in Understanding Patriarchy how she often uses “Imperialist White-supremacist capitalist society” to picture the connecting political systems that “are the foundation of our nation’s politics.”

Hooks discusses how she feels patriarchy has infused itself negatively in the social life of America. Patriarchy’s negative effect has “denied men a full access to their will.” She shares that patriarchy is a problem for men, not solely women. It is a learned behavior of both sexes.

“[Many] assume that men are the sole teachers of patriarchal thinking. Yet many female-headed households endorse and promote patriarchal thinking with far greater passion,” said Hooks.

Women and men are upholding the structural roles of patriarchy through upholding gender roles and through submission, Hooks points out. She also indicates how women need to be aware of the damage that patriarchy causes men, forcing them “to feel pain and to deny their feelings,” creating a country of “the power of patriarchal culture to hold us captive.”

In the second section of Understanding Patriarchy, Hooks forwards the work How Can I Get Through to You? of Terrence Real, a family therapist. The book outlines “how his (Real’s) sons were initiated into patriarchal thinking even as their parents worked to create a loving home in which anti-patriarchal values prevailed.”

Real recounts the instance which his son, dressing as a Barbie doll, received the “normal traumatization” of older boys through their “gaze and their shocked, disapproving silence.”

Katie Kobiljak, a MSU junior thinks the reading and the class makes many assumptions and does not reflect America today.

“I feel like a lot of that has changed and should at least be reflected in a class about family and society,” Kobiljak told The Morning Watch.

“The way that this syllabus is written...the class will come off extremely biased and that it won’t take a lot of modern-day normalities into account,” Kobiljak, the James Madison College student said.

Bradley Carroll, a MSU sophomore studying psychology, also felt the reading made assumptions. “Although I will not deny that we are a society that is framed by patriarchal ideals, I believe that to structure an entire class around the subject will require massive amounts of generalization.”

As Hooks further describes in her article, men and women are the upholders of the patriarchal structure that is America, hurting both genders in separate ways. “Patriarchy requires male dominance by any means necessary, hence it supports, promotes, and condones sexist violence."

Hooks equates modern feminism to a supporter of patriarchy. “Placing the blame for the perpetuation of sexism solely on men, these women could maintain their own allegiance to patriarchy, their own lust for power.”

Furthermore, the victim card play’s into Hook’s interpretation of patriarchy. “They masked their longing to be dominators by taking on the mantle of victim-hood.”

The ending message of her piece Understanding Patriarchy closes with: “we must all change.”

Contributor: Brianna Saroli

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