The word patriarchy is getting flung around a lot lately. Do you ever feel confused about what this term is actually referring to? In this article, I’m going to attempt to simplify the definition so it’s clearer to you…

Dictionary definition of patriarchal society:

A patriarchal social system can be defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

There’s a common misperception that patriarchy is just “man-hating” or “man-blaming.” However, patriarchy negatively affects both men and women. Men suffer in a patriarchy because they are not permitted to express their true emotions and deemed weak if they deviate from the standard tough expressions of masculinity. (For example, if a man is sexually assaulted, it’s considered “less manly” for him to talk about it and ask for support.) However, men are less likely to admit they suffer from patriarchy because they also receive a lot of privilege from it as well. Patriarchy grants men priority and permits their domination over women. Thus, women are more aware of its damaging impact as they suffer from it the most and benefit the least. Patriarchy is particularly damaging to black, brown and indigenous women around the world.

The principles of a patriarchal society include: 

  • Prioritizing men over women
  • Domination, power-over
  • Suppression of feelings is normalized
  • Expression of feelings is seen as inherently weak or bad
  • Feeling shame for having needs
  • Feeling shame for resting or slowing down
  • Need to produce to feel valued
  • Violation of boundaries
  • Sense of scarcity of money, time, love, energy
  • Feelings of isolation and disconnection
  • Objectification, not seeing people as people
  • Obedience and compliance are demanded
  • Violence is seen as powerful
  • Lack of empathy is admired
  • The dynamics of domination and submission are romanticized/ eroticized
  • Whatever is perceived as feminine is looked down upon
  • Male is considered the default human being
  • Racist beliefs that “White is right”
  • and more

Women internalize negative beliefs about themselves through the constant reinforcement of these patriarchal principles through the wider culture and locally, through their families. While women suffer in patriarchy due to being labeled the weaker, inferior sex, patriarchy may be enforced by both men and women. These beliefs get normalized and passed down through the generations of women; often from mothers trying to protect their daughters from harm by helping them to fit in, to stay safe, to appear attractive, etc. Mothers pass on messages to their daughters like “Don’t rock the boat. Put the needs of others before your own. Don’t be too loud or big. Always be pleasing.”

There’s an old, underlying belief that compliance with patriarchal principles will keep women safe, but the opposite is true. Whether we comply or not, we end up harmed. 

Consider the latest statistics from the United Nations about the treatment of women in our patriarchal world: 

  • Globally, 137 women are intentionally killed every day by someone in their family.
  • 650 million women are alive now who have been married before the age of 18.
  • 200 million girls are alive now who experienced female genital mutilation before the age of 5.
  • Sexual trafficking of women and children is now the fastest-growing crime in the world, bringing in $99 billion each year.

Here’s where the Mother Wound comes in…

The Mother Wound is how patriarchy gets internalized and passed down through the generations of women. More specifically, the toxic atmosphere of patriarchy negatively influences a woman’s relationship with herself as a woman and thereby impacts her attachment bond with her child to various degrees. The pain gets passed down until someone in the lineage breaks the cycle by processing the pain, learning tools, and getting support in dismantling these falsehoods. As we do this healing work, more human potential can become realized on a massive scale.

The Mother Wound is a social condition rooted in patriarchy, that we all suffer from on the personal, cultural, spiritual and planetary levels. It’s urgent we address it now.

How patriarchy manifests as the Mother Wound in women: 

  • Feeling less-than
  • Comparing ourselves to others
  • Feeling competitive and jealous of other women
  • Double binds: Be smart but not too smart, Be sexy but not too sexy
  • Overworking, burnout, exhaustion
  • Feeling like there’s something wrong with you
  • A feeling of not being “real,” having to put on a happy face
  • A feeling of being stuck, paralyzed to make changes
  • Loneliness, depression, disconnection
  • Feeling the need to dominate others
  • Rigidity and perfectionism
  • Avoidance of long-term relationships
  • Over-functioning and emotional care-taking other people
  • Co-dependency and “merging” with others
  • Harshness, Lack of compassion for yourself
  • Fear of being alone
  • Feeling unable to set boundaries
  • Overfunctioning and doing emotional labor for others
  • Addictions, depression, eating disorders and more

When we heal the Mother Wound, we’re addressing the single source of all these manifestations that keep us stuck, unfulfilled and exhausted–we’re healing from patriarchy.

Ultimately, it’s not about our mothers in the end since our mothers have suffered from the Mother Wound as well. Healing the Mother Wound comes down to breaking the cycle of inter-generational pain of women living in a patriarchy, liberating ourselves as women, and clearing the path for women of the future. As we do, all of humanity benefits, evolves and moves forward.

So, back to you…

  • In what ways did you witness your mother suffer from the principles of patriarchy?
  • Based on the list above, how does the Mother Wound show up in your life?
  • How did this affect you as a child?
  • Would you add any additional items to the list of patriarchal principles?