Patriarchy’s Covert Betrayal of its Most Prized Members

Cemeterie, Engesohde, Hanover, Germany (Photo: x1klima/Flickr)

Our protests against patriarchal disparities most commonly find voice within the feminine realm—unequal pay for women, societal expectations that undermine female potential, glass ceilings in the workplace, and so on. Daily conversations with my female patients highlight how readily beliefs of unworthiness and questions around value can seep into our unconscious. These realities, along with the human mind’s quest to categorize information and make sense of the world lead us to believe that if women get less, then men must get more. This deductive logic finds affirmation in the world of opportunity and compensation, but as a psychologist, I can attest to a different reality when it comes to our emotional and psychological worlds. In my everyday work with real people, I witness the painfully ironic “equality” that patriarchy does in fact offer—the casualties. Yes—these are the “gifts” enjoyed by both men and women alike. 

When patriarchy dangles in men’s eyes the prized possessions of greater power and influence, it hides the small-print disclaimer at the end of the contract. Here’s what this disclaimer says: 

“In agreeing to accept the prized role of becoming the ‘head’ of your family, in accepting society’s offer of greater pay and a louder voice, in being given implicit permission to interrupt women midway through their sentences, etc…. you also agree to a lifetime of relinquishing your right to engage with the full range of human emotions. You agree to never cry, show feelings, express need or vulnerability. Should any of these expressions arise, they are only to manifest as anger and/or frustration; any other expression shall be chastised with shame. In your moments of powerlessness and helplessness, your anger and rage may swallow you whole and leave you with a gaping void of confusion around who you truly are. The limits that come with the latter may result in a lifetime of struggle and confusion in your most important relationships and may limit the depths at which you are able to enjoy meaningful connections; nonetheless, terms are non-negotiable.  

You also get to enjoy the sparkling guise of being assigned a greater sense of importance in the world; in enjoying this falsely grandiose status, you agree to give up large pieces of your true person. As is true with any inflation, a recession (in this case, depression) is guaranteed to follow. However, given the aforementioned restrictions, your depression is only to manifest as continued anger and bitterness toward life…a persistent, nagging (but sadly, true) sense of being misunderstood.  

Upon reaching that moment when you realize that you have been seduced to accept an artificial and less than rewarding promise, we exempt ourselves of all liability. You will be responsible to clean the mess you find on your hands and the sadness that resides in your heart.” 

When we speak to our sons, I wonder if we can celebrate the kindness in their hearts

My purpose in writing this, dear reader, is to offer kind, compassionate presence to the men who privately endure the pressures of the above disclaimer and feel suffocated by the constraints they never knew they agreed to. One of the most endearing experiences in my work is when a male patient shares with me that he simply does not know how to identify his emotions, feels uncertain about what showing empathy looks like, and experiences utter confusion around how to foster a deeper emotional connection with someone he cares for. I feel deeply grateful for my patients’ willingness to share this information with me—for their honesty and forthrightness. Their words are met by my great respect and admiration. Every day, I am humbled to do work that allows me the privilege of seeing courage come to life.

I respond to their “confession”—“It’s not your fault. You simply have a blindspot to something that was just not part of your experience.” Internally, I feel the truest compassion for these men. I believe their wish to learn, and most importantly, I trust the full range of their humanness. Moving forward, I feel eager for them to discover the freedom inherent to owning all parts of their inner world. Excitedly, I await the journey for us to get to know the truest version of their self—the whole self. 

Often times our efforts at tackling the patriarchy involve changing the status quo. I wonder, though, if an equally important movement toward change can occur by simply acknowledging the precious realities that have existed before us for all time. When we speak to our sons, I wonder if we can celebrate the kindness in their hearts, the tenderness in their touch, the wisdom of their thoughtful choices. I wonder if we can rise to the occasion of nurturing men who enjoy the freedom to know all facets of themselves, men who wisely trust the inner anchor necessary to gracefully swim through the complex nuances of life.  

The pathway is simple: allow for all aspects of humanity—struggles, feelings, needs, mercy, compassion and growth. Acceptance of our humanity affords us the greatest freedom—to live as our truest selves. And I am so happy to share with you, dear reader, that the truth of our humanity requires no disclaimer.

Dr. Lisa Arslanian
Dr. Lisa Arslanian is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Encino, CA, where she sees adults with a wide range of human struggles, such as anxiety and depression, as well as challenges related to life transitions, relationships and self-esteem. She has enjoyed teaching college level courses in Psychology and currently supervises graduate students in their clinical training. Dr. Arslanian feels blessed to do work that celebrates humanity and compassion as its greatest tools.
Dr. Lisa Arslanian

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  1. Dear Armenian Weekly,

    I cannot thank you enough for publishing Dr. Arslanian’s breakthrough analysis. I say “breakthrough” because she is surely the first author who recognizes the pervasive power of The Patriarchy.

    From my earliest years, I was taught, just as she suggests, that I might have arbitrary personal power over all of nature and womankind [“the prized possessions of greater power and influence”]as a Patriarch. I’d like now to collect that promised bounty. I have waited 43 years.

    The only problem I have collecting all that Patriarchal power Dr. Lisa says is mine is that I cannot find the actual Patriarchy – is there a secret trap door or special handshake? I am more than willing to join it and oppress everyone and everything so I can make 23 per cent more per hour – women, the environment, Democrats, the elderly, Jane Goodall, NPR, Polar Bear cubs, liberals, musicians, anyone who watches Brit TV on public tv, Ramen fiends, Bernie supporters, throat singers, gun nuts, anti-gun nuts, coffee enthusiasts, strident marijuana advocates, NASCAR fans, skateboarders, users of Pay Day loans, elder Valley Girls, the disabled, vegans [especially vegans – hey, I’m Armenian], Whole Foods customers, yoga people, foodies, you name it, I’ll oppress it.

    I am willing to fill out the Patriarchy application, make a deposit, wear boat shoes, drive an 87 Hunter green ratty Jaguar [good cover] and go wherever I am told to go except maybe the Bohemian Grove. The problem is: who runs it, and where exactly do I sign up?

    Maybe Mr. Atamian knows. After all, he went to Harvard, where one is given to understand, they mint little patriarchs as fast as they can print diplomas.

    Help a Brother out!

  2. No offense to the doctor, but as a general rule I wish society would stop trying to turn men into a new version of women. I’m so sick of it.

    I am an American-born woman, an akhchik who is really close to her dad and husband, I’m really tired of this western ideal of feminizing men. Men on the whole are fine the way they are. They certainly don’t need a woman — psychologist or not — telling them how to be men.

    That’s why so many boys without fathers in the home end up on such a bad trajectory in life.

    Maybe some men have a hard time with identifying a wider variety of emotions and dealing with them, but not all men. Men have been capable of amazing feats and being the heads of their households and being leaders since our time on earth began. That is their purpose. At the same time they have also been supportive fathers, loving husbands, caring brothers, and concerned sons. Men as a whole already know how to love and feel other emotions.

    Western “patriarchy” isn’t real patriarchy. The laws of the land are all geared towards helping women’s issues. If we had real patriarchy that help would not be so prevalent and encouraged.

    I like traditional men: men that can work with their hands, have deep voices, earn income for the family, and protect the family. Let’s go to some corners of the world where women have to stay indoors, can’t look out of windows, and can barely get medical help or even have their genetalia cut off. That’s patriarchal oppression, not this marshmallow fluff we have in the USA.

    Pay me no mind, of course, I’m just a female who likes being feminine and being a housewife.

  3. Has Armenian Weekly been taken over by the three known, living Armenian hipsters?

    What’s next? Why Armenians should not use plastic straws?

    Armenian Weakly.

  4. Questions to Dr. Lisa Arslanian:

    If I change my sex from male to female (either by simple self-designation or by having a part of my body cut off and.or being injected with hormones), am I still a member of the male patriarchy and/or am I now a female and thus oppressed?

    In your opinion, Doctor, can I also change my age and/or ethnicity?

    I just want to “be who I am”, which is what they are teaching in school nowadays.

    If you don’t believe me, please look into this program which is now in many major cities’ libraries and/or schools:

    Drag Queen Story Hour

    Doctor, please let us know what you think of that program.

    Thank you.

  5. Thank you for writing this article. It’s important for Armenians to realize how pervasive yet invisible the patriarchy is. Patriarchal norms are extremely present in our culture, even in the Armenian-diaspora, and I believe it is preventing Armenians–men, women, non-binary, and trans Armenians alike– from reaching their full potential. Greatly appreciate your insights!

    • Nayra,

      I live in the USA, so I have nothing to say about how people live in Hayastan.

      But I genuinely would like a concrete description, large or small, as to what you mean when you say “patriarchal norms,” and how they prevent any “men, women, non-binary, and trans Armenians alike” from reaching their potential here. My information is actually that young American females are zooming past their male counterparts in college, for example. Is patriarchal the same thing as “unfair” or “bigoted?”

      Is “patriarchal” different from “masculine,” and if so, how?

      I am not asking these questions to be difficult. I am asking them because I have no real understanding of what the term means. It seems to be used to mean a representation of everything and anything traditional, established, or old, and that does not help me understand what you mean.

      By the way, most lay people accept the idea that children get most of their acculturation from their mothers and grandmothers. That was true in my Armenian mother’s home. Is patriarchy passed on to some degree by mothers?

      Many people use the term “patriarchy” knowingly and easily. But learned people once thought there was a thing called phlogiston too.

  6. PS jda: I am honored by your nasty quip above. Harvard has indeed been minting little patriarchs for quite some time, along with a few great thinkers. I am surprised that you are so taken or upset by the fact that I went to college there in particular. I am certainly, you must surely realize, not part of the WASP elite, and as a first generation Armenian-American was the first with my brother to attend college in my family. I think as Armenians we are supposed to at least try to support each other and our achievements. and not tear them down :) As for Dr. Aslanian, I am glad we have well-thinking kind women in the community who are simply trying to point out that the old style binary gender and sexual divisions in our society are outmoded and sometimes come at a steep price.

    • Mr. Atamian:

      I am not “taken or upset” with the fact you went to Harvard. I am instead calling you out for lording it over the readership and for using it as authority for your arguments, such as they are. If you were not using it in this way, the bio you supplied AW, which was appended to your recent article, would not have mentioned it.

      It seems you like to mention it a lot. A whole lot. I looked this morning on your Armeniapedia entry, and there it was again, along with some facts that make your implication that you come from a working class family risible. I think we’re now deep into Elizabeth Warren-Cherokee country. According to Armeniapedia, you attended swanky NY prep schools no cobbler might afford. So, plenty of privilege was poured on you at an early age, and that sort of thing is, curiously, an obsession of many well-educated white people these days. But I agree: Kudos to the Armenian love of learning and accomplishment your parents had and gave you.

      Rubbishing bad ideas and trendy pronouncements is a good thing – I mean you were taught the Socratic Method in Cambridge, right? Do you propose that if an Armenian says something with which I might reasonably disagree I am supposed to hold my tongue lest the Turks take delight? Trust me – they don’t care.

      According to Armeniapedia, you graduated from Harvard in 1989. It’s time to stop coasting down that small elevation. And, by the way, applying Harvard, like Flex Seal to leaky arguments just does not work.

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