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Deconstruct Patriarchy or Pacify It

Policy and Advocacy Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Men and Masculinities Faculty Graduate Mid-Level New Professional Senior Level
December 2, 2019

When intellectual work emerges from a concern with radical social and political change, when that work is directed to the needs of the people, it brings us into greater solidarity and community. It is fundamentally life- enhancing. —hooks and West (1991, p. 164)

I'm here to shake the system up, we gon' rock the boat (Rapsody, 2019, Track 3). As the NASPA Men and Masculinities Knowledge Community (KC) continues to disperse scholarship and best practices regarding male identities and masculinity on college campuses and beyond. The committee regularly assess the field to take on pressing concerns facing society, policy, and education. In my recent surveying of the field, I question whether or not Men Group, Male Initiatives or Men of Color programs develop strategic initiatives or curriculums to deconstruct the “p” word. Patriarchy. As this article unravels public patriarchy and the thin fabric that frequently alludes the curriculums and programs of Male Identities and Masculinity Initiatives, we utilize Hip-Hop Pedagogy as a vehicle to make sense of this epidemic with the help of Rapsody’s Eve album. You’ll notice throughout this body of work, we will recognize Rapsody’s recent album as it perfectly articulates Black Feminism and the difficult challenges women faced in malestream society.


We recognize that one vital metric regarding this article is the ever-evolving presence of power and inequities in which everyone consistently navigates at the expense of men. Men rest as a dominate position within malestream society. Educators have recognized a host of problematic male behavioral trends and outcomes and have begun to pay closer attention to how male students are faring on their campuses (Harris, 2008). Yet, the disruption of public patriarchy escapes these sacred circles of men groups, men of color programs, and male identity and masculinity curriculums. As a scholar-practitioner who works within this field and a cisgender male; I fully acknowledge my privilege in easily being able to navigate in this space by assuming the gatekeeper role of challenging institutional practice and engaging students. The construction of these programs for men of color (or men) in particular centers the enrollment, retention, matriculation and graduation of this population. The tenets of these programs focus extensively on providing the counternarrative to Black men position in the scope education, economics, and employment. While the duality of our services remains important for defying the generational narrative portrayed for Black men, as scholar-practitioners we must still interrupt and deconstruct the generational customs that exist within cisheteronorms of higher education. The next section explores the expansive reach of public patriarchy while formally introducing Black feminism as an ideal framework to deconstruct this systemic issue.

The pendulum of male domination of the public has been violent, contested, and culturally visible (Hearn, 1993). Since the issue at hand focusing of too much influence on teaching men (the overall gender) successful college success skills and not understanding social (yet, inherent) privilege and sharing power across disadvantaged communities. We have to ask within ourselves, how might this shift in practice begin. Now, I ask you to grab your headphones. There was never a we; There was you all and there was me (Rapsody, 2019, Track 1). The tone of this article is to clearly articulate how men have situated themselves to remain in the center of this educational solar system, while everyone else navigate their thoughts needs, and desires. As a devoted scholar-practitioner to the liberation of men, I’ve realized that men’s understanding of power is genetic and natured through everyday life. The generational intracommunal conditioning of this power dynamic frequently inhibits men to fully understand the depth of patriarchy (see Red Table Talk – Rapper T.I. and His Wife) and the possibility of not being centered. The long sought after counter-narrative actually being when men understand the limitless possibility of sharing power, deconstructing patriarchy, and challenging their personal/practitioner beliefs.

Historically patriarchy is a conceptualization that centers men as heads of their households and based on materialism; the woman (or partner) has no power because he/she/they does not earn money (private) (Walby, 1990). Whereas public patriarchy is practiced in open spaces (social systems and government) to keep women and other men subordinate in numerous ways (Aggarwal, 2016). As for the ethos of higher education, the hypervisibility of male dominance or preference can be viewed through hiring practices and continued policies when not correctly examined; continue the perpetuation of public patriarchy. As I began to survey this body of meticulous work and field, I selected Rapsody’s Eve album because of the proximity towards Black women liberation and her continued visibility in Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop like many other genres of music have built iconic empires from currency of women bodies and the deformation of queer/gay men. Yet, through numerous attempts, women have taken active steps in Hip-Hop to write their own narrative towards a path of liberation.

For centuries Black women have endured a hostile relationship with America due to male ruling public spaces. In many instances, the public ruling intersects race, gender, sex, religion, and the economy. As such, Black feminism examines the economic and political position of Black people while centering the experiences of sexism, patriarchal rule and racism against Black women. The entwined oppression between race, class, and sex remains pervasive in Black women’s lives (Combahee River Collective, 2019). As it pertains to the scope of male identity and masculinity initiatives, the depth of patriarchy is still present and subtle in its attempts to remain in control as we neglect the opportunity to discuss our birthright to power. The final section of this article strategically outlines plausible ways to deconstruct public patriarchy in male dominated spaces.

Oppose Dominate Social Norms

To deconstruct the patriarchal nature of spaces in which men and masculinity become the forefront, we, as scholars, must first be willing to position ourselves in a potentially vulnerable space that allows us to actively self-reflect on our own doings, while simultaneously undoing, unlearning and (re)learning the things we were taught to forget. Opposing dominant social norms requires men as scholars to recognize (a) the dominant social norms that exist, (b) how we each play a specific role in perpetuating the stated norms (expose personal/practitioner bias), (c ) how the social norms are intertwined or not intertwined into our own beliefs and upbringings (analyze institutional racism), and (d) what role/stance we can occupy to debunk and derail the patriarchal train (construct new beginnings) in male initiative programs.

Cynthia Dillard (2011) wrote that we must learn to remember the things we learned to forget as an act of healing and as a feminist practice that allows your own spirit to guide the sacredness of teaching and researching. Most of us know that societal norms exist, and we tend to be the ones that acknowledge and perpetuate them, unknowingly. Lean into that. Lean into recognizing male privilege and the intersectionalites that may be associated with the male students you are serving. What are your identities? What are your students’ identities? In what ways are you working from your identities rather than to their identities?  How do your identities serve theirs?

If you cannot answer these questions with fervor and quickness, then this work is yours to sit with and reflect.

For practical reasons, we want to exemplify what each one of these steps can look like in academic spaces. At the end of each section, we will list ways in which we have seen this in action or have studied its impact(s).

  1.        Facilitate conversations about dominant social norms in the United States.

  2.        Facilitate conversations about dominant social norms in your respective institution.

  3.        Create the space for men to explore tasks that are considered more “feminine” in nature (i.e. - washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, feeding babies, changing diapers, etc.)

  4.        Create the space for men to embrace and express their emotions (i.e. - crying, hugging another man, talking about sensitive issues, smiling in photos, etc.)

  5.        Avoid using patriarchal punishments or consequences as a means of “growth” (i.e. - pushups for being late, carrying the heavy items when the group moves, etc.)

  6.        Avoid respectability politics in relation to dress-codes and professional dress wear. Allowing students to express themselves and still be considered a man in a male initiative program can create a space of freedom.

  7.        Create a space of learning new identities through multimedia outlets. Allow them the opportunity to watch and analyze poetry/spoken word pieces, drag queen performances, literature about various intersectionalites, various forms of music, and any other spaces that your students may occupy -- even if it is only one student.

Expose Personal/Practitioner Bias

Without a doubt, we each perform and perpetuate our own versions of dominant social norms. As a true scholar-practitioner, we acknowledge that we do and we work towards exposing those things which may harm others and, especially, may be taught in either conscious or subconscious ways to our students. Exposing these ideas in a public manner, when appropriate, not only allows us the chance to make changes where necessary, but shows vulnerability to our students, giving them a chance to see what true growth looks like in real time. For example, I currently advise a male initiative program at a K12 institution in the South. I often find myself unlearning many ideas that I have previously held about Black male students in urban high schools, ironically the same group in which I studied for my dissertation. The students hold me accountable and I make it a point to stop the conversation, apologize, and move forward with the new knowledge provided for me that day.

This shows us as human and as ever evolving in the same spaces as our students. We are not stagnant creatures; instead, we grow as we go. Moraga and Andaldua (2015) once said, “Voyager, there are no bridges; one builds them as you walk (p. xx)” and I have been stuck with that phrase every since to remind me that life is not a journey or pathway that we follow, we create it with every step (or, in this case, misstep) we take.

  1.        Acknowledge that you do not know everything about everybody.

  2.        Listen to your students. They often tell you their identities without using the dominant or mainstream terms we are used to. Watch when they become angry, sad, depressed, etc. These moments often give you clues about which identities they associate with. Note: These are not definite. Simply use them as a guide to conversations with students, not an end all be all. 

  3.        Write out a list of questions you may have, organizing them by words that your students use to identify themselves.

  4.        Expose your bias aloud and publicly. The students may be struggling with the same issue against a peer’s identity. Let them see you work through it so that they may see the full impact.

Analyze Institutional Systems

Audre Lorde (1984) once said that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house (p.xx).” So, here, we must recognize that the institutions will not be fixed by using their methods. They simply give you what they think you may need access to or what can limit you in your freedom.

Seaberry (2019) discusses systems that promote hegemonic masculinity, a product of patriarchy. In this study, he looked at masculinity in urban high schools and found that there are institutional systems that promote punishments, stereotypes, and racism, even in male initiative groups formed by the teachers and administrators. To properly debunk and remove patriarchal norms in male initiative groups, we must analyze the entire institutional system. This means not only analyzing the leadership and administration, but analyzing ourselves, the written and digital texts we use, the way in which we communicate, the room in which we meet, the times in which we meet, and more. While we do not often think that some of these pieces play a role in patriarchy, it does and we would be foolish to continue thinking it does not. Intersectionality reminds us that we must view how each identity informs another. By simply thinking that you are hosting a room full of males, you are missing that each one has more than that to think of and the way the institution maneuvers these identities is crucial to their well-being. If you have a male who identifies as Muslim or Vegan or Jewish and you are providing a multitude of meat snacks for the monthly meeting without consulting them and their needs, have you truly catered to your students?

We can no longer utilize only what the institutions give us to dismantle patriarchy and the society that they contributed to building, whether PWI, HBCU, HSI, or others. We must dive into what beliefs the institutions holds and work subversively to ensure that the men we serve as being served wholly and not superficially.

  1.        What tools, if any,  have your institution given you to properly serve the students?

  2.        How have you used those tools, if any?

  3.        How has the institution silenced members of your group?

  4.        What powers are in play at the institution that may not allow for a rebranding/rebuilding of your organization?

  5.        What powers are in play within your group that may hinder particular students from speaking or standing up for themselves?

  6.        What powers have you perpetuated that may have harmed a student?

  7.        In what ways can you distribute your power amongst the students in the organization?

  8.        In what ways can you relinquish your power?

Construct New Beginnings

The ontological approach to any scholar-practitioner serving a male initiative at their institution should be that there are multiple truths and that they all lie in the heart of the person we come in contact with. Constructing new beginnings means taking on a role/stance that allows us, as leaders, to debunk the myths of patriarchy in society. This is the active step, the step forward -- an exodus -- in a sense. Reframing your organization means reconstructing the programs that you have designed in light of the new knowledge that you have learned/(re)learned according to the previous sections of this paper. Reframing your organization also means to move against the dominant ideology, resisting and disrupting stereotypes and creating opportunities for expansion (Seaberry, 2019). The most simplified methodology to complete this new work lies in the cross-section between Critical Race Theory, Feminist Standpoint Theory, and Queer Theory.

Feminist Standpoint Theory (FST) serves as the ontological approach as it asserts that some phoenoma are best understood when viewed from the perspective of someone less powerful and less economically privileged...Queer Thoery serves as the epistemolgoical approach in that it provides the knowledge of how to address conversations surroudning...masculinity...Critical Race Theory serves as the methodological approach in that it provides a subversive framework in which we can enact [the other theories] (Seaberry, 2019, p. 78-79).


Aggarwal, S. (2016). Patriarchy and Women’s Subordination. Bhartiyam International Journal of Education & Research, 5.

Combahee Rive Collective. (2019, January 1). A Black Feminist Statement. Retrieved from https://monthlyreview.org/2019/01/01/a-black-feminist-statement/ 

Dillard, C. B. (2011). Learning to (re)member the things we’ve learned to forget. Qualitative Inquiry and Global Crises, 226.

Glauser, B. (2015). Street children: Deconstructing a construct. In Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood (pp. 128-144). Routledge.

Harris III, F. (2008). Deconstructing masculinity: A qualitative study of college men's masculine conceptualizations and gender performance. NASPA journal, 45(4), 453-474.

hooks, B. (1991). Theory as liberatory practice. Yale JL & Feminism, 4, 1.

Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa. 2015. This Bridge Called My Back, Fourth Edition: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Albany, GA: State University of New York Press.

Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110- 114. 2007. Print.

Rapsody, 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Nottz, Eric G, & Mark B. (2019) Aaliyah. [Recorded by Rapsody]. On Eve [CD]. New York, NY. Roc Nation

Rapsody, 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Nottz, Eric G, & Mark B. (2019) Nina. [Recorded by Rapsody]. On Eve [CD]. New York, NY. Roc Nation

Seaberry, Michael J., "The Sons of Emmett Till: Addressing Black Male Masculinity in Urban High Schools in New Orleans" (2019). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 4862.

Walby, S. (1990, January). From private to public patriarchy: the periodisation of British history. In Women's studies international forum (Vol. 13, No. 1-2, pp. 91-104). Pergamon.


Michael R. Williams, EdD

Scholar-Practitioner in Residence, NASPA Men’s & Masculinity

Assistant Director, The Student Success Center, Virginia Tech

Twitter @Commandr_nchief


Michael J. Seaberry, PhD

Scholar-Practitioner, Artivist

Advisor, Distinguished Young Men of Lovejoy

Clayton County, Georgia

Twitter: @iTeachFreedom

Email: [email protected]