Neo-Paganism is a post-patriarchal religion. Patriarchy refers to a system of social relations which are not only male-dominated, but also male-centered.
In a male-dominated society, men hold most of the positions of authority — political, economic, religious, military, and domestic. In a patriarchal society, there is a power imbalance between men and women in all aspects of life. While any individual man may be more or less powerful, all men benefit in some way from this imbalance.
A patriarchal society is also one which is male-centered. This means that men’s experience is treated as the norm, and women’s experience is treated as the exception. Men’s experience is treated as representative of all human experience. In patriarchal societies, women are often romanticized, or put on a pedestal, but this does not translate into real power, much less equality. Women in patriarchal societies attain power only to the extent that they embrace patriarchal values.
Patriarchy is created by men and women. Both men and women have to be socialized to support patriarchal values and institutions. Men and women perpetuate patriarchy by simply following the cultural path of least resistance.
Patriarchy harms both men and women. Patriarchy is a not only a system by which men rule over women, but also one in which a few men rule over other men. Patriarchy harms men by how it defines masculinity narrowly in terms of control: control of self, control of women, control of one’s environment. Patriarchy teaches men to idealize autonomy and to avoid connection, with other people and with their own selves. Patriarchy teaches men to treat women, the earth, and their own bodies as objects to be acted upon, to be used. As a result, men under patriarchy lead impoverished inner lives.
The movement toward equal rights for the women, while laudable, should not be confused with challenging patriarchal institutions. As Allan Johnson writes:
“It is easier to allow women to assimilate into patriarchal society than to question society itself. It is easier to allow a few women to occupy positions of authority and dominance than to question whether social life should be organized around principles of hierarchy, control, and dominance at all, to allow a few women to reach the heights of the corporate hierarchy rather than question whether people’s needs should depend on an economic system based on dominance, control, and competition. It is easier to allow women to practice law than to question adversarial conflict as a model for resolving disputes and achieving justice. It has even been easier to admit women to military combat roles than to question the acceptability of warfare and its attendant images of patriarchal masculine power and heroism as instruments of national policy. And it has been easier to elevate and applaud a few women than to confront the cultural misogyny that is never far off, waiting in the wings and available for anyone who wants to use it to bring women down and put them in their place.”
Neo-Paganism challenges patriarchy in a number of ways. Most obviously, Neo-Pagan offers women positions of equal religious power with men as priestesses. Neo-Paganism also challenges patriarchy by offering images of female divinity for men and women alike. Positive images of female divinity are healing and empowering to women who identify with such images. Images of the Divine Feminine also broaden the conception of what is divine for both men and women. “When God is male,” wrote Mary Daly, “then the male is God.” But when God is male and female (and transgendered), then the full spectrum of human experience is sacralized.
Patriarchy perpetuates itself by reinforcing a paradigm built of interrelated hierarchical dualisms:
Each of the dualisms above are hierarchical; the first element is valued, while the second is disvalued. These dualisms are also interrelated: male is equated with heaven, mind, human etc., while female is equated with earth, body, animal, etc. These dualisms are used to reinforce social and psychological structures which perpetuate the dominion of men over women and humankind over nature. Neo-Pagans attacks these dualisms by identifying false dichotomies, like by denying the separation of spirit and matter. Neo-Pagans also seek to turning these hierarchical dualisms on their head, by reclaiming and valorizing the disfavored element in each dualism, for example, by honoring a Divine Feminine that is associated with earth, body, matter, nature, dark etc.