YOUR BRAIN ON PATRIARCHY
Please join me for a little feminist pop quiz. Don’t worry – it’s only one question and I’ll tell you the answer right away.
So tell me: What do the following thoughts have in common?
- Life would be less lonely with a romantic partner
- I would be happier if I were thinner
- I’d feel more confident if I were younger
- I’m not really qualified for that job so I shouldn’t apply
- I should stay in this relationship because I don’t want to be alone
I’m not even going to make you check the back of a magazine for an answer; I’ll just tell you: They are all messages from the patriarchy, repackaged and fed to you by your own brain.
If any of those thoughts sound even remotely familiar, I want to teach you a little about how the brain works.
Your brain is a problem-solving machine. It is constantly evaluating “problems” and proposing “solutions.”
But because you’re bombarded with so much information every day, your brain has to create shortcuts instead of tackling the same problems anew every time.
These shortcuts are called “heuristics,” and they’ve helped you learn some pretty amazing things that you probably take for granted now, like knowing what a chair is and how to open a door.
Which is awesome when you’re trying to get ready for work and don’t want to spend 45 minutes figuring out if it’s safe to sit on that four-legged thing in your kitchen – you just want to sit down, eat your damn breakfast, and get out the door.
Sometimes though, it’s not so awesome – because sometimes your brain has absorbed messages from society that aren’t true, and it uses them as a shortcut too.
Let’s say you’ve learned – from fairy tales, parents, movies, etc. – that the most important thing in a woman’s life is romantic love.
Your brain creates a shortcut for you: Romantic love = happiness. So helpful, right?
When it notices you’re unhappy if you’re single, your brain thinks: “oh, you must be sad because you’re single!” Or if you’re in a relationship, your brain says: “oh, you must be sad because there’s something wrong with your relationship!”
Or let’s say you’re taught the way to earn love, affection, and approval is by being thin.
Anytime you feel lonely, alienated, or rejected, what happens?
You think your weight must be the cause.
If you were thinner, your parents would approve of you.
If you were thinner, you’d have an easier time finding dates.
If you were thinner, you’d finally feel like you fit in and belong.
Your brain is just doing its job by parroting what patriarchy taught it: your romantic status determines your happiness; your weight determines your approval.
But the problem is that the premises are wrong.
Your brain overlooks the part where people are just sad sometimes, partnered or not.
It overlooks the fact that people of any weight can feel good about themselves, have friends, and find love. (And that whether your parents approve of you has nothing to do with you and only to do with their own brains.)
It overlooks, every time, the truth that feeling sad or lonely aren’t actually problems to be solved.
What’s more, the “solutions” your brain shares don’t actually work. Changing your partner won’t eliminate sadness permanently from your life, nor will losing weight make you feel more loved.
Even though logically we can see that these heuristics are wrong, they are still incredibly persuasive.
Why? Because the “solutions” don’t present themselves as messages from society for you to parse intellectually – they present themselves as your own thoughts, in your own voice.
This is why it can be so confusing to be a feminist.
Have you ever experienced the cognitive dissonance of having consciously rejected society’s messages about women but at the same time having unconscious thoughts or behavioral patterns that seem to echo those very same messages?
This is because these messages impact you subconsciously, and even when you bring your conscious awareness to them, they just sound like your own thoughts.
Sit with that for a moment, because it’s a mindfuck.
If messaging from the patriarchy sounds like a condescending old man saying “the reason you are sad is that you will never be fulfilled until a person with a penis has put a metal hoop on your finger, thus claiming you as his” – well that would be much easier to dismiss.
But what it actually sounds like is your OWN VOICE in your mind saying something like: “It’s just really lonely when all my friends are married and I can’t find someone. There must be something wrong with me.”
Social conditioning isn’t an intrusive voice in your brain that would be easy to identify. Instead it’s lines of code that got programmed into your brain and now arise organically as your own voice.
And once those lines of code are in your brain, cognitive bias will work to prove them true. Since brains hate being proven wrong, they will literally seek evidence to support what they already believe and filter out evidence to the contrary.
This is how your brain builds story after story to support these heuristics until they’re not even recognizable as programming at all – they just sound like Truth.
In other words, your beliefs that “all your friends are married” and that you just “can’t find someone” may seem like verifiable facts, but are most likely skewed by your own brain’s cognitive bias.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to sell everything and live in seclusion to reprogram your brain.
If you want to change, the first step is awareness.
Look around for the messages you see society teaching women – and then explore how you might be creating mental shortcuts from those messages that may be inaccurate.
Those shortcuts won’t be conscious, of course. It will take some work to uncover these patterns. It will be uncomfortable. Your brain may fight it.
But you can start to notice the ways in which you’ve integrated social beliefs into your mindset, even if you think you don’t believe them. You can start to understand how those unconscious social beliefs are impacting your brain and the way you think about your life.
And then, when you bring them into the light, you can start to change them, one by one.
This is what liberation looks like – unshackling your brain, one thought at a time.
This is some DEEP WORK, but know that you are not alone.
You can join a movement of women just like you who are liberating themselves in order to change the world.
Imagine how you would show up with the freedom to know that you are valuable and loved no matter what your relationship status or your dress size. Imagine what you would accomplish with the belief that you are worthy and your dreams and your voice are valuable. Imagine what your life would be like if you knew without a doubt that you had your own back.