Patriarchy and pain: A match made in heaven

A rose stem with many thorns and a rose in the background.
Image by Cornell Frühauf from Pixabay.

How many times have we heard “No pain, no gain”? And variations such as “There is no free meal in the universe”? Or “Work is paid because, otherwise, you won’t do it”?

Patriarchy, many religions, and fathers of capitalism such as Adam Smith have inculcated in us that we’re here to suffer, that we’re inherently lazy, and that if we didn’t have pain, we would work.

When we believe we’re lazy without pain

I discovered how much the culture of pain had negatively impacted my life when I stumbled upon the words of the author Marian Keyes

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. […] horrible things damage you. They don’t make you better, or wiser and stronger. Most of the time they hobble you a bit.”

Marian Keyes

I realised that, indeed, bad things hadn’t made me stronger. Moreover, I also became aware that none of those “lessons” had made me a better person, employee, or friend. We have created a mythology around “pain” that doesn’t serve us well as human beings. Instead, it entrenches the powers of oppression. When we believe we deserve pain:

  • We don’t ask for help: I coach, mentor, and sponsor women. Countless times, my suggestion of making a warm introduction to somebody that could help them — or suggesting that they reach out to somebody that could open doors for them — has been met with pushback such as “I don’t want to bother” or “I should be able to figure it out this by myself”.
  • We’re forced to look for “silver linings”: In Venezuela, we have a saying that conveys a similar meaning to silver linings — “When God closes a door, somewhere else opens a window”.

Fired from your job? In an abusive relationship? Lost a family member? Patriarchy doesn’t want us to dwell on it — it wants us to “suck it up” and continue producing as working bees. If you’re in pain because of tragedy around you, you’re simply not making enough effort to “find the silver lining”.

  • We believe that we deserve pain when we don’t conform to the stereotype. Recently, the UN published the Gender Social Norms Index 2023. 25% of respondents thought it is justified for a man to beat his wife. Society is also biased against women’s pain. We either neglect it — “It’s in your head”, we’re told — or we identify it as a mark of “sainthood” — when we worship “natural” births and shame women that opt for alternatives such as C-sections or pain relief.

The reality is that pain becomes handy to keep a tight rein on low-power groups. It indoctrinates us in the belief that being mistreated at work, gaslighted by our doctors, or deprived of control over our bodies is unchangeable — that we deserve it. We’re here to suffer, after all.

From shoulds to letting be easy

How does patriarchy enforce “Pain makes you stronger” or “No pain, no gain”? Through “shoulds”.

  • You should work until the work is finished.
  • You should be a perfect mother.
  • You shouldn’t let your personal life interfere with your professional career.
  • You should go to work even if you experience period pain.
  • You should prioritise motherhood.
  • You should…

What if we’d change a culture of systemic oppression that reinforces “shoulds” for a regenerative alternative of “letting be easy”?

  • We shouldn’t have “exponential growth” but make it easy to distribute the wealth we already have.
  • We shouldn’t have to conform to inflexible work norms but make it easy for employees to work in the way that suits them better.
  • We shouldn’t police women about what they can do with their bodies but make it easy for them to manage their sexual and reproductive health as they see fit.

BACK TO YOU: What “should” can you drop this week?

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