I’ve been trying to play ‘patriarchy chicken’ for a while now, and I’m not very good at it, to be honest. My habit of how I move through the world is so ingrained that I don’t even realise that I, like most women, do all the ducking and weaving around men, instead of it mostly being a mutual duck-and-weave dance. Apparently, men move through the world in a straight line to where they’re going, only veering around other men and immovable objects, but they don’t generally veer around women (although they may possibly veer around women pushing prams). Women move out of the way for men, or get bumped and banged into. This is a different thing to letting women go through doors first. Patriarchy chicken is the game of not moving out of the way for men when out in public, and seeing what happens.
The word ‘patriarchy’ doesn’t generally invoke a friendly conversation. However, we can’t deny that the current operating system around the world is one of male dominance through political, social and personal power over others, predominantly, but not exclusively, over women. Having said that, not all individual men oppress all individual women, and evil women abound as much as good men do. Some women are billionaires (not many), and some men are homeless. Patriarchy can also harm men, albeit in different ways to how it harms women. Our reality, like it or not, is that both women and men are socialised according to the principles of patriarchy to a greater or lesser degree, regardless of whether we’re conscious of it.
Hence, I didn’t even know until recently that I did the duck-and-weave dance, because I have always done that, and I have subconsciously role-modelled myself on what I’ve seen other women doing. The phrase ‘patriarchy chicken’ – also sometimes called ‘feminist chicken’ – appears to have been popularised by Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley of the University of Southampton, after appearing in an article in the New Statesman publication. Upon having a bad morning on the way to work one day, she decided to cheer herself up by playing patriarchy chicken, and then wrote about it.
Men generally take up more space in the world. This isn’t surprising considering how our social and political power structure still operates, and that the human-inhabiting world is designed for male bodies. A world in which women have only recently (in historical terms) begun having public lives. However, even houses, in which women traditionally spent more time, are designed more around male bodies than female. This is quite fascinating to think about, as if I was asked how a home could be better designed for my woman’s body, it would take me a while to think of how it could be, so used am I to the status quo of how the human-inhabiting world is designed*. So, playing patriarchy chicken is a way of challenging how space is taken up, and who takes it up.
I determined to give this game a go. I tend to not always be ‘present’, as I get focussed on my goal or the outcome I want to achieve, or simply get active in my head, and my surroundings fade into the background. That means that I fall back into my habitual ways of behaving, while my head is busy thinking about whatever else, so I forget to play the game. But there came a day when I remembered.
Working from home as I do, I don’t have to navigate public transport at peak hours, so I chose the shopping mall as my playground. The first thing I noticed as I strode into it around 10am one morning, was that there weren’t very many men there. Note to self: not the best time and place to play the game. Undaunted, I targeted an unsuspecting man and made a beeline for him. He moved out of my way, as did the next one. I mean, who wouldn’t when they saw a mad old woman charging them?
I don’t use the term ‘mad old woman’ in a bad way. I enjoy what being older has brought me, physical losses aside, and I don’t feel ashamed of being older like we’re supposed to, but I acknowledge that to some people I am old. Just ask my grand-nephews and grand-nieces, as well as those younger people who now sometimes move aside for me. Not all younger people, though, and that’s another interesting phenomenon I’m observing. Some rough-looking young blokes and blokessess are courteous to me, and some nicely polished ones don’t even see me. There’s no perceivable pattern so far. Could the difference be purely in their backgrounds – i.e. whether they have older people in their lives and how they engage with them?
But if my age means that I now have an advantage in playing patriarchy chicken that I wouldn’t have had some years ago, I’ll take it, thanks 🙂
*To read more about this, read Invisible Women – Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. A fascinating book that belies its send-you-to-sleep title. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41104077-invisible-women
Header pic by Skitterphoto https://www.pexels.com/@skitterphoto