From when we are born and as we grow we make sense of ourselves and the world around us through what we observe and what we experience in relationship to it. We build an understanding, a way to make sense of and navigate the world, and we use that understanding to discern and make judgements about what is safe and what is unsafe to do or be, to make judgements about what we see and things that happen around and to us, and to help us make decisions about how to go about living our lives and meeting our needs.
Essentially, as we grow we construct a lens through which we see the world. However, unless disrupted by events, people or experiences that challenge this world view, we experience our outlook not as a particular lens and interpretation, but as the truth: the truth of who and what we are, the truth of what and who other people are, and the truth of what and how the world is. Furthermore, part of our survival needs and instincts (e.g. to feel safe, to feel that we belong, to maintain our own sense of esteem) make us reluctant to be open to or to process challenges to our view, and can prevent us from moving through the change/grief curve to update our perspective to include new or multiple ‘truths’ and complexities, or even reject the ‘truths’ that we originally held in order to make space for new information and understandings.
Growing up in England (and many other places if not the majority of places thanks to colonialism) at this time, and in history up until now, the way that we have been in relationship with, and exposed to the world around us, has resulted in the acceptance, normalisation and internalisation of a patriarchal lens on how to see and be in the world. Even for those who hold beliefs that are in challenge to patriarchal norms and values, it requires conscious intention to address the patriarchal biases we have internalised, which can without us even realising guide our sense of ourselves, others and our reflex behaviour.
We have learnt this lens in the hidden and explicit curriculum of family life, we have learnt it in church, we have learnt it in schools, we have learnt through the relationships we have been in and continue to be in. We have learnt it through stories, and through the normalised actions of others that we go on to imitate.
This lens, left unchecked, is used to solve problems, to make decisions, and to design the world we live in. The patriarchal lens that we have inherited and internalised has consequences for us all, and the ecosystem that we live within, that persist even as we seek to address them. We can be the barrier to solving, and the perpetuator of the problems we care about, when we are not aware of the lens through which we are living and attempting to change things, and are not actively and consciously seeking to switch out our lens and increase our self-awareness.
We can ‘deschool’ ourselves, and we can meet ourselves, each other and our environment on different terms. We can address each bias as we notice it, and do the work to interrogate it and practice a replacement that is more in alignment with our heart-felt beliefs and values and the sustainable and just world that we want to create.
To do that we must accept the discomfort of change. The discomfort of feeling unsafe at times as our foundations shift. We must accept the need to practice relationship with ourselves and others differently. We must be open to the feelings of grief that come with recognising our inherited lens for what it is and facing letting it go, and being open to the unknown as we open welcome new lenses into our lives. We must be rigorous and we must find strength.
Without new lenses, we are destined to continue in the violent, unsustainable, dishonest and oppressive behaviours, interpretations and ways of being that we have been given by history. We need new lenses to solve our problems, mitigate for unintended consequences, and create the designs necessary for human and environmental rights and justice to be realised, and these lenses come from understanding what patriarchy is, how to deconstruct it, and what remedial dynamic needs to come in it’s place.