Papa Barack and the Patriarchy of America or What We Need Is Good Governance

Sunday, June 16, 2013

By Elizabeth Dawes Gay

“Patriarchy (rule by fathers) is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination.” (Wikipedia)

This land has operated as a patriarchy since the Founding Fathers were just sperm cells themselves and not much has changed since 1776. President Barack Obama (hereafter referred to as Papa Barack) is content to serve−and is really intent on serving - as this nation’s number one papa.

But the thing is, we the citizens and residents of this country don’t need a Papa Barack to raise us up in the way we should go. We have earthly fathers, father figures, or men we trust, respect, or can rely on. Some of us call on a spiritual father when we need more than those on earth can provide. Instead of a federal father, what we need is good governance.

Good governance “assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.” (UN)

Patriarchy in the United States and the western world is nothing new but it’s time for a change. Patriarchy is what led Papa Barack to submit a budget withholding insurance coverage for abortion for low-income and marginalized women. Patriarchy is what caused this Presidential Administration to continue to fight a losing battle on expanded access to emergency contraception, even in the face of years of scientific evidence. Ironically, patriarchy is the reason why we are still fighting for the fair treatment of people (including papas) who are transitioning into parenthood or adding to their families.

In trying to be a father to us all, Papa Barack has neglected the bare essentials of governance his role as President entails. The voices of the vulnerable must be heard and included in policy-making at all times, not just when it’s politically expedient or will help win an election. Decision-making must meet the needs of the people where they are, not force them to what the decision-maker believes is morally upright or gender- and age-appropriate.

We can determine the course of our own lives. We can make the best decisions for ourselves. We can create our own strong families. Good governance ensures we have the rights and the resources to do so.

It seems that other historical patriarchies have learned this and are evolving even as we are devolving. While Papa Barack was fighting to keep emergency contraception under pharmacist and physician guard to prevent young people from exercising their right to protect themselves and make healthy decisions, France was working to make sure that all young women don’t have to worry about paying for birth control or abortion. It seems France understands that when it comes to health, evidence matters more than moral objection. They also seem to take public education about contraception and condom use very seriously, making important information accessible and interesting to the people they are trying to reach. Vive la France! But seriously, can’t we make our own risqué condom commercial?

France isn’t perfect, you say? Our historical context is different, you say? Yes, that may be so−but it doesn’t mean we can’t evolve, make progress, shift culture, and shape the future. We would do well to adopt a thing or two from our European brethren. It’s not like we haven’t already.

As long as those charged with governing our society would rather father it, we will continue to have unnecessary and harmful restrictions that disproportionately impact the sexual, reproductive, maternal, and general wellbeing of women. Decisions about sex, fertility, and parenting are better left to individuals and their families – even when that family doesn’t fit the First Family mold.

I hope that over the next two years Papa Barack will live out his commitment to scientific integrity and do what research demonstrates is in the best interest of the health and wellbeing of the people. President Obama can be the change we all believed in, if only he would step back from being Papa Barack.

Elizabeth is Senior Associate for Programs and Policy at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) and an active member of the Women’s Information Network. She is a participant in Echoing Ida.

This blog post is part of the Strong Families' first Papa's Day celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.


  1. Powerful. Thank you for sharing!