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The Myth of the Benevolent Patriarch

One of the myths we inhabit here up on this vandalised and subjugated island of colonising empires and crushed spirits, is that of the Benevolent Patriarch.

It is a myth that serves the empire, the oppressor, the perpetrator and the generic white male too. Even if he isn't one of the 'bad ones' it still is of use to have this myth.


  • Father Christmas

  • Jeremy Corbyn

  • Tony Blair

  • Boris Johnson (though the cracks are showing, the clown's makeup is sliding down his face and his belly protrudes from the polyester fabric that fails to encase it)

  • God

  • The Pope

  • Abraham Lincoln

  • The old man in the Werther's Originals ads

  • Bruce Forsyth

  • Good King Wenceslas

  • Bill Gates

  • Jimmy Saville

  • Vladimir Putin

  • etc

  • etc

(Who else can you think of?)

The concept here is that there is a kindly, good, protective patriarch that will look after us. A nice old man. He is wise, generous and will take care of everything. He can be completely trusted and we can hand over responsibility to him. 

Sadly this role is a vehicle for power abuse.

At its most extreme it can be exploited for horrific violence. 

Yet this is the important part: even when the individual inhabiting the role, is a 'good person' and plays the benevolent patriarch well... it is still patriarchy.

That's important, because it is the systems, the culture and the context that matter far more than the individual. 

We are clearly not too great at discriminating between genuine benevolence and fake versions of it under this costume of Kind Grandpa.

Red Riding Hood was taken in: but in older versions of her story she knew how to get out again and was not fooled. In later years she has been captured by the wolf-culture and turned into a passive victim waiting for the Huntsman (the benevolent patriarch) to rescue her from the wicked jaws of Fake Grandma. And this is how we read her now, our children absorb the lesson that we can rely on the Benevolent Patriarch to save us from the bad one, without realising - they are in it together. The bad ones scare us so we run into the arms of the good ones. The good ones tell us stories of our helplessness, weakness and victimhood so we will forget to free ourselves entirely. The bad ones remind us its not safe - the good ones offer the comforts - and thus we remain trapped in a larger myth of our own frailty and forgetting. Crucially: we hand over our power to the good ones, relying on their innate goodness - failing to notice that this doesn't exist. We can never be fully good or fully bad - noone can. We can only inhabit myths and cultures that may serve our freedom or our entrapment.

The older story of Little Red Riding Hood tells us she vomited on the wolf, she told him she had to pee, she fed him poison sausages. She set herself free with her own wits and cunning, insight and resourcefulness. No huntsman was there. 

What myths are keeping you safely ensnared?


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