Patriarchy, The Slavery Mentality and Workaholicism

Wake Up and Smell the Roses

One of the defining aspects of patriarchy is the negation of the emotional life. Patriarchy dictates that the material aspect takes hierarchical precedence over the less determinable facets of existence, a standpoint that may have been practical a hundred or so years ago, but is becoming rapidly more outdated every year as we move through this period of accelerated evolution, into the 21st century.

It’s a system that prioritizes products over process, gain at the cost of experience. In our current patriarchal model, we are all, men and women, expected to work minimum 8hrs a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks of the year, for 40 years of our lives, and if we cannot do that we are penalized. In reality, this kind of work schedule is simply not possible for all but a tiny minority. Life happens: sickness, love, heartbreak, childbirth, the necessity of moving home or changing career paths, the death of a close relative, even an exceptionally sunny or snowy day, there are a million ways we can become derailed from being able to fulfill the system’s unreasonable demands.

Patriarchy tells you then that you are wrong for having different needs from the ones that it dictates are important, and it will punish you for that by rewarding your work less and creating survival anxiety. People who follow their hearts are seen as threats to the system and must be ostracized and mocked. Creativity is a luxury, not a necessary component of the human experience.

Patriarchy ingrains in us the sense that to have an emotional life, an interior life, is to be faulty somehow; any desire other than that of maintaining the existing order makes us weak, and we should suppress our emotions and true feelings in order to stay on track and be successful. The end result of this is an inability to effectively process emotion that stifles both productivity and creativity, and creates a climate where people’s default emotional expression is anger. I believe that’s one of the reasons there is such a huge outpouring of collective anger currently; people are reacting against a system which denies them space for the emotional experience, and rather than having the tools to rationally explore a mature way to navigate this stressful and unnatural position, it’s easy to end up lashing out blindly at the first target that comes along.

There are many reasons why I’ve never been able to successfully conform to the societal expectations of what a woman of my age and background should be doing. In part, you could call it wilful rebellion, but also I find myself continually coming up against life situations which take me away from cultural norms: most recently, it was a packed travel schedule that made it impossible to create a stable work routine. But I truly love my work, and if I don’t get enough time spent immersed weaving my creative threads into the fabric of our culture, I crave it like water or sunshine, I feel its lack.

As I travel, I encounter many cultures that have a different attitude to work than the UK does (which seems to be particularly unhealthy in its work-life balance), and this makes me question exactly how much should we be working. What is productivity and what fosters creativity; how much work is optimal? There seems to be no evidence that we benefit in any way, either as an individual or a society, from putting work way up at the top of our hierarchy of daily needs as we do in the UK. In fact, research shows that a 6hr day is optimum, 4hrs is the limit to actual productivity in the day, and a 4-day working week is preferable to 5.

So why do we push ourselves beyond these natural rhythms? To work less is seen in our culture as laziness, but I personally find that the less pressure I put on myself, the more I get done. By following my own inner flow, rather than the whip crack of the relentless dictated schedule of the 9-5, I am so much more efficient in how I use my time. When I am working, I am fully engaged and focused on my work and achieve a lot quickly. When I am not working I try not to feel guilty, so I am fully decompressing, and can return to work with energy and enthusiasm to tackle whatever inbox dramas are coming my way. I have a rule to only look at emails if I’m actually in a space to sit and answer them, because I realized that looking at them when I couldn’t actually engage with them (because I was travelling, or out with friends, or busy with the kids for example), just made me feel stressed.

Currently, I feel that I have a really healthy balance between relaxation, rest and work, so it makes sense that I have more energy and resourcefulness to deal with the inevitable stresses and strains of life. Somehow in the past few decades, the culture of always being tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and existing by the grace of caffeine, has become normalized, to the point where someone who is not hurtling from one day to the next like a deer in headlights is seen as failing.

I think I have been a workaholic in the past. There have been definite periods of my life where I believed the answer to happiness lay in doing more, unable to see that taking on more responsibilities and pressures would just create more stress and more feelings of inferiority as I failed to keep up with the unrealistic demands I was setting for myself. I have been close to a nervous breakdown more than once, because I didn’t understand that true happiness is rooted in self-care; not in what you can do for other people and how you look to other people, but what you can do for yourself., and how you look to yourself.  

I believe the root of this way of thinking lies in the slavery mentality that is deeply programmed into us through countless generations of hierarchal rule. We find it hard to shake loose the concept that life is meant to be hard, we are meant to work long hours for little reward, that we will always have a tyrant of a boss that we are subjugated by. We are willingly complicit in our own slavery by our expectation of what we deserve from life. To shift this, we need to examine our own sense of self-worth. Is this tied up in what we do for people, rather than who we are? Do we understand that it is enough to just be, that we don’t need to do anything to prove to people that we are valid as a human being? In short, are we coming from a place of fear or a place of love?

It is this sense of always not good enough, of always needing to prove something, which fuels our society. In not comprehending our innate value, we are always trying to determine our perceived value. If we collectively spent more time on accepting ourselves as we are, loving ourselves and nurturing ourselves from within, rather than always beating ourselves up on the altar of self-sacrifice, we would more readily disengage from so much of the fake materialistic bullshit the world pushes on us.

The world can be a traumatic and stressful place. We are all, to varying degrees, carrying the baggage of undealt-with stress and trauma: from our childhoods, from relationships that didn’t work out, from endeavours we threw our hearts and souls into that didn’t reap the benefits we expected, from the myriad of ways that life treats good people badly. But when we place the work of undoing this trauma at the centre of our lives, we gradually move into a lifestyle where we feel more supported, and we create an expectation that life will go our way. When we suppress the trauma and bury it because we have internalized the belief system that working for the system is more important, and we ourselves are intrinsically unworthy, we perpetuate the slavery mentality. It’s about shifting our priorities, gradually but steadily, towards a balance between the emotional and the material. Respecting our energies, our rhythms, our own cycles, and not allowing them to be diminished or dissipated by an overbearing system that doesn’t have our own individual welfare at its heart.

The more I explore the issue of what is healthy and sustainable and well, just human, in our working lives, the more it seems clear that universal basic income and a standardized 30 hour working week are the answers. As radical as these proposals may currently sound, it’s the only reasonable way I can see out of the appalling mess we have handed the millennials, and it’s an idea that has been gaining traction over the last few years. The result would be to live in a world where our value is not tied up in what we can do for the system, but intrinsically in our self-worth as humans. The biggest obstacle of course, is a system that is dependent on our oppression for it to exist, and has no interest in building alternative models. But equally, it’s our own lack of self-love and self-appreciation that stands in our way, and why self-love is such a deeply radical act.

When we continually prioritise doing over being, we sacrifice our humanity for the sake of a capitalist system that doesn’t have our best interests at heart. When we balance doing and being, we can no longer keep up with the rigorous demands of the system, but we find ourselves supported and nourished in unexpected ways: by simple walks in nature, by listening to music, by growing our own food, by discovering our artistic talents. We move into a deeper sense of our own shared humanity, and a compassion and respect for all living beings. We feel naturally compelled to contribute to our community, and find ways to create new structures that uplift this shared humanity rather than diminish it. We step into our own magic, and find there is a life outside the limitations that have been set for us, and it’s a life that is far more gratifying than we could have imagined.



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Comments (3)

  • Belinda says:

    Experiencing the way other cultures do their lives is so enriching for our own. Four days a week has been my most comfortable and productive for sure. Four one two. Four work, one for me and Two to Be social.

  • Toni says:

    Kate! I couldn’t agree more! Great article.

  • Randy says:

    Right on Kate! This is so true! Too many of us get caught up in the rat race and clutter our lives with too much stress. Less is more and works well. Amen!

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Kate Magic