Ruled Over by a Male Figure (RObaMF)

I cooked the holiday meal yesterday. It was a lot of work, but it was fun.

This was my first time hosting Xmas. For various reasons, Mom was invited to the festivities this year, but dad was not.

As we sat down to enjoy the meal I had just made, Mom addressed my partner.

“[smash’s nigel], why don’t you come over here and sit at the head of the table.”


Mom knows I’m a feminist, but this came so naturally to her that she said it anyway.

I informed her that we don’t do “head of the table” at my house, and that she herself might as well sit where she had been indicating, since there is nothing special in my house about plopping oneself in one part of the rectangular table versus another.

But, even if we did do “head of the table” bullsh*t at my house, one might think that the person who had cooked the meal should sit at the “head”—not the dude who is dating the person who cooked the entire meal.

It’s clear to me that Mom didn’t mean to offend me by offering the head/dominant seat to nigel. It was simply natural to her. If we had had the event at her house, dad would have taken the head seat. If dad had been invited to my place, he would have taken the head seat. Since the big ‘P’ Patriarch was absent, the little ‘p’ patriarch would have to do.

In Mom’s mind, she can’t imagine a world where the meal was not Ruled Over by a Male Figure. In Xmases past, she’s cooked the meal many times before, but still, the meal she cooked was Ruled Over by a Male Figure. She bought the presents, the groceries, and decorated the house; still, the event was Ruled Over by a Male Figure.

It’s not just my Mother for whom all big events must be RObaMF.

My grandpa was a preacher, and he often officiated weddings. He passed away several years ago. Grandma bore four children—the first two are my aunts, my dad is the third child, and my uncle is the fourth.

This year, my male cousin married a woman. Since grandpa has died, my cousin had a special request for my dad. Would he, as the new capital ‘P’ Patriarch, officiate the wedding? Even though dad was the THIRD born child, behind two Wonderful Women? Behind cousin’s Mother?

To my cousin, it was very important that this family event be RObaMF.


Perhaps because cousin hoped to someday become the big ‘P’ Patriarch. After all, that’s one big reason why dudes get married– this is a privilege they have been promised since birth. Perhaps it was because he was taught, as my Mom was taught, that DUDES rule the family, and events don’t really count unless they are RObaMF. Whatever the case may be, he didn’t ask his own Mother (the second born aunt)—he asked my dad.

Radical feminists know that the male domination of the family is exceptionally dangerous and we wish to eliminate the cult of masculinity. We recognize that choosing a man to sit at the “head” of the table, or officiate a wedding is a *symbolic* act that is used to convey to the family, and the world, that HE is in charge, and that we are subordinate to him. Sitting in a certain order at the table is a small “traditional” act, but it is an act that is symbolic of male domination, which is of course enacted through male violence.

It is important to notice this. We must open our eyes to the way patriarchy operates in every aspect of our lives.

Let’s remind each other that our analysis may take us to critical places we don’t want to go, but that we must go to in order to determine the truth about our lives as women, and the forces that suppress us.

Let’s support one another throughout this process, rather than condemn.

I know my mother didn’t mean harm by her statement; it was an instant reaction based on the patriarchal brainwashing she’s been soaked in since birth. At the same time, I can love my Mother without pretending away the harm.

When I was young, I asked my Mom, “What happens when you and dad disagree? Why is his word the Final Say on the Matter?”

At the time, she replied to me, “Because someone has to have the final say, or we’d continue to argue forever about it.”

Her answer hides the true nature of heteromarriage; it is built on RObaMF.

My response, as a child, was “Why don’t you get to have the final say, instead of him? Why is it always HIM?”

I was told, “Because, that is just the way it is.”

No thank you. I’ll pass.

Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

About smash
Women's liberationist.

24 Responses to Ruled Over by a Male Figure (RObaMF)

  1. Not in my house. Or he can eat outside. Or go find a new woman.

    I agree. These things seem like “little details” but if they are so little, then what’s the problem with simply changing them? It is made to be a big deal when you say, “Hey, let’s not do it that way,” and then there is protest and you are told that YOU are making it a big deal. Not being a big deal would have a response of, “Yeah, totally good point. I’ll sit over there.” <—Says the male. End of convo. That fact that the male will often argue about it while telling you that YOU are making it a big deal is so contradictory that I can't even….

    • smash says:

      Thanks for your comment, feminist ninja. I love your point! If it were “no big deal” then it wouldn’t be a big deal to change it. The fact that they dig in their heels because “tradition” means it is, in fact, a big deal to maintain the status quo– aka dudes rule.

      It is so, so common for men to sit at the “head” of the table. The question is usually about *which* dude gets to sit there, not *whether*.

      I would never have allowed nigel to sit at the head at Mom’s directing, but I also didn’t make a big fuss about her statement because it was a holiday and I wanted to have fun. But of course, I recognize that my lack of fuss-making is socialized behavior, and the desire to not be seen as a problem (when *in actual fact*, the problem is patriarchy, not the woman who objects to patriarchy) is a trait borne out of my femininity training.

  2. tiamathydra says:

    What feminist ninja says is very true and that is why we get silenced by the patriarchy, this so brilliant style of exposing them is scary as hell to them.

    I also don’t make fuss either because the times I did, the backlash is tremendous, they make a way bigger deal than you as feminist ninja says.
    In the christmas day we, the females of the house, did all the cooking and all the dirty work, the men just sat watching tv (also my cousin who is in his 20s and his excuse was that ”he had been partying all night long” WTF? me too and I don’t give that shitty excuse) and they helped a tiny bit not to be criticized by us (because when men ”help” a tiny bit and you do all the dirty work women think that’s adorable), and I didn’t make a big fuss either, but I just can’t excuse their behaviour saying that they are brainwashed by patriarchy. I also live in patriarchy and I think we all have freethinking capacity, if they don’t think freely is because they’re cowards. Anyways you don’t get anything by arguing with them, ever. They’ll tell you ”it is just how it is and you have to accept it” ad nauseum and that’s all.

    Women’s lack of fuss-making is socialized behavior, yes, and I’m often surprised at how painfully aware women are of their subordination. In a Christmas dinner when I was a child I once said that I didn’t want to ever have a boyfriend because boys were nasty and my aunt told me that ”that’s what you say now and what we all said as little girls, but you’ll see how in some time you will have to start jumping through men’s hoops if you want to avoid more harm. They put the hoops, you jump, it’s settled that way and nobody has been able to change it yet unfortunately. You’ll jump through the hoops because jumping gets you intro trouble but not jumping gets you into double trouble, be sure of that”. I was horrified at how she spoke so naturally about what seemed to be a totalitarian regime as if it was so real. I thought she was crazy. But it turns out she wasn’t. Actually I’m very interested in this ”lack of fuss-making” lately because I’ve been paying attention to all the moments when women around me just seem to be blocking information or pretend not to listen to misogyny or not to see it, and they really put a lot of effort into making the ”lack of fuss-making” seem effortless and natural. But there is a lot of pretending in it, it’s anything but natural, I can feel that they’re burning with anger inside just like we are, they just try not to speak out for fear of being punished.

  3. Nobody Special says:

    Hey I like that… ‘one might think that the person who had cooked the meal should sit at the “head”’. What a cool idea!

  4. I don try to speak up with my family because I see no point in it. It would be just a huge fight and just a bunch of tears and I don’t want that during the holidays……

  5. background spinner says:

    Appallingly perfect picture, smash. Interesting, isn’t it, how she’s allowed to do the heavy lifting as long as it’s ‘women’s work?’

    I was raised pentecostal, and most of my extended family are still practicing pentecostals. (um, not me) About a year ago, I was at my cousin’s house for a birthday dinner for my uncle. She and her daughter had cooked the entire meal for about 15 or so people. There were two tables–one the dining table, and beside that, a long folding table. Because my radar is always on high alert for such things, I noticed that the daughter was arranging for the women to sit at the folding table, sort of like the children’s table at Thanksgiving. No way was I going to sit there. My ears started to burn, and I was hearing that roaring sound–you know the one? I was planning to go outside and wait for the meal to be over–trying not to make a ‘fuss’ doing it–LOL–but her mother quietly changed the setup, and to their credit, no one else seemed willing to go along with this plan, if they even noticed it. What I found so telling was that the younger woman was the one who was so invested in proving her acceptance of her ‘inferior’ status.

    • smash says:

      Wow, background spinner, it’s amazing that the woman who had just cooked the meal were planning on the women sitting at the folding table. That is so humiliating and infuriating! It is very interesting that it was the younger woman who had the idea.

  6. radicalwoman says:

    We have a round table 🙂

  7. smash says:

    Check out this interesting article about Albania. Since families must be RObaMF, these women became patriarchs.

    “Sworn virgins have existed for centuries. According to tradition dating back to the 15th century developed out of the Kanun, a tribal code of law, tribal clans from the Balkans considered families without a male presence as pariahs. When blood feuds decimated all the men in a family, the only way to salvage their honor was for a woman to become the patriarch of the clan and start acting like a man.”

  8. Janis says:

    I agree with everything everyone says about how often we back off from making a fuss. We acquiesce through not doing.

    If you think about this so-called holiday, it is about Patriarchy taking over from Matriarchy. The older, pagan festivals were in sync with nature, we celebrated Solstice and the natural cycles. Then along came the patriarchal religions and co-opted the natural cycles. Their male god and the birth of the boy child would now be celebrated and anyone who didn’t celebrate them was evil and later on in history, would be burned. The male child was born to a pure woman, not one who had enjoyed sex with a man (or a woman) – the enjoyment of sex that pagan practised.
    The male god and boy child festival was reinforced with a male saint who would appear as a father figure and distribute presents to all the children who had behaved well in patriarchal terms. All the festival’s special songs feature the worship of the male god and the boy child.

    I don’t really know why we all persist in these so-called traditions in the first place. The secularisation of a christian festival doesn’t make it more woman-friendly, it simply embeds the patriarchal characteristics of it. Ask anyone you know why they celebrate a festival of a religion their family may not even be part of and that word whose toxicity is cleverly made anodyne will be tossed around – tradition.

    We need to start with who sits at ‘the head of the table’ and start deconstructing from there.

  9. cocktailsat7 says:

    I think that whoever has the strongest personality gets to be the head of the family, regardless of sex. In our family, my 95-year-old grandmother is considered the matriarch, even though she has two brothers. She’s fabulous, and it’s only fair that she’s the matriarch, because she is a force to be reckoned with!

    • tiamathydra says:

      ”In our family, my 95-year-old grandmother is considered the matriarch, even though she has two brothers.”

      In my family it was my grandmother (now 92) who used to sit at the ”head” of the table, now she has Alzheimer’s so she doesn’t even eat with us anymore but until two years ago she was the one ruling the table, but I’m from a very agricultural, patriarchal but quite mother and grandmother-respecting part of Spain with some matriarchal elements that have survived patriarchy so maybe the ”man at the head of the table” is an American thing (?) I don’t know.

      Anyway I know plenty of women with the strongest personality and their force is not reckoned at all, they’re mocked and ignored anyways, many of them are ruled over by a male figure and the male figure is just some retard while she is much wiser and stronger than him but she is considered to be inferior and even if everyone knows she is the strong one, the fact that the man, for example, has the economic power, changes everything and puts him at the head of the family anyways. What you’re saying would imply that for example Muslim women are enslaved because they are idiots without personality which for anyone who knows a Muslim woman personally is blatantly not true.

      • cocktailsat7 says:

        Obviously I didn’t mean to imply that people with less strong personalities shouldn’t be free and have equal rights…I was just describing how we roll in my traditional Southern family.

  10. bugbrennan says:

    pls add a tumblr share button to your blog; good post.

  11. Noanodyne says:

    Excellent points, Smash, thanks for posting about this. And the comments, so good.

    After years and years of living through this classic holiday experience of men at the head of the table, men doing most of the talking throughout the meal, men sitting around on their asses while women work, and the overall effect of those days being Mendays, not holidays, a few years ago I started telling my family “no” when invited. And I explained why I wouldn’t be there — it’s no fun, I’m not happy, and I don’t want to play along anymore. The rain of excuses and explanations came pouring down: “It’s just one day out of the year,” “I’m glad the men aren’t in the kitchen,” “I agree, but it’s the only time we can all be together,” “It’s not that bad,” “Can’t you be there for us [the women]?” Never a word about changing anything. I started thinking about doing this years ago when it first became completely clear to me, but I knew I’d miss seeing the women and girls in my family at these celebrations. But the utter lack of any change over the years, despite pointed discussions, wore me down finally and I realized the anger and sadness at the total imbalance was making it impossible for me to join in with even faked equanimity.

    The only way any of this will change is if women refuse to participate in it — just as you did, Smash. And how terribly sad is that — women have to give up the things they create and love just to get men (and other women) to wake the hell up. It’s why many women don’t.

  12. Thank you for this wonderful analysis. I would like to post a French translation of it on my FB page, with full copyright to you and link to ths page. May I?

  13. Here is how it would read. (I have struggled with “Ruled by” – French isn’t as elastic as English – and have thought of replacing it by the Fr equivalent of “Deference to,” since you are addressing women’s internalization of that rule. Is this too much of a transformation? If you think so, I will find a way to translate it in a closer way to the original, e.g. “Régie par”.)

    La Déférence à une Figure d’Autorité Masculine (DFAM)
    par Smash the Patriarchy, le 26 décembre 2012

    J’ai cuisiné le repas des Fêtes hier. C’était beaucoup de travail, mais c’était amusant.
    C’était la première fois que je recevais la famille pour Noël. Pour diverses raisons, maman a été invitée aux festivités de cette année, mais papa ne l’a pas été.
    Au moment où nous avons pris place à table pour déguster le repas que je venais de préparer, maman s’est adressée à mon partenaire.
    «[nigel de smash], pourquoi ne pas venir ici t’asseoir à la tête de la table?»
    Maman sait que je suis féministe, mais cela lui est venu si naturellement à l’esprit qu’elle l’a dit quand même.
    Je l’ai informée que nous ne faisons pas ce truc de «la tête de la table» chez moi, et qu’elle-même pourrait tout aussi bien prendre cette place qu’elle avait indiquée, puisque s’asseoir à un endroit ou l’autre de notre table rectangulaire n’avait aucune signification spéciale dans ma maison.
    Et même si nous jouions à ce jeu débile de qui doit s’asseoir à «la tête de la table» chez moi, on pourrait penser que c’est la personne ayant préparé le repas qui devrait prendre la place de «tête», plutôt que le mec qui sort avec la personne qui a préparé tout le repas.
    Il est clair pour moi que maman ne voulait pas me blesser en offrant à nigel la place de tête / dominante. C’était simplement un réflexe naturel pour elle. Si nous avions tenu le repas chez elle, papa aurait pris la place de tête. Si papa avait été invité chez moi, il aurait pris la place de tête. Mais comme le patriarche avec un grand «P» était absent, le patriarche au petit «p» allait devoir suffire.
    Dans l’esprit de maman, elle ne peut imaginer un monde et un repas de fête sans Déférence à une Figure d’Autorité Masculine (DFAM). Lors de nos Noëls précédents, elle a souvent été celle qui préparait le repas, mais le repas qu’elle cuisinait était tout de même présidé par une Figure d’Autorité Masculine. Elle achetait les cadeaux, faisait toute l’épicerie et décorait la maison, mais l’événement exigeait tout de même la DFAM.
    Ce n’est pas seulement ma mère pour qui tous les grands événements appellent la DFAM.
    Mon grand-père était prédicateur, et il officiait souvent à des mariages. Il est décédé il y a plusieurs années. Grand-mère eut quatre enfants – les deux premiers sont mes tantes, mon père est le troisième et mon oncle est le quatrième.
    Cette année, mon cousin s’est marié. Comme grand-papa était décédé, mon cousin a adressé une requête spéciale à mon père. Accepterait-il, à titre de nouveau patriarche avec un grand «P», de présider à son mariage? Même si papa était le troisième enfant, après deux femmes merveilleuses? Après la propre mère de mon cousin?
    Pour mon cousin, il était très important que cet événement familial se fasse en avec DFAM. Pourquoi?
    Peut-être parce mon cousin espère devenir un jour le patriarche avec un grand «P». Après tout, c’est une des grandes raisons pour lesquelles les mecs se marient, c’est un privilège qu’on leur a promis depuis leur naissance. Peut-être est-ce parce qu’on leur a enseigné, comme cela a été enseigné à ma mère, que les MECS sont ceux qui président la famille et que les événements ne comptent pas vraiment s’ils n’incluent pas la DFAM. Quoi qu’il en soit, il ne l’a pas demandé sa propre mère (ma tante, la deuxième née) mais à mon père.
    Nous les féministes radicales savons que la domination masculine de la famille est extrêmement dangereuse ( et nous voulons éliminer le culte de la virilité ( Nous sommes conscientes que le choix d’un homme de s’asseoir «à la tête» de la table, ou pour officier à un mariage est un acte symbolique, utilisé pour faire savoir à la famille, et au reste du monde, que c’est LUI est en contrôle et que nous lui sommes subordonnées. Le fait de s’asseoir dans un certain ordre à la table est un acte «traditionnel» de petite envergure, mais c’est un acte qui est symbolique de la domination masculine, laquelle est bien sûr instaurée par la violence masculine.
    Il est important de remarquer cela. Nous devons ouvrir nos yeux à la façon dont fonctionne le patriarcat dans chaque aspect de nos vies.
    Rappelons-nous mutuellement que notre analyse peut nous emmener dans des endroits critiques où nous n’aimons pas aller, mais où nous devons aller pour déterminer la vérité sur nos vies en tant que femmes et sur les forces qui nous répriment.
    Appuyons-nous réciproquement tout au long de ce processus, plutôt que de nous condamner.
    Je sais que ma mère ne me voulait aucun mal en disant ce qu’elle a dit; c’était une réaction réflexe, basée sur le lavage de cerveau patriarcal qu’on lui a infligé depuis sa naissance. En même temps, je peux aimer ma mère sans devoir prétendre qu’il n’y a pas là un tort.
    Quand j’étais jeune, j’ai demandé à ma mère, «Qu’est-ce qui se passe quand toi et papa n’êtes pas d’accord? Pourquoi est-ce toujours ce qu’il dit qui constitue le dernier mot sur tout?»
    À l’époque, elle m’a répondu: «Parce que quelqu’un doit avoir le dernier mot, sinon nos discussions ne prendraient jamais fin.»
    Sa réponse dissimulait la vraie nature de l’hétéromariage: en fait il repose sur la DFAM.
    Ma réponse d’enfant a été, «Pourquoi n’obtiens-tu pas d’avoir le dernier mot, plutôt que lui? Pourquoi est-ce toujours LUI?»
    On m’a répondu, «Parce que, c’est juste la façon dont sont les choses.»
    Non merci. Je vais passer mon tour.

    Texte original : « Ruled Over by a Male Figure » –
    Traduction : Martin Dufresne
    © Tous droits réservés à Smash The Patriarchy, décembre 2012.

  14. ptittle says:

    You’re right, it’s soooo pervasive. I happened to stop at my neighbours’ house one day, two women living together as housemates. The one’s brother and his wife were there to visit, and the other one had given up her recliner chair, centrally located in the living room, to him. Not to his wife, not ever to any of her or the other’s female friends. Just HIM. Incredible.

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