“The Patriarchy” isn’t a physical or objective institution, it’s just a conceptualization of various social phenomena.
To illustrate the difference, The United States Federal Government is physical and objective, you can establish a definite point in time where it began its existence, March 4th, 1789. The U.S. Federal Government can own property, there is a definite subset of things that can be understood to belong to it specifically. The U.S. Federal Government can appear in court. It has a limited, objective existence. It is a physical institution.
“America” on the other hand is an idea, when does it begin? Well you could argue that it begins with the Revolutionary War and the Deceleration of Independence, or you could go further back than that and look at how that idea has deeper origins in something like the French and Indian War, hell, you could go all the way back to Jamestown in fact and trace the idea of “America” back to the beginnings of European colonialism, or even further beyond that still to Anglo-Saxon Puritanism and the Norman Conquest of England. In this way “America” doesn’t possess a positive origin in time or a definite objective existence.
We may talk about certain things being “American”, even when they’re from different countries, you can conceptualize parts of Canadian or English culture as in some way being “American”, and not everything within the political boundaries of the United States is necessarily “American”, some things are, some things aren’t, and some things may have an “American” aspect to them or be “American” in a particular respect while simultaneously being something else in others.
“The Patriarchy” is like “America”. With “America” though, we have this definite physical embodiment of the idea of “America” in the form of the United States Federal Government, which is sort of the objective representation of that idea that has the power and ability to deliberately act in accordance with that idea. It’s not really so clear though how “The Patriarchy” is manifested objectively however.
The idea of “The Patriarchy” has “The Patriarchy” actively taking a role in the lives of men and women, “The Patriarchy” teaches and conditions and socializes and tells women and men both how to act and feel and behave, and what opinions to have, and what to think. “The Patriarchy” is made out to be the objective cause of the subjectively perceived inequality of women, but because there is no definite, physically limited institution corresponding to the idea of “The Patriarchy”, the question is by means of what objective mechanism does “The Patriarchy” exert itself within the limited confines of our physical society.
“Women face tremendous inequality”, is always presupposed, always taken as a given, we know women are unequal, and we know that “The Patriarchy” is the thing creating and perpetuating that inequality, but how?
This dilemma is really starting to take its tole on Feminist discourse, because you can less and less really point to actual objective things as being part of “The Patriarchy”. There isn’t definite and unambiguous legal oppression really of any kind, women actually do quite well for themselves and in many areas have received such a helping hand from positive discrimination on their behalf it can be difficult to call them the disadvantaged or unequal party while keeping a straight face. The statistics paint a much more immediately alarming picture of the circumstances men find themselves in and Feminists are finding themselves having to fight to keep all eyes focused on them and the inequality they face, lest they lose their moral legitimacy.
If you can’t point out specific incidences of female inequality, that is, specific cases of “The Patriarchy” in action, it becomes increasingly hard to make the case that “The Patriarchy” exists, and because it’s “The Patriarchy” afterall that’s making woman unequal, if you can’t establish an objective mechanism through which “The Patriarchy” creates that inequality, what’s making women unequal?
Feminists dread the natural conclusion of such a question, that maybe, just maybe, women aren’t… Maybe women don’t face “tremendous” inequality.
This is what “microaggressions” are all about, a physical basis of “The Patriarchy”‘s existence has to be found, it has to be tethered to actuality and constituted within social reality somewhere. So there’s been this shift from “macroaggressions”, or sympathizable hardship and discrimination with a definite or at least immediately apparent existence, to “microaggressions”, which act as a kind of life support system to keep the idea of “The Patriarchy” or “Structurally Racist” “Society” or what have you alive just a little bit longer. If those ideas die, inequality dies, and if inequality dies, all the power and influence and political concessions and economic handouts that come with inequality stop. As long as you can keep the idea of “The Patriarchy” alive, you can convince people inequality exists, and retain the lucrative power your ideology grants you for just a little bit longer.