I would look at the [patriarchy] not only as [a system] that places men on top of a hierarchy, but as one that encourages men to oppress women.
I agree that individual men do oppress individual women through the current system. Of course, individual women also oppress individual women, and every other iteration you can think of.
nobadges misunderstood me here. I didn't mean "there are some individual men who oppress women." I meant that all men, in being men, oppress women.
This is not to say that every man is a rapist, nor that there aren't any men who treat women as equals. Thing is, though, by living in a sexist society men do things every day that oppress women -- sometimes things that can't be avoided even if we are aware of them.
For instance, let's say I go into a bank with my female partner to get a mortgage. The person we're speaking to might defer to me more than to the woman with me, asking me all the relevant questions. The assumption (perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not) is that I am the one in charge. So who is to blame for this? Well, certainly the bank employee takes some blame, and society in general is to blame for creating and maintaining a situation where the banker is likely to behave that way. I do not necessarily hold any of the blame in this situation, but my presence caused the oppression of my partner.
This is not a great example, but it shows the insidiousness of privilege. I don't even have to be in the same room as a woman to cause her oppression: if I am one of two equally-qualified candidates for a job, and the other is a woman, I am more likely to be hired. The blame here is not mine unless I played up my maleness in the interview or something, but because my privilege caused me to gain to the detriment of the female candidate I am in a way taking her job opportunity away from her without ever meeting her.
So I as a man, I as a white person, I as a non-poor person, I as an able person and so on through all the privileged classes I am a member of, I contribute to oppression of oppressed classes simply by being who I am. I can't or won't change who I am, so instead I try to change in whatever way I can the structures that cause me to be an oppressor. Yes, it's rather a sisyphean undertaking, but it is the right thing to do.