Following on the heels of the absolutely terrible article by Lindy West that all the injustice faced by men (past and present) is the result of the “patriarchy” and that only feminism can address these issues, I thought I would spend some time today looking at the idea of “patriarchy” a little more closely.
A reader named Sherlock sent me a link to an article, written by a woman named Susan Carol Rogers, called Female Forms of Power and the Myth of Male Dominance: A Model of Female/Male Interaction in Peasant Society. Here is the link:
It’s a fairly long slog, at 29 pages, but I’m going to give you the quick and dirty summary.
Susan starts by noting that anthropology as a discipline makes a couple of sweeping generalizations and assumptions that directly affects how they understand and investigate power and authority. Anthropologists typically assume that the only forms of power that matter are those that are codified and formalized: things like rules and laws and positions in political institutions. There is no room in their observations for informal power. The mayor has power. The mayor’s wife has none.
This focus on only formal aspects of power and authority makes it seem as if male dominance is virtually universal across human societies. To make matters even more complicated, both men and women behave as if men are dominant, when in reality, the situation is much more nuanced.
Susan writes, “although peasant males monopolize positions of authority and are shown public deference by women, thus superficially appearing to be dominant, they wield relatively little real power” (p.728).
In the peasant societies Susan explores, women control a major portion of the resources and make most of the decisions regarding how those resources are used, in effect, wielding the greater power.
Why would they do that? Why act like men have all the power, when in reality, it’s women who have most of it?
This is the absolute kicker in Susan’s article. She gets this 100% right, if you ask me. She starts by defining a myth as a belief that one can see is factually untrue. Take the idea that black men have bigger penis sizes than any other racial group. It’s a myth that’s been repeated so often, even black MEN, who are most likely to have seen a black penis (their own, for starters) tend to believe it. But it’s not true. It’s part of a racist narrative to define black men as animals, and it has its roots in the history of American slavery.
We’re going to come back to that idea, and talk about how myths can be productive, but also incredibly destructive when society no longer perceives the myth as a myth.
In the groups that Susan is looking at, neither men nor women believe the myth that men are dominant, but both men and women behave as if that is, in fact, true.
Both groups want to think of themselves as having distinct advantages, values and prestige relative to one another, and they want those attributes to be distributed fairly, and in such a way that neither group feels like they’re getting the shaft. They want to seem like “winners” to one another. Furthermore, both men and women see themselves as mutually dependent upon one another, which, when you come right down to the very basic reality of reproduction is absolutely, unequivocally true.
Technology, driven by the dominant ideology of female supremacy, is working furiously to eliminate men from the reproductive process, creating embryos that are genetically identical to the mother, by triggering a process called parthenogenesis. I’ve had fun with that one before.
The end of genetic diversity. How clever. And how sad is it that most of the specialists working in human fertility are actually male? Working to eradicate themselves.
Let’s get back to Susan. She observes that men and women in peasant societies understand perfectly that they are dependent upon one another, and seek to create a social structure that makes both men and women feel valued and that they are being treated respectfully and fairly.
What resources do women control?
In peasant societies, the key unit of economic and social production is the nuclear family. Husband, wife, children, and perhaps extended members of the family in the form of grandparents. Jill Dubisch, also trying to evaluate the power that women hold in peasant societies, came up with four criteria to evaluate how evenly power is distributed between husbands and wives:
- How respectfully did the spouses treat one another, both privately and publicly?
- How often or much did the spouses interfere with one another’s domains?
- How were family resources allocated?
- How were decisions regarding plans for children made?
Here is an example of how that works: in Greek villages, women control all the family finances, because they take principal responsibility for producing the food/goods that will be sold at the local market. The women make the bread, churn the butter, weave the cloth, collect the eggs, raise the goats, make the cheese, etc. They attend the markets, set the prices, and collect the payment.
So far, they are the primary drivers of the family’s prosperity and comfort. A man without a hard-working wife like this is well and truly fucked. This kind of scenario has been in effect since the beginning of written culture.
One of the my favorite passages from the Bible is Proverbs 31, commonly called, the Virtuous Woman. And because I am an atheist, I absolutely want scripture read at my funeral! I also want to be buried in my Star Trek uniform, but that’s another story.
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeks wool, and flax, and works willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants’ ships; she brings her food from afar.
She rises also while it is yet night, and gives meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considers a field, and buys it: with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good: her candle goes not out by night.
She lays her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretches out her hand to the poor; yea, she reaches forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes fine linen, and sells it; and delivers girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but you excel beyond them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31: 10-31
Let her own works praise her in the gates. So lovely.
Look carefully at what our virtuous woman’s husband is doing. He praises her, basks in how her hard work improves his reputation and he sits with the elders.
Now, the typical feminist response to this is wahhhhhh… look at how hard that poor woman works…wahhhhh… her husband just sits on his ass doing nothing…. wahhhhh… she’s so abused and exploited….
Which ignore two realities completely: first of all, this woman and her family are clearly very affluent. Not everyone is. That’s life. The only thing that matters is that any family that works hard has a CHANCE to be affluent. She may consider a field and decide to plant an olive grove, but you can be damn sure she ain’t out in the fields doing the work herself.
Who does the backbreaking labor in peasant society, or any society for that matter?
Yeah, that would be men. Generally poor men, struggling to get a foot on the ladder and pull their whole family up.
Secondly, the affluent men are not sitting on their asses doing nothing: they are creating the political and social structures that make it possible for their economies to work. They set the terms of economic exchange, they mediate disputes, they enact laws and enforce them.
In other words, they formalize power and authority and create the political context that governs how the whole society works. And when ONLY the formal structures of power are examined, they appear to be completely and utterly dominant.
But they’re not. So Virtuous spends the day managing her male workforce out toiling in the olive grove, she gets the new linen ready for market, she makes sure her maidens and children are taken care of, she packs up a basket for the local poor folks, she does all the work her day requires.
Then Mr. Virtuous comes home, cracks her in the face for backtalk, takes her money, decides he doesn’t like what the kids are up to, complains about her new tapestry and then demands dinner?
My fucking ass he does.
But that’s what the myth of patriarchy wants us to believe, isn’t it? That men are exploitive and abusive and violent and controlling and they hold all the reins of power and won’t hesitate to use them to harm and confine and limit the lives of women. Their wives, their sisters, their daughters, their mothers.
And in doing so, destroy the whole society.
The only solution to this terrible problem of male abusiveness and exploitation is to take all the public, formal power away from them while still retaining all the control over family resources. That’s feminism in a nutshell. Remove men from power, while still maintaining all of women’s traditional power.
Abortion laws, reproductive rights (for women only), the rise of single motherhood, divorce, custody and division of property laws are all ways to enshrine women’s absolute control over family resources. And all the while, women are exhorted to “lean in”, fight for more power and influence and control of formal power structures.
More women in corporate board rooms.
More women in government.
More women in the judiciary.
More women at the top of every formal power structure we have.
Traditional peasant societies could see that women produced and controlled most of the actual, finite resources in society, including the labor of less affluent men. And they could see how that might make men feel a bit vulnerable and defensive. Who wants to be treated like a utility? Like oxen, good for labor and then the soup pot?
So both men and women agreed to allow men to control most of the formal power structures, none of which can exist without the labor of women and poor men. And to make certain that both men and women felt equally valued and appreciated, they created a myth of male dominance, all the while knowing that the true balance of power swayed heavily in favor of women.
Everybody understood that the idea of male dominance was a MYTH. A story designed to engender respect and mutual prosperity. And for thousands of years, it worked perfectly.
In traditional families like my own, that myth is alive and well. Technically, Mr. JB has all the power. The formal power. He earns all the money, and he handles all the bills. He makes all the financial decisions, without input or interference from me. I am completely dependent upon him for survival. And when his Boss calls up and asks if Mr.JB can take on an extra project, the first thing he says is, “I’ll have to check with the boss”.
That would be me.
Because at the end of the day, if I’m not happy, and I don’t feel respected or valued or appreciated, his life is going to be very unpleasant. And it works both ways. Can he take on the extra project? Does he want to? How important is this to him? Will it make him happy? That’s how I make my decision.
That’s how we make decisions together.
Remember the whole myth of the black male penis thing? I’m going to link to a post at The Good Men Project, although I generally don’t like that site. It’s worth a read because the writer talks about the origins of that particular myth and how it has come to harm black men in particular.
It harms them because the myth is no longer seen as a myth, but as an incontrovertible truth.
And that’s what happened with the myth of male dominance. At some point our culture has forgotten that this is a STORY, with a very commendable purpose: it’s a story that assures mutual respect and admiration. A group of angry women decided that shutting women out of formal power structures was a problem that needed to be fixed.
And you know, fair enough. Okay. Let’s get more women into formal power structures, even though they show little inclination or desire to be there.
BUT, in exchange for that access, women will have to give up access to traditional female power structures.
And that isn’t happening. Women want both male and female powers. Preferably ALL the power. The right to control men by controlling the most precious resource any culture has: children, and the right to hold the reins of formal, institutionalized power that governs all our lives.
That reduces men, and poor men in particular, to mere social utilities, with little value and correspondingly little respect. And that is just what is happening. Men are belittled in the media and their concerns scoffed.
The rates at which they take their own lives are ignored, or worse, they get blamed for the very real despair of knowing you are nothing but a tool, easily discarded when your usefulness has run its course.
Feminists continually point to the fact that men continue to dominate formal power structures as evidence for patriarchy. Their suggested redress is to wrest formal power from men and give it to women, while still holding on to their own traditional advantages and informal powers.
We have a word to describe the society that will eventually evolve if such an effort is successful. It’s not patriarchy.
It’s quite an impressive inversion, isn’t it? When feminists use the word “patriarchy” what they are opposing is respect and the equal attribution of power and control between the sexes. When feminists identify the “patriarchy” as a problem, they are in effect saying that valuing the contributions of men and women equally, and in a way that is designed to make both men and women feel as if they are being treated fairly is a problem.
The reality is that power skews to women. That’s easy to ignore or even outright deny, because that power is informal. The balance is restored when formal power rests in the hands of men. And despite 70 years of shrieking and protesting and gnashing of teeth, formal power DOES reside mostly in the hands of men.
Patriarchy has never existed in the form that feminism insists. And it has never been the problem.
On the contrary. It’s the solution.
Let’s bring back patriarchy. And let our own works praise us in the gates.
Lots of love,