Wednesday, March 21, 2007

FAQ: Isn't "the Patriarchy" just some conspiracy theory that blames all men, even decent men, for women's woes?

Updated 18March07

Patriarchy: one of the most misunderstood critical-theory concepts ever, often wilfully misunderstood. Patriarchy is an ancient and ongoing social system based on traditions of elitism (a hierarchy of inferiorities), privilege and the subjugation of women via strict gender expectations which constrain individualist expressions. Some societies are more patriarchal than others, but patriarchal social traditions are universal in human societies.

Not all men are Patriarchs. A Patriarch is a man who has special power and influence over not just his family but also in society, due to privileges gathered through intersections of age, wealth, achievement, lineage, patronage and the exploitation of others.

Men do not generally conspire with Patriarchs (although they may aspire to become one): men simply have a place above women in the traditional socioeconomic hierarchy from which Patriarchs skim the cream, meaning that men (as a group) benefit more from the injustices of Patriarchy than women do (as a group).

In primitive and lawless societies patriarchal organisation has survival benefits for women and children, at a price: subjugation and often misogynistic abuse. Civilisation (generally) has advanced a long way from the days of the ancient ruthless patriarchs who held the power of life and death over their extended families/clans, and survival is (generally) no longer dependant on formal subjugation to a Patriarch, either for men or women.

However, society is still structured along patriarchal lines of submission in nearly all forms of organisations, to the great benefit of those at the top. The male elites, the magnates (currently white, but who knows what the next century will bring?), continue to wield disproportionate influence and power over the situations of other men and especially women.

"So, there is no one Patriarch, leastaways not outside of Constantinople. There's no single dude in a nifty hat (or not) at the top of the power structure, surrounded by scantily clad women whom he feeds to tigers for his kicks and giggles. If it were only that simple, we could off the old wanker, free the women and give them some trousers, find loving homes for the tigers, and have a great party around the bonfire of his palace (after salvaging all the good art, books, and chocolate). Alas, because the patriarchy is instead a very very old system that has warped everyone's thinking right down to the sub-rational, axiomatic, non-verbal ideological level, it's much more difficult to overthrow. (We've seen how well wars against ideas work.)"
Extra-Credit Reading (not a feminist primer):
"patriarchy is a violently tyrannical but nearly invisible social order based on an oppressive paradigm of class and status fetishizing dominance and submission. Patriarchy’s benefits are accrued according to a rigid hierarchy at the top of which are rich honky males and at the bottom of which are poor women of color."
Even in modern-rule-of-law countries with full legal sexual equality, there are still many patriarchal remnants in the way that men (as a group) seek to discourage women (as a group) from social independence and independent financial security. These remnant patriarchal traditions do more harm to women, on balance, than good.

The continuing subjugation and abuse of women in more traditional societies, along with the continued inequity even in rule-of-law societies, is why feminism seeks to dismantle patriarchy. Which is why some patriarchs are so antagonistic towards feminism:
Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
[Pat Robertson, multi-millionaire televangelist and former presidential candidate, 1992]
Clarifying Concepts:

Patriarchy and sexism intersect and buttress each other:
"It's using a male default as the standard and then because (well, duh) women are different from that standard, we are found lacking."
High Status Women defending the Patriarchy:

This phenomenon doesn't mean that Patriarchy isn't unjust, it only means that such women like the benefits they derive from high status and wish to keep them.
"student, it seems to many of us that the people you mention are actually anti-feminists in feminist clothing. essentially they say they care about equality in the workplace, and that we've already gotten there; and that all the other stuff is not important because the sex-differences there are meant to be. frequently they dismiss feminist concerns about sexual harrassment, about women being forced out of their careers and back into the home, or about date-rape, saying that these things are not about equality and are oppressive to MEN. it's frustrating for these women to call themselves feminists because it seems like they're just trying to dismantle what many of us think are legitimate equality-related concerns "from the inside"."
[roula (in comments here) responding to questions about Wendy McElroy, Cathy Young et al (emphasis added)]
As usual, please feel free to add your favourite links to articles about the subject to the comments thread.

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