An Extended Look At the Patriarchy

In my last post on feminism (which I promise isn’t the only thing I talk about, I’m just on a roll here) I briefly touched upon why the concept of the patriarchy, to me, doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. I decided to delve a little deeper into that idea since the fact that the patriarchy both exists and is a problem is one of the core ideas of modern feminism. It should be noted that I’m talking about the modern West here, specifically America, as that is where I live and the place I am most familiar with. I fully acknowledge the foibles of my country’s past in regards to gender and the legitimate and truly harmful patriarchies that currently exist in other places–Saudi Arabia, China, and the like. But I find it hard to swallow (Offensive sex pun? Maybe.) that the phrase “Fight the patriarchy!” has any place in modern day America as anything other than a hyperbolic slogan used to get feminist supporters psyched up like an announcer yelling “Are you ready?!” before a kick boxing match.

Feminist theory defines the patriarchy as “an unjust socially constructed system that is necessarily more oppressive to women than to men and often includes the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women.” Patriarchal societies are male dominated, determined to remain male dominated, male centered, and prone to associating valued qualities with men and unlikable qualities with women. For the record, I’m getting these definitions from a typical Google search of “what is the patriarchy?” 

Let’s talk about all of these points in regards to modern day America.

1.) Male dominated– “not all men are powerful and not all women are powerless, but men typically have powerful positions whereas women do not.”

I have two main problems with the assertion when applied to Western society. First, it implies that unequal demographics are caused by unequal opportunity. Secondly, what is “power,” and what positions in society can be deemed “powerful” so as to be objectively stated?

This is the argument about so few women being CEOs and politicians. And I actually would blame this partially on sexism, not any current sexism though. Politics and business are rather stagnant areas–people stay in them a long time and moving up is often more dependent on who you know and where you’ve already been than anything else. It takes a long time to reach CEO status and it takes a long time to become a politician with any significant clout. A lot of the people in those fields now have already been playing the field, so to speak, for a while. It makes sense that there would be more men in those areas just because they were already in it; they’ve had time to network and build themselves up. Combine that with the fact that women typically place less value on advancing past a certain status in the work place according to poles of business women, and it’s understandable that the gals haven’t caught up yet, which they are perfectly able to do in this day and age.

Which brings me to my first point: People assume that since there aren’t as many women CEOs that something must be stopping women. The idea apparently doesn’t occur to people that women have individual interests and personal autonomy that dictate what they want to do. There are more women in college and more women who graduate from college than men. And it’s 2014, a time where the girls who are in college now (such as myself) and who’ve graduated college in the past ten years have been told their entire life to shoot for the stars and do whatevah’ they wanna do, sister! It’s a time when you can get a gender studies degree and take classes specifically about this kind of thing, casting feminism and female leaders in a blindingly bright idealic light and encouraging women to be leaders and stand up gals.

If more women leave college now with education and English and psych degrees instead of business or math, it’s because that’s what they wanted. If more women go to California to be actresses than to work in Silicon Valley, it’s because that’s what they wanted. Maybe there aren’t more women in science and business because most women just don’t want to go into science and business. It’s disrespectful to say, with all the successful, happy women nowadays, that they don’t have the “right kind” of success in order to show the progress that has been made. It’s borderline toltalitarian (I know I’m being hyperbolic) to insist that progress has only been truly achieved when the world reflects that the way you think it should. In the end of the day, though, maybe the job gap is a reflection of freedom because it shows that people are doing what they want to be doing. And when people do what they want, the demographics aren’t going to be even.

What I’m concerned with is that women aren’t stopped from doing what they want. It’s not legal to stop them. It’s hardly socially acceptable to even imply that you don’t like go-getter women at this point. We live in a world where a powerful billionaire CEO can be ousted from his job and shunned from polite society because word got out that he sexually harassed his female employees 20 years ago. And he should have gotten in trouble. But he got in trouble because we now live in a society where stuff like that is downright unacceptable, and to act like people are just pretending not to be okay with it is just wrong. There will always be sexist people who take up-skirt photos of women on subways, but that’s not a condemnation of an entire society as sexist, just like the mere existence of murderers doesn’t mean our society condones killing people. America isn’t like India where raping women is technically illegal, but if you had a good “tradition” related reason you can get off with a slap on the wrist even if they know you did it.

I want to work in the sciences, actually. I use microscopes and work in research labs over the summer. And something that has already confused me is the notion that being having a vagina and being a scientist is hard (OMG, I’m black too–how do I get any jobs in this terribly regressive society we have?!) Yeah, I’m surrounded mainly by white guys but I never really saw that as an issue. Apparently I’m supposed to feel alienated and alone because no one there is like me, but I feel perfectly fine because they are like me. We have the same job that we all chose and like doing, we like the same nerdy things.

The idea that representation can only be achieved by people looking like me is flat out wrong. What would having more women politicians achieve in of itself in representing me as someone with breasts and a vagina if I wasn’t interested in voting for any of them? What would having more female CEOs achieve if I didn’t agree with how they ran their companies? Representation comes in the form of ideas, not fill-in-the-blank demographics. That would only make dumb people feel adequately represented by those in power–“Oh, that person looks like me. They must get me!” I firmly believe that we’ll be seeing more women “in power” and that’s a very good thing because it would most likely allow for more variety in viewpoints and ideas. I’m not saying that women should just not be CEOs–let me get that out of the way now. I also firmly believe that having more women is not going to make me like the people in power any more than I do now.

Onto the second point: What does “power” even mean? I’m assuming that they’re referring to political representatives and the like, but politicians are elected by and subject to the opinions of the people they serve under, half of whom are women. I’m pretty sure Mitt Romney lost the election because people thought he was sexist (and racist, and classist . . . he wasn’t good at appealing to people). Even back in the olden days where sexism was blatant and acceptable, the opinion of women actually mattered a good deal. “Happy wife, happy life” and all that. Even in their sexism, the safety of women was still of the highest regard for the men in charge, which cannot be said for their fellow penis-havers. So women may not have had “positions of power” back in the Dark Days leading up to the late 20th century America, but they were definitely treated with far more regard than feminists say they were. And that was back then. Women are generally considered to be a voting, thinking part of the populace now who it would be prudent to appeal to because they’re 50% of the demographic. Saying that women have no significant say in democratic, voting societies makes no sense, especially if you live in the more liberal states.

Then there’s the idea that “power” means simple positions of authority, which could be anything. CEOs are the impressive ones, but they’re by no means the only people in the world who can say that they’re in charge of shit. What does “authority” mean? Doesn’t a stay-at-home mom who is totally in charge of how the kids are raised and where all the extra money goes have authority? How about the wife with the bigger paycheck than her husband–an increasingly common situation? Doesn’t a liberal woman voting with the majority in her blue state for the politician that she supports have authority? Don’t insurance providers and accountants (fields dominated by women) have authority? Don’t people with PhDs, most of whom are women, have authority? Hell, don’t strippers technically have the “authority” of setting the rules for acceptable interactions with johns? “Positions of power” is such a vague, border-line elitist term the more I think about it. Where’s the line? If I showed a feminist a list of jobs where would they draw the line and say “Everything above this is powerful”? Once again, as I stated previously, it’s like feminism is the mom who just wants to brag about her kids having jobs that she finds personally impressive. “I don’t care that you have two PhDs in English and child psychology, Mary! Plenty of women have those already. What did I tell you about going into economics? It’s like you and your sisters live to disappoint me!”

 

2.) Determined to remain male dominated– “with men elevated in the social structure because of their presumed ability to exert control (whether rationally or through violence or the threat of violence) and women devalued for their supposed lack of control–women are assumed to need men’s supervision, protection, or control”

I don’t even really know what to say about this point, in all honesty. What about today’s society makes it seem like the men are just clamoring for control over those evil femi-nazis trying to take it from them? You hear that kind of thing said, but it’s by Tea Partiers and conservative radio talk show hosts and that one black politician who thought America was going to blow up because women were given power and that’s not what God wanted. But who is even vaguely indicating that this is what they want and getting away with it? Where is the unanimous “society” that supports that way of thinking?

Politicians can get away with saying “Women can’t be in charge because they have periods and emotions!” in places like rural Texas and Mississippi, and even other conservative states think those places are backwoods as all hell. “People in power” who make those kinds of claims are laughed out of the building everywhere else, and that has less to do with people being sexist and more to do with people holding “traditional values,” with that particular view of women being one among many other ideas that may or may not be totally outdated at this point in time.

As far as American stereotypes go, the whole “women are hysterical” idea totally died by the 1990s and was replaced by men all being little more than tall children who would accidentally choke on their own tongues while trying to eat without their more level-headed wife around to straighten them out. Look at every sitcom or TV commercial from the late 80s until now, and that will be very apparent. So, if anything, that stereotype got completely and utterly reversed in modern American culture, probably because people didn’t want to be sexist anymore.

And I already talked at length about how women are overtly encouraged to go for leadership positions in the 21st century and how anyone who even vaguely seems to be mistreating them based upon their gender will be raked over the coals for it. Being deemed sexist is near a social death warrant in modern American society, to the point where even if people are still genuinely sexist only outright idiots are open about having that mentality. It’s getting up there with being called a racist as far as inescapable negative social opinions of you go.

So I just don’t see this society that tries to make sure that men stay on top. Hell, some companies have been criticized for promoting unqualified women just to make sure that they have the token powerful female in their board meetings. Yes, women in power get criticized, oftentimes unduly so. But it’s not like their male counterparts are just treated with the utmost respect by everyone and never subject to undeserved bad talking. People in power make themselves open to people degrading them. People calling Hillary Clinton fat or calling Wendy Davis an “abortion Barbie” are the same lowest common denominator “commentators” who make fun of Chris Christie for being fat or call Obama black like that’s an insult and expect those comments to be viewed as legitimate criticisms of the person. The people who make those claims are idiots who attack the most obvious thing they can find because they’re not smart enough to do anything else–for Christie it’s him being fat, for Clinton it’s her being a woman in a field of mainly men. It’s not fair, but idiocy never is.

3.) Male identified– “aspects of society and personal attributes that are highly valued are associated with men, while devalued attributes and social activities are associated with women.  There is a sense of threat to the social structure of patriarchies when these gendered associations are destabilized–and the response in patriarchy is to increase the level of control, often by exerting control over women”

Okay, so this is the idea that men do things and women just are things. And sure, people thought like this. Once. Where is this sentiment expressed in modern America other than by individual people who most of us would dismiss as assholes at this point? The only place I can think that this is still something that overtly occurs is in men’s magazines–men’s magazines, that try to attract their target demographic by featuring handsome men who the target readers want to be and attractive women who the target readers want to be with, a marketing strategy. If you look at any women’s magazine, you’ll see the inverse where women are praised for accomplishments and men are just there for eye candy. If you look at any magazine targeted at teen girls, it features stories about what Selena Gomez eats for lunch and talks about her favorite colors and has spreads of pretty boy bands.

I’ll give you this, women oftentimes are associated more with family life than their male counterparts. But even though that association can be negative in nature, they typically aren’t. If a woman has a family and is also successful in other ways, society praises that woman as someone who has it all–she’s not only a go-getter, but she didn’t let that get in the way of being a mom and that makes her even more awesome. And the successful women who don’t have immediate familial concerns may be asked by an interviewer every now and again if they want to start a family any time soon, but other than being asked an innocent question they’re not being devalued. They’re praised as Iron Ladies. In this day and age, a female CEO saying that she don’t need no man is lauded as awesome, with only “traditionalists” and trolls on the internet leveling criticisms about it.

So where is the society doing this? That’s the question I keep being brought back to. If anything, it seems like subsections of society that subscribe to certain ideals that have this mentality, and if you want to complain about them fine, but apparently this mentality permeates everyone and everything. Feminists are describing America of the early 1960s, not any America people are familiar with now.

4.) Male centered:  It is taken for granted that the center of attention is the natural place for men and boys, and that women should occupy the margins.  Public attention is focused on men.  (To test this, take a look at any daily newspaper; what do you find on the front page about men?  about women?)

I’ll do the newspaper thing. I’ll go to New York Times’ website and look at their online paper on this day, July 16. Let’s see: updates on Israel, cultural pastimes in Rio, a bill that Rupert Murdoch is trying to get put into action, stocks, something decrying Hobby Lobby, stuff about buses in Kenya. New York Times is one of the most read newspapers in the country, so I feel like it’s a good place to start. None of those things are very gendered topics. The Hobby Lobby story is actually very pro-women rights. The front page of the overtly liberal Huffington Post online is fairly similar, barring a lot of random stories along the side, only one of which having anything to do with women specifically, with it being an obvious pop-corn piece.

So, the newspaper thing didn’t really work out. How about celebrities? They’re always subject to public attention. Let’s go to TMZ’s front page! (Don’t say I never did anything for you.) Okay: Drake apparently ripped off some rap lyrics, Hilary Clinton talking about what her presidential campaign song would be, Kim Kardashian making lots of money off of her new video game, Charlie Sheen being Charlie Sheen, some guy getting a new haircut. Yeah, the front page stories seem pretty evened out just when it comes to the gender of the people they’re focusing on, with all of the front page articles about women focusing on those women’s accomplishments. It’s TMZ, of course, so right along the side they talk about Taylor Swift showing her legs, but that’s in a sidebar article right above celebrities of multiple genders tweeting about Israel. So even TMZ, the god of treating even successful women like they’re worthless if their thighs aren’t thin enough, is actually pretty balanced out.

If anything it seems like the center of attention is given to people who . . . well, get our attention, gender being a secondary factor. The idea that women are relegated to the margins when it comes to attention doesn’t really hold up. In TV, there are multiple talk shows with entirely women, news stations have special segments dedicated to gender relations and usually have at least one female anchor, Lifetime is a channel that still exists, and there are plenty of fiction shows with women main characters. One of the most popular cartoons is Legend of Korra; one of the most popular movie series is the Hunger Games. Anita Sarkeesian, who is well established to be a total fraud, was given an award in the gaming community for acting as a feminist ambassador. Where’s the relegation to the sidelines here? If anything, people have been going out of their way to make sure more women are paid attention to because we live in a society that doesn’t want to be sexist.

How can a society that’s become so sensitive to this kind of thing still be considered patriarchal? It kind of seems that as soon as most people start actively acting against it, you can’t keep on treating it like some vague thing that no one does anything about.


So, clearly, I don’t believe those characteristics of the patriarchy really match how America looks in 2014. But what are some of the other claims that feminists make to support the idea of the American patriarchy? The wage gap, which most likely does not exist once you account for all the relevant factors of pay? The fact that football players can get away with rape even when it’s obvious that they did it, which seems to have more to do with celebrity culture and a general lack of cultural empathy? Seth Rogen movies where the geek gets the girl, which reflect America’s particular liking for underdog love stories and wanting to see a romantic happy ending, a desire which seems fairly gender neutral no matter what gender the nerd in question is? Women being afraid to walk alone in the dark for fear of being attacked, even though that’s a reasonable fear for anyone to have and is a fear shared by men who also don’t want to get assaulted? Cat-callers existing, even though they can hardly be considered an objective representation of all of society? The fact that there are still perverts who engage in criminal behavior that must reflect society, despite the fact that being a criminal in of itself indicates that you are not abiding by the rules of society?

It seems to me like, even if the patriarchy does currently exist in America, it’s doing a piss poor job and really isn’t worth talking about, at least not in the way feminist talk about it. They make it seem like some omnipresent, ominous, powerful force that’s just there affecting everything even if there’s no reason to assume that it is.

The American patriarchy, in my mind, is like an adorable little five year old boy. He totters on his chubby little legs over to his two big brothers–Chinese Patriarchy and Indian Patriarchy–and he goes up to them with the objectifying magazine cover that he made in arts and crafts, and he shows it to them and he’s so proud of it. And they just smile and nod like two parents whose kid just gave them a really crappy piece of macaroni art that they have to pretend to like, and little American Patriarchy just beams up at them and says, “Look, big brothers, I can be mean to girls too! I’m gonna be just like you one day!” And the two of them just pat him on the head and send him on his way and laugh at him as soon as he’s out of earshot–not in any malicious way, but in the fondly condescending way of adults laughing at a kid who thinks he knows what it’s like to be a grown up but clearly doesn’t. Then those two patriarchies part ways and go onto their jobs of actually oppressing women while little American Patriarchy stays back at the daycare, doodling lude pictures with his colored pencils, acting like girls have cooties, and making a blanket fort with a “No Girls Allowed” sign that most of the little girls in his class promptly ignore because they know that American Patriarchy can’t really enforce that rule without getting in trouble with the teacher.

The thing that irritates me the most about the patriarchy is that it’s essentially just a cop out. Something bad happened? Blame the patriarchy, no other explanation needed. The best thing about blaming the patriarchy is that there’s literally nothing to be done about it because the patriarchy is just this big, everpresent force that permeates everything with its terribleness. All you really can do is complain about it and make people feel bad for supporting it. Blaming the patriarchy isn’t about trying to make constructive changes for the better, it’s about lamenting how gosh darn mean the world is and will probably always be. There’s no solving the patriarchy, there’s only helpfully informing unenlightened people about its existence with a sad shake of the head and an implication that it’s their fault.

In short, blaming the patriarchy for your problems is an easy way to present yourself as a victim without really having to do anything about it, because being the underdog downtrodden by society makes you feel like part of a bigger cause. Calling for an end to the patriarchy is unrealistic, and I’m sure that feminists know that it’s unrealistic. They continue to do so because indignation over how hard they have it is a means in of itself, with actual social progress being optional. They’re essentially calling for an upheaval of society that isn’t possible given how permeated with prejudice it apparently is, and (in reality) isn’t even necessary.

You can tell that actual progress is a secondary goal just because they’re not trying to achieve things that are actually attainable. Feminists in the 20th century fought to change laws; feminists in India are fighting for separation of government and the traditionalist religious values that lead to many government leaders disregarding the laws that are in place. They did and are trying to do tangible things with realistic goals.

What are fourth wave Western feminists trying to do? On occasion they try to affect laws that would benefit women: they try to change birth control laws and try to convince magazines to stop using Photoshop so much. For the most part, they just enforce the spreading of oversimplified ideas of gender relations that treat men like ticking time bombs of gender violence that need to be taught the error of their ways and treat women like fragile flowers that are also paradoxically strong who need to be made aware of how oppressed they are. It’s not enough to have laws and common social stigmas against it–you’re still sexist on the inside, and until all gender bias is erased and there are no more perverts in the world, we still need feminism. Realistic. That’s the kind of logic that Alfred told Batman was bad. Listen to the good butler, guys.

I always say that if you want real change to occur you have to change minds. But feminism now is attempting to change minds in the worst way possible–by discouraging personal judgement and accountability and saying “Just trust that what feminism says is true.” It doesn’t encourage people to actually think about these things. It encourages them to “understand” that feminism is correct in its assertions and should be deferred to as the end all be all for gender relations, and it uses the all-encompassing justification of the vague power of the patriarchy to drive that idea home.

But what do I know? I’ve probably just internalized the sexist messages of the patriarchy. I’m oppressed, don’cha know?

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9 thoughts on “An Extended Look At the Patriarchy

  1. Thank you for another great post! A few weeks ago, I encountered a male feminist who did a post which repeatedly mentioned “rape culture”. In a comment, I pointed out that people still continue to commit murder, even though it is very severely punished; when I asked him if he believed that we live in a murder culture, he said yes: he blames society for every single thing that every single person does or doesn’t do. When I asked him why feminists were not devoting more time to ending “murder culture”, he didn’t reply.

    Would it be ok if I reblogged this post too?

  2. That was a great post, thank you! I too believe patriarchy is a bit of a myth, a mass hysteria, if “patriarchy” is defined as a male dominated system that seeks to oppress women and hog all the resources.

    It always strikes me as ironic, here in the US we have one of the best places in the world for women to live, a country that was founded and built primarily by those alleged oppressive patriarchs who hate women. The fact that we have so much freedom, even the freedom to chant “smash the patriarchy,” kind of dispels the whole patriarchal myth completely.

    • I find it odd, too, that people chanting “smash the patriarchy” here are quick and loud to denounce America for what it does militarily and economically in other countries where the most extreme examples of misogyny and patriarchy exist. By fighting the Taliban, for instance, is America not fighting for more rights for local women there at the same time?

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