The word “patriarchy” has been turned into somewhat of an object of ridicule. Of course, there are groups dedicated specifically to laugh at the exploitation of women and to make the ridiculous claim that women really detain the power in the Western world. I am not talking about those delusional people, but rather about somewhat more sane people.
People hold all sorts of strange beliefs about the patriarchy. Some believe that it must be some kind of vast conspiracy theory. Others believe that it means women can do no wrong, no matter what they do. Yet others believe that it’s an outdated concept that no longer exists because “we’re all equal now!” You also get the “good girlfriend” types who’ll say something like “my boyfriend is a good guy, he’s not in any patriarchy!” (the Not My Nigel syndrome).
First, let us review some facts:
* The power elite is composed of 90% men, and most of the 10% of women are only peripherally involved with the levers of power. (for more on this, see Who Rules America?, by G. William Domhoff)
* Women only make 72-82% as much money as men do for the same job.
* More than 30% of households with single women are poor, while 15% of households with single men and 6% of married couples are poor.
* Exact percentages are hard to ascertain because most rapes are unreported, but it is estimated that between one in six and one in five (even one in four, depending on your definition of consent- to me anything short of full consent amounts to rape, so I subscribe to the one in four figure) women are raped in their lifetime (I could not find any data for sexual assault, but since sexual assault is a much broader term, the percentage is likely to be quite higher). The fact that some men sexually assault or rape women generates the rape culture and a climate of fear for women; every man is a Schrödinger’s rapist.
* One woman out of four has been violently attacked by her partner.
* Women’s sexuality is ignored and degraded, while PIV is widely considered as either the only form of sex or the highest form of sex. Women only exist to be sexually available or men.
* Women who refuse to be sexually available to men are insulted and degraded by men as a group and even by other women (e.g. the Rebecca Watson case), while women who are sexually available to men run greater risks of rape and assault.
* Because of women’s biological vulnerability as regards to PIV, they are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than men.
* Women ruin their bodies, risk medical complications or death, and spend their time raising children to enhance men’s status and fuel institutions run by men.
In short, this is the patriarchy.
Does that mean the patriarchy is some kind of vast underground conspiracy where all men come together and decide how to undermine women’s human rights, wealth and sense of self-worth? No, of course not. Like many forms of domestic terrorism, the patriarchy is an example of spontaneous order, as discussed by Charles Johnson in his entry Women and the Invisible Fist. Speaking solely about the threat of rape, he says:
All of this can happen quite naturally when a large enough minority of men choose to commit widespread, intense, random acts of violence against a large enough number of women. And it can happen quite naturally without the raping men, or the “protecting” men, or the women in the society ever intending for any particular large-scale social outcome to come about. But what will come about, quite naturally, is that women’s social being — how women appear and act, as women, in public — will be systematically and profoundly circumscribed by a diffuse, decentralized threat of violence.
(NOTE: as zwitter pointed out in the comments, the rape itself does not constitute a patriarchy: the patriarchy and its rape culture are part of the context within which these rapes are perpetrated. Johnson here is talking about the application of spontaneous order to the concept of patriarchy, but the reality is that both individual rapes and the rape culture provide the context for each other)
The threat of rape is only one of the threats levied against women for being women, but it has profound consequences. Said consequences are used by politicians and other institutions to reinforce their supremacy over women, but they are not responsible for the rapists’ actions. Rather, each rapist, each politician, each bureaucrat, each harasser, each porn-loving funfem, is acting on his or her own.
I mentioned domestic terrorism. Certainly the terrorism used against homosexuals, arabs, black people, and so on, is of the same general nature than the terrorism used against women: the non-coordinated (with some exceptions, such as the KKK) actions of a wide variety of people in all sorts of settings come together in the mind of the oppressed to generate fear, powerlessness, anger, and so on, with the end result being the public suppression of anything that threatens the status quo. A particularity of the patriarchy is the fact that it is an attack against half the world, and therefore requires particularly insane defenses, but the basic mechanism is the same.
The tendency of police to adopt a sort of “noninterference” policy regarding such putatively “personal” or “private” matters as spousal abuse has much the same effect. Again, spousal abuse is an important case of terrorism in this sense. When men physically abuse their wives, this clearly has a consensual function. It not only fosters a subordination of individual wives to their husbands- a crucial part of sex-based hierarchization (or patriarchy)- it facilitates a broader conformity as well. Though its operation is not so obvious as, say, the organized terrorism of the Klu Klux Klan, this sort of private terrorism coerces a wide range of women into conformity with the wishes of men. It batters not only their bodies but their self-esteem, inhibiting their ability to act on their own with a sense of confidence. Like all terrorism, it fosters a general sense of fear that inhibits autonomous action of any type, most obviously including rebellious action. All terrorism encourages fright and passivity, a desire not to change social structures for the better but simply to avoid the brutality of the terrorists…
Harassment is continuous with terrorism. The difference is that harassment neither directly prevents the satisfaction of needs nor threatens one’s life or physical well-being. Rather, in the legal definition, it is the creation of a “hostile environment,” the cultivation of a sense of alienation and anxiety that inhibits a person’s general ability to function.
Patrick Colm Hogan, The Culture of Conformity, p27-28
What is the impetus behind such spontaneous order? Consider other examples: the capitalist markets (this is not really a great example, since capitalist markets are predicated on central planning, but such a well-known example that I cannot ignore it), Wikipedia, open source software, or, in a more metaphorical way, the theory of evolution.
In all these cases, you will find that the “spontaneity” is not so spontaneous after all, that the background incentives and rules make it so that cooperation (or in the case of capitalism, competition) can flourish in constructive ways. In fact, in all these examples, there are clear areas of quite unspontaneous, but rather quite deliberate, design. The rules of Wikipedia were explicitly designed to foster collaboration. Capitalism only flourished after the gradual establishment of harsh property schemes, while open source software only flourishes because of what one might call the exact opposite of a property scheme- openness, collaborative sharing, and as much freedom as possible. Evolution is only possible because of the existence of DNA and its specific properties.
What is spontaneous about these systems is not their existence, but rather the fact that the individuals involved in them are not necessarily acting in accordance with the designed aims. But what they all have in common is a pre-existing structure of incentives which favors the desired values. The most direct way to end them is therefore to modify or destroy the structure of incentives.
Radical feminists have identified a number of elements in our societies and in our world which provide powerful incentives to devalue or abuse women: reproduction, pornography, prostitution, the normalization of rape, sexual slavery. There is plenty of material out there explaining how each of these elements operate against women, so I won’t repeat them here. These are all essential parts of the patriarchy in our modern societies. But what is the underlying incentive structure making them possible?
The most fundamental structural factors are the uneven strength of men and women, and the drive of male hormones. Very little can be done about either of these factors, at least for now. They alone have ensured that the concept of a matriarchy has been extremely limited throughout history. Beyond these biological givens, I believe economic competition is crucial to that structure. There are four different elements to this problem.
The first is economic inequality. Greater economic equality is significantly correlated with women’s status (calculated as a composite of percentage of female politicians, the male-female income gap, and percentage of women with a higher education), teenage pregnancy, and women’s mental health (for the data, see The Spirit Level or The Equality Trust).
The second is the presence of safety nets (this is not necessarily related to equality: societies can be more economically equal while having small safety nets, like Japan, or while having big safety nets, like Sweden). The more safety nets available to women, the less vulnerable they are and the less they need to rely on men in order to survive.
The third is socialism, that is to say, whether workers control the means of production. In a society where a few males control most of the tools and wealth, women’s rights remain in the background. But since women represent half the working population, a socialist work environment would be far more respectful of women’s rights. I am not saying it would be automatic or even easy, but it would be inevitable.
The fourth, and probably the most fundamental, is the production and distribution of vital resources, especially food (but also other commodities like murder and procreation). When we look at the history of past societies, we find that societies where women produce food which is traded or distributed, or societies where women distribute such food, value women more highly. We also find that the more war-like a society is (that is to say, where murder becomes a vital resource) or the more overpopulation there is (when procreation becomes an undervalued resource), the less women are valued.
In general, hunting and gathering societies tend to be more egalitarian, while agricultural are much less so, because women’s work becomes limited to the private sphere. For more on all these factors, see Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, volume 1, “The Relative Status of Men and Women.” In our capitalist societies, women tend to have menial jobs and are only beginning to enter in administrative and military ranks, which is consistent with their low status.
Of course, there is the new assumption that “we’re all equal now” and that anything left over (like the things I listed at the beginning) either are not relevant to equality, personal failings, or are a logical consequence of biological differences. No doubt some of the people saying this are actively trying to bolster the patriarchy, but it’s also an honest belief for some people as well.
The trouble with this assumption is that gender differences are to a large extent constructed by prevalent beliefs, which are themselves informed by the patriarchy. Take the obvious example of women being excluded from scientific and technical fields, which generally come with high wages, on the basis of biological inabilities, such as the supposed inability to perform advanced mathematics. It has now been proven that women do not have lower scientific or mathematical abilities than men, and that the patriarchal belief that women couldn’t work in such domains was factually wrong.
Now the damage has been done. It’s much easier to put forward false beliefs as propaganda than to debunk them, which gives a constant advantage to the dominant ideology that women are inferior, while of course maintaining the propaganda front that men and women are now equal. So women never get the benefit of the doubt.
At any rate, in this case, as in many other cases, the belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy which enters into a feedback loop with gender difference: the lack of female science or mathematics students “proves” that women can’t do maths, which sustains a lack of female science or mathematics students, which “proves” that women can’t do maths, and so on. In fact, we know from studies that belief not only affects attitude (such as a reluctance to enter a specific field due to prejudice) but also affects performance itself: people who “know” they are supposed to be worse at something test far worse than the average on it, even though they are equally good at it on their own. This certainly deepens the feedback loop quite a bit.
Because of this pervasive effect, it is therefore reasonable to assume that any gender difference is an effect of existing prejudice, unless we can prove that it isn’t. This has the upshot of making “we’re all equal” propositions, being based on explaining away gender differences as biological, irrelevant or personal failings, unjustifiable prima facie.
The concept of attributing responsibility (whether “it’s your fault” or “it’s the system’s fault”) is another construction, insofar as we tend to assume that people we consider less competent are personally at fault for their failures, while people we consider more competent are not held personally at fault. Corporate persons fire employees because “the economy is bad,” but those employees who were fired are unemployed because they are lazy and unskilled. Teachers are overworked and therefore cannot do their job, but the students who fail because of this are stupid and unworthy.
On the other hand, a system we like can never be at fault: a cop who beats up a woman in his custody is a “bad apple,” and no matter how many cops beat up innocent people or shoot innocent people, they are always just “bad apples.” The law enforcement system can never be at fault. This is also the case of the patriarchy. Every single serial killer, rapist, wife-beater or misogynist harasser is just another “bad apple.” There is no desire for anyone to connect the dots because doing so could lead into dangerous territory (i.e. rejecting the system that sustains these actions).
So to claim that the patriarchy cannot exist because every problem with being a woman is every individual woman’s fault is, again, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyone who holds the pre-existing belief that it has to be the individual’s fault will easily find faults with any given individual that “prove” that she brought it on herself, whether that “it” is getting killed, raped, beaten or harassed. Real attribution of responsibility has to start with a cool-headed confront of the system’s guiding principles and incentive structure. But this cannot happen if one refuses to admit the system even exists.
In addition to attribution, there are two cognitive biases at work: the obedience circuit and the just-world hypothesis (the belief that the world is just, and that therefore people get what they deserve and deserve what they get). Ultimately, I think this has all to do with the fact that we have to keep believing in the core beliefs and institutions of our society to ward off the fact that we are not in control of our own lives and that our actions inflict suffering on other living beings. In order to ignore the female-specific harm, we (by which I mean all men and the vast majority of women) go on believing that there is no patriarchy and that every woman who gets killed, raped, beaten or harassed must have deserved it somehow.
Can the patriarchy be eliminated? Because its foundation rests in actual biological differences which could only be eliminated with technology that does not currently exist, and which would not be used anyway since males will never want to relinquish their power, it’s hard to see how it could happen. I believe that those who claim some men can be “nice guys” are just plain wrong… there is no such thing as a “nice guy” (i.e. a man who does not objectify women, and therefore does not hate women at some level). You might as well start looking for unicorns.
Female or lesbian separatism seems like a good option, since I think that men need women more than women need men. I can’t prove that this is the case, but it makes intuitive sense (women tend to do a lot more actual work than men, have to serve men sexually, bear a major part of the burden of having and raising children, and so on). If I am right, this means that the belief of many MRAs that they should “go Galt” (i.e. isolate themselves from society so as not to deal with women) is actually beneficial for women, which is rather ironic.