Get the Big one out of the way
I thought I’d start with the one that gets the most attention in feminism, because it’s sort of used by opponents and skeptics alike to decry a form of irrationality in feminism, particularly toward an unjustified sentiment of oppression that could very easily be explained away as “classism” by the more radical socialists of the left, who tend toward a universal analysis of inequality, rather than gender-specific.
Patriarchy, if you take a dictionary, will give a definition like this:
A system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.
Oxford Dictionaries / https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/patriarchy
Now, if I know my history of feminist theory (and I do), that’s not the only way which patriarchy is known to feminists. So, comitting a reductio ad absurdum by constraining ourselves to the dictionary definition is of course self-defeating, because such a society is not easily defined in the West. Some might even say that patriarchal societies don’t exist anymore in the West, based on this very definition.
The problem with such a strict interpretation of patriarchy is that it denies the multitudes of other factors that perpetuate a patriarchal society, beyond hereditary male privilege. So, in order to explain this to my worthy readers, I have to delve deeper than the definition, by outlining a couple of points of contention in feminism about what exactly patriarchy is.
Masculinity vs Feminity
In a patriarchal society, there is a definite cleavage between masculine and feminine attributes, which are often reduced to natural arguments of society. As in: Women have less muscle mass, therefore they should do the child rearing, while the men should be the bread-winners. So, contrary to popular belief, there is a kind of logic in the patriarchal society which would not directly expose a form of sexism, but rather hearken to a so-called biological origin of this separation of gender roles. Ah, what are “gender roles”?
Gender roles are roles determined through (but not only) culture, society, and state preservation. The perservation of the state requires that these roles be kept verbatim because any confusion that would arise from women attempting to switch roles would inevitably cause a kind of revolution on cultural and social grounds, making the preservation of certain privileges for the Patriarchs moot. As such, it is preferrable for a patriarchal society, that gender roles be very well defined and highlighted as positive.
For example, patriarchal societies will glorify both the masculine aspects of war and the feminine aspects of child rearing and education. Men have to be strong to be able to defend the country and women should remain at home to provide children with what the man cannot. It’s a mutually beneficient society, so it would seem. Thus, in order for the state to be constantly rejuvenated with a healthy generation of able-bodied warriors to wage war with, women must stay at home and take care of the soft skills that will allow men to interact both with their brothers and their future wives.
Wives, who on the contrary, learn to be modest, pure, and submissive to the masculine will of the husband, who is the master of the household. Any kind of substraction from this tradition risks the destruction of unity, and when such destruction occurs, it is used as leverage against the emancipation of either gender, so that “men will be men” and “women will be women”, because in order for the state to function as it does, it needs a singularity of similarly-shaped workforce individuals. That way, we can streamline production toward specific genders, and the growth of the economy is left unabated by any delusions of similitudes between men and women, other than that they are both humans.
On the surface, then, patriarchy appears to be a proper model for maintaining cultural and social norms, through the dominance of men and through the submission of women. Both simply have to know their place and that they should not derogate from this trail. If men are condemned to be profitable workers to the capitalist society, women have to allow the men to work on their dreams, while theirs should be the creation of worthy offspring and future generations that hopefully, will be prosperous.
Like the physical term of the same name, when you start to dig deeper into the motives behind patriarchy, you find a series of flaws that make it into an untenable political and economical tradition. First of all: Women are not biologically engineered to be unable to fight, they simply have a lower muscle mass in general than men. However, due to biology itself, some men are born with more feminine traits and some women are born with more masculine traits. Yet, both are still forced (socially or culturally) to abide by the normalized gender roles within their society. So, despite a woman having a propension for sports and perhaps even warfare, she will be ostracized in a patriarchal society, because other women think it is unsightly for a woman to try to do a man’s job and men will find it unsightly for a woman to try to do their job, and thus refuse to consider her a worthy marriage option, because who will take care of the children?
As you can see, one of the flaws in the reasoning is that if women also work highly demanding jobs like men, no one will take care of the children at home because men are not predisposed (through biology, we would presume) to take care of children. The patriarchal idea is that men work and women take care of children, so the moment women begin to want to skip through to the other side and vice versa (men wish to do child rearing) there is a visible social ostracization of these people. Once that occurs, the patriarchal society pains to maintain its hold onto these gendered norms.
Now, of course, a series of generations that have kept the means of production and the wealth in the hands of men, presumably men who approve of the patriarchal system, will put in methods through which women and men cannot easily transition between roles. For example, a man who works cannot decide to go back home, because no one else works in the family. If he chooses to do so against his will, he will become a dependent of the government, and in patriarchy, there is no worse a fate for men than to become dependent on the state. It is a dishonor.
Whereas if a woman chooses to leave the home to become a worker in the workforce and do a similar job that a man would, and the man chooses not to go home, the children are left to their own devices and various household chores will have to be performed by either the man or the woman or both. Now, if we take both parties as being strangers in their respective “new fields”, this cannot bode well. Men may not be capable of doing what the woman was doing and the woman may have difficulty adapting to a much more aggressive environment. The only way this can happen is if the system changes to replicate both these people’s desires.
Generally, what has happened in these cases, however, is that men have refused to sacrifice work hours to be more present at home, leaving the child rearing still in the hands of the women, despite having worked similar hours that their husbands did. In this situation, it would become logical for any overworked woman to simply forget about it and return to the traditional situation of rearing the children and giving birth to offspring, and maintaining the household.
Therein lies another problem…
Change is inevitable
The presumption of the Patriarchal system is that men and women have inherently different desires in life that will never changed, based on this naturalistic fallacy. Meaning that even if women begin to dream and have ambitions or simply to be allowed to work in the factory or as a janitor, the patriarchal society does not have appropriate jobs or environments for them to work in, because of the presumption of their feminity making them unqualified to do traditionally male jobs and vice-versa for the men. There is no equality, in that sense, in a patriarchal society, between men and women, because women do not get renumerated for rearing children. Their wealth is entirely dependent on the man’s salary and capital.
In reality, men and women sometimes share similar ambitions and although not initially visible, these ambitions sometimes interconnect, but in a patriarchal society, the primarity of political and economic relevancy is left by default for the man. If women seek to participate in the world of a male-dominated workforce, they must adapt to it. Now, this is in contradiction with the patriarchal values attributed to both genders. If women are naturally endowed with their feminity, it should be denied outright that they can work in the same environments as men. Thus, as change occurs, the patriarchal society makes concessions.
Women are given roles that do not necessarily dissociate them from their child rearing at home: Teaching, administration, textile industry, cultivation, accounting, kindergartening, all things that while allowing women to make a wage of their own, still keeps them in a subservient role to men. The purpose of this, of course, is to maintain gender roles even in the workplace. Now this paints an increasingly clear picture of what “masculinity” and “feminity” is for. It ascribes specific occupations based on the person’s gender, but more specifically, their sex. I won’t go into detail about the differences between gender and sex, but to be clear: Women in the patriarchal society are not dissociated between gender and sex. These are mutually inclusive, meaning that women are inherently feminine and therefore inherently subordinates to men.
When this vision of gender-specific roles is challenged, and we see men being able to do child rearing and women being able to create wealthy enterprises that make sizeable amounts of wealth and create valuable capital, we find that the patriarchal interpretation of society is what we call “heteronormative”. It does not consider the ambiguity of certain biological traits that exist within humans and it considers as a scientific fact that only men and only women exist in society (disregarding the notion of gender as being separate from sex). So, for example, it is impossible, in a patriarchal society, to envision a male-male or female-female relationship, because it does not further the human race and supposedly halts growth. It also looks down upon a couple that does not have children and chooses instead to be mutually co-dependent: The husband and the wife both work but have no children.
Once these changes become recognized by science, both biologically and psychologically, the patriarchal society has no choice but to make even bigger concessions, and at this point, the patriarchy becomes a vague myth of male supremacy over women. It manifests itself in traditional values and anti-feminist movements that would deny the existence of a divide between gender and sex, even if science has recognized that this divide exists (with some reservations, of course). Historical representations of this argument exist, as far back as the Greek and Roman civilizations, the Japanese and Chinese civilizations and the Enlightenment.
Why do feminists have a problem with patriarchy?
Now, in the end, it might be best for people to simply cooperate with the patriarchal system, but as history as demonstrated: no system is perfect, and patriarchy is along for the ride on that train. Feminists have a problem with patriarchy on two grounds:
- It shapes society around the male gaze (things must be made to benefit men first).
- It glorifies masculinity and undermines feminity, to the point of treating women like grown children.
The male gaze requires a whole article on its own, but the second point can be addressed here. One of the main points of contention in feminist theory with patriarchy is that the patriarchal system does not give enough importance to the work of women, as is noticed through history where male figures are taught in various spheres of academia, but hardly any women. Part of that reason being that women were, for as long as the patriarchal system reigned supreme, simply obscured partners. Workers in the shadow of men that allow them to rise to the highest peaks of social standing. While this point is recognized by proponents of patriarchy and even used as an example of why patriarchy works, it disregards the fact that these women are seldom named or taught or even referenced in works of academia.
In a patriarchal society, feminine traits are more likely to be used as an insult in social transactions between men. Such as calling a sensitive man “a little bitch” or “screaming like a girl”. Men who court women a lot are called “womanizers” and once again glorified for their seductive antics and effectiveness with copulating with the opposite sex by other males and even females. A lasting image of this psycho-social representation persists within James Bond, who represents the peak of masculinity, intelligence and womanizing. Any which woman who would in turn do the same would be given negative traits by the patriarchal society.
“Harlot”, “slut”, “whore” come to mind when women are capable of similar antics as men, but in cinema, contrary to men, are regarded as “femme fatale” which from french means “Fatal Woman”. The idea of a woman who is accessible is that she will cause your doom. Her seductiveness is only paralelled with her deadliness. Whereas James Bond is simply an “agent” working for the Queen of England. Representations of women’s sexual promiscuity have traditionally been negative across society, and those that fall under the charm of men are simply guilty of their own naivety. In cinema, once again, femme fatale’s who charm men usually do so with the intent to use their sex appeal for the sake of killing them later.
A good example resides within a very recent video game called Hitman: Absolution, where Codename 47’s adversary sends his salacious concubine to kill the assassin, and her tactic is to try to seduce him in order to render him defenseless to her wiles and the subsequent assassination attempt when she pulls out a silenced pistol on him. The series goes to great lengths to put the assassin as some kind of asexual killing machine, so his reaction to women who show him affection is usually that of stoic indifference.
Now, these examples are in fiction, but the point of using them as such is to show how women are portrayed in fiction and that the fiction of video games and cinema cannot be dissociated from the reality of our society. Thus, while we can freely say these are works of fiction, they refer to deeply seated prejudice about relationships between men and women.
When we turn to everyday transactions between men and women, we’ll find that women tend to keep quiet when men speak (unless they have started to try to take more space) and when they do begin to take more space, their forwardness is seen as negative from women and men respectively, when the looming shadow of patriarchy remains. While men are praised for being forward, women who do the same are called “bitches” and are told they should try being nicer.
While it is completely possible that women can be forwardness to a point where it is simply arrogance, our reliance on presuming that a woman who is forward is immediately a bitch is what becomes problematic in this view. In the end, what this should tell us is that when men do something that is traditionally within the boundaries of their gender roles, and women do the same thing, it is almost always regarded as negative when women do it.
Should Patriarchy remain?
I have identified in this article a few things that patriarchy does well: For instance, it seeks a form of stability by dictating social situations based on gender, and to a key, this can be a good thing and it can be used as a model to extrapolate elsewhere. Considering the advances of science and of social sciences particularly, it makes no sense to wish to erect a patriarchal system (pun intended), as we have found that gender-specific roles can be broken and are only indirectly rooted within biology. It is we that decide upon these roles, and had biology proven that women WERE predisposed to child rearing and soft science education, there would not have been a feminist revolution nor a transgender revolution or indeed a homosexual revolution.
Patriarchy is thus devoid of any strong value, once we look at the facts, other than “traditional morality”, but as it is otherwise steeped into superstitious dogma, it must be done away with. Men and women can choose to be subservient or dominant to one another or neither of these things, but it is no longer up to society to dictate that. It is up to each and every one of us to choose how we wish to live our lives with our loved ones.
If you wish to be a stay at home mom or dad, so be it. If you wish to be served by your significant other, and that significant other agrees to be your submissive servant, then that is all the best for you. There is no need, however, to expand this notion of gender roles onto the whole of society. Not anymore, at least.