Friday, November 2, 2012

Is the portrayal of Patriarchy realistic?

Hello, folks.  I've always been a strong proponent for equality between the sexes.  To that end, I've been doing what I can to keep myself educated in what I've always thought to be movement that pushes said equality forward, that movement being feminism.  As a male, I've always thought that it was my place to do my best to learn as much as I can about the issue of feminism before opening my mouth, since I am inherently on the outside by virtue of my sexual orientation and women know a hell of a lot more about the trials and tribulations that they go through than I ever will.   

Even with that being said, the learning process has been a sobering one, such as the concept of Schrodinger's Rapist, where a woman is always on the look-out for a potential rapist because she just doesn't know a man well enough to discount that possibility in a society where 1 in 6 women have been raped at least once in their lives.  I myself would never entertain the possibility of raping another human being, but simply knowing that a woman who doesn't know me may think of me as Schrodinger's Rapist in any case makes me feel, in some way, like a monster, because I have the physical capabilities of performing such a heinous act.

But that's besides the point.  I delved into feminism for my own educational benefit and I feel all the richer for it.  Recently, however, I ran into the Youtube channel of a user named "girlwriteswhat" who also has a blog called Owning Your Shit (  Her Youtube videos contain critiques about feminism and feminist concepts, which brings me to the topic of this blog post:  Patriarchy and whether or not its depiction of men as historically being the privileged class and women as historically being the subjugated class holds any merit in comparison with the narrative.  To illustrate whether or not the theory of patriarchy has any merit, I want to compare it to another social structure where the privileged class derive maximum advantage and minimal disadvantage and where the reverse is true for the subjugated class:  rich vs. poor.

Before I begin, I would like to insert a disclaimer.  These are just musings and my opinions.  This is not a complete dismissal of the idea of patriarchy, but it is a critical look at its veracity as a privilege-subjugation social structure.  I am open to and welcome critiques of this post as long as they amount to more than just an argumentum ad hominem.

As I said before, patriarchy is postulated by feminist theory as a social structure where men are the privileged class and women are the subjugated class.  In any society where there is a privileged class and a subjugated class, the privileged class derive maximum advantage and minimal disadvantage, while the subjugated class derive minimal advantage and maximum disadvantage.  Is this really the case in the patriarchy as depicted by mainstream feminist theory?  I don't think so.  To illustrate this point, I'm going to use another example of a social structure with privileged and subjugated classes:  rich people vs. poor people (more specifically, not-rich people).

Societies that utilize slavery, feudalism, and/or capitalism divide people into two economic categories:  those who are wealthy (masters, lords, capitalists, chair folk of the board of directors, etc.) and those who are not (slaves, serfs, wage earners, etc.).  The wealthy enjoy an immense amount of privilege that workers do not, due to the vast amounts of resources that wealthy people have that are unavailable to the working class (due to lack of resources).  Wealthy people simply have more options in just about every aspect of life because they can afford it.  Furthermore, wealthy people have the resources to minimize any opposition they may encounter in society, such as paying off expensive lawyers to reduce the taxes that they pay or to get the best possible defense in a court hearing, or lobbying or flat-out buying off politicians so that they can change laws to their favor, frequently at the expense of the average working class.  The average worker must make due with what they are paid or with what product they can make for themselves with their own brains and muscles, and must make a considerable effort to make any changes to laws that impact their lives, usually by gathering and organizing a group of like-minded workers.

When such a society gets involved in a war, invariably it will be those among the working class who are on the front lines fighting and dying for their society.  On the other hand, it is those among the wealthy that are able to profit from war by coming up with an enterprise that is involved with a particular product or service related to the war effort (uniforms, weapons, ammunition, rations, etc.).  When such a society suffers an economic crisis (due to the poor economic decisions of particular wealthy people), the wealthy tangled with the mechanisms that spell "doom and gloom" for society should their institutions fall will receive massive bailouts from the government, while the working class will pay the price either through increased taxes, a reduction in public services, or a combination of the two.  When a wealthy person lays off thousands of working class people in order to cut costs, it's business as usual.  When a working class person steals some office equipment, they risk jail time.  And so on and so on.

This, folks, is what it is to have a social structure of a privileged class and a subjugated class, with the privileged min-maxing (to utilize a role-playing game term) societal rewards almost invariably at a direct proportion to the subjugated class being screwed over.  Is this the case with patriarchy?  Have men enjoyed privilege in the same proportions that wealthy people have in societies with exploitative economic systems?  Have women suffered subjugation in the same proportions that working class people have in societies with exploitative economic systems?

In terms of war, it has historically been the men who go off to fight and die in the battlefield, while women and children were to be protected at all costs.  Historically, a woman's inherent worth is seen in her being a woman, whereas a man's worth is seen in his capabilities and is earned.  If a man is not capable enough or if he serves his purpose and dies in battle, he is seen by society as a disposable commodity.  Women, however, possess inherent value and are physically weaker than men and must be protected from the horrors of war at all costs, even if it's at the cost of many more of the lives of men.  Are men as obviously privileged in times of war as wealthy people are?  Are women as obviously subjugated in times of war as working class people are?  Not by a long shot.

In secular societies, women are afforded many of the same rights as men and, in a number of cases, more rights.  Conversely, in terms of imprisonment, men typically serve 40% more time in prison than women and, in cases of domestic violence, is more likely to go to jail if he strikes her than if she strikes him.  In terms of planned pregnancy and post-pregnancy, the woman has all of the agency as to whether or not she wants to be a parent, whereas the man who impregnated the woman without the intention or inclination of wanting to be a father must pay child support regardless and will be imprisoned if he fails to make sufficient amounts of payments (in other words, is thrown in a debtors' prison, which has been outlawed since 1833).  I don't know about you, but this doesn't look like the case where men are the unanimous privileged class and women are the unanimous subjugated class in the social structure called patriarchy, not in the same ways as the dichotomy between the wealthy and the working class in societies with exploitative economic systems.

One place where I will give credence to the concept of patriarchy are in the Abrahamic religions and societies with a strong prevalence in said religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).  In each of these religions, the gender roles are clearly spelled out:  man is primary and woman is made to serve man, and woman is at fault for man's shortcomings.  Women are clearly placed in subordinate roles and their testimony is worth less than an equal quantity of men.  The explicit goals in regards to women is to ultimately deny her consent and autonomy, lest she face God's wrath (directly or through proxy).  A direct correlation exists between the religiosity of a society and the violation of women's rights (as religiosity increases, so do the violations).  It is men who hold the most important positions within each respective Abrahamic religion.  It's just blatantly obvious to anyone with enough intellectual honesty to investigate that men are the big dogs in the Abrahamic religions and women better know their place.

In conclusion, I don't think that the portrayal of patriarchy as given my mainstream feminist theory reflects the reality of the matter when it comes to the privilege of men and the subjugation of women.  That's not to say that it isn't there; in many cases, it is, as I've demonstrated with the Abrahamic religions, for example.  However, I've also seen in blogs dedicated to feminism that there is a general mockery whenever the issue of men involved in a similar situation of suffering is presented as "what about the menz?!"  To present women's issues and completely disregard when men are similarly affected and are instead brought up as the monolithic villain is really looking at it with one eye shut in many cases.  With that being said, I am not, in any way, disregarding feminist issues, but I'm also going to start being more wary when I see men as solely the antagonist.  Furthermore, to more accurately represent my position on gender equality, I shall drop the feminist label and utilize a more accurate label:  egalitarian.

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