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May 02 2013

Patriarchy for Dummies

No, this post isn’t calling anyone a dummy any more than the series of books of the same name does. It is simply taking a similar approach to describing the fundamentals of the topic without assuming any background knowledge. I’ve seen too many people railing against discussing patriarchy, and I want to lay this out so I can ask where exactly they think the problem is.

Let’s start with definitions. “-archy” is a suffix meaning overarching rule, similar to “-cracy” but without the same implication that the structure is a formal one. So, to mix my roots abominably, a household in which the dog dictates priorities and schedules could reasonably (if unseriously) be called a “caniarchy”.

Practically, this means that we can recognize both formal and informal influence in government. For example, while the U.S. is mostly a representational democracy and the UK is a constitutional monarchy, they are both functionally oligarchies. Government service is restricted to a small percentage of the population, and the requirements of education and networking for appointed posts and mounting campaigns for elected posts mean that the monied, educated classes are highly overrepresented in government. They have a strongly disproportional influence on how each country functions.

In addition, both of these governments, and the overwhelming majority of other governments around the world are patriarchies.

Historically, men have held nearly all government positions due to rules of law that excluded women from office and, generally, from having much influence over what choice existed for leadership.* This hasn’t entirely kept women from positions of power, but the women or the circumstances of the exceptions have tended to be remarkable.

This history comes with a couple of consequences. First of all, justifications were created to explain these patriarchal systems. Saying, “We’re in power because we said so, so nyah”, wasn’t going to provide much satisfaction to anyone who conceived of a different way to run things. These justifications ranged from complimentary (women are the only people who can possibly raise children well; women are so attractive that men can’t function when they’re working together) to defamatory (women are intellectually inferior/emotionally fragile/power mad/untrustworthy/sinful/unclean).

These justifications were not necessarily created or spread with any malice in mind on the part of any one individual any more than the creation and spread of any other explanatory myth. A situation had come to exist. Explanations made life simpler. Still, they served to reinforce the status quo.

The other major consequence of patriarchy is that the interests of men were codified into law and into societal norms. Again, this required no particular malice. That’s exactly what we’d expect when a government consists largely of a group of people with common outlooks. When talk among themselves to decide what to do, they hear interests like theirs reflected back at them.

This happens in any homogenous group. They don’t hear conflicting opinions because the people with conflicting opinions aren’t present. This group simply happened to have the power to put their interests first.

These days, patriarchy is not as absolute as it once was. Laws that directly restrict the participation of women in governance have fallen in many places. Women still don’t have equal representation in the overwhelming majority of places of power, but they do participate. They have established a record of participation, and their participation has generally been growing.

Patriarchy is diminished, but it isn’t gone. Unequal representation still means unequal power in voting bodies.

Additionally, we still have that dual legacy of strong patriarchy to contend with. The myths that explained patriarchy are still with us. They still serve to keep women from power. We still hear questions about how female politicians will balance raising their families with their work. We still hear angry women dismissed as “emotional” where angry men are not. Women are still viewed and discussed as objects of sexual desire rather than agents of political power. Women are still viewed as less trustworthy and less expert than similarly situated men.

We must also still cope with the laws and norms that have been handed down to us out of the days of full legal patriarchy. We still navigate definitions of career success that rely on hours put in rather than results received. We still see more legal interference in women’s reproductive health care than we do in men’s. We are still determining what obstacles exist to equal access to education and fighting to have them recognized legally. We still, in the U.S., do not have any guarantee of gender equity in our constitution.

Once again, no malice is required (though it obviously exists in places), just inertia. A bias for the status quo is completely sufficient to maintain the inequities that are our heritage of patriarchy, even when the unequal influence of men in government is less than it was, even when the voices and interests of women are no longer unheard in the halls of government.

That, in a nutshell, is what we mean when we talk about patriarchy. Accepting the existence and continued influence of patriarchy doesn’t put an end to arguments about what is or is not part of patriarchy’s legacy, of course. However, the concepts involved in explaining what patriarchy is and how it works in the general sense seem noncontroversial from start to finish.

So, which part of this explanation is the sticking point?

*This isn’t the only historical inequality, by any means. The recognition that multiple inequalities have been encoded into our laws and social structures is called kyriarchy. I’m just talking about patriarchy here because people have been telling me not to.

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  1. 1
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    I’m just talking about patriarchy here because people have been telling me not to.

    I like the way you think. :)

  2. 2
    hjhornbeck

    I’m just talking about patriarchy here because people have been telling me not to.

    I know a group of people who’d be incensed to hear you’re being discouraged from discussing a topic. That’s “who’d” as in “who should;” I suspect that in practice they’re the very people who are telling you not to.

    Anyway, back on topic.

    If you don’t mind me bringing in a little of 201, the above views patriarchy in black-and-white terms. There are people who not only encourage patriarchy through inaction, but also benefit from it. Think of the ideal housewife: no financial woes, tonnes of free time to herself, a partner who’s expected to pander to and protect her even though he spends little time with her. That isolation could even be a plus if he’s abusive or an asshole. Some women are very happy to give up their autonomy and independence, in return for a chance at that.

    Likewise, somewhere between 5 and 15% of men benefit from rape culture. They are far less likely to be caught or persecuted for what they’ve done, and there are enough of them so that their (probably) unconscious misunderstanding of consent bleeds out and distorts culture through jokes, shared stories of sexual conquest, and the like.

    The chain of cause and effect can be pretty long, too:

    1. Assertion: Women have more desire to raise children than men.
    2. Therefore, men are less likely to look after children.
    3. Therefore, they are more likely to be distracted from their jobs by child rearing.
    4. Therefore, they are more likely to be fired from a full-time job due to absenteeism.
    5. Therefore, they are more likely to work lower-paying part-time jobs that offer more flexible hours.
    6. Whoops, the wage gap is too big! Quick, pass laws to ensure equal pay for equal work.
    7. There, now women and men are paid equally per-hour.
    8. Wait, there’s still an income gap you say?
    9. It’s because women aren’t taking full-time jobs? Then let’s encourage them!
    10. Shit, now we have burnt-out women who are juggling home and work roles.
    11. Yeah, see, this is why feminism doesn’t work. Women want to raise children, and by encouraging them into the workforce you’re attempting to turn them into something they’re not.
    12. So that income gap is just evidence women want to raise children more than men. QED, feminists!

  3. 3
    ajb47

    So, as a Dummies post, where did it start? We point to Christianity/religion as particularly bad for women, but ancient Greece excluded women, too. Not an expert, but I thought I read that the Celtic peoples were a bit more egalitarian though not fully equal. I haven’t studied Native American culture as much as I should, so I don’t know how they viewed the difference in genders.

    But where did we (humans) decide that women shouldn’t be equal? Was there one woman in a tribe or clan that was good at gathering and child-rearing that screwed it for the rest of you? Even the Far East seems to be light on strong women in their histories, no?

    So how did we get so out of whack? (And to be clear — I see that we are out of whack. I just have never seen an explanation for how we got this way.) Sometimes in order to fix a problem, the origins need to be understood, I think.

  4. 4
    Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

    But where did we (humans) decide that women shouldn’t be equal? Was there one woman in a tribe or clan that was good at gathering and child-rearing that screwed it for the rest of you? Even the Far East seems to be light on strong women in their histories, no?

    So how did we get so out of whack? (And to be clear — I see that we are out of whack. I just have never seen an explanation for how we got this way.) Sometimes in order to fix a problem, the origins need to be understood, I think.

    A popular theory in psychology right now on is Social Role Theory, which basically states that because women are the ones who must invest more time and resources into pregnancy and childbirth, and men tend to have more upper body strength, early societies divided labor between men and women in ways that acknowledged these differences. But over time, various psychological and sociological processes have severely exacerbated both ACTUAL differences (because, guess what, if you make women do nurturing tasks, they get better at them, and if you make men do “manly” things, they get better at those too), and perceptions of differences (through stuff like association bias–because you always see women doing the nurturing, you assume that they must be intrinsically more nurturing than men).

    But yeah, it’s got a lot more complexity to it, and it’s an interesting idea. Here’s more about it: http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=77

    I also have a detailed article about it written by Dr. Alice Eagly, who first proposed it! Let me know if you’d like it.

  5. 5
    Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

    Whoops, I meant correspondence bias, not association bias. I am a real psych major! http://lesswrong.com/lw/hz/correspondence_bias/

  6. 6
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    Possibly relevant or anyway interesting paper: On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough. Popular summary from the Economist.

  7. 7
    Owlglass

    Patriarchy is an ahistorical idea, or summed up nicely:

    An example of this is the assumption that some monolithic, ahistorical Feminism is caught in conflict with some monolithic, ahistorical Patriarchy. What this ignores, indeed, what it inspires, is an abstract, oppositional conflict that is grounded in essentialist, binary, and universalist thinking. Cutting across borders, politics, cultures, religions, races, histories, and economies, this “colonial feminism” or “imperial feminism”, with its roots in US and Euro-centric academia, decontextualizes the specific struggles of women* around the globe.–Source

  8. 8
    hjhornbeck

    Miri @4:

    and men tend to have more upper body strength

    Oh, I do so hate it when people say that.

    Based on a hunch, I decided to put that maxim to the test a while ago. I grabbed the World Records for Men’s and Women’s Weightlifting and plunked them into a spreadsheet. Yes, men can lift more than women at the elite level (263 vs 188kg, world record to world record), but a quick glance at the weight categories shows the obvious: men are, on average, bigger than women. Nobody would be shocked if a 120kg man could out-lift a 90kg person, be they man or woman. What we really care about is if a 90kg man can out-lift a 90kg woman.

    And the answer is yes: compensating for weight, women weightlifters can only lift 84% of what male weightlifters manage, on average.

    But that’s not the whole story, either. As most of you are keenly aware, women tend to carry more body fat. That adds bulk, but does not increase strength. We wouldn’t be shocked if a 90kg weightlifter could out-lift an overweight 90kg person, no matter their gender; so what we REALLY care about is if a 90kg man can out-lift a 90kg woman, after compensating for body fat.

    And the answer is maybe. I get figures ranging from 90-94%, depending on the assumptions I make. I had to use proportions gathered from wrestling, unfortunately; there’s been no scientific study of female weightlifters that I could find after hours of searching.

    That hints that we STILL haven’t reached the whole story, either. Olympic Men’s Weightlifting dates back two thousand years, and an international organization has been keeping official Men’s records for over 100. That same organization started tracking official Women’s records in 1988, and there was no Women’s Weightlifting in the Olympics until 2000.

    So flip that around: despite having poorer training, being actively discouraged from competition both directly and indirectly, and without a tradition or community to cheer them on, professional women weightlifters can lift 90-94% of what their male counterparts can. The stats bear this out, too, by noting that women are breaking lifting records 2 to 5 times faster than men. They still have a lot of room to improve…

    … which makes parity a near certainty. I was overjoyed at this, and started doing research in preparation for publishing a paper. At which point, I found I wasn’t alone, the first, or the best:

    “Absolute strength of the women ranged from 42.2 to 62.8% that of men. When strength was expressed per kilogram of MM [muscle mass], these gender differences were smaller and/or not present. These data suggest that MM is a major determinant of the age- and gender-related differences in skeletal muscle strength. Furthermore, this finding is, to a large extent, independent of muscle location (upper vs. lower extremities) and function (extension vs. flexion).”
    Frontera, Walter R., et al. “A cross-sectional study of muscle strength and mass in 45-to 78-yr-old men and women.” Journal of Applied Physiology 71.2 (1991): 644-650.

    “The sex difference in upper-body strength was larger than that in lower-body strength. Adjusting strength measures for FFW and/or FFCSA eliminated the sex difference for all measures except curl and bench press strengths. When strength was predicted from FFW and the appropriate limb FFCSA, the combination of these
    two variables accounted for an average of 97% of the sex-related variance (sex difference) in strength for both swimmers and non-athletes. The sex-related variance in strength associated with differences between men and women in FFW and limb FFCSA was similar for both upper- and lower-body strengths.

    The findings suggest that the sex difference in muscular strength in equally trained men and women is almost entirely accounted for by the difference in muscle size. For occupations and sports activities in which strength is important, FFW and limb FFCSA may be more valid qualification criteria than sex.”
    BISHOP, PHILLIP, Kirk Cureton, and MITCHELL COLLINS. “Sex difference in muscular strength in equally-trained men and women.” Ergonomics 30.4 (1987): 675-687.

    So saying men have more upper body strength than women is very misleading, and I do not want to hear another skeptic or feminist saying it ever again.

  9. 9
    hjhornbeck

    Dang, a five hundred word rant with many a link went straight to the moderation queue? Never would have guessed. ;)

    Miri: watch this space!

  10. 10
    brucegee1962

    #3 ajp47:

    On a different thread here, someone had an interesting answer to your question. Since the ability of a small hunter-gatherer group to bounce back from a famine event would depend more on its number of women than men (a group with 15 women and 5 men would recover far more rapidly than a group with 10 men and 10 women), groups that developed the custom of protecting their women and preventing them from doing dangerous jobs like hunting would have a competitive advantage over societies that were more egalitarian.

    I’d add that that would make sense all the way through the medieval period — in societies where there is a high-status warrior caste like Europe and Japan, where the #1 job of the aristocracy is to be soldiers, any society where women filled exactly the same jobs as men did wouldn’t last very long. Basically, for most of human history the reproduction rate of a given culture has been critical to that culture’s survival, so in such a culture keeping women far distant from dangerous professions made lots of sense. And politics was highly dangerous too, of course.

  11. 11
    Maureen Brian

    brucegee1962,

    Do you really believe that a little part-time soldiering and a lot of striding about with a sword at your belt is more dangerous than having a baby every 12-18 months, with the first one by age 13 and in a society with no grasp of the germ theory of disease plus a limited understanding of human anatomy?

    It’s assertions like that which have me spouting phrases like “ex post facto rationalision” and similar.

  12. 12
    angharad

    I’m quite fond of the agriculture theory, not so much because agriculture creates more of a divide between men’s and women’s work (even as late as the European Middle Ages farmwork was fairly evenly shared between the sexes, and in some places agriculture is mostly women’s work) but because it creates the possibility of owning property. Hunter gatherer peoples can’t own much, because they can only own what they can carry with them. In an agricultural system you can have a house, and all the stuff that goes in a house, and most importantly, land. And you want your family to inherit all this stuff, and so you need to know who your family is, and to do that you need to control women.

  13. 13
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    So, to mix my roots abominably, a household in which the dog dictates priorities and schedules could reasonably (if unseriously) be called a “caniarchy”.

    That would definitely describe my household and life!

    Except .. I’m also owned by a cat as well! Feli-caniarchy maybe or Feline-Canine Co-dominion or something like that?

  14. 14
    Bill Openthalt

    ajb47

    So how did we get so out of whack? (And to be clear — I see that we are out of whack. I just have never seen an explanation for how we got this way.) Sometimes in order to fix a problem, the origins need to be understood, I think.

    The moral feelings of certain people are not aligned with their perception of today’s society. Nothing says there should be no difference between the social roles of males, females, young people, old people etc. We didn’t get out of whack in the sense that we were OK in prior ages. In every society, at a certain moment, a majority of people are aligned with the societal norms, and a minority is not. There are pivotal moments where societal norms change – the minority has become the majoirty, cf. the changing views on slavery in the 19th century. Once such a shift takes place, ancestors are perceived as immoral, but that is merely a case of applying the standards of the day to the past. It means people can no longer fully identify with their ancestors – they have become strangers.

    Societies tend to be adapted to the circumstances of the day. If they are not, they fail. The social norms of a society are perceived to be moral by the majority. If they are not, they change. There is no absolute morality, in the sense that a strongly patriarchal society with no social security outside the family is morally inferior to our current more egailtarian society with state provided social security. Even Sam Haris’s attempts at objectifying morality as maximising well-being for the largest number fails because well-being cannot be defined in absolute terms. For example, people experience well-being when their internal expectations are aligned with their actual experiences. If a woman grows up expecting to be part of a patriarchal household, she will not be happy in a situation where she is co-responsible with her partner. Conversely, someone expecting co-responsibility will be unhappy in a patrarchal situation. This does not mean either arrangement is morally superior in absolute terms (there is no absolute morality). It just means society has changed, and with it, the expectations of the majority.

    If, for whatever reason, your expectatiions don’t match those of the majority, you will be unhappy, and perceive socierty as immoral (or out of whack, if you wish).

  15. 15
    Stephanie Zvan

    Owlglass, your summation of that post, and even that paragraph, is entirely incorrect. Additionally, your comment is irrelevant to this post. A 50-foot-tall, radioactive, glowing, anthropomorphized patriarchy threatening to stomp Tokyo is indeed ahistorical. This post doesn’t talk about one of those.

    Do you have anything to say about this post?

  16. 16
    Johnny Vector

    Can you put a link to this on your main page? Maybe a tab labeled “Basics” or something like that, with links to this, and any other similar posts you may write or have written. This is a very clear and concise description, which I would love to be able to find without having to search. It will be very handy in cases of “Patriarchy? Pah. What’s that even mean *sneer*?” Then I can just Linkety-link… this! Now what part do you disagree with?

  17. 17
    ajb47

    Thanks for the links, all. I had been thinking along similar lines to that Social Role Theory, but in my head it was rough and unformed (and un*in*formed).

  18. 18
    brucegee1962

    #11: Maureen Brian

    I don’t see where in my comment I implied that childbirth wasn’t highly dangerous. I think your observation makes my point stronger, actually — since a certain proportion of the society MUST engage in an incredibly dangerous task in order for the culture to survive, it makes sense to put up cultural barriers that protect that population from as many other incidental dangers as possible. Obviously those barriers no longer make sense in modern societies with our combination of low maternal mortality and overpopulation.

    Note that I’m not saying cultures would rationalize things this way. I’m a big believer in meme theory, that different cultures experiment with different strategies, and the strategies that are most successful cause the cultures that adopt them to conquer or absorb the ones that don’t. So, for instance, in a long-term conflict over resources between a society where just the men fight, versus a society where men and women both fight (say, the Greeks vs. the Amazons), the Amazons would have a short-term advantage because a much higher proportion of their population would be warriors, but the Greeks would win over the long term because they could recover their losses faster.

    And whenever there’s a cultural tradition (eg. religion or patriarchy) that appears again and again in independently developing societies around the world, I don’t think it’s “ex post facto rationalization” to try to figure out why those traditions would have given the cultures that adopted them a competitive advantage. Figuring out why they provided specific advantages under conditions that no longer exist can give us good ammunition against those on the other side who say “But it’s just human nature to be that way!”

  19. 19
    Bill Openthalt

    Maureen
    Absent reliable statistics, it is very difficult to decide whether males or females got the short end of the stick. For most of the history of humankind, life was very difficult for everyone.

    The point was not that giving birth wasn’t dangerous, but that given the pivotal status of women in the reproductive process, it makes no sense to not fully utilise them for that purpose. Especially in times of limited resources, using them optimally would yield evolutionary benefits. Societies that enable better reproductive success end up having more members, which is why there are more farmers than gatherer-hunters.

    A species doesn’t need one male per female for reproduction, and unless males contribute to resource production or safety, their presence has a negative influence on the next generation (less food for the females and young). Every female, on the other hand, is needed and makes a difference. The success of a species is determined by the reproductive success of its females.

    The fact that humans have evolved a monogamous reproductive system implies that most of the males produce more resources than they use, and hence their presence increases the reproductive success of the females by the simple expedient of allowing more time for reproduction. If females have to produce the majority of the resources needed for themselves and their offspring, they will have less time (and energy) for the production of that offspring. Consequently, there will be less offspring, and unless there is global overpopulation, such a society will not be able to compete with more populous societies even if there is no direct conflict.

  20. 20
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bill, what do you mean by “humans have evolved a monogamous reproductive system”? Humans use a wide variety of reproductive and child-rearing strategies.

  21. 21
    brucegee1962

    Another thing that should be noted about the patriarchy is that in many socially stratified cultures, tends to be reinforced as you move upwards in rank. In feudal Europe or Japan, the lives of poor serfs would be largely identical whether they were men or women — the differences would tend to be magnified as you went up the scale.

  22. 22
    brucegee1962

    #12 angharad,

    Your theory about preservation of property may explain why men were so keen on controlling women’s sexuality, and how the double standard came to be in place, but it doesn’t explain how men came to dominate in the first place. If you’re just concerned about keeping property in the family, matrilineal cultures did that just fine – women could pass their property on to their children, and men to their sister’s children, and both would be quite sure of the connection.

  23. 23
    brucegee1962

    #14 Bill Openthalt,

    I’d actually argue that our society is more moral mainly because it provides more options. In ANY society, there are going to be a certain percentage of people who are predisposed to be perfectly happy in the gender roles that the dominant culture has decided is appropriate for them, a certain percentage who are going to just go along with the cultural expectations as you say (as in your example, women who are brought up to believe that their role is to be homemakers and are perfectly ok as long as their experience matches their expectations), but also a certain percentage that are going to be miserable if they’re crammed into roles that they aren’t suited for. History and literature provide us plenty of examples of such individuals. In just about every earlier culture, such individuals (like Woolf’s Shakespeare’s Sister) are SOL — society isn’t about to make any exceptions in the dominant paradigm to accommodate them, and they end up having miserable lives. In our society, Susie Executive and Bill Caregiver can both follow their bliss with a fairly minimal amount of social blaming. To the extent that these gender barriers have been breached, our society has indeed made moral progress.

  24. 24
    karmacat

    I have been reading a book by Peggy Reaves Sanday called Female Power and Male Dominance: Origins of SExual Inequality. Below is a summary

    Professor Sanday offers solutions to these cultural puzzles by using cross-cultural research on over 150 tribal societies. She systematically establishes the full range of variation in male and female power roles and then suggests a theoretical framework for explaining this variation. Rejecting the argument of universal female subordination, Professor Sanday argues that male dominance is not inherent in human relations but is a solution to various kinds of cultural strain. Those who are thought to embody, be in touch with, or control the creative forces of nature are perceived as powerful. In isolating the behavioural and symbolic mechanisms which institute male dominance, professor Sanday shows that a people’s secular power roles are partly derived from ancient concepts of power, as exemplified by their origin myths. Power and dominance are further determined by a people’s adaptation to their environment, social conflict, and emotional stress.

    Patriacy and gender inequality likely has a lot of different causes throughout history

  25. 25
    daniellavine

    LOL, Owlglass’s comment is pitch-perfect ‘pitter. “I didn’t read a single word of this post but it’s entirely wrong because of something else I read whose author shares my biases and preconceptions.

    Way to step out of your comfort zone Owlglass.

  26. 26
    smhll

    …professor Sanday shows that a people’s secular power roles are partly derived from ancient concepts of power, as exemplified by their origin myths.

    There’s a saying that “history is written by the victor.” Who writes or shapes the origin myths?

  27. 27
    Owlglass

    Stephanie Zvan wrote: Owlglass, your summation of that post, and even that paragraph, is entirely incorrect. Additionally, your comment is irrelevant to this post. A 50-foot-tall, radioactive, glowing, anthropomorphized patriarchy threatening to stomp Tokyo is indeed ahistorical. This post doesn’t talk about one of those. Do you have anything to say about this post?

    You wrote about “historical inequalities”. Patriarchy is an ahistorical concept, and simply stating that this assessment is “incorrect” and “irrelevant” doesn’t make it so. The idea, that patriarchy is a structure that permeates history is fairly commonplace among some groups of vocal feminists, and I think it is the prevalent view on this network. Otherwise many a blog post and argument of the past wouldn’t make any sense. In fact, the view was commonplace enough that for example Judith Butler began to argue against the ever expanding definition of the term by some branches of feminism.

    LOL, Owlglass’s comment is pitch-perfect ‘pitter. “I didn’t read a single word of this post but it’s entirely wrong because of something else I read whose author shares my biases and preconceptions. Way to step out of your comfort zone Owlglass.

    Don’t waste your time with games, I’d win it anyway. Addressing your meager point: I haven’t claimed it was entirely wrong, I stated with minimal effort that patriarchy is an ahistorical concept, which surely has some implications – and the entry was about explaining patriarchy. I agree with Butler in general. It is new to me that such views are considered comfort zone. They usually aren’t for Ordinary Jane and Joe and certainly aren’t on this network (but different than you think). Though, you are correct about comfort zones regarding posting. I tried different things and now largely believe that old fashioned “leave a comment” works just as fine.

  28. 28
    Stephanie Zvan

    Yeah, yeah. I get that you stated that patriarchy is an ahistorical concept. However, you cited something that asserts that a particular version of feminism posits an ahistorical view of patriarchy, which is an entirely different matter.

    Now, did you have anything to say about the post?

  29. 29
    daniellavine

    Owlglass@27:

    Don’t waste your time with games, I’d win it anyway.

    Pfft, try me. I’ve seen you post before. You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer whatever delusions you may harbor on that score.

    Addressing your meager point: I haven’t claimed it was entirely wrong,

    My “meager point” was that you didn’t address the post at all. So much for playing games and winning.

    II stated with minimal effort that patriarchy is an ahistorical concept,

    In what sense is it “ahistorical”? And don’t tell me how a straw man version of patriarchy is ahistorical — explain to me how patriarchy as explained by Stephanie above is “ahistorical”.

    which surely has some implications

    What are these implications? It doesn’t seem as though I’m the one playing games at all here.

    – and the entry was about explaining patriarchy.

    It sure was. Do you care to address any point from the post whatsoever?

    I agree with Butler in general. It is new to me that such views are considered comfort zone.

    Grappling with ideas you already agree with is indeed “staying in your comfort zone.” Grappling with ideas that you do not already agree with entails stepping outside of your “comfort zone”. Again, you’re not making a good case for that “I’ll win” bit.

    They usually aren’t for Ordinary Jane and Joe and certainly aren’t on this network (but different than you think). Though, you are correct about comfort zones regarding posting. I tried different things and now largely believe that old fashioned “leave a comment” works just as fine.

    Usually when commenting on a post you want your comment to connect either with the OP or with some of the comments discussing it. You haven’t. Yes, I’ve noticed you like to derail threads into irrelevancies and straw man arguments. I’m wondering if you can do any other tricks.

  30. 30
    Stacy

    It is new to me that such views are considered comfort zone. They usually aren’t for Ordinary Jane and Joe and certainly aren’t on this network (but different than you think).

    daniellavine was obviously referring to your comfort zone, Owlglass.

    I’m sure the rest of us would be perfectly happy to step outside of our comfort zone and consider a well-reasoned argument against the notion of patriarchy. If you ever make one, drop us a line.

    Oh, joy:

    Judith Butler argued that the fundamental problem of fighting against the ‘patriarchal discourse’ -a discourse that demands symbolic ‘Father’ as its root, not the abject ‘Mother’, is lying on the very fact that such argument still favors, still grounds its foot on a discourse based on ‘difference’, a difference in Identity, based on ‘sex’ or ‘biology’. In other words, to fight against the ‘gender difference’ in a society(an oppressing patriarchal society), the feminists based on their ground, a ‘primarily accepted ground of difference’, male vs female, in the first place, thus positing TWO ‘signifiers’ in the system which monstrously look for the ‘signified’, the Genders, i.e, masculine and feminine, in its meta-stable chain., thus forming TWO Identities in the society, creating a Power gradient that essentially fostered patriarchal oppression. In order to better understand Judith Butler, and compare her against the traditional feminists, one has to look inside the classicism of the psychoanalysis project starting from Freud, extending to Jacques Lacan, anti-psychoanalsis of Michel Foucault, and post structural spices of Julia Kristeva.</blockquote

    http://criticalwritings.wordpress.com/2006/12/14/understanding-feminism-introduction-to-judith-butler/

    Apparently Owlglass wanted to feel smart, so he cited a post-structuralist thinker on a post titled "Patriarchy for Dummies."

  31. 31
    Stacy

    Blockquote fail. The last sentence above was mine.

  32. 32
    brucegee1962

    In my experience, at least in my field of literary studies, post-structuralism can gender some interesting insights when it starts with a very specific basis (like a passage of poetry) and finds ways to analyze its inherent contradictions. But it also carries a vocabulary that can be used to take indefensible statements and cloak them in a thick verbal cloud that protects them from being attacked, like a squid surrounded by ink; that looks like what’s happening in the quote above.

    If we try to penetrate the fog there, it looks like a simplification of what Butler is saying is “There weren’t any significant differences between men and women, either culturally or politically, before feminists came along and created them.” Which is so freaking crazy that of course you’d have to gussy it up in PhD-eze or people would laugh it out of the building.

    Perhaps my simplification misses the subtle point she’s actually making — Owlglass, since he is so brilliant, can perhaps present it in a not-so absurd form?

  33. 33
    angharad

    #22 brucegee1962 – hmmm, good point.

    #19 Bill Openthalt
    The issue with this idea is also that it is not a good strategy for hunter-gatherers to increase their population willy-nilly. They have limited resources and limited capacity to deal with catastrophe (eg a drought) because they cannot store food. Most hunter-gatherers have children relatively infrequently (IIRC the numbers are something like 3.5-4 yrs in abundant conditions going up to 5 yrs in scarcity), which they manage by long breastfeeding and sometimes cultural taboos eg against having sex with breastfeeding women.

    The reason there are more farmers than hunter-gatherers is that a) farming allows you to produce (and store) more food, and b) extra hands are more of a benefit than a detriment when it comes to farming.

    Having said that, very primitive agriculture is not a particularly good survival strategy. As a hunter-gatherer you get a wider variety of foods (and hence better health) for less effort. Archaeological evidence now suggests that humans started settling in single locations _before_ they developed agriculture, and that agriculture probably developed as a good way to feed people who were already staying in one place, rather than a good way to feed people more generally. Apparently there was some other compelling reason for ancient humans to start living in settlements (easy access to water perhaps?).

  34. 34
    Stacy

    @brucegee1962

    Based on my own very quick and superficial looksee, it looks like she objects to simplistic notions of patriarchy and acknowledges kyriarchy. Which is fine, but it’s ridiculous to expect people to delve into great nuanced detail every time they discuss a concept, especially when their audience includes beginners.

    Likewise, I don’t have a huge problem with challenging the notion of discrete, biological binary sexes…but, in fact, a pretty substantial majority of us do fall toward one end or the other of the biological continuum, and it isn’t inherently oppressive to recognize that.

    I don’t know if Butler’s one of the writers specifically parodied by Alan Sokal, but I suspect she could have been. She called his hoax part of “a conservative Marxist backlash against the new social movements.” tee hee. Source: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/sokal2.htm

  35. 35
    Stacy

    As for “Why patriarchy?” I’m suspicious of answers that overthink it. What ever the ultimate cause, the proximate cause is likely that men are (in a practical, everyday, who-would-win-in-a-fight-between-them sense–nods to hjhornbeck) stronger than women, and don’t spend much of their time further handicapped by pregnancy and lactation.

    Humans are social animals. The stronger individuals/alliances tend to make the rules. But we also have big brains and a sense of fairness, so the marginalized fight back.

  36. 36
    Stacy

    Oh, my comment at #35 was sloppy. I should have said, “historically, the proximate cause was….” Since then, it’s just been, you know, tradition. The dominant paradigm. A whole complex of widely-spread memes about who should do what and who should make the sammiches.

    OK, that’s enough out of me for now.

  37. 37
    Bill Openthalt

    Sorry for the gap – children to feed, grandchildren to mind, and sick parents to visit.

    @20: Stephanie The vast majority is monogamous. There are exceptions, but as a species, humans are very much monogamous (as opposed to e.g. gorillas, or chimpanzees).

    @23: Bruce More (if you mean by that superior) moral only works if there is absolute morality. Our society is more respectful of individuals, but most individuals are less respectful of each other (i.e. we place individuals above the group, and that’s an arbitrary choice). On the whole, people are not genetically predisposed to be happy in gender roles – children assimilate the social mores of the time, and the vast majority is happy when their actual experiences match the expectations acquired during their formative years. Of course, exceptions always exist, and for those our very tolerant society is indeed much better (and I do not complain, as I am one), but one could argue it is far more difficult for the vast majority who are happy and comfortable when they experience what they learned to expect.

    Of course, it is tempting (and satisfying) to see our own conventions as superior, but in the absence of an arbiter, we cannot honestly declare our morality to be better than that of others.

    @33: angharad

    The issue with this idea is also that it is not a good strategy for hunter-gatherers to increase their population willy-nilly. They have limited resources and limited capacity to deal with catastrophe (eg a drought) because they cannot store food.

    There is no strategy, there only is behaviour that results in reproductive success. Gatherer-hunters produce as many offspring as they can, given the resources at their disposal. Farmers can “extract” more resources from their environment and hence can produce more offspring. Farmers are evolutionary speaking more successful. It really doesn’t matter if individuals are healthier or happier as long as their health or mental state doesn’t stop them from having offspring.

    How humans got into farming is interesting but not important — we observe a progression to ever more technology, allowing more and more humans to live on the planet, crowding out populations with less advanced technology.

    In general, finding a way for males to contribute to resource production in return for a better chance of reproduction is, evolutionary speaking, successful behaviour, especially when combined with maximising the number of children per female (don’t forget that human children need their mothers for sustenance and education for several years). Of course, those who produce resources are in the best position to control them, leading to what we call “patriarchy”. Interpreting it as a male / female dichotomy is ignoring the (sad) fact that life doesn’t care about individuals.

  38. 38
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bill, that’s a very simplistic (and, thus, wrong) view of human mating behavior. May I suggest Patrick Clarkin’s excellent series on the evidence on human and hominin mating and sexual behavior?

  39. 39
    brucegee1962

    Angharad 33, Bill 37:

    The most entertaining theory I’ve heard about why agriculture caught on is the Beer theory. This was the theory that although life as an underling in an agricultural society tended to suck compared to life as a hunter-gatherer, people were willing to put up without it because beer wasn’t available anywhere else, and that would make life worth living.

  40. 40
    brucegee1962

    #37 Bill:

    children assimilate the social mores of the time, and the vast majority is happy when their actual experiences match the expectations acquired during their formative years

    I think this is where we differ. I didn’t put any numbers in my post #23 on what percentages are happy in given circumstances, but I suspect your “vast majority” is way too high. For evidence I would present the women’s movement of the sixties and seventies, when a whole generation of women rejected the roles they had been brought up to accept. That rejection wasn’t something that was imposed upon them — it was something they largely chose themselves. I’d argue they were motivated by two things:

    - Observing their mothers, who HAD accepted the role presented to them by society, and noticing that their mothers seemed by and large to be miserable and not in any way to be emulated, and

    - The purely logical observation that, even if you did end up marrying Prince Charming, economic dependency was a chancy proposition (even princes have car accidents) and you were a darn sight better off with a backup plan.

  41. 41
    hjhornbeck

    Dang, I left this thread alone for too long. Sorry, but at least I have links!

    brucegee1962 @18:

    I don’t see where in my comment I implied that childbirth wasn’t highly dangerous. I think your observation makes my point stronger, actually — since a certain proportion of the society MUST engage in an incredibly dangerous task in order for the culture to survive, it makes sense to put up cultural barriers that protect that population from as many other incidental dangers as possible.

    That doesn’t seem to be universal, though:

    One especially riveting facet of Aka life is that women are not only just as likely as their men to hunt, but are even sometimes more proficient as hunters. Hitherto, it has usually been assumed that, because of women’s role as gestators and carers of the young, hunting was historically a universally male preserve: but in one study Hewlett found a woman who hunted through the eighth month of her pregnancy and was back at work with her nets and her spears just a month after giving birth. Other mothers went hunting with their newborns strapped to their sides, despite the fact that their prey, the duiker (a type of antelope), can be a dangerous beast.

    If it all sounds like a feminist paradise there is, alas, a sting in the tale: Hewlett found that, while tasks and decision-making were largely shared activities, there is an Aka glass ceiling. Top jobs in the tribe invariably go to men: the kombeti (leader), the tuma (elephant hunter) and the nganga (top healer) in the community he has studied are all male.

    Tool use is a great equalizer, allowing even the weakest person to take down much stronger game. Look at buffalo jumps, which killed thousands of buffalo with very little personal risk. Snare traps allow you to easily capture and safely kill prey much bigger and more dangerous than you.

    Even tools may have been optional. How do some anthropologists think we began to hunt? We chased our prey to exhaustion, then clubbed them when they were defenseless.

    I don’t think hunting was that dangerous, at least compared to childbirth.

  42. 42
    angharad

    @41: hjhornbeck
    That’s kind of my objection to the ‘women are disabled by pregnancy’ approach to this problem too. If you have a healthy pregnancy (and there things that can go horribly wrong, but the vast majority of pregnancies are normal) and you are used to being active and doing hard work, you can pretty much keep doing that until a very late stage. I have heard of Olympic level athletes who go back to training within a few hours of giving birth. And when my aunt was having her first baby (in the UK in the 1970′s) a Gypsy woman came into the maternity unit who had been out picking potatoes (filthy back-breaking work) right up until the last possible moment.

    @37 Bill:
    I think it’s important (and not just interesting) to understand why humans made that change. If it was not an advantage at the time, but we stuck with it for other reasons and eventually made it an advantage for ourselves then I think that speaks a lot to our capacity as a species to rise above simple evolutionary pressures.

    Many hunter-gatherer tribes are fairly egalitarian and lack hierarchies, which tends to suggest against your ‘those who produce more resources are in the best position to control them’. We are social animals and out on the prehistoric veldt that was probably one of our biggest advantages. If you’re a jerk you lose that advantage.

    You know, I think that’s probably at the heart of my resistance to the ‘men are stronger therefore patriarchy’. Because that does imply we’re all kind of jerks.

  43. 43
    brucegee1962

    #35 and others on the “men are just stronger” hypothesis:

    The problem with this idea is that it suggests that primitive societies basically solved conflicts through physical violence — whether at the interpersonal level, or maybe in some kind of “King of the Mountain” idea of kingship, where the chief only stayed in charge as long as he was tough enough to defeat all the others. If true, that could explain why men tended to be in charge, since if a male continually won that kind of contest he’d be more likely to appoint male assistant rulers.

    But I don’t buy it. For one thing, as others have said on this thread, men don’t really have that much more strength. For another, while it isn’t always a great idea to extrapolate backwards from contemporary hunter-gatherer and basic agricultural societies, I don’t know of any groups studied nowadays who constantly solve disagreements with fisticuffs. And a society where the biggest jock was the chief would seem to be at a disadvantage if up against a society that allowed someone older and wiser to be in charge.

    So it sounds like we’ve been throwing out a whole bunch of theories to answer the question put out in comment #3, but they’ve all had some holes shot in them, and nobody’s got a completely convincing answer. Does anybody know if this is also a hotly debated question in anthropology, as well?

  44. 44
    Stacy

    The problem with this idea is that it suggests that primitive societies basically solved conflicts through physical violence

    Does it? I don’t think so.

    Most animals I know of solve conflict through threat display or more complex social interactions (involving alliances between multiple animals–not always based on kinship.) Actual violence is often a last resort; nevertheless, being bigger and stronger than your opponent does mean something.

    I wasn’t even thinking of “primitive [human] societies”; I was thinking of our non-human cousins, the other great apes. Gorillas and chimps are male dominated. Bonobos are female dominated: female bonobos form coalitions. In one on one situations–e.g. when you isolate a male and a female bonobo together in a zoo apart from a larger group–the male will tend to boss the female.

    I’m being simplistic, of course, but then we’re all being pretty speculative here. Mating strategies are probably part of it too.

    http://pages.uoregon.edu/fwhite/Female%20feeding%20priority%20in%20bonobos,%20Pan%20paniscus,%20and%20the%20question%20of%20female%20dominance.pdf

  45. 45
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    Regarding the notion of male dominance by superior strength/aggression: I am reminded of something I once heard my older sister say, speaking with some bitterness about a previous unhappy marriage: “He threatened to hit me. He never did, because I told him, You’ve gotta sleep sometime…

    If someone is determined not to succumb to an unwanted dominance, physical strength is not an insuperable determinant.

  46. 46
    Bill Openthalt

    @38: Stephanie Diversity is to be expected in a highly adaptable species. That being said, humans are overwhelmingly monogamous (name just one major culture where, for example, only selected human males breed, or where the male/female ratio is not very close to 1/1). The exceptions merely confirm the rule :)

    @40: Bruce There have always been upheavals and changes. This doesn’t change the fact that humans acquire their social programming during childhood, and implement it during their adulthood. The women’s movement you refer to represented actually a rather small fraction of the total female population actively rejected the statu quo, but had a society-wide effect. This is how social change almost always happens. I stand by my assertion that the vast majority of humans strive to meet the expectations they acquired during initial programming, and are happy/content when their actual experience matches their expectations (Mercedes anyone?).

    @42: angharad It was an evolutionary advantage, which does not have to imply it was an advantage for the individuals. Evolution is not about the well-being of individuals, but their reproductive success. If being sad and depressed would mean having more offspring, we would all be sad and depressed.

    @43: Bruce Speaking in averages, men are stronger than women. They are also taller, heavier, and hairier. That doesn’t mean there are no women who are taller, hairier, heavier and stronger than men. For all we know, the strongest, tallest, hairiest and heaviest human might well be a woman, and the statistics would not change one jot. But I am sure you know that, and I don’t want to teach my grandmother to suck statistical eggs.

    Male body strength is a small part of what makes certain human males dominant. Human males don’t engage in ritual fighting like bucks, or chase aging males from their pride like lion. Dominating human males know how to gain followers, lead tribes (or companies), amass resources, or all of this.

  47. 47
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bill, you didn’t read the series. Also, those things you note do not divide monogamy from non-monogamy. Who mates and engages in sexual behavior with whom does. Humans do not select a single mate upon reaching sexual maturity and stay with that mate, monogamously, until death separates them. Not the vast majority. Not even a bare majority as far as I can tell from the evidence we have.

    Go read the series. Or just say, “Well, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

  48. 48
    Stacy

    Male body strength is a small part of what makes certain human males dominant.

    The question was what makes males (in general) dominant over females (in general.) And while there may be other factors at play, my contention is greater (average) male strength is a large part of it. Males chimps bully females to keep them from mating with beta males. The females comply because they’re coerced (evidenced by the fact that they do as they goddamn please when the alphas aren’t around.)

    Incredible as it may sound, I have heard tell that such things even happen in modern human societies.

    Dominating human males know how to gain followers, lead tribes (or companies), amass resources, or all of this

    Yes, I mentioned coalition-building. Nevertheless, brute force–at least the threat of brute force–is part of the mix. (Think of the importance of coalitions to warfare. And read Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics.) I don’t think anyone here is going to deny that physical force has played a part in human history. Acknowledging that fact does not make humans, or male humans, evil monsters. It’s acknowledging that like other animals, we seek status, and demonstrating superior strength is one way to gain status and to get one’s way. I think it’s an economical hypothesis for the “Why patriarchy?” question. We may have seen males as the big bossypants even before we became human, so when we got to the point where we rationalized things we rationalized that and eventually made rules to enforce it. /speculation

  49. 49
    Owlglass

    29daniellavine: Pfft, try me. I’ve seen you post before. You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer whatever delusions you may harbor on that score.

    Not even a good insult. But it’s true. I’m not the sharpes knife in the drawer, that is FTB Blogs. I’m in the bower where the axes and chainsaws are. Besides, I’m the fool already. In my book, insulting other people never looks good. Especially when the insults are lame.

    29daniellavine: My “meager point” was that you didn’t address the post at all. So much for playing games and winning .

    How is stating that the concept of patriarchy (along with more points behind the link), is not a comment on a basic post on patriarchy? People post additional thoughts, commentary, reservations all the time. When I don’t find a comment useful, I simply ignore it. The wikipedia article on patriarchy for example makes sure to provide the proper context. Aristotle was Christianity’s chief misogynist after all, and that had a major influence on European and then western culture. The idea of kyriarchy (which was also mentioned in the article above) was suggested by a theologian. It nicely hides the issues with religion, just as the patriarchy concept often does as well.

    And the idea that Patriarchy is some overarching concept that permeates the ages is not exactly uncommon. If that is suddenly no longer the party line, then you could simply state: “Ok, we don’t think that anyway”. Problem solved. But all too often the idea is used as a kind of Rorschach test on history and society. It doesn’t matter if you count banks with Jewish names, the occurrence of the number 23, black vans you’ve seen today or whenever men were in a position of power. A descriptive label can account for different reasons with the same outcome (like oligarchy), but a theory cannot. A patriarchy theory for example must make class through the ages invisible, and we haven’t even touched on gender issues through the times.

    There is, by the way, no denying that women are disadvantaged in careers, and that sexism against them is a major problem of men to solve. I’m actually in favor of improving that situation and made a small difference a while ago (but I’m mostly a slacktivist nowadays where I espouse anti-theistic views).

    29daniellavine: Grappling with ideas you already agree with is indeed “staying in your comfort zone.” Grappling with ideas that you do not already agree with entails stepping outside of your “comfort zone”. Again, you’re not making a good case for that “I’ll win” bit.

    30, Stacy: Apparently Owlglass wanted to feel smart, so he cited a post-structuralist thinker on a post titled “Patriarchy for Dummies.”

    You can’t have it both ways. Either you get references or you have just my opinion which get’s *flooosh* as just my opinion. Either I’m not grappling with the idea enough, or I reach “too high” for a “for dummies” entry. Besides, why the obsession with “me”, my non-smartness, my comfort zone?

    30, Stacy: I’m sure the rest of us would be perfectly happy to step outside of our comfort zone and consider a well-reasoned argument against the notion of patriarchy. If you ever make one, drop us a line.

    Too many assumptions that are too often wrong. In fact I wrote (under a different not FTB-feces-besmeared nym) a longer article on it in relation to pop culture, where it can be observed. At the time in a textbook patriarchal setup men were the target audience of newspapers. They read them while being served by wives. Sexism of the time then went through early comics, pulp, early cinema. The comics code even codified it. From there through reactionary roleplay games (D&D was based on pulp and war gaming), into video games…

    32, brucegee1962: If we try to penetrate the fog there, it looks like a simplification of what Butler is saying is “There weren’t any significant differences between men and women, either culturally or politically, before feminists came along and created them.” Which is so freaking crazy that of course you’d have to gussy it up in PhD-eze or people would laugh it out of the building.

    I won’t touch on semiotics, map-territory, cognition and other related concept that are useful in understanding. But consider this approach: Greg is a good person and so he does a lot of good things. But actually, we have it all backwards. Rather, there are actions that are merely considered good. Greg is someone who does a lot of these “good” deeds, and it leads to the assumption that Greg “is” good. But the universe is not a scorekeeper of goodness or any other category we make up. This is a narrative we construct by stringing together otherwise unrelated deeds. Perhaps, there is heuristic at work that predicts that someone who does a lot of good deeds will continue to do so. But there is no soul to record karma or sin, there is nothing that could record goodness and deeds aren’t interhently good. In much the same way, or so I read Butler, is gender: “capacity of speech and gestures to perform an identity”. Gender comes about by people who define it by their performances where they try to conform to whatever is considered true to that category, where they also reinforce it. Like language. When people use words in some way, they also define and reinforce that meaning. Having two genders that map to two sexes is considered a “meta-stable” setup, but there is no reason to assume that it is the only way (in fact we know that it isn’t the only way).

    What is considered manly or ladylike was different through the ages and is different in other cultures. There are a few things that are consistent and “suggested” by nature, but they happen on a few levels deeper than cultural norms. In other words, cowboys wore pink underwear . A mutilated lower lip is considered sexy among Suri. An average renaissance knight would be considered stereotypical gay by today’s standards and so on. This becomes relevant when the domination of women is seen as a part of the identity of the male gender (as suggested by some).

    Let me guess, it’s too verbose now? ;)

  50. 50
    Stacy

    You can’t have it both ways. Either you get references or you have just my opinion which get’s *flooosh* as just my opinion. Either I’m not grappling with the idea enough, or I reach “too high” for a “for dummies” entry.

    Since it should be obvious that elucidation of post-structural nuance has limited utility for people new to a subject (ie, “Dummies” readers), my point was that you were being obtuse and pretentious. Everything in your subsequent musings has tended to reinforce that opinion. Verbose enough for you?

    Apes read philosophy, Otto.

    Besides, why the obsession with “me”

    You’re the only one with that particular obsession.

  51. 51
    Bill Openthalt

    @47: Stephanie

    Also, those things you note do not divide monogamy from non-monogamy. Who mates and engages in sexual behavior with whom does. Humans do not select a single mate upon reaching sexual maturity and stay with that mate, monogamously, until death separates them. Not the vast majority. Not even a bare majority as far as I can tell from the evidence we have.

    OK, you use a different definition of monogamy. As far as I am concerned, it simply means “the custom or practice of being married to a single person at a time”. When we describe certain birds as monogamous, it includes those species that are with a single mate for the duration of a season, not only those who form lifelong commitments to a single mate. By this definition, currently, all major cultures implement either de jure or de facto monogamy (most Muslims are in monogamous relationships). Historically, polygyny was either a question of necessity or status, reserved for the most powerful males. One cannot build a stable society when a significant percentage of males either has to fight for, or is forcibly excluded from, access to procreation. Sexual relations have nothing to do with monogamy, which is a formal relationship to arrange care for the offspring and access to resources.

    @48: Stacy Male physical dominance over females in personal relationships is not widespread (and there is truth in the old chestnut that at home, more often than not the Missus wears the pants). Male dominance concerns other males, and in this case, physical strength is but one of the many attributes that determine male pecking order (and a fairly unimportant one at that).

    There is nothing shocking to the idea that alpha males protect their procreation privileges — after all, that’s what being an alpha male is all about. As far as human societies is concerned, such behaviour is condemned, and I do not know of any culture that implements chimpanzee-style monopolisation of females by alpha males. Human societies specifically define women who have mates as off-limits to other men. Obviously, this does not mean all men heed these rules.

    Nature has no morals, humans have. Strength (either as direct physical strength or the availability of superior resources) has played (and plays) an important part in human interactions. There is nothing shocking to this observation either.

    As far as patriarchy is concerned, it seems fairly obvious that human procreation, requiring a very long gestation at considerable cost in mobility, a high-risk birth process, and infants that depend on their mothers for several years can only be successful when the males are actively co-opted in the process. This happens through special bonds between male and female for the duration of the process (about seven years), participation in the resource-gathering by the male (which only makes sense when there is a female and the offspring of the male and female to provide for), and a set of social rules to structure the relationships between the males and females of the group. Once the males become important resource producers, females can concentrate on having children, which would lead to a distinct evolutionary advantage over females who are solely responsible for resource gathering.

    Obviously, if the males are producing a lot of the resources, they are best placed to control them. Add to this the need for social structure in the male-male relationships (after all, we’re hopelessly social creatures) and a male-dominated resource production environment is a logical consequence. The moment the production and rearing of offspring is no longer the primary role of the female, they can advantageously participate in resource production — to the point many human societies now produce too much.

  52. 52
    Owlglass

    50, Stacy: Since it should be obvious that elucidation of post-structural nuance has limited utility for people new to a subject (ie, “Dummies” readers), my point was that you were being obtuse and pretentious. Everything in your subsequent musings has tended to reinforce that opinion. Verbose enough for you?

    You introduced post-structuralism in post 30, didn’t you? :D

  53. 53
    Stacy

    @Bill Openthalt

    Male physical dominance over females in personal relationships is not widespread (and there is truth in the old chestnut that at home, more often than not the Missus wears the pants).

    I disagree.

    Male dominance concerns other males, and in this case, physical strength is but one of the many attributes that determine male pecking order (and a fairly unimportant one at that).

    Males certainly compete with one another for dominance, but male dominance does not concern only other males.

    I certainly don’t claim that physical strength is the only attribute that determines status. I do claim, though, that the ability to physically coerce others to do what you want–whether that ability is personal and individual, or achieved via coalition-building, and whether that ability is actually used or whether the threat of it is enough–is an important part of dominance.

    And I spoke of non-human animals. Talk of the production of resources doesn’t explain the dominance of male chimps over females, for example. In most species that are male-dominated, the females are not dependent on males for resources. Predator or forager, they find and catch their own food.

    Reproductive strategies are part of the picture as well. Interesting, though, that a near-monopoly on a very important resource–children–doesn’t provide females with more social status. On the contrary, the children and their mothers are perceived as resources to be disposed of by males.

  54. 54
    Stephanie Zvan

    Bill, you still didn’t read Clarkin’s series.

    When we talk about birds as monogamous, we are talking about pairs that stay together for the duration of raising offspring, not simply having only one partner at a time. We talk about monogamy that way because it means something for successful reproduction. That meaningful period is a season for birds. It is not for humans. Nor is it seven years for humans–children abandoned at seven do not survive on their own.

    You’re making claims about the evolution of behavior, but (1) you’re not making reference to the same landscape of behavior that anyone who studies the topic actually talks about and (2) your examples don’t make sense. You can’t tell me that males with access to resources will engage in polygyny as an argument for evolved monogamy. You’re describing a monogamy forced by circumstances, not behavior dictated by genetics. Nor can you use an imperative toward stable societies as an argument that we’ve evolved monogamy when you haven’t established what a “stable society” is, much less that humans have a lot of them and, thus, demonstrate that we’ve evolved to create them.

    Owlglass, actually, you introduced post-structuralism in comment 27 by citing Judith Butler. You just didn’t know enough about what you were saying to know that you’d done it. Very much like you didn’t know what the quote you posted said.

    Unless you have something to say about this post, go away.

  55. 55
    Stacy

    What I’m saying seems obvious enough to me. I think a sticking point may be that people think I’m saying that all men physically bully all women, or something. I don’t think that at all. But such a state of affairs wouldn’t be necessary to establish male dominance. Everybody you know isn’t a policeman, but if you do something illegal, you know they’re around.

  56. 56
    Bill Openthalt

    @53 Stacy: Physical dominance, in the sense that the primary factor in the relationship is the superior strength of the male, is not widespread in humans. Males try to convince females to accept them based on their ability to provide and protect, not by grabbing them by the hair and dragging them, unwilling, kicking and screaming into a cave. Don’t forget that the female will be the primary caregiver, and could easily kill the offspring if she did not support the procreation project. This is not the same as the (ab)use of physical strength in spousal conflicts.

    As far as dominance is concerned, it has everything to do with being a convincing provider and protector, and hence with establishing status amongst the other males. The perception of domination of females is caused by the fact that females have had less need to concentrate on producing offspring (less childbirth deaths, better health, fewer children due to less infant mortality and the replacement of family-provided social support by state-provided social security), and started to enter the male-dominated area of status and resource gathering.

    Humans are not chimpanzees, which explains why chimpanzees live in small groups and are not very successful, evolutionary speaking. They do what they do because until now, it has allowed them (barely) not to go extinct. Chimp strategy is to have males fight for dominance which gives them privileged access to females, who are wholly responsible for ensuring the offspring thrives. Male chimapzees do not know which of the kids are theirs.

    Human strategy is to convince the majority of males to produce resources in return for a fairer shot at procreation. The more successful males still get the choice of females, and even more than one, but the vast majority (who in chimp-land would be reduced at a quicky behind the bushes) gets mostly exclusive access to a female, and offspring they can be fairly certain is theirs, in return for good behaviour and hard work. It worked a lot better than the chimp strategy, if you ask me.

  57. 57
    Stacy

    Males try to convince females to accept them based on their ability to provide and protect, not by grabbing them by the hair and dragging them, unwilling, kicking and screaming into a cave.

    Your invocation of that stereotype makes me think you really don’t know what I’m saying, Bill. Perhaps I’m not explaining it well, but since it’s speculative anyway I won’t argue any further beyond this. I’ll just say that I’m seeing the roots of patriarchy in animal behavior, and the most parsimonious explanatory factor I see is simple disparity in size and strength.

    I know perfectly well that humans are not chimpanzees. But they, along with bonobos, are our closest relatives, and it makes sense to look to them for clues.

    (Also I think it is a mistake to say chimpanzees are not evolutionarily successful. Their numbers are threatened nowadays because of human incursion, but they’ve done quite well until very recently.)

  58. 58
    daniellavine

    Owlglass@49:

    Not even a good insult. But it’s true. I’m not the sharpes knife in the drawer, that is FTB Blogs. I’m in the bower where the axes and chainsaws are. Besides, I’m the fool already. In my book, insulting other people never looks good. Especially when the insults are lame.

    If I had wanted to insult you I would have insulted you. What I did was to make an admittedly cliched observation that you’re not particularly smart or insightful and thus that your posturing was unnecessary and actually a little sad.

    Note that neither axes nor chainsaws are usually terribly sharp and that they both rely on brute force rather than finesse to actually cut stuff. It’s an apt metaphor but perhaps not in the way you intended.

    How is stating that the concept of patriarchy (along with more points behind the link), is not a comment on a basic post on patriarchy?

    Because it does not address the formulation of “patriarchy” discussed here. In fact, it doesn’t seem to bother to define the usage of “patriarchy” which it attempts to criticize, nor does it point to any examples of the term “patriarchy” used in that fashion. It would seem to be a complete non-sequitir within the discussion here. It seems to me a largely ineffective criticism of second-wave feminism — it is too meandering and lacking in rigor to constitute an effective one but the author obviously has some pretty good ideas.

    People post additional thoughts, commentary, reservations all the time. When I don’t find a comment useful, I simply ignore it.

    Bully for you. I’ve chosen otherwise.

    The idea of kyriarchy (which was also mentioned in the article above) was suggested by a theologian. It nicely hides the issues with religion, just as the patriarchy concept often does as well.

    I don’t see how. Stephanie from the OP:

    Historically, men have held nearly all government positions due to rules of law that excluded women from office and, generally, from having much influence over what choice existed for leadership.* This hasn’t entirely kept women from positions of power, but the women or the circumstances of the exceptions have tended to be remarkable.

    This history comes with a couple of consequences. First of all, justifications were created to explain these patriarchal systems. Saying, “We’re in power because we said so, so nyah”, wasn’t going to provide much satisfaction to anyone who conceived of a different way to run things. These justifications ranged from complimentary (women are the only people who can possibly raise children well; women are so attractive that men can’t function when they’re working together) to defamatory (women are intellectually inferior/emotionally fragile/power mad/untrustworthy/sinful/unclean).

    It seems to me this provides a great basis for criticizing religion as a source of patriarchal cultural elements. Of course, to see this you would have to engage with the formulation of “patriarchy” actually being discussed rather than running with whatever nonsense is banging around in your head.

    And the idea that Patriarchy is some overarching concept that permeates the ages is not exactly uncommon. If that is suddenly no longer the party line, then you could simply state: “Ok, we don’t think that anyway”. Problem solved.

    Apparently that would not have solved the problem for the OP pretty explicitly defines patriarchy in such a way as to account for its piecemeal, historical, culturally-bound nature. Or perhaps when you say “simply state” you mean very simply — as though I were talking to a toddler perhaps?

    A descriptive label can account for different reasons with the same outcome (like oligarchy), but a theory cannot. A patriarchy theory for example must make class through the ages invisible, and we haven’t even touched on gender issues through the times.

    I don’t see how it does and you’ve failed to present any form of argument for it. Does a theory of quantum electrodynamics make a theory of chemistry invisible? Does it make a theory of optics invisible?

    You can’t have it both ways. Either you get references or you have just my opinion which get’s *flooosh* as just my opinion. Either I’m not grappling with the idea enough, or I reach “too high” for a “for dummies” entry. Besides, why the obsession with “me”, my non-smartness, my comfort zone?

    Of course you are quoting two different people so no one is trying to have it “both ways”.

    Speaking for myself only, it seemed to me that you introduced an entirely different person’s “critique” of an entirely different formulation of “patriarchy” (never made explicit as mentioned above) because accepting Stephanie’s formulation would force you to admit that perhaps the concept of “patriarchy” so-formulated might have some validity thus violating your preconceptions and making you uncomfortable. Just my impression.

    As far as obsessions with you — actually what happened is that you were unclear what I meant by “comfort zone” in your initial reply to me:

    It is new to me that such views are considered comfort zone.

    And I decided to help you out by clarifying my meaning. In terms of your “non-smartness” I was replying to this sad little bit of posturing:

    Don’t waste your time with games, I’d win it anyway.

  59. 59
    Bill Openthalt

    @54 Stephanie:

    When we talk about birds as monogamous, we are talking about pairs that stay together for the duration of raising offspring, not simply having only one partner at a time. We talk about monogamy that way because it means something for successful reproduction. That meaningful period is a season for birds. It is not for humans. Nor is it seven years for humans–children abandoned at seven do not survive on their own.

    The duration of raising offspring in birds is one season. The duration of raising offspring in humans is at least seven years — I was using a minimum duration to show how long-term commitment to a single partner in humans is akin to birds raising a nest. Usually, humans will produce the next child before the complete autonomy of the previous one, but that is merely good strategy given the relation between life expectancy and the time needed to raise a child to adulthood. This pattern increases the value of long-term monogamy: there is another child to raise, plus people do usually not become more attractive with age, and because human mating behaviour is not based on sexual receptivity of the female, the existing partner is the most likely mate for older humans.

    You’re making claims about the evolution of behavior, but (1) you’re not making reference to the same landscape of behavior that anyone who studies the topic actually talks about and (2) your examples don’t make sense. You can’t tell me that males with access to resources will engage in polygyny as an argument for evolved monogamy. You’re describing a monogamy forced by circumstances, not behavior dictated by genetics. Nor can you use an imperative toward stable societies as an argument that we’ve evolved monogamy when you haven’t established what a “stable society” is, much less that humans have a lot of them and, thus, demonstrate that we’ve evolved to create them.

    Is there a requirement to conform to people who “actually study the topic”? Pray tell me what these people say, instead of telling me I do not conform (something I haven’t done at any time during my life. I was a non-conforming child, a non-conforming catholic, a non-conforming marxist, a non-conforming philosopher, a non-conforming geologist, a half-arsed programmer, and a non-conforming male. I like it that way).

    Back to the issue at hand. Behaviour encoded in genetics is also “forced by circumstances”. After all, adaptation is what evolution is all about. Genes that encode brains that encode information provided by previous generations is evolution in action. Humans managed to marshal the resource-producing capabilities of as many males as possible by creating a social structure that allowed them procreational access to (in the overwhelming majority of cases) a single female each. Even if this would be directly encoded in genes (and it is very difficult to distinguish between what humans have by nature, and acquire through nurture, and the distinction isn’t all that relevant anyway), nothing says that genetically encoded behaviour cannot vary between individuals. Surely you do not believe monogamy for the vast majority and polygyny for the most successful cannot be encoded in genes? It is actually beautifully adaptive in that provides a reason for competition between males whilst guaranteeing access to reproduction (and hence a reason to produce resources) for the less successful specimens.

    Stable societies are societies with manageable internal strife, that exist for a significant number of generations and exhibit continuity of culture. By that definition, our current societies are stable, which is the premise I assumed.

    The assertion that having lots of partnerless — and hence purposeless — males does not lead to stable societies is fairly safe (in my opinion at least), given the biological role of males.

  60. 60
    Bill Openthalt

    @57 Stacy:

    Your invocation of that stereotype makes me think you really don’t know what I’m saying, Bill. Perhaps I’m not explaining it well, but since it’s speculative anyway I won’t argue any further beyond this. I’ll just say that I’m seeing the roots of patriarchy in animal behavior, and the most parsimonious explanatory factor I see is simple disparity in size and strength.

    What stereotype? That human males try to convince human females to accept them as mates based on their ability to provide and protect? That’s not a stereotype, that’s what happens in the vast majority of relationships.

    The concept of patriarchy originated when females started to compete with males, something made possible by advances in medical care and technology. It became possible to consider that the greatest value of human existence was producing resources and acquiring status, instead of giving birth to children and ensuring they reached adulthood. In actual fact, everything human males do (though they are not conscious of it) is oriented towards enabling females to produce and raise offspring. Take away that finality, and there is no sense in competing for career advancement and earning money. Why would anyone think that these pursuits have value outside of the continuation of the species?

    But people now do indeed believe that having a career and producing resources are the most important activities of any human, and when one believes females and males should compete in the same arena, “patriarchy” (or the domination of the females by the males) makes sense as long as females will be the only ones able to produce offspring, which inevitably puts them at a disadvantage in the competition.

    But work, careers and social advancement are not what life is about. They are means to an end, not goals in themselves. Without the next generations to remember their parents’ achievements, there is nothing but dust. And no talk about equality will remove that one humongous advantage females have over males — the ability to create life, to give birth to the humans that will remember us.

  61. 61
    Bill Openthalt

    Stacy

    (Also I think it is a mistake to say chimpanzees are not evolutionarily successful. Their numbers are threatened nowadays because of human incursion, but they’ve done quite well until very recently.)

    Chimps cannot compete with humans, that’s the exact point. Humans aren’t special, they are merely just another species, and a hell of a lot more successful than any of the great apes.

  62. 62
    Stephanie Zvan

    Is there a requirement to conform to people who “actually study the topic”?

    In the sense of not pulling arguments out of your ass and basing them on the evidence that speaks to the topic, oh, yes. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

    Pray tell me what these people say, instead of telling me I do not conform

    Actually, I’m telling you you’re going away. I gave you an excellent link on the topic and reminded you several times that it was there. You stuck with your nonconformist mental masturbation instead.

    Ta.

  63. 63
    tigtog

    The concept of patriarchy originated when females started to compete with males, something made possible by advances in medical care and technology.

    Bullshit. The concept of patriarchy, which has its etymological roots in “rule of the fathers” rather than your implicit “rule of men”, was an early term in political theory dating from at least the Renaissance, where it was used as an extension of the original Graeco-Roman social structure of the oldest male in a family holding autocratic rule over the members of his household, including his sons and grandsons etc until and unless they were able to gather the wherewithal to start their own households independently. Patriarchy has always been a labelling for a system which allows a few men to dominate many other men politically, with the subordination of women and other non-citizens featuring as status tokens in the ranking of men against each other. Families of noble or knightly status were considered to have advanced to that rank via the righteously judicious actions of generations of forefathers, and that was how class divisions were explained/justified and then further perpetuated by inheritance laws that favoured the eldest son above any other progeny.

    The autocratic household rule of the paterfamilias was not confined to the upper classes – allowing even a peasant to have that power over his household was a sop to the men of the lower classes whereby the power they were unable to exercise over any other male citizens could at least be exerted in their very own homes. The ancient aristocracies understood very well how to distract the underclasses from the undeniable fact that they outnumbered the upper classes, after all.

    In modern times, when autocratic household rule has gradually/somewhat decayed as a social phenomenon, it is a simple observation that men (especially white men) still dominate the decision-making and logistical planning tiers of most social systems, which appears to be empirically due to a combination of institutional inertia and both overt and unacknowledged biases against the value of contributions made by women. The modern expansion of Patriarchy theory, and then the intersectionality analysis of Kyriarchy theory, developed as these continuing inequities were observed to remain remarkably robust despite the de jure dismantling of explicitly biased laws excluding women from self-sovereignty and public life.

    Advances in medical care and technology are really only relevant in that they enabled women to control the size and timing of their families. Automation of certain household tasks mostly only meant that bourgeois women had machines to do the work that they used to pay working class women to do, so that cadres of strong women used to performing arduous back-breaking work in other women’s houses started to apply for other work instead.

  1. 64
    Ron Lindsay’s Radical Feminism » Almost Diamonds

    [...] It’s even a position that a handful of people in a room of 300 might even hold. The legacy of patriarchy is deeply embedded in our systems, including our economic systems. Capitalism does a great job of [...]

  2. 65
    News from down under: the TRUE skeptical women side with the guys! » Lousy Canuck

    [...] lot of crap because they don’t have the definitions of the words in question, so he linked to Patriarchy for Dummies and Strawprivilege, suggesting that people actually try learning the real arguments instead of [...]

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