This is a repost of an article I originally wrote for /r/Masculism and posted here: http://www.reddit.com/r/masculism/comments/1csoi7/the_literal_patriarchy_men_and_masculinity/
“Patriarchy” is typically used in gender studies to refer to one of two things; either a gender system which is masculosexist and femmephobic (Third Wave definition), or a gender system which is systematically constructed as a tool of class oppression by men to oppress women (Radical Second Wave definition).
But the literal meaning of “Patriarchy” isn’t synonymous with “Androcracy.” The literal meaning of “Patriarchy” is the rule of the father.
In this essay, I will be looking at a feature of the gender system which disproportionately oppresses males, particularly young ones – the Literal Patriarchy.
Part 2: A Quick Recap of the Gender System
The social norms around gender evolved in an environment where many, even most, children did not reach adulthood, and humans lived at subsistence level or close to it (this is why the first substantial challenges to the gender system did not emerge until the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – for the vast majority of human history, the gender norms were a survival necessity). Because of the low level of technological development, human survival was predicated on a consistently expanding supply of labor, i.e. consistent population growth. We needed more protector/providers and we needed more producers of protector/providers. Sexual dimorphism provided the template for the basic division of labor between the sexes.
As such, the social norms were established to reward men that were good protector/providers, and reward women that were good (i.e. fertile) mothers.
Society demanded that women serve the function of bearing children (a risky, high-maintenance process which renders a woman less mobile and more resource-consuming during pregnancy), whilst men serve the function of protecting the women and children and sustaining them. Individuals of both sexes were judged on the basis of how well they served these socially mandated functions (or gender roles)… “proper” femininity was the mother, “proper” masculinity was the warrior/hunter.
But females would, almost inevitably, end up capable of bearing children due to natural biological maturation. “Girls” would just become “women” due to the onset of puberty (with a small number of exceptions due to natural infertility). A woman’s “proper” femininity (i.e. value to society in serving the female function) was thus socially conceptualized as an innate property of women.
Males, on the other hand, did not have the biological assuredness of becoming a satisfactory protector/provider. These tasks required proving oneself in dangerous, strenuous physical activity. Not only that but they required the demonstration of a reliable track record (consistency) in results. Not all male individuals managed to do this, and those that did still varied in the level of skill they displayed. Whilst “girls” managed to just “become” “proper” women, “boys” were not guaranteed “real manhood.” They needed to prove themselves to their peers and elders. “Real manhood” (i.e. value to society in serving the male function) was thus socially conceptualized as an ideal to aspire to for males.
As a result, there are two kinds of Epistemological Essentialism which underpin our gender system. Femininity is understood through the lens of Aristotelian (or Immanent) Essentialism. Masculinity is understood through the lens of Platonic (or Transcendent) Essentialism.
This is ultimately the underpinning of the basic gender role in our society; the subject-object dichotomy. Men are seen as subjects, i.e. actors and agents, beings with the capacity to choose a goal and strive to achieve it. Women are seen as objects, since action is not a necessary component of femininity. Men do, women are. Men have to act, women do not. Men are actors, women are acted upon.
But there is a twist here – as stated before, the gender system ascribes value to the fulfillment of both the male function and the female function. Since females are (assumed to be) automatically capable of fulfilling this female function, they possess an innate value. Males do not have this assumption on their side – they must prove their capability to serve the male function, and thus they possess no innate value. Women are innately valuable objects and men are innately valueless subjects (with the capacity to acquire some value).
This system arose to incentivize population growth during a time when most children did not survive to reach puberty, let alone to reproduce. Thankfully, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution made the prosperity of the modern world possible, but as such our gender system has been rendered obsolete. The system needs to be examined, critiqued, and rejected or modified where necessary.
Part 3: Maturity and Manhood
As alluded to above, the gender system’s mandated roles are connected to biological maturation. Women cannot serve their mandated function until their body is sufficiently developed (i.e. they start mensturating). In the case of female maturation, the onset of mensturation provides a clear biological sign of a woman’s ability to bear children.
A man, however, is biologically incapable of serving this function – he can only serve the mandated male functions of protector/provider (protecting women, particularly pregnant women, and providing for them and his children). But there is no single biological “he’s ready” indicator. Not only that, but merely reaching puberty doesn’t guarantee capability or competence at physical tasks. As such, various social institutions (such as initiation rites into manhood) evolved to fill this function – these rites typically consist of testing the man’s ability and, should he succeed, granting him the social status of “real man.”
But in both cases, the gender system’s mandated roles are based on notions of maturity. After all, a male that is not a “real man” is considered a “boy” and socially emasculated. “Boy” just means “young male” but the way the term is used contemptuously as a form of verbal emasculation is quite telling (“girl” isn’t used the same way (or at least not nearly as commonly), because a female’s ability to serve the mandated female function is treated as innate). So to be a “real man” is to not be a “boy” is to “grow up” and be “mature.”
As stated before, however, male biological maturation is only part of the picture. Since there is no simple biological indicator of “he’s ready to go out and be a hunter/gatherer,” various social institutions took that role, and these social institutions were typically administered by elder men (those men that had earned “real manhood” in society’s eyes). The elder males became one of the judges of manhood (particularly the judges of the manhood of younger males), and also one of the conferrers of manhood. This status is not exclusive to the elders – the gender system creates many other judges and conferrers of manhood (peer groups and women particularly), but the point is that there is an intersectionality effect between ageism and masculosexism.
So who is the first elder male that most male children know? Who is the first elder male in a position to judge the child’s maturity, capability and competence?
Part 4: The Literal Patriarchy
Whatever one’s stance on feminist Patriarchy Theory (in either its Radical Second Wave or Third Wave variants) is, it is hard to deny that a huge number of males are psychologically “ruled” (so to speak) by their fathers. This “rule” is based on the fact that our gender system sees fathers as possessing the ability to legitimately confer or revoke their sons’ status as a “real man.” Your father automatically possesses Alpha Male status over you (in my article Separating The ‘Boys’ From The ‘Men’: Male Heirarchy And The Oppression Of Men I define an “Alpha Male” as a male with the ability to revoke another man’s “real man” status, and thus to reduce them to a “boy”).
As I have emphasized, this is an extremely effective form of psychological control – it makes a fact of one’s nature (one’s gender identity) socially contingent on validation granted by others (in this case, one’s father). If by “power” one means the ability to live one’s own life on one’s own terms, then this Literal Patriarchy is very destructive to the power of male individuals.
The cultural prevalence of so-called “Daddy Issues” in countless amounts of male-targeted art and fiction – even the classical “Hero’s Journey” monomyth has an “atonement with the father” component as well as the Wise Old Man that blesses/endorses the hero – goes without saying. Now, whilst there are a few exceptions, “Daddy Issues” in fiction typically is of the “I wish I pleased you, Dad” variety. Why would this fictional trope be so prevalent if it weren’t a trope which vast numbers of males relate to?
As stated before, there are other avenues besides paternal endorsement by which one can gain “real man” status – peer endorsement and female endorsement being two common alternatives. A male denied paternal endorsement may choose to pursue one of the other two avenues in order to achieve their validation, or they may decide to employ paternal substitution in order to do it (or some combination of the aforementioned avenues).
Paternal substitution is possible because of the ageism-masculosexism intersection effect; because our gender system implicitly casts the “real man” in terms of maturity, a male that believes the gender system is true will see elder males in general as embodying “real manhood” more than he does. If a young male does not receive paternal endorsement from his biological father (or perhaps suffers a sufficient trauma from his father so as to nullify the father’s credibility) yet still believes in the gender system, he will revoke the power his father has over him but then grant it to some other elder man.
This younger man will voluntarily take a subordinate role, as a “lesser man,” to that elder. This younger man has made the elder into his Alpha, possessing the power to confer or revoke his “real manhood.” The younger man then attempts to earn the elder man’s approval so as to finally have his real manhood conferred upon him. A young man can in fact disperse this power amongst multiple different “father figures,” and perhaps even invest that power within certain heirarchical institutions (the military, or a street gang, serve good examples). In each case, the dynamic is fundamentally the same.
Part 5: Empowering Men, Depowering The Father Figure
Masculism, or Men’s Rights, seeks to do for men what first-wave and early-second-wave feminism sought (at least nominally) to do for women: guarantee legal equality of the sexes and to attack popular stereotypes, prejudices, obligations and expectations assigned on the basis of sex. In short, the objective is to empower men to live their own life on their own terms (assuming they respect the right of others to do the same), irrespective of the demands of traditional gender norms.
Doing this requires that we destroy the power that the Father Figure has over us.
Just to clarify, I am protesting not fathers, but rather traditional masculinity. I am simply pointing out that traditional gender roles are entangled with notions of maturity in such a way as to place elder men into a position which can grant them (within the gender system) the ability to pass judgment on a younger male’s masculinity/maturity. I also argue that plenty of male-targeted culture reinforces this (and the foundational attitudes for it). This does not mean fathers are bad – it simply means that the gender system burdens males with having to “earn” social recognition of their gender identity, and one of the ways this is done is through proving oneself to one’s Father Figure/s (who can be one’s biological or adoptive father, or not).
This is a change which must begin in men themselves. We must reject the gender system, in particular the Platonic Essentialist idea of “real manhood.” We must reject attempts by anyone (especially our elders) to gender-police us. We must ruthlessly question the “wisdom of the fathers” and acknowledge the fallibility of our Father Figures. We must attack the idea that a “real man” is a servant of others. We must refuse to let our sex impose a list of arbitrary duties upon us. And most critically of all, we must not live to make our Father Figures proud of us. We can desire that he/they be proud of us, but if we are willing to alter ourselves in order to win his/their approval, then we have lost and the gender system has won.
Part 6: Conclusion
The gender system of our society evolved to incentivize consistent reproduction; sexual dimorphism meant that the most “efficient” (from the perspective of population growth) course of action was for women to be mothers and men to be protector/providers. This formed the basis for our society’s concepts of masculinity and femininity. However, females were more-or-less biologically assured of being capable of serving their socially-mandated function and males had to prove their capability at performing tasks with far less certain outcomes. This led to femininity being seen as an innate property of women, but “real manhood” being cast as something a male must “earn” (which in turn underlies the men-as-actors, women-as-acted-upon distinction in our culture).
Both femininity and masculinity were connected with maturity, yet a male’s ability to serve his socially-mandated function was not biologically evidenced in the same way that a female’s ability was. As such, various social institutions developed to separate the “men” (those capable of serving the male social function) from the “boys” (those incapable of doing such). This resulted in a situation where elder males held the ability to extend or revoke “real manhood” to younger men. Thus, becoming a “real man” was, at least in part, about proving oneself to elder men. The father-son relationship, at least as traditionally cast, seems to be the archetypal and obvious example of this pattern.
Since males, to earn their “real manhood,” are incentivized to please their father (or substitute), the gender system can be described as perpetuating a Literal Patriarchy (so to speak) amongst males. Since this damages the psychological self-sovereignty of males, it is a bad thing and we should oppose it.
Discussion and feedback is appreciated.
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