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Monday, December 22, 2003
Allow me to destroy the patriarchy

At today's modern college, professors at each of the various academic departments, for the most part, spend their days teaching their disciplines and doing research in their fields. Some may or may not compare or inform their research with knowledge of other disciplines. Academia is certainly an animal of specialization, so I'm willing to believe most do not.

So it is with this in mind that I post on something that bothered me as an undegrad and continues to strike me as curious. I only took one women's studies course--and even that was more of a history of feminism(s)--but I feel that with only a cursory examination of feminist literature, campus postings, and over-heard or read feminist critiques of society, it is somewhat common for contemporary feminists to argue that we live in a patriarchy; much of the political and social oppression of women is/was caused by this patriarchy, and that the patriarchy infects everything: government, science, pop culture, etc. Almost anything in history or produced anytime before even 1980 is suspect because of the patriarchy which dominated everything everywhere. As an aside, I feel like one runs into this thing all the time in combination with multiculturalism: our constitution is bunk because it was written by rich, old, white men. Any smidgen of a baby can be tossed out with all of this tainted bath water. But let me focus more on feminism's patriarchy.

In ancient Rome, there was most certainly a patriarchy. The Pater Familias possessed the power of pater potestas. His wife, daughters, sons, were all essentially under his total legal jurisdiction/authority. Women needed permission to marry and they could stay under their father's authority or go under the authority of their husband's father. A son became truly independent only after his father died. This patriarchy was absolute. (Notice, however that the patriarchy included sons even into adulthood and the families of their sons). I doubt that feminists are really arguing that the patriarchy existing today is like the one in Rome, though maybe they feel that 19th and 18th century America might have come close. I suspect the patriarchy they cite is probably more insidious than that, since my reading of american law is that women are de jure social and political equals with men. Yet, certainly there are de facto inequalities, so is patriarchy the culprit.

To be honest, it strikes me as something of a conspiracy theory. Are men meeting in closed doors somewhere ensuring that women are kept out? Yes, men still dominant the boardrooms of American corporations. Yes, today men on average still earn more than women. But are these inequalities caused by the intentions of men or a more covert social disease working against most people's better intentions. Enter the patriarchy. But which patriarchy are feminsts fighting against? The former or the latter? Do they bother to make that distinction? Do they believe there currently exists one, the other or both?

Frankly, I don't really believe that men overtly conspire against women today, which leaves only the shadowy patriarchy. The one just beneath the surface of pop culture, law, etc. This patriarchy draws from the wellspring of the ancient one and so I've heard some suggest that we must remake the world since everything is tainted. But is the patriarchy really to blame for the inequalities of gender?

There is another very powerful pressure out there on this earth among the living and the dead often cited as directly causal: natural selection, sexual selection, and their by-product sexual dimorphism. Most of us learn about these ideas and then apply them to the "natural world" alone. But what of their implications for human civilizations far, far in the past? What about their implications for our society today? Granted even suggesting that some part of the "patriarchy" out there is driven by sexual selection and sexual dimorphism smacks of "nature vs. nurture." But is anyone out there in biology, sociology or women's studies even asking the question?

To focus this idea, am I and other men driven to out-compete each other (and by default other women in the workplace) so that I may be more appealing to potential female mates, presumably so that I may successfully reproduce? Did our ancient civilization forbears who subjected their women to a patriarchy out-duel competing civilizations which gave women equal footing? Why are women so seemingly obsessed with shoes? Although we think pretty highly of ourselves as organisms and are willing to believe that we can will ourselves beyond our primordial drives, but can we do that as collective human populations?

Until we get more of a academic challenge to the patriarchy thesis, I don't buy it.