Patriarchy 101

What is patriarchy?

At the risk of spoiling the big surprise, it’s something I’ll probably write about a lot as long as this blog exists. So I feel like I’d better explain what my understanding of patriarchy is; not because I think anybody reading this hasn’t heard of the word, but because if the school debating team taught me one thing it’s that definitions are crucial to good arguments. And also that some shifty bastard always manages to eat the nice biscuits before you can.

Anyway! Broadly speaking, patriarchy just means a system in which men control a disproportionately large share of power. The power doesn’t have to be ‘official’ (y’know, male CEOs and politicians etc), it also and more commonly comes in the form of entitlement – the idea that men have a right to behaviours, positions, and freedoms which women cannot access.

The reality of patriarchy in modern Western society is a little different. For one thing, it’s not a case of all men having more power and entitlement – there’s a kind of hierarchy. One’s place on the ladder is partially determined by class (e.g. a surgeon would probably rank higher than a council worker). It’s also affected by race (e.g. a white woman may be said to rank higher than a man of African or Asian descent). As you move further up the ladder you become more powerful, but the criteria also become more restrictive; so what you have at the top is a group of wealthy white men. There are obviously exceptions to this rule in real life, but I think it would be fair to argue that most Western societies disproportionately favour men who meet these criteria.

But wait, there’s more! Turns out, having fair skin and a fat wallet isn’t really enough these days. Getting to the top of the ladder is also about how you behave. Unless you’ve been living under a rock I assume you’ve come across the term ‘alpha male’. Well, these are the sort of people who apparently deserve to be (and often are) at the top of the patriarchal food chain. These people are not just men, they’re real men. But what defines someone as such a fine specimen of manhood? you might ask. Luckily, the brilliant Tony Porter has come up with a diagram he calls the ‘Man Box’.

Themanbox-290x320And before anyone starts to wonder the answer is yes, there are people out there who really do believe that fitting into this little Man Box is the only way to be truly masculine. But never fear – equality is at hand! In the spirit of fairness, a patriarchal system also dictates that there should be ‘real’ women to accompany these ‘real’ men. Alas, I have no handy-dandy diagram to illustrate the requirements of true femininity, but I think we could all probably agree on a few traits: submissive, non-violent, heterosexual, passive, sexually available but not ‘slutty’, fertile, not career-oriented, fragile, modest, and physically attractive.

Now, I’ve seen more people than I can count oppose feminism on the grounds that it’s fundamentally unfair; as this (in my opinion) slightly misguided but strangely insightful Return of Kings article states, ‘If Women Were Oppressed, Men Suffered Right Along Side Them’.  Whilst the article doesn’t explicitly state it, the implication is that the fact that men and women were both restricted by gender roles is proof that feminism is fundamentally unfair. It suggests that feminists ignore the oppression of men, and instead try to make them feel guilty for the oppression of women in order “to elevate themselves above others”. I, on the other hand, would argue that this shared history of oppression is the single most important fucking reason that feminism exists.

Contrary to some people’s interpretation, feminism is not about bringing women up to the level of men – it’s about putting everyone on the same level regardless of gender, which is a very different thing. Yes, it means that women should be allowed to vote and own property have pre-marital sex and work and initiate a divorce and do all the things that men are ‘allowed’ to do. But it also means that men can be stay-at-home dads, and cry and express emotion, and not like sport, and not solve problems with violence, and not have to do the more dangerous jobs, and not have to be the breadwinners. Feminism, as I understand it, is about dismantling patriarchy, this system under which both women and men are restricted to these little boxes if they want to be accepted.  It’s a belief that there should not be certain behaviours allowed only for men or for women; and that you are still a ‘real’ person if you don’t conform to those behaviours.

And quite honestly, when I think about why I hate patriarchy so fucking much, I very rarely think about the women I know. In fact, I usually think about the men – my fiance, my friends, my father, my cousins, all the wonderful males in my life that I love and care about. I think about how not one of them fits absolutely into that sad little Man Box, and how miserable they would probably be if they believed that they should. I think about the son I might have one day, and how I can possibly explain to him that no matter what I’ve taught him, some people out there will think that everything he does should be defined by his gender. I think about all the people I’ve ever met who identify as LGBT in some way, and how I might never truly met them at all if our society wasn’t oh so gradually coming to accept them living their lives honestly and openly.

Feminism is not about preferential treatment for women, or about disempowering men. Sometimes I reckon ‘humanism’ is a better term (except that its already in use, alas!) because the ultimate point of feminism is that the way you live your life should not be determined by your gender. We are all human, and frankly that humanity seems far more important than what kind of genitals you were born with.

Why political correctness sucks

So here’s a disclaimer: this is not what my first post was meant to be about.

I was going to write about patriarchy, about what it means to me and why I think it’s so destructive. But lo and behold, the power of Facebook intervened when I clicked on this fateful link.

For anyone who can’t be fucked clicking on it, the woman in this TED talks video is Sally Kohn. She’s a liberal Democrat lesbian talking head on Fox News. I’ve never heard of her in my life, but I decided to put this up because she basically sums up something I’ve been trying to put into words for a long time: an idea she calls ’emotional correctness’.

I hear and see a lot of people complaining about the so-called ‘tyranny’ of political correctness in our society. These people usually identify as conservative and I nearly always disagree with them, but in this case I think they have a point. Realistically speaking, our language is so littered with insults and colloquialisms which aren’t PC that if we cut all of them out, we’d probably talk like fucking robots. (I’m sure there’ll be someone out there who’d consider that offensive to robots.) Plus, as Kohn points out, it’s not uncommon for someone who’s expressing a point which is technically PC to come across as a condescending douchebag, thereby pretty much negating the point of being PC in the first place.

What Kohn advocates instead is emotional correctness. It’s basically empathy – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes before dismissing their ideas or opinions, thinking about why they have those beliefs. It’s also about the way in which we say things – Kohn says she doesn’t care if someone calls her a dyke, what matters is not the use of the word but the way you use it. It is about “the tone, the feeling, how we say what we say, the respect and compassion we show one another.”

I cannot tell you how much I love this idea, or how important I think this is. It’s sickeningly frustrating to see the way people dismiss each others’ views simply because they don’t immediately understand them; or don’t make the effort to communicate their own ideas in way that ‘opponents’ might want to listen to. It’s almost like as a society we don’t give a shit who listens to us, as long as our voice is the loudest in the room. Sometimes it seems like we’re losing the art of intelligent debate; losing the ability to see the people who disagree with us as real human beings, forgetting that a good debate is meant to produce a solution and not just entrench existing ideas.

The reason I put this up is because that is how I want this blog to be. I want myself and people who think like me to put forward our ideas, but I also want to be able to listen to the ideas of people who fundamentally disagree with me. It’s why I check out websites like Return of Kings and Men Going Their Own Way – I disagree with almost everything on these sites, but I also truly want to know why these writers think that way. Underneath a discourse that can sometimes appear seriously misguided at best, there seems to be an undercurrent of real distress. You can see it if you read the comments, some of these guys really do feel like the world is slipping away from them and that feminism is largely to blame. What’s happened in their lives that’s given them that perspective? It sounds hokey, but I don’t think it’s possible to change someone’s mind unless you try to understand them first.

Strange as it may sound, political correctness is not always appropriate. Perhaps we need to care less about being right, and more about being understood. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are; nobody is going to care about your opinion if you make them feel dismissed and disrespected. At the risk of stating the bloody obvious, nobody will want to listen to you, if you won’t listen to them too.

Thanks for reading guys!

Thanks for stopping by, San Diego!

So, uh…I guess here’s my blog about gender and stuff.

Unfortunately there’s no interesting back-story behind all this, it’s all very dull and first-world. I just thought it’d be cool to give it a go. Y’know, just in case there’s not quite enough under-qualified and over-opinionated uni students with blogs in the world.

Hopefully the saving grace will be that the subject itself is interesting. Cause I really, really do give a shit about gender equality and the struggle to achieve it, and hopefully if you’re reading this you do as well. Or you’re one of my middle-aged relatives just trying to be supportive. Anyway! If you’re not my Mum, it’d be really cool if you could comment and discuss and argue (in a non-dickbaggy way) about anything I write that interests you. No pressure or anything, it’s just talking with people is way more interesting than talking at people, and I really would like to know what you guys think. Fingers crossed I can be coherent enough to get the ball rolling.

Thanks for casting your precious eyes upon my paltry thoughts, and happy reading!