Archive for April, 2010

Misinterpreting Patriarchy

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The gender discourse of today is ripe with words such as “patriarchy” and “structural oppression”, words that are meant to convey that men as a group hold power over women as a group. At the same time, more and more people are starting to question whether these terms can be said to accurately describe reality. Some even go as far as to claim that “the patriarchy” is a fantasy that has no correlate in real life.

Personally, I don’t believe that the word patriarchy is a fantasy, but I do believe that it has been misinterpreted–or misconstrued–more or less beyond recognition.

So what is the patriarchy, in the true sense of the word? Patriarchy is a system where men work in the public sphere and women work in the private sphere. No more, no less.

The contemporary gender discourse, however, tends to focus exclusively on the fact that important and influential roles in society are filled by men in a patriarchy, and use this observation to conclude that patriarchy is about male dominance and male power. Through this generalization, the power of a small subset of men, is taken to represent all men, without investigating whether other men really have any power. Another factor that also isn’t investigated is whether the small subset of men with power use their power to help other men. If not, it cannot really be said to be a male power.

Yet another example of how the concept of patriarchy is misunderstood, was given to me through a press release of a Swedish book investigating closed networks of men with power between the years 1890 and 1960. The focus of the author is how these networks were explicitly closed to women, through jargon and invisible codes. In other words, there is an assumption that the jargon was used to keep women out of the boardrooms and other seats of power. In my opinion, however, this is a clear misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the workings of patriarchy.

The jargon and invisible codes of these powerful Swedish men of the past were not mean to shut out women, they were meant to shut out everyone who wasn’t part of the group–men and women alike. Furthermore, the women who were married to these men were likely very happy with their situation, and not at all looking to take over their husbands’ jobs. This was at a time when biological sex and gender roles had yet to be differentiated.

Today’s gender experts therefore misinterpret patriarchal societies in a number of ways:

  • The power of a tiny subset of men is taken to represent all men, instead of seeing the powerlessness of most men.
  • It is assumed that the men at the top helped other men, but in reality they used other men for wars, mining, construction, etc. There is no evidence that the men in power were reluctant to use other men to build society, regardless of the hardships, injuries and deaths that were required.
  • So called male networks were really networks for the rich and powerful. Women didn’t ask to be part of these networks, since gender roles were still fused with biological sex in the cultural awareness.

My take on the word “patriarchy” is that it was once an adequate term for describing traditional societies that had agrarian farming as their base. However, through repeated misuse of the word, it has been hijacked and misconstrued to mean something very different. At this point in time, there’s not much point in using the word at all, since there is no longer a clear definition.

Video On Sexual Harassment

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Check out this tongue-in-cheek video about sexual harassment.

While it’s primarily meant as comedy, it also illuminates how difficult it is to know where the boundary for harassment is, since the subjective component is often emphasized. “If you feel harassed, you have been harassed.”

Happy Easter

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010


If you want something to read during the holidays, then I suggest this article by Christine Hassler in The Huffington Post, where she outlines a more constructive form of feminism, instead of the “have-it-all” feminism that is hurting women and men alike.

The Elevated Mortality of Men

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

We all know that men live shorter lives than women, but we don’t really know why, since there’s no definitive research available that explains the shorter lifespan of men. However, there are lots of pertinent facts available that go a long way towards explaining the gender gap in life expectancy:

  • Men are usually the primary providers for the family, and the burden of providing can easily become a form of chronic stress.
  • Dangerous jobs are performed by men, and as a result, a number of men die each year.
  • Suicides are far more common among men than among women.
  • Men make up the bulk of the homeless, and this kind of lifestyle often leads to a premature death.
  • It’s more common for men to be socially isolated and not have a single close friend, which can have a negative effect on your health.
  • Men aren’t taught to seek help for psychological and psychiatric issues, which leads to increased levels of alcoholism and premature deaths.
  • Men are violently killed more often than women.
  • It’s not unusual for men to be removed from their children as well as lose touch with friends of the family after a divorce, which can lead to isolation, alcoholism, etc.
  • Due to historical factors men are only valued for their performance, which again can lead to chronic stress.

In addition to these social, phychological and structural explanations, there may of course be biological factors that explain why men have shorter life spans. However, there is emerging evidence that innate biological factors are not the main culprit here.

Hopefully, the new subject Male Studies can help shed more light on this topic in the future. Make sure you sign up for the April 7 webcast, where this new academic discipline will start to take shape.