As I have written elsewhere feminism is not the battle for equality between the sexes but is, primerily, a movement to “smash patriarchy”. This might have been a noble endeavour had feminists ever hit upon a theory of patriarchy that could begin to be falsified. I, like many reasonable people, used to identify as a feminist. Not the patriachy smashing feminist, but a “liberal” feminist, one which did not subscribe to any ideology. Feminism was about equality before the law, not female superiority, equalism, gender theory, intersectionality, toxic masculinity, capitalism, gender quotas. Boy, was I wrong about that!
It soon became clear that feminism automatically came with a trunk full of ideological baggage. Okay, I thought, lets test these hypotheses and strong man feminism. Lets test feminist patriachy theory, gender theory, lets look at the pay gap, lets look at rape conviction rates, lets look at this long litany of societal problems caused by sexism and misogyny and make the theory behind them more robust. Except the opposite happened. After looking at the evidence, most feminist claims became highly tenuous at worst and equivocal at best. The deeper I investigated the more disappointed I became. Orthodox feminism was a holding strategy not a plan of action. And it was clealry designed to help feminists alone, not women.
That’s when I decided that my duty of care was to women, not feminism. And that the best way to help women, and men, was through science, not pseudo science.
Many feminists contend that evolutionary psychology is a sexist enterprise that paints women as passive objects in the evolutionary game of survival and reproduction. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, in the evolutionary arms race that is colloquially called the battle of the sexes, women may even hold the trump card in the form of concealed ovulation. But they should know it comes with a cost that needs to be managed: paternity uncertainty. This is where biology and psychology meet and we see its influence manifest across cultures. The feminist conception of ‘patriachy’ is woefully lacking (see a previous essay here).
Examining patriarchy via evolutionary theory, which is a vast cross disciplinary project including, but not limited to, ecology, ethology, primatology, biology, anthropology and psychology, reveals a much more fascinating and complex picture. Through this lens, ‘patriarchy’ is our fitness landscape. It differs from place to place depending on ecological constraints. These constraints are myriad, but not infinite and so can be drawn. Nor are these differences arbitrary, they dance around a constant, evolutionary, fire.
The following are the starting premises for an evolutionary model of patriarchy, with this in mind
I assert that ‘patriarchy’ exists on a continuum from malign to benign. Strong (malign) patriarchies emerge in areas of ecological duress and appear to constrain female choice because competition between men is so fierce and women are often caught in the crossfire though they are rarely the primary target: this is what I call unreformed patriarchy. Unreformed patriarchies are dangerous places to live in for both men and women – but especially men. Unreformed patriarchies often practice institutional polygyny which contributes to male intrasexual competition as the operational sex ratio (OSR) is skewed (high-status men have more partners, low-status men have none.) We recognise these cultures in the world’s strict theocracies.
In the Western cultures, we live mostly in ecological release through both geographical luck and human technological innovation. Competition between men is not so fierce (though in some poor enclaves it is). Men generally cooperate and society is stable and safe – as safe as it has ever been in human history. Institutional monogamy helps this stability and the OSR is in equilibrium most of the time (again, except in high crime/high male mortality enclaves) though some mate switching still occurs. These western, benign societies appear to facilitate female choice under what I call reformed patriarchy. In both these societies ‘patriarchy’ appears to manifest itself in men over-represented in positions of power but this is not true, they are overrepresented in positions of the most fierce competition which has the result of elevating them up the dominance or (as Jordan B. Peterson correctly parses) competence hierarchy. Men want power and resources not to dominate women but to attract them.
Women take part in the creation and maintenance of these systems for reasons of their own ultimate fitness. They are not victims of it. They compete with other women as fiercely as men compete with other men for the resources they need to stay alive, find the best partners and successfully reproduce. They do this in very different ways than men however and this will be the subject of another essay (but which is touched upon here).
Crucially for my thesis in defence of reformed patriarchy is that reformed patriarchy protects against unreformed patriarchy. Should feminism ever succeed in its stated goal of “smashing patriarchy” in the West, unreformed patriarchy may then step in.
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8 thoughts on “In Defence of Reformed ‘Patriarchy’.”
Great piece and looking forward to seeing it evolve.
The only thing that springs to mind for me is that while there are good reasons for men to be more willing to make the sacrifices involved in attaining positions of power, Jo Williams makes a good point in her book Women vs Feminism; that reaching those positions takes years of experience and the (older) men there now did reach them at a time when there were various institutional barriers to women. So, now that there are not, the likelihood is that (from their basis as more qualified and more numerous in many traditionally male dominated occupations) in the future we may well see the number of women swelling the female representation in these power-roles.
@elizabethkhobson: the trouble with more women in power roles is that it leaves men out in cold.
Men, as Paula mentioned “want power and resources not to dominate women but to attract them”. Men with power and status and money have attracted women since time immemorial, and in return men have shared that power and status and money.
That simply hasn’t changed just because a bunch of hirsute hippies fifty years ago passed the bong around and said we could flip this upside down.
Men in positions of power naturally, instinctively share that with women. Men instinctively care for women – in exchange, let’s be frank, for access to sex – but there’s no natural desire for women to do the same.
Ask any guy who’s tried to date a woman who out-earns him. Men, regardless of political climate or social mores, are still seen by women as provider-protectors. A man who needs providing-for and protection *by a woman* is seen as a pathetic and not only not worth helping, but someone who must be discarded.
Putting women in power doesn’t change our biological imperatives. Rather than a reversal of roles which feminist insist we believe happen (“Hey, trust us!”), it will just mean that not only the standards men must adhere become higher, it also means that there’s not only less chance for men to attain those standards (since women are now fulfilling the positions that make men attractive to them), and men’s survival is now dependent on those who are driven to to discard them.
‘Putting women in power’ – If a woman has worked hard and hasnt used any privileges to get this power and it is as meritocratic as possible, then why shouldn’t she be there? I think that there is always a tiny portion of high T women who will want these kinds of roles and be good at them. Probably less than 1% of the population, but exceptions always exist.
Erin: I say “putting women in power” because that seems to be what modern feminists want – men to establish a power structure, then hand it over to women.
It’s not that women want to earn the same privileges the privileged men they envy (and let’s be clear: the vast, vast majority of men are not billionaires or presidents or celebrities) any more. That ideal has been thoroughly rejected by third-wave feminists.
In fact, that’s what most of the discourse seems to be these days. Women need to be part of, (for example), company boards, because company boards are male-dominated and always have been…so we must drop women in there. But if those boards have always been male-made and male-run – well, then why should any women have any claim to it? And, of course, they don’t expect to do the same work as men: the big argument at the moment for things like CEO positions is that they’re inherently sexist because they don’t allow time to raise a family, and thus aren’t “suitable” or “accessible” to women. (The idea that male CEOs might want to spend some time with their kids is never spoken of.)
That’s the irony, I suppose, a deliciously gender-oriented Catch-22: women should be able to do the same things as men because to deny them that would be misogynist, but women doing the same things as men would be denying their femininity and that’s also misogynist.
Same goes for most any other male-dominated field. Female soldiers want all the rank and glory as male ones (just as long as they’re not held to as stringent a standard as the men – like carrying less gear, and being able to opt out of combat if need be).
The meritocracy, as third-wave feminists put it, is misogynists. Asking women to work like men is sexist, it turns out, because it denies what they believe is an inherent feminine trait: that men should do things for you. To work for your privileges is sexist against women, because working for yourself is masculine, but having others work for it is feminine. (Look at the insane arguments about the “wage gap”.)
I think it was Warren Farrell who said that in the absence of traditional marriage, the welfare state (government) took over the role of “husband” as provider/protector: they provided money, protection, everything a woman expected from a husband.
Now, as such states are being dismantled, and women’s prominence is expanding, it’s gone from simply being able to expect not just the government to act as a husband, but now
all of society at large, from individuals to businesses to global corporations. Every man is now responsible for a woman’s comfort, security, and provision.
Rather than act like men, women just seem to want to act like…housewives with bigger house. It’s all strangely traditionalist.
It used to be that “equal opportunity” was the gold standard for gender relations. Now – that’s sexist. It’s now “equality of outcome”.
A woman who wants to work as hard as a man is expected to is no longer a hero among her gender, but rather an Uncle Tom figure to be pitied – someone who’s “internalised the patriarchy”.
Really helpful piece Paula. One of the things which Paula’s piece and Elizabeth’s comment helps me to understand is why I feel so wary of gender sameness (aka gender equality but I think men and women are equal anyway). It will lead to more women getting into top positions which as a result will become less attractive to men (just as fewer men enter priesthood now that it is so filled with women), and more difficult for them to get into (because of equal ops stuff) and this along with all the other damage which feminism inflicts on society really will completly destroy reformed patriarchy and take us all down the pan with it. This helps me to understand my “conservativism” when in so many ways I feel I have socialist tendencies. For as long as women really do value and prioritise their families and children reformed patriarchy is protected. Thanks Paula.
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One factor I think is worth attending to in this discussion is the significance of broader networks. Patriarchy tends to arise in no small measure because men create power. Even contemporary feminism advances principally by the power of herd dynamics and by lobbying essentially male agencies to do things for them, rather than by the development and strengthening of agency.
This male creation of power arises from a number of different causes. Male groups tend to be larger, broader, less personal, rougher, and outward-oriented. They are also more likely to be thing- and task-oriented. Men bond in the sharing of activities or objects of interest. While women enjoy bonding through shared activities, their friendships are not about the shared activity in the way that men’s groups can be (this, incidentally, is one of the reasons why male groups tend to be larger).
Such male groups have significant advantages when it comes to the forming of power. They are less intimate, so they can form power connections across unrelated groups. They venture into realms of risk and potential high-reward. They are prepared to treat members as expendable for the larger goal. They foreground the importance of robust agency (to prove yourself as a man is to exhibit assured agency in conditions of challenge). They exhibit the powerful bonding dynamic of the gang or tribe. They encourage hierarchies and status structures. They show the virility of innovation, path-breaking, creation, and discovery. They are oriented towards construction and the formation of things. They are more likely to externalize their union in the form of codes and laws.
All of these things are means by which power is created and developed. And it mostly occurs through male groups. Female groups tend to exhibit a more homeostatic dynamic and, traditionally at least, were more tied to the domestic sphere. Without household appliances, contraception, baby formula, a welfare state, lots of jobs in the service sector, etc., the core work of this domestic realm would primarily fall to women, as male strength would be much more needed elsewhere.
It is interesting to look at cases of matriarchies in the world, as the conditions under which patriarchy doesn’t arise are illuminating. For instance, a country like Palau is historically matriarchal. The men would historically fish and the women would farm and manage the money. The male realm of activity in such a society allows little scope for power creation or development, while the small size of the country (less than a third of the size of the Isle of Skye, with a population of about 21,500, way out in the South Pacific) means that close communal relational networks will be the most powerful ones. The historic dynamic is starting to shift in various ways as Palau connects with the wider world.
The shift in the current situation in the West is worth attending to as well. Social media is an important factor in allowing for the dramatic advance in the scalability of women’s networks. Whereas once the broadest networks were ones in which male traits were naturally advantaged and were often almost exclusively populated by men, this is no longer the case. Vast numbers of women can now practice their more typical forms of socialization in the broadest networks of all and we may moving towards a strange form of matriarchal society. Within such a society, power will be devolved to impersonal systems, laws, institutions, structures, automation, and AI, originally created by men, but now used by women to empower, protect, and provide for them, while displacing any lesser (and typically male) agencies that might act over against them. The result will be an impersonal and technocratic corporate state, which tends to infantilize its citizens, while ’empowering’ us all as fragilized hypoagentic selves, who are thoroughly dependent upon it and the coddling of a hyper-consumerist culture.
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