Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Patriarchy, the Gynocracy, and Other Comforting Myths of Struggle

This post was very sweetly nominated for the 3 Quarks Daily Philosophy Prize. I think Karl Smith's Pessimist Manifesto articulates the same philosophical points more generally and better.



Conspiracy theories are comforting. They posit an enemy - "bad guys" who are responsible for the mess we're in - and they give us a group to imagine we're struggling against, allowing us to be the "good guys."

Patriarchy is, of course, real - in the Sudan, in Afghanistan, and for tens of thousands of years of human history. "Males dominate public/political realm" is on D.E. Brown's list of human universals; it characterizes every human society that has ever been studied. Contrary to the wishes of wiccans and the like, there never have been any female-dominated societies.

In the modern West, however, almost all legal barriers to gender equality have been removed - as well as many practical ones (e.g., birth control, abortion, and the information economy). So why aren't all our problem solved? Why do men still commit the vast majority of lethal violence? Why do men still "dominate the public/political realm"? Why aren't there as many female math professors as male math professors? Why are female leading actors still mostly young and beautiful?

The comforting conspiracy theory is that all this is from socialization. Boys and girls are somehow influenced, from a young age, to take on the gender roles that they do. If we "good guys" could only change this socialization, then all the problems attributed to patriarchy would vanish.

But only an evolution denier could hold such a position (and, indeed, many feminists are evolutionary psychology deniers). A species with (historic and present) effective polygyny as high as ours is never going to achieve gender equality in anything but a legal sense.

And gynocracy, of course, is real, too - at least recently, in the West. While there are few situations in which the law prefers men over women, there are many situations in which the law protects (and sometimes "protects") women at the expense of men's interests. Here are a few:

  • By United States federal law, baby girls may not have their genitals mutilated, but baby boys may.

  • The near-universal prohibition on prostitution primarily affects men's interests, because men are nearly the sole consumers of sexual services of both male and female prostitutes (fantasies like the television show Hung notwithstanding). A male who is unwilling or unable to enter a mutual sexual output contract has few legal options for obtaining sexual services - certainly a very important part of human happiness.

  • For a female, consent to sex does not equal consent to have and support a child. For a male, it does. A man may be forced to support a child he did not wish to have merely because he is the genetic parent.

  • On the other hand, for a female, being the genetic parent is enough to establish parental rights to the child. A male must often demonstrate more than genetic paternity - e.g., a relationship with the child or attempt to support the child - in order to have parental rights recognized at law.

The above examples of what might be termed "gynocracy" are wrong, and should be rectified. But will all the problems between men and women disappear if only we get the right legal system in place? If it didn't work for women, why would we expect it to work for men? Or for any other oppressed group?

Evil exists. But there is no "enemy" except ourselves. Evolution has created organisms that compete with each other - intrasexually as well as intersexually. Our organism has developed the concepts of "good" and "evil," "fairness and "cheating," that help us live in large groups and compete successfully. But all the "good" and "fairness" in the world does not guarantee human happiness. In fact, it is human suffering that is guaranteed.

Conceiving of problems as struggles between us and our enemies is problematic because it gives false hope - hope that one can "win" the struggle. If only the right people were in charge, we think, things would be alright.

But the hope is a false one. Problems such as those between men and women are deep, systemic, and insoluble. They are part of our nature and will always exist. If we perpetuate our species, we perpetuate the problems. There will never be a time when "it was all worth it" - when we can look back on our previous struggles and pat ourselves on the back.

As we perpetuate our species, we do so on the backs of the suffering. And always shall.

On the curious proposition that women are as violent as men in relationships, see also my Demonic Males and Attack Heifers: On the Sex Ratio of Marital Violence.

27 comments:

  1. Have you read David Benatar's The Second Sexism? He makes a lot of similar points.

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  2. Wow, I love his line of reasoning about the Amartya Sen "missing women" statistic.

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  3. He's brilliant as always, but the studies he cites (Murray Straus and others) as proving that men and women are equally violent in relationships are refuted here.

    The evidence points to men being more violent than women, even in relationships; no big shock there, and I don't think it undermines Benatar's points, but the claim that men and women are equally violent is "counter-intuitive and controversial" because it's wrong.

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  4. Recently read somewhere that "second sexism" is the subject of Benatar's next monograph. Also, he had a follow-up to criticisms of his original article:

    "The Second Sexism, a Second Time." Social Theory & Practice; Apr2003, Vol. 29 Issue 2, p275-296.

    And you might be interested in Benatar's essay "Suicide: A Qualified Defense", appearing in the second edition of his textbook "Life, Death, and Meaning", as well as his contributions to the forthcoming Procreation and Parenthood and The Onion and Philosophy. Everything I've managed to get my hands on by him has been rewarding.

    Lastly, a promisingly trenchant critique of "Better Never to Have Been" I'm eager to read:

    "Notwithstanding this multi-tiered challenge to Benatar’s reasoning, I conclude with praise for his work and the intellectual virtues it embodies."

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  5. Thanks Rob - I like everything I've read by Benatar. I doubt I would have gotten interested in Talmud scholarship otherwise.

    Will try to get ahold of the follow-up.

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  6. You even read the Jewish stuff? Wow, hardcore fan, lol! I confess I haven't ventured there, even though I liked this paper quite a bit.

    Here's The Second Sexism, a Second Time. Thanks a lot for the link on violence; CTS methodology sounds pretty ridiculous. That said, aggression can manifest in many ways, and women could assault men less simply because men tend to be bigger and stronger. When it comes to beating defenseless small children, women have done their fair share of violence. Unfortunately, the data from child welfare agencies would be inadequate to assess the likelihood of male vs. female child physical abuse because to them, it only counts as physical abuse if there is a mark, and men are probably more likely to hit harder and leave marks.

    Rob, I don't know if David DeGrazia's critique is as trenchant as you anticipate. I posted my first impressions in a comment here. Not sure if you've seen it or not.

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  7. Just read the DeGrazia paper and agree with CM's assessment. It seems to me that it has the merit of identifying the most promising points at which to attack Benatar's argument, but in the end only reconfirms the impression of its invincibility.

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  8. Totally unrelated, but I trust most regular readers of this blog are Todd Solondz fans, and so would enjoy this audio interview with him concerning his sequel to Happiness.

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  9. "(...) that men and women are equally violent in relationships are refuted here."
    The pdf you link to is not very convincing, partly because it reeks of the feminist agenda.
    I mean, come on, their very first sentence is this:
    "Long denied, legitimized, and made light of, wife-beating is at last the object of wide-
    spread public concern and condemnation."
    Is this a proper way to introduce scientific research? F*ck off, I say to them. It's the usual male-shaming radical feminist rhetoric.
    And I think we all know how much we can trust feminist "statistics" and "science", like 'only 2% of rape reports are false' and that 'DV peaks at Superbowl'.

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  10. The one I find most annoying is "rape is about power, not sex." Again, it takes a true evolution denier to spit out those words.

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  11. As for Daly & Wilson's introductory comment, you may find my piece that attempts a precise definition of "politically correct bullshit" amusing.

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  12. From Baumeister's Is There Anything Good About Men? (Oxford UP: 2010):

    "If you look specifically at what happens in close relationships, it turns out women are plenty aggressive in them -- if anything, more violent than men. It isn't politically correct to point it out, but the data are quite solid on this. Women are more likely than men to attack their romantic partners physically -- everything from a slap on the face to assault with a deadly weapon... [I]n terms of all relationship partners women initiate slight more aggression than men." (pp. 89-90)

    He identifies (on p. 288) this as "the definitive review of the literature."

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  13. Yeah, I guess it's worth writing a piece examining the claim of symmetry in dating violence. I will try to get around to this next week.

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  14. Deansdale -

    I mean, come on, their very first sentence is this:
    "Long denied, legitimized, and made light of, wife-beating is at last the object of wide-
    spread public concern and condemnation."


    So what's your issue with that statement? Are you denying that wife-beating is now the object of widespread public concern and condemnation? I doubt it, since "the feminist agenda" is what bothers you, apparently. Or are you denying that wife-beating has a long history of being denied, legitimized, and made light of? That would be paradoxical, since you appear to imply that at least some reports of violence against women are false. This means you are denying wife-beating yourself, in full or part (and whether or not the proposition being denied is true has nothing to do with whether or not it's being denied, in case that's not obvious).

    If you think wife-beating doesn't have a long history of being legitimized and made light of, it just shows a remarkable degree of ignorance. Here's a review of 19-th century American laws; you can find the full text of relevant court rulings online in case you doubt the accuracy of the report. And then there's the fact that marital rape was legal in some US states until the 1990's. Not to mention those countries where all kinds of violence against women are currently legal.

    So the opening sentence is factual and backed up by the research the authors cite immediately after. Your negative gut reaction to it doesn't transform it into mere rhetoric. And it actually is quite common for social science papers to allude to historical events or common beliefs and intuitions in the introduction (research papers in social psych do that quite a bit). The authors may want to explain how they arrived at their hypothesis, why the object of their research is important and interesting, or set the stage for later discussion if their findings contradict commonly accepted notions.

    All in all, your comment is not very convincing. Not because it reeks of misogyny (which it does), but because you are making an ad hominem argument instead of focusing on the evidence the authors present. Funny, you say the paper is only "partly" unconvincing because you think feminists are untrustworthy, but you never address the other unconvincing part, even though it's the only relevant one. BTW, feminism has become so vague a term that you are probably in agreement with some feminists; the only thing that would disqualify you from being a feminist nowadays is being an out-and-out misogynist and thinking that women's interests, whatever they might be, should not be given any consideration at all.

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  15. Right after I read this I went to the dollar store and saw a woman slap the shit out of her son... if I didn't have to cry, I'd laugh.

    curator says:
    "But the hope is a false one. Problems such as those between men and women are deep, systemic, and insoluble."

    Dead on, unfortunately.

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  16. This is why the men's rights movement is a joke. You presented as your grievances: men can't legally pay prostitutes for sex, that they have to support their children, that deadbeats don't have the same parental rights as good fathers and mothers.

    It's called taking responsibility. My rights, my rights...blah blah blah. I heard nothing about your responsibilities.

    GROW UP!

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  17. Patrick, I hope the Men's Rights Movement is not a complete joke, although it is true that most of the stuff I've seen on the internet related to it is as retarded as the feminist stuff (I'm looking at you, the-spearhead.com). I attribute this to the high number if disenfranchised, not-particularly-analytically-minded men throwing their poop all over the internet, and not to the nature of the proposition that men should have rights equal to those of women.

    (I am female, if that's not clear.)

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  18. @Curator "The one I find most annoying is "rape is about power, not sex." Again, it takes a true evolution denier to spit out those words."

    So are you saying that rape IS about sex?

    I think, and I don't think it is an unjustified belief, that for a male sex IS about power. The general connotation of the word takes on the meaning to verb "to violate" and violation is essentially an act of breaking something open, penetrating it, whether what is violated is a rule, a law, or a person. Violation is seems then to be equivalent to an act of power. In fact, using evolutionary psyche, one might be tempted to call it the "right of masters;" for in our evolutionary past who but the stronger males had the claim to any female they wanted? Perhaps I say this too naively and too lightly, nevertheless it seems so.

    So let's complete the syllogism:

    1. rape is about sex. (basic)
    2. sex is about power. (basic)
    3. so, rape is about power. (1,2 hypothetical syllogism)

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  19. @Curator "The one I find most annoying is "rape is about power, not sex." Again, it takes a true evolution denier to spit out those words."

    So are you saying that rape IS about sex?

    I think, and I don't think it is an unjustified belief, that for a male sex IS about power. The general connotation of the word takes on the meaning of the verb "to violate" and violation is essentially an act of breaking something open, penetrating it, whether what is violated is a rule, a law, or a person.

    It seems then that violation is equivalent to an act of power. In fact, using evolutionary psyche, one might be tempted to call it the "right of masters;" for in our evolutionary past, in the case of rape, who but the stronger males had the claim to whatever female they wanted? Perhaps I say this too naively and too lightly, nevertheless it seems so. Correct me if I'm wrong.

    So let's complete the syllogism:

    1. rape is about sex. (basic)
    2. sex is about power. (basic)
    3. so, rape is about power. (1,2 hypothetical syllogism).

    I want to be clear that I don't mean to justify or excuse rape in any way. I just think that rape is about power. of course, it doesnt follow that if sex is about power and rape is about power, that sex is rape. So, yeah.

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  20. Sex is about reproduction. That's why it exists. So is rape.

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  21. nah,

    take eroticism, the purpose of a sensual experience isn't reproduction rather that reproduction is negated in order to fulfill the end of pleasure itself. pleasure is the end, not reproduction in such an instance.

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  22. Sex isn't about power, power is about sex.

    Sex incorporates power issues, but really sex is the central thing and specifics like rape and power are related to each other only through sex.

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  23. The thing is its not about whether 'women ruled'. is about mythos and what was the metphor for the universe. That instead of having a big fat dick over our heads, (I have nothing against big fat dicks (unfortunately lol) and neither did the Goddess myth with heer son/over but it is when it becomes a fukin rapist I have trouble with) we have the motif of being born out of a womb---NOT Adam or Zeus's head, and dieing into the Womb to be regenerated. Such as that is what 'big strong men control freaks' have suppressed and still do, and now in their secualr guise want to fukin take over nature (shhhh dont say Goddess) and patent it,

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  24.      The "patriarchy" that feminists claim has never existed at any time at any place. By this I am talking about the feminist fiction of a society designed to privilege all men and oppress all women. That has never happened. There have been societies where the few positions of power were occupied by men, and where the many "glass cellar" jobs that involved dying left and right were also occupied by men.. All actual patriarchies benefited a few men at the top, harmed the common women, but harmed the common men more.

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    1. This is why the problem is not some imaginary "patriarchy" but capitalism itself. What you just described is capitalism, a tiny class of people at the top enjoying the benefits of it and everyone else, men and women alike, relegated to the role of instruments of production, working their guts out to make someone else rich. The wage slavery economic model will eventually be replaced with direct worker ownership of the businesses. Capitalism belongs in a museum.

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