The Inevitability of Patriarchy
Don't Think You Can Really Change Anything!
I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country.
- Woodrow Wilson
The strongest and most effective force in guaranteeing the long-term maintenance of power is not violence
- Robert Frost
by Steven Goldberg
Patriarchy is any system of organisation in which the overwhelming number of upper positions in hierarchies are occupied by males. The authority of males within a family relationship is called male dominance.
In male-female encounters and relationships, the term male dominance refers to the feeling acknowledged by the emotions of both men and women that general authority in family relationships, in whatever terms a particular society defines authority, ultimately resides in the male. As with patriarchy, male dominance is universal - no society has ever failed to expect that it is the male who "takes the lead." (Obviously, if there's no male in a household, authority will have to be vested in a female. But no society or group anywhere ever associates authority with a female when an equivalent male is available.)
We can observe feelings of male dominance most clearly during an argument between a male and female, because it is in times of conflict that the emotional acknowledgement of male authority comes into male and female consciousness. Most of the time, when men and women are performing those different roles their society defines as appropriate to males and females, no conflict and feelings of authority come into play. It is only when there's a conflict that this feeling of authority will become apparent to the male, who makes use of it, and to the female, who must get around it.
The male "takes the lead" in endless situations as varied as crossing streets and choosing friends. The husband tends to "tell" his wife to do something for him. The woman tends to "ask" her husband to do something for her. To be sure, women do have a great deal of power in that they make decisions in many areas, but it is the feeling that the husband lets them make such decisions. That is evidence of the presence of male dominance (one that sows the seeds for female deception). Women using female means may, in fact, attain their ends more often than men using male means. (And every member of each sex will occasionally exhibit the behaviour of the other.) Still, male strength and dominance and female endurance and gentleness portrayed in our culture mirror the views of every society that exists today - indeed, that has ever existed.
It should be made clear that the roles filled by males are not in reality more important to society's survival - or to whatever criterion one uses to measure importance than are the roles filled by women. Business executives are not more important than nurses, but they are accorded a higher status and are usually male. (In Russia, medical doctors tend to be women - and the role of doctor has a lower status than in the US. If doctors were given high status in Russia, the doctors would be men.) It's not that males perform better or have a higher aptitude for male roles - females may perform high status roles as well as males - but they are not as strongly motivated to attain the upper hierarchical positions and high-status roles. Male roles are not given high status because men fill them - rather, men occupy the roles because the high status motivates the male more strongly, with the result that society comes to associate such roles with males.
The rule in every society is that women derive their status from lineage or husband. In no society do many women attain high-status roles and positions by successfully competing with men. A janitor's wife derives much lower status from her husband than does a doctor's wife, but as much status from the roles only she can fill (such as mother) as does the doctor's wife. Thus a decrease in status accorded the roles only a woman can fill will result in a situation in which there will be a net loss of status accorded to women: males will continue to be the attainers of status and positions of authority. The wives of such attainers (whose feminine abilities are primarily responsible for their attaining the marital positions from which they derive high status) will continue to be the highest status females. Other women will see their status lowered to the degree that the status accorded the roles only a woman can play is lowered.
There are three universal realities: patriarchy, male attainment, and male dominance. The very fact that patriarchy and male dominance are as well represented in societies that dislike these institutions as in societies that value them indicates the irrelevance of attitudes. These universal realities are the social result of the fact that the male has a stronger tendency to exhibit whatever behaviour is necessary for the attainment of hierarchical dominance. This is the result of physiological differences between males and females: males produce more testosterone.
There are certain actions that always represent the dominance tendency and always facilitate hierarchical attainment, whether the actions are in themselves positively sanctioned by society or not. Thus, long hours devoted to developing political skills, "staying late at the office," attaching greater importance to success than to virtue, and similar manifestations of hierarchical dominance tendency will nearly always facilitate hierarchical attainment, even if society finds such behaviour too "aggressive" in the abstract. (This merely leads the individual with strong dominance tendencies to camouflage his behaviour and appear to exhibit whatever behaviour is considered desirable and virtuous.) "Dominance tendency" means the willingness to give up the objectives of other tendencies, to endure pain, frustration, tension, and defeat to satisfy a strong "need" to attain position.
The upper hierarchical positions (and here is meant not just politicians, but executives of even small companies) are relatively few in number and are occupied by those most willing to give up other satisfactions in order to attain them. Attainment of such positions demands a "motivation" possessed by only the small minority of people who have the strongest dominance tendency. This minority, like the minority of people who are more than six feet tall, will be composed primarily of men.
The hormone testosterone plays a crucial role in the male's stronger tendency to react to the environmental presence of a hierarchy, a status role, or a member of the opposite sex with dominance behaviour. "Tomboyism" is a rare situation in which genetic females experience a hormonal masculinisation of the central nervous system in the foetal stage. In those individuals in which the foetal masculinisation was such that the central nervous system was altered, but not the anatomy - in other words, individuals who were identified and socialised as females - the enthusiasm for motherhood that marked the control group was lacking. The tomboys demonstrated a greater interest in a career and a lesser interest in marriage than the controls and showed a preference for "male" toys like guns and bikes and little interest in "female" toys like dolls. In short, they manifested an interest in the objects and goals associated with masculinisation rather than feminisation. They tended to assert their dominance. (Oestrogen, on the other hand, tends to make females passive/submissive.)
A new hierarchical setting can influence testosterone levels. Each of four rhesus monkeys was provided with a group of receptive females. Each of the four assumed dominance of his respective group. The plasma testosterone levels of each of these males increased two- to threefold in the new environment. The males were then placed in male groups in which they were subjected to sudden and decisive defeat. This resulted in a drop in these males' plasma testosterone levels. Two of the males were later reintroduced to the female groups and their testosterone returned to their previous high levels. (Perhaps this helps to explain the popularity of the bar girls in Thailand.) The males in the research were introduced into already formed groups which presented the newly introduced males with the resistance of the entire group - a stimulus that is as the researchers demonstrate, capable of defeating the new males and driving down their testosterone levels.
Intellect works in the service of emotion. We could reduce the extent to which male dominance tendency is manifested in American society to the minimum possible for an industrial society (though this is unlikely to happen). We could, theoretically, reduce it to that found in Pygmy society if we were willing to give up science, industrialisation, hospitals, and other advances for which extensive hierarchy is a necessary condition. But even if we did this, we would still find that there is a minimal threshold below which no society can limit the manifestations of male dominance tendency in its social system.
Dominance tendency may be relevant not only to the attainment of position, but to performance as well. When the executive is described as "aggressive", his performance as well as his ambition is being praised. However, the relevance of male tendencies to "perform" need not be the reason why they attain hierarchical positions, as their performance isn't guaranteed to be better than that of women.
If one defines "discrimination" as a situation in which males occupy virtually all the upper hierarchical positions despite the fact that women could perform them equally well, one has to conclude that discrimination is inevitable. Moreover, even if the male's greater dominance tendency were overridden and large numbers of women placed in positions of authority, it is unlikely that stability could be maintained. Even in our present male bureaucracies problems arise when a subordinate is more aggressive than his superior and, if the more aggressive executive isn't allowed to rise in the bureaucracy, delicate psychological adjustments must be made. Such adjustments are also necessary when a male bureaucrat has a female superior. Very exceptionally, adjustments can be made without any great instability occurring, particularly if the woman in the superior position possesses sensitivity and femininity.
It seems likely that if women shared equally in power at each level of the bureaucracy, chaos would result for two reasons. Even if the bureaucracy were a closed system, male dominance tendency would soon manifest itself in men either moving quickly up the hierarchy or refusing to acknowledge female authority. But a bureaucracy is not a closed system, and the discrepancy between male dominance in private life and bureaucratic female dominance (from the point of view of the male whose superior is a woman) would soon engender chaos.
The minute minority of women in positions of high authority at present expend enormous amounts of energy trying not to project the commanding authority that is seem as the mark of a good male executive. However, many women have had the experience of seeing men with less talent and a weaker dominance tendency promoted over them. The fact that this injustice can be explained by expectations and attitudes that reflect real statistical realities offers little satisfaction to the woman who is being treated unjustly even by the criterion that accepts the justice of promotion reflecting dominance tendency. Dominance tendency in individual cases is not easily demonstrated and so neither is misassessment of it.
Consider the observation that most women prefer men taller than themselves for sexual and marital relationships. We know that women search out taller men even though they are perfectly aware that height is irrelevant to all human virtues. Perhaps there is an imperative which leads women to desire a man who is both dominant and taller.
To understand why so many men and women now seem to find their traditional roles meaningless, begin with the failure of contemporary American society to inculcate in its members the feeling that its value system, its way of defining reality, is correct and meaningful. This ability is a precondition for a society's survival and is relevant to the members' feelings of meaninglessness and isolation that are inevitable if they have no shared meaning. When a society loses its ability to inculcate values its members fall into the abyss. Traditions evaporate, as they must when the values on which they were founded seem meaningless and they take all sense of continuity with them. Children no longer provide a sense of the future, for the values are the link we have with our children, and if we have no values - values based on intelligence infused with experience, not ideological proclamations supported by utopian fantasy - then we sacrifice our future for their contempt.
In the abyss some members of society will have the strength to become "the calm in the centre of the whirlwind", but many will lack the faith, the strength, the courage, the will, and the imagination to create their own meaning. Having received no values from their society and having themselves created nothing worthy of passing on to their children, they will rail against everything in sight save the image in the mirror.
Liberation is an experience of personal salvation that implies power over oneself. It is far more than the attainment of social and economic freedom. Those who have found a well of pure meaning have no need to drown everyone in it. Ultimately every examined life can be interpreted as a disaster because, looking closely enough, we can always discover psychological and social forces that could provide fuel for unlimited rage. But no life can transcend its own disasters unless it celebrates its uniqueness and contributes that which only it can contribute. Life is perverted if one is constantly reacting, never initiating, but always allowing rage to define it.
Too often we fail to ask men and women to face the battles of their own existence. We merely inquire as to which form of societal oppression it is that causes their desperation and accept their exaggeration of external oppressions, oppressions they use to camouflage the terrors one must face alone (such terrors are inherent in existence). This is sad and dangerous because, when a moral urgency is superimposed on an emotional immaturity (as it is when an affluent, educated generation grows up without ever being forced to learn that life's choices offer rewards that are mutually exclusive), fanaticism is more probable than altruism.
Every virtue carried to excess becomes evil. No one doubts there are men who carry masculine virtues to an extreme which becomes self-parody at best and lethal at worst. In any case, the central role will forever belong to women since they set the rhythm of things.
One of the most stunning regularities one notices when studying cross-cultural data closely is the extent to which women in all societies view male preoccupation with dominance and outside-the-family pursuits in the same way as a wife in New Zealand society might view her husband's obsession with rugby - with a loving condescension and an understanding that men embrace the surrogate and forget the source. Nature has bestowed on women the biological abilities and psychophysiological propensities that enable the species to maintain itself. Men must forever stand at the periphery, questing after surrogate powers, creativity, and meaning that nature has not seen fit to make innate functions of their physiology.
Each man knows that he can never again be the most important person in another's life for long, and that he must reassert superiority in enough areas long enough to justify nature's allowing him to stay. There is no alternative - this is simply the way it is. We are trapped in an irony: the physiological factors that underlie women's life-sustaining abilities - the qualities most vital to the survival of our species - preclude them from ever manifesting the psychological predisposition, the obsessive need of power, or the abilities necessary for the attainment of the significant amounts of political power that men have.
It is not merely that the line separating the male's aggression from the child's demandingness is a thin one; the aggression is inseparable from its childish component. What is lacking in the male is an acceptance that radiates from all women save those few who are driven to deny their greatest source of strength. Perhaps this female wisdom comes from resignation to the reality of male dominance; more likely it is a harmonic of the woman's knowledge that ultimately she is the one who matters.
As a result, while there are more brilliant men than brilliant women and more powerful men than powerful women, there are more good women than good men. Women are not dependent on male brilliance for their deepest sources of strength, but men are dependent on female strength. Few women have been ruined by men; female endurance survives. Many men, however, have been destroyed by women who did not understand, or did not care to understand, male fragility.
One cannot transcend one's fate until one has accepted it. Women who deny their natures, who accept men's secondhand definitions and covet a state of second-rate manhood, are forever condemned. Sex is the single most decisive determinant of personal identity; it is the first thing we notice about another person and the last thing we forget. It is terribly self-destructive to refuse to accept one's own nature and the joys and powers it invests.
The experience of men is that there are few women who can outfight them and few who can out-argue them, but that when a women uses feminine means she can command a loyalty that no amount of dominance behaviour ever could. The experience of women is that the violence men often seek out is terrifying and overpowering, but that by using the feminine means that nature gave her, a woman can deal with the most powerful man as an equal. Women follow their own psychophysiological imperatives and don't choose to compete for the goals that men devote their lives to attaining. Women have more important things to do. Men are aware of this and that is why in this and every other society they look to women for gentleness, kindness, and love, for refuge from a world of pain and force, for safety from their own excesses. If a woman wishes to sacrifice all this, all that she will get in return is the right to meet men on male terms. She will lose.
Source: The Inevitability of Patriarchy by Steven Goldberg 1977There are several articles in this section concerned with gender and roles. Among them are:
She's Studying; He's Playing
by John Schwartz
Little girls watch and learn; little boys goof off and horse around. At least this seems to be the case with chimpanzees, according to new research. Chimpanzees like to snack on termites, and youngsters learn to fish for them by poking long leaf spines and other such tools into the mounds that colonies build. In a paper to be published in the journal Animal Behavior, researchers found that female chimps in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania picked up termite fishing at a mean age of 31 months, more than 2 years earlier than the males. The females seem to learn by watching their mothers, said the paper's author, Dr Elizabeth V Lonsdorf, director of field conservation at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Dr Lonsdorf said that typically, when a young male and female are near a mound, "she's really intently termite fishing, and he's spinning himself in circles."
The paper is based on 4 years of observation and expands on work published last year in the journal Nature. Dr Lonsdorf and colleagues are now studying chimpanzees at the zoo with a new, simulated termite mound - or mustard mound, since it is filled with condiments. Why not termites? "Our pest-control people would not like that very much," she said.
By the first day, adult females were getting at the mustard and a young female watched carefully and began to pick up the skills, she said. Two young males did not fare as well - one simply sat next to his mother and tried to steal some mustard from her, Dr Lonsdorf said. The behaviour of both sexes may seem familiar to many parents, she said, adding, "The sex differences we found in the chimps mimic some of the findings from the human child development literature." She pointed out, however, that at least in the case of chimps, each is doing something important, since the males' play is practice for later dominance behaviour. "They're doing stuff that's really appropriate," she said.
Source: nytimes.com 14 June 2005 photo credit Dr Elizabeth V Lonsdorf / Lincoln Park Zoo
Doting Husbands and Sugar Daddies
by Anne Roiphe
Some great female writers have had male muses. Lucky them.
At least a part of Virginia Woolf's mythic reputation lies in the loyal devotion of her husband Leonard. Gertrude Stein had Alice B, but the role of muse is hardly one that every little boy aspires to. Crazy, drunken, male writers, no matter how ugly, old and ill-tempered, will always find a willing girl to mop up the morning after, but females given to bouts of depression, nightmares and long manuscripts that take precedence over dinner will not so often find a willing muse to hold the pot roast.
Yes, the woman writer deserves a lover, someone to answer the letters and arrange the cookies on the platter, to remember names and encourage when the day has not gone well; someone to lean on when the reviewers attack, when the publisher grows gruff or the work stale or the bills need paying. But we have questions, even if we don't ask them aloud, about those males who nurse successful female artists: are they angry at the role that has befallen them, do they take vengeance in subtle or not so subtle ways? Are they tempted to burn letters like André Gide's bitter cousin, or to misfile a poem or two? Yet we have them, these husbands of woman writers, these saints of support and inspiration. In fact we have had them in ages far less kind to woman's ambitions than the one we live in now.
In 1856 Mary Anne Evans went on holiday with George Lewes to Ilfracombe. She woke from a dream and told George the story that became her first novel, The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton, published under the name of George Eliot. Five years earlier, the two had met in Jeff's Bookshop in Burlington Arcade. He was a prominent critic and editor of the Leader and the Fortnightly Review, and had enjoyed considerable success with his biography The Life of Goethe (1855). But at some point during the 20 years they spent together it must have become apparent to him that his beloved was a genius, that he was a bit player in the orchestra while she was a diva for all time.
Of course we were not there, not at the dinner table, not at the bedside, not when she had a terrible cold or he suffered from gout. We do not know if the patience and affection and sublimation of one's own interests that are required of both parties in any long-term companionship were worn a bit at the edges by the enormity of her accomplishment and the more ordinary nature of his. We don't know if her adoption of a male name made her less womanly, or if it was simply a disguise for a world that was not expecting much from the Mary Annes in its midst.
But there is a clue. Eighteen months after Lewes's death from cancer in 1878, George Eliot married John Cross who was 20 years her junior. It might have been simple lust, the way male writers seek ever younger versions of their original loves. But one has to wonder whether she sought a younger man because his lesser age and status would make him malleable and eager to serve - less rivalrous, perhaps?
Colette had two muses in one lifetime. She married the first, Willy Gauthier Villars, when she was a not-so-innocent 20, and he turned out to be a fraud and a leech. He published her work under his own name and career-ed around Paris fuelled by her talent. He drove her hard, he stole her fame or would have if he could have. Her second husband, Henri de Jouvenal, was far more satisfactory. At least he stayed by her side as she became one of the most celebrated writers of her time. She lived a wild life, and boring bourgeois fidelity did not burden their arrangements. Nevertheless, Villars must have provided her with a centre. He was 18 years her senior and perhaps served as a benign father figure. Lucky her. A girl's father, if he's a good father, can be expected to take pride in her achievements and not be competitive or grouchy at the attention she receives. The father may be many girl's original muse and one of the disappointments that plague many women is that the husbands they marry are rarely so willing to play the part. Not many women writers are fortunate enough to have a sugar daddy on hand for the sour days.
And the sugar daddy may have a bitter aftertaste. This was surely so for Iris Murdoch. John Bayley was clearly her best friend, protector and chief admirer and happily took the role of second fiddle in society's eyes. But then she got sick and died and he told all. He revealed her infantile habits and her pains, and presented her to the world in a way that she would surely have gone to great lengths to avoid. The books he wrote about her showed us his literary gift, his wonderful eye, his smarts, how good he was to her, but at the same time in their grisly details they took revenge.
Colette, who had one daughter, described children as "those happy unconscious little vampires who drain the maternal heart." The male muse, whatever he can or cannot do, does not conceive, carry or nurse children. But a female writer who brings children into the world needs a male muse who is also a mother. While such men must exist, they are hard to come by, which is perhaps why some female writers - Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Iris Murdoch and Emily Dickinson among them - skipped motherhood. Others, such as Mary McCarthy and Rebecca West, were so bad at it that perhaps they shouldn't have tried.
In this post-feminist era, we would like to believe in the marriage of literary giants, two stars in one firmament: Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn made headlines this year when they both appeared on the shortlist for the Whitbread award. Barring that, we would like to think that the role of muse is genderless and that either sex may apply. But it is still harder for a male to be married to a famous and productive female than the other way around. Not that it isn't hard on a woman to be ignored at cocktails and trained to subjugate her needs to the work habits of a forceful, successful man. It is. But we look on the marriage of famous man and non-famous wife as normal. We don't necessarily expect it to last but we don't find anything odd in it.
We are haunted not simply by the outdated attitudes of those of us who learned about gender roles in another time, but by the problem - and not just for writers - of who dominates and who submits. Was George Lewes an odd man or just the best husband in the world?
Married: a Fine Predicament by Anne Roiphe is published by Bloomsbury at £14.99
Source: books.guardian.co.uk The Guardian Saturday 24 May 2003
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