The Patriarchy: Oppressive, or Descriptive

Virtually all societies are built on a patriarchy, which is reflected in most of our earliest stories.    In Genesis, when God sends Adam and Eve out of paradise, God puts Adam in charge.  In the story of Noah’s Ark, Noah is the leader of his family.  In the Gilgamesh, the central figure is a man.  Abraham was the patriarchal leader who began the Judaeo-Christian (and Islamic) traditions.  In The Iliad, and the Odyssey, Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and all of the other heroes (as well as all of the kings) are men.  Beowulf is a man.  When we look at the role of women in these stories, Eve is the one Satan tricks into eating the apple, Helen (and the desire for her) causes the Trojan war, most of the challenges Odysseus runs into on his trek home are against women, and Grendel (the monster in Beowulf) is a woman.  Noah and Gilgamesh don’t battle women directly, but they battle Mother Nature, which is called ‘mother’ for a reason, with man being the eternal symbol of the known and controlled world, and woman being the eternal symbol of the unknown, uncontrolled, world of nature.

This is no accident, and there are many reasons for it, not the least of which is that women give birth to children whereas men do not.  The world can be a brutal place, and a pregnant woman is particularly vulnerable to that brutality, placing men in a position where to have a family, they must be protective, and, conversely, placing women in a position where to have children, they must be protected.  Jordan Peterson and Will Durant both show how this backdrop goes back much further than does our ability to measure it.  Even ancient interpretations of religion show this pattern, with the Earth being depicted as some kind of mother-god, and the Sun as a male-god.  Generally it is the male-god plunging into the female-god each evening that is used to explain the rebirth of crops in the spring, as well as the rebirth of the Sun each morning, and when the woman dominates the landscape (the Sun having fallen out of the sky), the Earth is in darkness.  Also note that in these stories, it is neither the man nor the woman who dominates, but the pattern of struggle and cooperation that exists between the two.  When men and women struggle, darkness and chaos ensue, and when they cooperate, fertility and rebirth emerge.  These stories were not considered universally oppressive, but they were considered universally true.

Archetypes are everywhere, and in all of them there is a battle between the known and the unknown world.  The known world is constantly under attack by external forces from the unknown, and though the known generally wins those confrontations, it only does so by transforming itself in ways that overcome the new challenge, evolving to each new challenge from the unknown.

To the degree that the known world (represented by men) tries to ‘conquer’ the unknown world (represented by women), ‘conquering’ symbolizes understanding.  These stories are not about men controlling women so much as about men understanding women, and that is a struggle that continues today.   Knowledge is gained by understanding the previously unknown.

Many call the general nature of society to be patriarchal ‘oppressive’, but is it?  In it’s earliest manifestations, the patriarchy appears cooperative, with men and women working together to allow one another to survive, and we have lived in this manner for our entire evolutionary history, going back at least as far as the Cambrian Explosion (541 million years ago).  We live in a roughly patriarchal society even in today’s modern democracies, where more than half the voting population are female, and where women have the political power to reverse things anytime they collectively desire.  Hillary Clinton lost the Presidency not because men did not want her as President, but because women did not.  If women had wanted Hillary Clinton, men could not have stopped them.  And power is illusory.  Men, for example, do not control the economy, when 85% of the purchasing decisions are made by women.

We are not a patriarchy today by force, but by choice, with no artificial barriers holding women back.  Claims of oppression are easily discounted through multi-variate analysis, in which sexism can be shown to be a very small cause for those differences.  Economists have known for decades, for example, that the gender wage gap is a myth, caused not by oppression, but by the different choices men and women make after they get married and begin to build families.  People often note that most politicians are men, and yet when women run for office, they are at least as likely as men to win, making the difference between men and women in politics one of choice rather than oppression.  Attempts to eliminate these differences are invariably also attempts to eliminate the choices causing them, which is by definition oppressive.

The central question regarding the patriarchy is not one of how to destroy it, but of why it exists.  Is the patriarchy something that was cast upon women through oppression, or something that men and women collectively built, and collectively maintain?  More to the point, if the patriarchy exists by choice, with no artificial barriers preventing women from changing it, then is truly a ‘patriarchy’ at all?

I think we can all agree that true oppression against women is bad, which is why there is so much anger against such figures as Harvey Weinstein, and against others who have used power, or money, to gain sexual favors.  We pretend that the problem is one of ‘toxic masculinity,’ but should we not also entertain the possibility that power, rather than masculinity, is at the core, and that the reason the narrative is one of men exploiting women is only because men are more apt to seek positions of power?  Should the discussion be about how ‘masculinity’ is bad, or about how power corrupts?  Should the discussion be about overcoming ‘masculinity,’ or of overcoming corruption?

We talk about the abuse involved in forcing women to take feminine societal roles, while ignoring the equally troubling abuse imposed upon men, who are told their nature is evil.  Is it not child abuse to tell a boy that there is something inherently wrong with him?  And what about women who are feminine?  My wife is feminine, and enjoys being feminine, but I can assure you that she is not weak.  We need to stop criticizing those who choose to take traditional roles.

There is no question that the word ‘patriarchy’ is descriptive of essentially every society that has ever existed (including our own), and there is no question that patriarchies can be oppressive, such as was the case under the Taliban in Afghanistan, but we have to ask ourselves if living in what looks like a patriarchy is inherently oppressive when we live in it by choice, and when we can change it any time we collectively wish to do so.  To me, oppression is not something that arises by mutual choice, but something that arises when mutual choice is denied, and by that definition (which I think fits in well with the dictionary definition of ‘the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control’), it is not the nature of society that it oppressive so much as the attempts by the left to change society by force.

There is nothing in our society that prevents women from being whatever they want to become.  Why should we concern ourselves with what that ends up looking like?

I do not view the Western patriarchy as either positive nor negative.  I simply view it as descriptive.  There is no underlying structure supporting this patriarchy, other than the choices men, and women, freely make.  I don’t want to ‘preserve the patriarchy,’ but I do want to preserve personal liberty, and if that leads to what looks like a patriarchal society, I’m OK with that, and you should be OK with that as well.  As long as we are all free to pursue our own personal dreams and aspirations, we have equality in the only way that matters.


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