Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Patriarchal System: The Victimization of Men and Women

When comparing men and women's rights, one often uses a male dominated template, upon which to compare various strains as feminism. As one member of feminist legal theory explained, women are always viewed as "ratcheting up" to men. When women are viewed against this masculine metric, women are bound to come out on the bottom. This concern also resonates throughout Catherine MacKinnon's analysis of the problem inherent in using a masculine backdrop. According to MacKinnon, whether one views the female/male relationship as one of "sameness" or "difference", fundamental gender inequality persists because "Masculinity or maleness is the referent for both." As long as traditional masculinity remains the frame of reference, feminist theories may poke holes at the male-centric structure, only to find that deeply entrenched patriarchal structures are innately averse to gender integration. Therefore, in order to eliminate the purely male/female binary as a negative concept, we have to completely redefine masculinity as it is viewed in a patriarchal culture.

One may find it extreme and perhaps humorous to view the male hierarchy that largely controls society as organically opposed to it's female counterpart. However, author Mary Becker suggests that patriarchy exists as a means for men to control other men. The subjugation of women is a byproduct of internal competition among men. For as long as this patriarchal structure exists (which harms men but is ten times more detrimental to women) femininity will continue to operate outside of, and against, this "male-identified" circle. As Becker explains, inevitably some women will prevail, but it will mostly be those who have been able to conform to a male dominated culture. This effectively does nothing to help other women who cannot- or do not- wish to relinquish their individual femininity in order to assimilate to the male status quo.

The question then emerges: how does one dismantle a patriarchal system so that one no can no longer emasculate a man who may appear "effeminate" or criticize a female for her "masculine" like qualities? For Becker, patriarchy is not a static system, but an ever evolving component of our society that is dynamic and susceptible to change. Both men and women have multiple opportunities to gradually change sexist ideas that our endemic to our society. According to Becker, small steps can effectuate large, systemic change. From a man congratulating a female worker for a job well done, or by refusing to refer to women as "babes," men may defy the patriarchal system that oppresses not only women, but men as well.

Anyone who refutes the argument that a patriarchal system is capable of change need only look to recent history. Though women and men still have much ground to tread before they may be considered "equal," women are undoubtedly better off now than we were even 50 years ago. Becker's position that the patriarchal system punishes both men and women who diverge from the masculine model shows that both men and women have an interest in restructuring the way we view conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Even men who are active and willing participants in the patriarchal order (which most men are) feel the destructive effect of a competitive and patriarchal order.

If typical "male" traits are not mutually exclusive from those that are "female," than a female reference to a male trait is no longer a fatal comparison for women. Gender neutral no longer means treating men as women the same, but rather a cross-section of traits and social norms that are applicable to both female and males. On an individual level it is much easier to achieve a feeling of gender neutrality than in a large group, and rehauling gender norms to rid patriarchal tendencies may take years. While we may have female lacrosse players, female CEOs, and female presidential candidates, we have yet to witness a famous female NFL player. Men still inhabit the traditionally powerful sectors of our economy, and reside in the most lucrative business ventures. Bit by bit, women have managed to chip away at this monolithic patriarchal structure, and (some) men have become our willing allies in the process.

Though it is impossible to determine with any precision exactly what is needed to break apart the male hegemonic hold, it appears we are heading in the right direction. The secularization of modern society has been a quantum leap and helped to dissolve at least one hurdle in disintegration of patriarchal ideals. The increasing presence of women in corporate boardrooms, law schools, and medical schools will hopefully help to dissuade men from engaging in misogynistic behavior. Above all, it is most important that we continue to encourage females and males to work together and remain weary of any gender categorization that separates men and women based on the traditional male and female dichotomy. Most of all, it is essential that we do not become content with the status quo, lest we fall into a false sense of equality that has yet to be fully realized.

1 comment:

Rose Sawyer said...

Ring, you write that "Anyone who refutes the argument that a patriarchal system is capable of change need only look to recent history." Not only are women in the U.S. better off than they were 50 years ago, but gender roles are changing dramatically, globally.

As Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil point out in their 2010 Newsweek Article "Men's Lib," in 1995, Sweden passed a "simple but revolutionary" law: couples would lose one month of paternity leave unless the father took it. The country added a second use-it-or-lose-it month in 2002. By consequence, today more than 80 percent of Swedish fathers take four months off for the birth of a new child, increased from 4 percent a decade ago. 41 percent of Swedish companies now formally support parental leave, increased from only 2 percent in 1993. "Simply put, men are expected to work less and father more."

Moreover, the article points out, by altering the roles of the Swedish father and the Swedish worker, Sweden's paternity-leave legislation has rewritten gender roles. "If a man refuses time at home with the kids, he faces questions from friends, family, and, yes, other guys."

The article then goes on to discuss how similar laws in Germany and Japan have had parallel effects.

This is a great example of legislation leading social change. In "breaking apart patriarchal ideals," as you write, Ring, the U.S. would do well to adopt policies like Sweden's.