Ask The Feminist: If Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too, How Can It Still Be Considered Patriarchy?

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About HeatherN

Heather N. is a Californian living in the United Kingdom. In order to survive, she has developed a keen appreciation for the color grey, rain, and sausage rolls. She spends far too much time reading, writing, blogging, and gaming. You can also find her saying witty things on Twitter.


  1. The patriarchy moves in mysterious ways.

  2. Bay Area Guy says:

    However, I still use the term “patriarchy” when referencing the “western” gender system

    As opposed to “non-western” gender systems, which somehow aren’t patriarchal?

    • I specified “western” gender systems because that’s what I’m referring to with the answer. That’s all. A lot of non-western gender systems are totally patriarchal…most of the big ones are at the moment. But they aren’t necessarily the same as western systems. (Heck, there’s even variation within western gender norms).

  3. I have not seen a feminist organisation or media area that does not put womens issues front and center. I’ve also seen that the “what about the menz (abused, raped, discriminated against, suicide) LOL!” type of response to womens issues is wide spread. You are saying there that there only a fringe that are like this but I’m not sure that’s true.

    That said, I am open to seeing a mainstream feminist area or organisation that does not take this approach.

  4. Straight-forward article. I may link to this one when the issue comes up. Thanks.

  5. egalitarian says:

    “Due to class, race, sexual orientation, etc. plenty of men are actually quite disempowered. However, the systematic reasons they are disempowered is not because of their gender”

    That’s not true. Men are, in many ways, systematically discriminated against because they are men. A straight, white man can be systematically disempowered because he is a man.

    For example:

    -A male domestic violence victim will have a harder time getting assistance, because he is a man.

    -A father will have a hard time getting custody from an abusive mother because he is a man.

    -Boys are often treated poorly in school because they are boys. In my experience, girls are allowed to physically attack boys with no repercussions, students are frequently told how bad men/boys are and how good girls/women are, teachers discriminate against boys in grading, etc.

    -Female genital mutilation is outlawed, but male genital mutilation is not.

    -Obamacare discriminates against men. For instance, sterilization for women (tubal ligations) are covered at 100%, but men who want vasectomies have to pay their deductible / copay. I confirmed this by checking my insurance policy.

    • The thing is, male domestic violence victims and father custody issues are both tied up in the patriarchy. BECAUSE the patriarchy privileges a specific type of man over all the others, when that man no longer conforms to that rigid definition, he is kind of screwed. So, a male domestic violence victim is no longer considered physically strong or in control…and thus the patriarchal system views him as less-of-a-man, or not quite manly enough, or worthy of ridicule/being ignored. Same with father’s issues…it’s the patriarchy which insists that women are primary caregivers, so a man who is the primary caregiver is actually going against gender norms…going against the patriarchy.

      So in these cases men aren’t disempowered because they are men…they are disempowered because they are men going against traditional masculinity.

      What you bring up with regards to boys and girls in school is a lot of speculation and a lot of generalisations with absolutely no statistics to back it up. With regards to male circumcision, well I’m against it. However the difference there is with power dynamics…the point of female circumcision is almost always about controlling her sexually. The reason for male circumcision is generally either argued to be hygienic or tradition. This doesn’t mean it’s excusable, but it does mean that equating the two is problematic and inaccurate.

      And finally, I’d argue that the ACA doesn’t discriminate against men, rather it treats men as the default human (and thus without need for separate health considerations). I didn’t really touch on this in the main article because it was getting long, but another of the problems with patriarchy is that it considers men as the human, neutral default. This has a lot of repercussions for women, and some for men…one of which is that it can be difficult to create institutions (including health institutions) which consider men as a separate group from “human.” (Side note, I think the U.S.’s healthcare system is totally messed up anyway. But that’s neither here nor there).

      • Egalitarian says:

        1) Here are a couple of examples of how discrimination against male victims is perpetuated, and the cause is not patriarchy:

        -Many academic feminists distort evidence regarding female perpetrators of domestic violence to downplay the victimization of men. Here’s a paper explaining how they do so:

        -According to the following survey, male victims of Domestic Violence who seek help from DV hotlines/agencies are often accused of being batterers and/or made fun of:

        Here’s a quote from page 8 that summarizes the findings:

        DV Hotlines, Agencies, and Online Resources Men seeking help from DV agencies, hotlines, and via the Internet answered questions that addressed the reception they received when seeking help. The results are displayed in Table 3. Between 25–33% reported being referred by a DV hotline or an online resource to a local program that was helpful. The remaining experiences were not as positive. A large proportion of those who sought help from DV agencies (49.9%), DV hotlines (63.9%), or online resources (42.9%) were told, “We only help women.” Of the 132 men who sought help from a DV agency, 44.1% (n=86) said that this resource was not at all helpful; further, 95.3% of those men (n=81) said that they were given the impression that the agency was biased against men. Some of the men were accused of being the batterer in the relationship: This happened to men seeking help from DV agencies (40.2%), DV hotlines (32.2%) and online resources (18.9%). Over 25% of those using an online resource reported that they were given a phone number for help which turned out to be the number for a batterer’s program. The results from the open-ended questions showed that 16.4% of the men who contacted a hotline reported that the staff made fun them, as did 15.2% of the men who contacted local DV agencies.

        2) Here’s a study that found female teachers give male students lower grades:

        The rest of what I said was my personal experience, but I’ve heard many similar stories from others. For example:

        3) “With regards to male circumcision, well I’m against it. However the difference there is with power dynamics…the point of female circumcision is almost always about controlling her sexually.”

        I don’t agree. In cultures that practice female circumcision, the reasons given are the same as for male circumcision (tradition, etc) and it’s generally the mothers who have their daughters circumcised. As for male circumcision, it was originally introduced in the US to reduce masturbation, which sounds like an attempt to control sexuality to me.

        “This doesn’t mean it’s excusable, but it does mean that equating the two is problematic and inaccurate.”

        It is used to excuse male circumcision. Equating the two is a way to demonstrate that men should have the right to genital integrity. Since it is clear that any kind of infant genital cutting is wrong for girls, it should also be wrong for boys.

        4) “And finally, I’d argue that the ACA doesn’t discriminate against men, rather it treats men as the default human (and thus without need for separate health considerations).”

        I’d argue that it treats women as special, deserving additional consideration, because their health is considered more important. Men are viewed as disposable, so their health is viewed as less important.

        In any case, it is blatant, systemic, legal discrimination against men. No attempt to make it about women will change that.

        • There are a lot of problems with what you’re saying here, but I kind of feel like continuing to pick apart the details of each of these issues runs the risk of derailing and turn this into an argument. But I’m still going to comment on a couple of points, here.

          So, with regard to male DV victims who face harassment when trying to seek help. In the cases this does happen, well then the people who are ridiculing/harassing them are perpetuating the patriarchy. There is nothing that says that by virtue of being a DV worker, that person can’t also sometimes act in ways which upholds patriarchal gender norms. It’s the patriarchy which says that men can’t be victims of DV…so when someone (even if they say they’re a feminist) also says that men can’t be victims of DV, they’re perpetuating the patriarchy.

          And as for circumcision, well no. The reasons given for female vs. male circumcision (both in western and non-western cultures) aren’t the same. Circumcision wasn’t introduced in the U.S. to prevent masturbation…rather, instead, that was one justification used for it during a particularly puritanical period in U.S. history. And it’s not always women who are recommending female circumcision. At one point in U.S./European history, the medical profession suggested it as a way to cure women’s hysteria. And even in cases where you have individual women advocating for female circumcision, they are still working within a larger male-dominated system (either in terms of religious/cultural authority or medical authority).

          And this idea that women’s health is separated because women are considered more important is totally and completely ignoring the very long history in which women’s health was absolutely ignored. In fact, it fails to take into account the ways in which the medical industry is still kind of screwed up when it comes to treating women’s health. Women’s health isn’t treated as more important…it’s treated as more weird, more complicated, more of a problem. Women (and their bodies) are an other…a weird thing that is in need of special study in order to understand…and thus it is separated.

          A lot of feminist theory, including theories about the patriarchy, examine not only what is happening, but the power dynamics and the cultural narratives which contribute to the things that happen.

          • egalitarian says:

            1) “And this idea that women’s health is separated because women are considered more important is totally and completely ignoring the very long history in which women’s health was absolutely ignored.”

            The claim that medical research excluded women has been disputed:

            This refers to a study that concluded, “A review of sex-specific enrollments in medical research studies, and an examination of the number of epidemiologic studies and clinical trials that included men and women, point to two conclusions: 1) Historically, women were routinely included in medical research, and 2) Women have participated in medical research in numbers at least proportionate to the overall female population.”

            2) “well then the people who are ridiculing/harassing them are perpetuating the patriarchy. There is nothing that says that by virtue of being a DV worker, that person can’t also sometimes act in ways which upholds patriarchal gender norms.”

            These DV workers are upholding gender norms, but they believe they are “fighting patriarchy”, because they believe domestic violence is caused by patriarchy. In any case, it is caused by gender roles that harm men, so patriarchy isn’t a good description. I don’t think kyriarchy is a good description either, because it doesn’t allow for systemic discrimination against men.

            3) “The reasons given for female vs. male circumcision (both in western and non-western cultures) aren’t the same.”

            If you go to the Wikipedia article at and look up “Reasons for the practice”, you will see:

            -Hygienic and aesthetic. The external female genitalia are considered dirty and “unsightly” and should be flat, rigid and dry;

            -Sociological. Identification with the cultural traditions, as a rite of passage of girls into womanhood, and for the maintenance of social cohesion;

            -Psychological. Reduction of sensitive tissue and thus to curb sexual pleasure in order to maintain chastity and virginity, to guarantee women’s fidelity, and even to increase male sexual pleasure;

            -Myths and false beliefs. To enhance fertility and promote child survival; and

            -Religious. FGM/C has been practiced in a range of communities with different religions: Christian, Muslim and animist. Muslim communities often have the false belief that FGM/C is related to teachings of the Islamic law.[37]

            Those are the same reasons used to justify male circumcision.

            4) A lot of feminist theory, including theories about the patriarchy, examine not only what is happening, but the power dynamics and the cultural narratives which contribute to the things that happen.”

            But the theories largely ignore the perspectives of men, so they don’t have a complete picture of what the power dynamics and culture narratives actually are.

        • I can put up with a lot, but I draw the line at making an apples to apples comparison of male circumcision to FGM. If you want a male equivalent to FGM, it would be chopping off a boy’s penis ay about age 13 with a rusty knife and no anesthetic, with many weeks of recovery, rampant infection, and no orgasms ever again. By all means, talk about the reasons against male circumcision, but PLEASE, do not compare it to female genital mutilation. They are totally different levels of brutality, and FGM is for men to control women sexually. IT is SO OFFENSIVE to talk about these two things in the same paragraph. Watch this TED talk and educate yourself:

          Now do you see why these topics do not belong together?? God.

          • Its fine to compare fgm to mgm, bar the most extreme forms


            And wherever there are girls being cut with rusty blades, its also happening to boys, you just aren’t hearing about because of discrimination.

            • I’m sticking my nose into this particular line of discussion and pointing out that the article isn’t actually about circumcision.

            • I wasn’t my intent to derail. I was correcting something that someone else had published.

              That whole Oppression Olympics thing is really boring and pointless and there should be a holistic anti GM movement instead in my opinion – but inaccurate claims should be corrected otherwise they get taken as fact.

            • The reason that male circumcision wasn’t tackled at the same time as female circumcision was a conscience decision due to there being much more acceptance of male circumcision.

              The most difficult objection to banning female circumcision is because it is “like male circumcision” (in its less severe forms) which is widely accepted.

              So, the two needed to be separated in people’s minds for the anti-FGM movement to be successful.

              I know that “incremental justice” is not a very ideologically satisfying thing; but in practical terms there isn’t a good way around it.

              Now that all forms of (even the very mild ones – like pricking) FGM are illegal and generally unacceptable; making those connections in order to make illegal (or less popular) male circumcision, I think it appropriate.

            • Can you publish a source for what you’ve just published please.

            • I don’t get what you’re asking.

              If you are asking for a source for what I just said – it’s essentially me. I’ve witnessed the conversation unfold and the read some of the arguments coming from the anti-FGM crowd; while that whole thing was going down.

              That’s my own impression of how that movement operated, but I don’t have any inside information or particular article that I’m thinking about. It’s been ages.

              I tend to have an intuition of how political lobbying tends to work though, since I used to be a student lobbyist back in the day and my husband was an officer of a state-wide lobbying organization that had professional lobbyist on staff.

              There is no way the anti-FGM lobbying groups would want to tie male circumcision with FGM and try to have those two conversations at the same time. It would be incredibly self-defeating and possible put both movements back instead of both movements forward.

          • Lori, is it legal for a doctor to do a pinprick style symbolic (whatever the term is they use for the practice that is usually FGM) in many western countries where it’s legal to circumcise an infant? In this particular case the pinprick is extremely less invasive and damaging, but as far as I am aware this is still banned.

            As for comparability, from the WIKI I’d say male circumcision would be worse than most of the Type IV stuff apart from cauterization such as the pinprick. Types I, II and III I’d agree would be worse + the cauterization from type IV and possibly gishiri cutting which I have no idea existed until 20 seconds ago so I can’t comment on it’s severity. Labiaplasty alone may be less but not sure, does the trimming of labia cause a reduction in sexual sensitivity? I find it pretty bad to remove any tissue for whatever weird cultural reason in such an extreme form, whether it be the foreskin or clitoris, and other parts of the vulva.

            Either way I do find it profoundly stupid that MGM is allowed and FGM is banned, even pin pricks, when both should be banned and only life-saving or proven medical necessity is required. At 18 people can choose whatever they want but leave our babies alone FFS!

            @Heather, circumcision of males has long been justified by a belief of reduction in masturbation and also hygiene. It’s also being done more n more by MOTHERS even to their child for cosmetic reasons in that it “looks” better.

            So if circumcision of males is allowed, why not allow ceremonial pin pricks? Does the pin-prick cause any long-term damage? Quite frankly I think you have to be pretty sick to want to do that to an infant unless there is clear medical need, and I am fully supportive of charging those who give people under 18 and the parents making the choice a full charge of child abuse + grevious bodily harm unless there is a dire medical need. Because it IS grevious bodily harm, it’s a premanent removal of tissue with proven detriment to sensitivity, etc.

          • OirishM says:

            No, I don’t, Lori.

            Because even ritual nicking of the clitoral hood is still lumped under the FGM banner, and the M stands for mutilation.

            If ritual nicking is mutilation, then chopping the foreskin off is DEFINITELY mutilation.

            Women do not own the word mutilation.

        • I read the article you provided about grading boys and girls in school. Here is the full article:

          The idea that this is some sort of smoking gun for explaining why boys don’t do as well academically as girls doesn’t make a lot of sense since we see this at the college level where male instructors out-number female instructors; and females tend to do better on de-identified standard tests.

          The study is interesting and certainly nothing to scoff at, but part of the effect – the idea that females tended to grade females better, and males tended to grade males better doesn’t seem that earth shattering as there is an in-group/out-group thing that happens. It was also interesting that the subject matters. The gender bias of English and Humanities teachers is what drove the results of the study. Those teaching other subjects did not exhibit (on average) those biases.

          So, I would be more inclined to interpret the results to imply that training in the sciences and quantitative fields help people over-come inherent in-group/out-group biases.

          Which is kind of cool really.

          Boys doing more poorly almost certainly has something to do with the lack of male teachers – because the boys then do not have male role-models. It might also be more difficult for boys to engage in school if they do not respect their teachers; and it is difficult for a boy or a man to respect the authority of a woman. If that disrespect is validated in any way, it will make the situation much worse.

          • Jameseq says:

            and it is difficult for a boy or a man to respect the authority of a woman.
            that is an inflammatory claim.
            why would you think that.

            • Jameseq says:

              to clarify, your sentence read as if you were not saying , ‘it is difficult for a few boys or men to respect the authority of a woman.’
              but instead, ‘it is difficult for the majority of boys or men to respect the authority of a woman.’

              is that what you intended, as it seems out of phase with the rest of yr comments in the thread

            • You’re right. I should have qualified that better.

              I teach physics. I used to be a “shift-runner” at a pizza place back in college, and did that for several years. There are very few exceptions in my experience – to the point where when someone actually gives me the type of respect that I see my male colleagues receive it’s a pleasant surprise. It doesn’t help that many women struggle with stereotype threat (including myself) and lack of confidence; which makes that whole thing a lot worse.

              This is not an unstudied thing; though I haven’t looked into the literature much. I suspect I would find it too depressing frankly; cause it’s my life.

              You can obviously do your own searching within literature in psychology to show that women tend to be devalued as leaders when they either lead in male-typical ways or have male-typical roles.

      • Eagle35 says:

        HeatherN: “What you bring up with regards to boys and girls in school is a lot of speculation and a lot of generalisations with absolutely no statistics to back it up.”

        Maybe it’s because people refuse to talk about it, you ever consider that angle?

        By the way, the more you call girls hurting boys “Speculation” the more I feel like I want to fly into a fit of rage (for reasons you likely know already) since said attitude is what leads to rendering survivors like me invisible.

        • To be clear, what I was referring to as “speculation” is the claim he was making that generally girls are allowed to hurt boys without any repercussions. I do not think it “speculation” that some girls hurt boys. Of course some girls hurt boys…kids can be mean.

          • Girls hurting boys is sometimes not treated nearly as seriously because the girl is not perceived to have the ability to hurt the boy. If a boy hurts a girl, it is treated more seriously.

            • Eagle35 says:

              Melby: “Girls hurting boys is sometimes not treated nearly as seriously because the girl is not perceived to have the ability to hurt the boy. If a boy hurts a girl, it is treated more seriously.”

              And why is that the case? Let me guess: “Partriarchy”. Nevermind that GIRLS are hurting boys.

              Or it could be the fact that people don’t want to look at girls that hurt boys, which is sort of what you’re saying Melby. Plain ignorance, callousness, and maliciousness. Yes, maliciousness. Treating a problem less seriously because the victim is a boy and the bully a girl.

              That’s the end of my rant.

              Either way, it grinds my gears majorly since I don’t want boys who are harmed by girls to disappear. Let’s just the stakes are too personal for me.


            • Well, attacking someone who just agreed with you that a problem exists is sort of stupid, now isn’t it?

              Do you want to burn bridges and alienate people because you just can’t get over the term “patriarchy”; or do you actually want to move forward?

              Cause you apparently would rather attribute to me a whole mess of imagined baggage and have a fight with someone who doesn’t actually exist than to have a conversation with me about this topic.

              Tactics – my friend.

            • Eagle35 says:

              No, M.A. Melby, I think you just accomplished the task of burning bridges yourself based on your response to me.

              Nowhere in my response did I attack you: used inflammatory language, insulted you, incorporated derogatory terms about your character. I stated my rebuttal that also agrees with what you said.

              But since you want to attribute it as an attack and therefore retaliate, fine. You’re welcome to it.

              And as far as getting over patriarchy is concerned, no I won’t. Because, in my opinion, it’s used as a label where it shouldn’t be. Girls attacking boys has nothing to do with “Partriarchy”, rather it has to do with the fact that, gasp, girls can be sadistic and as mean-spirited as any boy. Just like women can be as mean-spirited as any man. The fact that this makes society blush is the problem.

              Pink is no excuse.

            • Alrighty, M.A. and Eagle, let’s keep the conversation civil and keep away from saying anything personal about each other. :)

            • Eagle35 says:

              With all due respect, HeatherN, if I may defend my character here, II never made it personal. I stated my rebuttal which, in the end, agreed with what Malby explained previously.

              Not my fault it’s constituted as an attack.

            • Just trying to cut this thing off before it becomes personal, is what I’m saying.

            • “Or it could be the fact that people don’t want to look at girls that hurt boys, which is sort of what you’re saying Melby. Plain ignorance, callousness, and maliciousness. Yes, maliciousness. Treating a problem less seriously because the victim is a boy and the bully a girl.”

              Perhaps I read that paragraph wrong?

              If so, my apologies.

              Did you mean, “Treating a problem less seriously because the victims is a boy and the bully a girls is plaint ignorance, callousness…..”?

              Because I read it as you accusing me of treating the issue casually due to acknowledging that traditional patriarchal norms contribute to the problem.

              In that system, a man is to a woman as a woman is to a child – so when a girl abuses a boy, it’s treated the same way as if a child was abusing an adult.

              You also get a slightly different dynamic, where a woman is assumed to have had a good reason for the abuse of the man. She is assumed to be the one defending herself, while the man is assumed to be the aggressor. This has some of the same origins, but is also a relic of a time when beating your wife and having sex with her whenever you wanted was socially expected. Only relatively recently was the law changed so that it was illegal to rape your wife. Some religious organizations still teach the proper ways of beating your wife for proper discipline and teach that she much “obey” him (which is still used in some marriage ceremonies and used to be used in pretty much all of them). So, there is context.

              However, when these assumptions are carelessly applied, you get horrendous displays of stupidity such as The View episode where they essentially made fun of a man who had been brutalized horribly. Even in the Bobbit case, that would have been problematic. In the case they were referring to, reacting in such a way was monstrous.

            • Eagle35 says:

              Malby: “Did you mean, “Treating a problem less seriously because the victims is a boy and the bully a girls is plaint ignorance, callousness…..”?

              That’s exactly what I meant. The plain ignorance, callousness part I was applying to the people that do it in society. Not to you.

              Malby: “You also get a slightly different dynamic, where a woman is assumed to have had a good reason for the abuse of the man. She is assumed to be the one defending herself, while the man is assumed to be the aggressor. This has some of the same origins, but is also a relic of a time when beating your wife and having sex with her whenever you wanted was socially expected. Only relatively recently was the law changed so that it was illegal to rape your wife. Some religious organizations still teach the proper ways of beating your wife for proper discipline and teach that she much “obey” him (which is still used in some marriage ceremonies and used to be used in pretty much all of them). So, there is context.”

              Than you can understand why this sort of discussion triggers me, inflames the trauma I experienced. Because this context offends me! I never raped ANYONE in my life, beat a woman, and I was the one that was hurt by girls and women. So because of what happened eons ago to some ancestral line, I’m deserving of no support or acknowledgment?

              I should warn you that I’m not directing my ire towards you. Just to those cold-hearted snakes that threw me into a mental limbo because they wouldn’t bother to face the fact that I was hurt majorly and it effects me to this day.

              This line of reasoning leaked into some feminists who blatantly stated, after sharing my story, that what happened was an anomaly, that my privileged white male hood negates support.

              I haven’t trusted feminism since. And I don’t know if I will because, since feminism isn’t a monolith, those feminists are in the same tent as the reasonable ones. It’s akin to me getting viciously beaten and emotionally lacerated by a bully and his/her co-horts. I’m given sympathy from an onlooker, they tell me about a social group I could join to help with my self-esteem. Only when I do, the bully is there with his/her co-horts threatening me with physical violence and slinging insults. And nobody is doing anything to kick them out of the group! No one!

              There’s my context as to why I’m leery about feminism.

              Malby: “However, when these assumptions are carelessly applied, you get horrendous displays of stupidity such as The View episode where they essentially made fun of a man who had been brutalized horribly. Even in the Bobbit case, that would have been problematic. In the case they were referring to, reacting in such a way was monstrous.”

            • Eagle35 says:

              Sorry, accidentally hit enter.

              Anyway, you should also add VAWA and the Duluth Model to the list. Two tools that fight domestic violence and sexual abuse only one way (female victims only) and exclude the rest (male and female victims of women).

              All the minimization of my trauma taken to the next level: Law. There’s where it’s REALLY personal for me and I will not rest until people open their eyes about male survivors like myself, whatever it takes.

              Again, pink is no excuse.

              Not directed to you. Just to said cold-hearted snakes and misandrist feminists.

      • The reason for male circumcision is generally either argued to be hygienic or tradition.

        Historically, circumcision of boys was to prevent masturbation, and “make him focus” on non-carnal pleasures by making sex less pleasurable than otherwise.

        The hygienic and tradition things are recent. And only needed as excuses because some people actually care about men’s rights nowadays. And they wouldn’t do it if it was outright said to be about curbing his libidinal tendencies.

        • Pretty much.

          At least the sex justification has gone out of style.

          The studies involving HIV transmission is bringing back the support of circumcision; it’s going to be the new go-to rationalization for it.


          The practice is getting less popular in the U.S. these days. What I would like to see is to, at the very least, make it illegal for federally funded health insurance to pay for it – since at the very least, it is an elective procedure.

          I’m not sure if any anti-circumcision groups are going that route.

  6. Hi, thanks for answering my question.

    I have to say I disagree with this, “However, the systematic reasons they are disempowered is not because of their gender”. I do think that men face particular types of discrimination, specifically because they’re men. For example, routine infant circumcision.

    • I’ll touch a bit more on infant circumcision. Let’s look at the people who make the decisions about whether or not to circumcise a boy: medical professionals and male-dominated religious leaders. The medical profession is most assuredly run by men, and I don’t think anyone would argue that the Judeo-Christian religions are anything but patriarchal. We have men in charge of organisations that are making decisions about other men. They might not be making good decisions (I’m against male circumcision), but it’s men in power making those decisions. And, more importantly, those male-dominated institutions ALSO make decisions about women…the medical profession and Judeo-Christian religions ALSO have a lot to say about women’s bodies and what is good (or bad) for them.

      And the word I used, very deliberately, was “disempowered.” Whether male-dominated systems can discriminate against specific, individual men, is a complicated question. But they aren’t DISEMPOWERED because they belong to the category “man.”

      • “But they aren’t DISEMPOWERED because they belong to the category “man.”” I don’t know how you can say that when baby girls are protected from genital cutting and boys are not.

        • Again, it’s about power dynamics. Before female circumcision was outlawed, the decision about whether it was recommended or not rested in the hands of institutions run by men. And in countries which still practice it, the decision of whether to do it or not rests in institutions run by men.

          • Is it womens’ fault when they are abused by other women?

            • Of course. If I abuse another woman, it’s my fault. But I’m still working within a patriarchal gender system in which spousal abuse is a gendered crime. Patriarchy (and saying that a system which privileges men is a patriarchy) isn’t about laying fault at the feet of men…it’s about describing a specific system of power. Talking about power dynamics is not the same thing as finding fault.

            • I’m talking about women in general. If a woman abuses you, is it the fault of women in general.

              Also, DV is absolutely not a gendered crime. Men and women abuse at equal rates and in fact, women abuse more when the abuse is one sided.

            • Of course it’s not the fault of women in general. But I’d also hasten to point out that patriarchy doesn’t place the blame on men in general in the case of a man committing domestic violence. Talking about how the patriarchy influences men and women (and how men and women perpetuate the patriarchy) isn’t about blame.

            • No, “patriarchy” doesn’t. You are right about that.

            • I meant to say “patriarchy theory,” in the above comment. “Patriarchy theory doesn’t place the blame on men in general in the case of a man committing domestic violence.”

          • egalitarian says:

            “the decision about whether it was recommended or not rested in the hands of institutions run by men.”

            Nothing is “run by men” because most men are not in power. Men are not one group, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say that anything is decided by men (or women).

            • Perhaps it would be more accurate to say: Institutions that shut out women as having any agency or authority what-so-ever; not even considering letting them into the door with a few exceptions of about half a dozen famous women who either had fathers or husbands who had enough power in their institutions to give those women opportunities to succeed within them.


          • Hank Vandenburgh says:

            Heather, I’m not sure that you can say that these traditional institutions promoting FGM were/are “run by men.” Women currently promote FGM as much as men (maybe more.) And like “slut shaming,” you can see that women might benefit more from taming women’s tendencies toward polysexuality. Even if the FGM is just a clitoral “nick,” the symbolic meaning is clear.

            • It’s men who tend to promote male circumcision too. I think there is a certain – YOU MUST BE LIKE ME – thing going on.

          • I don’t get your position. It’s like your saying that women can act on internalised misogyny but men can’t act on internalised misandry. This is why I do think that contemporary feminism is like a religion: because its tenets can’t be explained and must be taken on faith alone.

            Under the law, men are unequal and discriminated against in a brutal way when it comes to RIC but that still doesn’t cause people to question the idea of the patriarchy? Maybe it can’t be questioned…

            Btw, I do consider myself a feminist, a first wave feminist. I want the sexes to be equal under the law and in this particular case they’re not; to the detriment of the male sex.

            • I really do not mean to repeat myself…but: power dynamics. Patriarchy theory is about power dynamics, specifically the ways in which gender affects power dynamics. The people in power are men. Masculinity is a set of privileged traits/characteristics. Men are privileged due to being assumed to be able to embody those privileged masculine traits. Men are assumed to be the neutral default, in no small part because the people in power (economic, medical, political, etc) are men.

              Are there downsides to this system, even to the class it privileges? You bet. But that doesn’t mean that the system doesn’t exist…it just means it’s a lot more screwed up than first thought.

              And, as for the internalised misogyny vs internalised misandry…well again the difference here is systematic. Misogyny is a systematic thing, whereas misandry isn’t. Individuals might hate men, and individual men might act based on hating their gender…but it’s not something that is supported by the system of power that we have.

            • Heather wrote:
              “The people in power are men”.

              And the people most marginalized are men too. Men dominate the bottom of the power pyramid in about equal numbers to the way they dominate the top.

              What you have is a system by which a tiny % of the population of movers and shakers (90% of whom are men) making decisions for both men and women, but additionally putting the bottom tiers of society (mostly men) through additional hardships, while securing the social safety net (mostly for women).

              These men in power demonstrably can be shown with evidence to work things towards female benefit and male detriment. There are 7 offices of womens health to zero for men. VAWA was reupped in 2000 with a GOP controlled senate+house+potus. WIC doesn’t help poverty stricken men, only women, just as many other charities do.

              In other words it’s a game of king of the hill where 1 ahole is standing on top of 20 brutalized men, while 20 women look on safely from the sidelines.

              To call it patriarchy is a horrible misnomer.

      • ” But they aren’t DISEMPOWERED because they belong to the category “man.””

        They sure are, look at your example of male circumcision, it is illegal in the US to perform the equiv of circumcision on a female but not so for a male, that is true disempowerment. Look at reproductive rights, men have none, that is true disempowerment, men have no body autonomy or ability to legally control their reproduction, how can a person be more disempowered , really true disempowerment than to lose the ability to control their own reproduction.

        • If you define “not being able to force a woman to have or not have a profoundly personal medical procedure performed” as having no “body autonomy” – you defining not having power over other people as not having power over yourself.

          Having said that, I do believe in repercussions (social as well as civil in some cases) of women being dishonest to men concerning reproduction. Forcing women to either have abortions or not have abortions after the fact, however, is the exact opposite of respecting bodily autonomy.

          In fact, I don’t think “bodily autonomy” means what you think it means.

          • We can just have paper abortions, or opt-in parenthood.

            Either the father can opt out prior to the birth of the child. So that the mother can decide to take action (or not) with knowledge that he has renounced all parental rights (and responsibilities).

            Or the father has to sign a document so that, at the time of birth, with DNA proof that the child is his (or this can be waived for fathers knowingly taking on a kid not theirs), attests to his rights and responsibilities concerning the born child.

            Her choice, her responsibility, his option. Can’t make it her choice (unilateral) his responsibilities (even just half of them).

      • I disagree that men cannot be harmed if the ‘disempowering’ is done by other men in power. Oppression can most certainly be perpetrated against one’s own gender (or race, etc). For instance, it is mostly other (older) women who directly carry out Female Genital Mutilation on young girls. Shall we then conclude that these mutilated girls were not actually harmed or disempowered because the FGM procedure was committed by other women? Of courser not. Same thing with men — just because the medical and religious professions are (presumably) led mostly by men, it does not therefore mean that other men cannot be harmed by their decisions and policies. When a man advocates for male circumcision (for no legitimate reason), it most certainly harms other men (esp. those that do not share his viewpoints).

        • Good point. The view being promoted by this article reminds me of how black leaders flock to a city where a cop (of any color) shot down an unarmed black person, but these same black leaders are nowhere to be found on the plague of black on black violence.

          Advocates are too concerned with other-group oppression, when the most oppression a person will suffer in their life is same-group oppression.

          This article is the same flavor just substituting gender for race.

  7. Most feminist and women’s organizations puts are focused on the issues of women and girls. Do you think that is a problem?

    The “What about the menz?” phrase is general pulled out not to belittle the men’s topic brought up, but to react to common derailing.

    For example, practically every time I mention Feminist Frequency and that she discusses female tropes in video games, someone chimes in with a demand that she also discuss male tropes.

    It’s a common theme that when women focus on their own interests, they are accused of being selfish or not serving others adequately.

    There are organizations that focus on issues that primarily effect men and boys. Unfortunately, some of those organizations have burned bridges with feminism categorically; which is unfortunate since there are usually large areas of agreement between these groups.

    For example, there is a push to get the ERA passed by extending time limits for its passage. The ERA would make unconstitutional gender-specific family laws that still exist in many states.

    You would think this would be a great opportunity for men’s groups and feminist and women’s groups to work together; but apparently we can’t even get over the issue of the term “patriarchy” being gendered and misunderstood by some non-feminists as being anti-male or implying that all men have more power than all women, in order to actually get stuff done.

    • Its been difficult for men’s groups and feminist groups to work together because the common response to getting men’s issues on the table alongside women;s has been “what about teh menz LOL!”. This is why the mens movement gave up on working with feminists.

      • The status at the moment is open hostility.

        You don’t get very far with that.

        When we can’t get past the “How dare you use the term “patriarchy”!” – we’re not going to get anywhere. If the prerequisite for “working with” some men’s groups is to deny the realities that feminists have been working to confront for decades – it’s a non-starter.

        I know there are REAL consequences for men to be assumed to be strong, capable, and smart; to have high expectations of your physical and intellectual capabilities; not being held responsible for your own sexuality or the product of sexual reproduction; for the very name of your gender being associated with honor and pride instead of degradation and selflessness; for you to be inculcated with the historical and political concept of “great men” who shaped the world.

        I say that with no sarcasm or ridicule: it is difficult to be seen as a failure if you don’t live up to some high ideal of “being a man” where so much is expected of you; where you don’t get needed support because it is assumed that you shouldn’t need it.

        There is sometimes advantages to being devalued as a human being and valued as A BODY. If you are a precious piece of property – you get to be protected, if for no other reason than the possibility that your body might be able to birth male children. You don’t get sent off to war. If people assume you are weak and passive; your bad behavior you can bat your eye-lashes at a the judge to get a less harsh sentence.

        Women who bask in those advantages, generally do NOT self-identify as feminists.

        This bizarre idea that our society does not afford more authority to men; that men are at some sort of disadvantage in power due to their maleness is twisted.

        Patriarchy has existed. If you think of many of our social norms as being “remnants” of patriarchy or BEING “patriarchy” – either is fine. Denying it’s existence; or insisting on renaming it is an unreasonable request, however.

        Though I have no doubt that at some point, the new crew will on day be confused as to why anyone would use that word to describe North American society because of how much of the patriarchy has been dismantled – it’s ludicrous to think that it magically disappeared within a generation.

        • Your perspective on what is oppressing men is exactly why we reject patriarchy theory. Not being held responsible for our sexuality? Really?

          • I’m going to jump in and point out that I think what she means by that is the way in which promiscuity in men is explained away as being due to their biology. There are all sorts of articles and what-not talking about how men “can’t help” cheating on their spouses, etc. That’s what she means by “taking responsibility.” Also, she’s probably referring to the way in which birth control is largely considered a woman’s issue and a woman’s responsibility.

            But I’d also ask that you read the rest of her comment, because I think what she’s pointing out is really important.

        • “This bizarre idea that our society does not afford more authority to men; that men are at some sort of disadvantage in power due to their maleness is twisted.”

          Really what authority do men as a GROUP have. You have said this is a twisted view. Now it is time to actually come out with a couple of different instances where MEN AS A GROUP have more authority.

          • Why don’t you (if you are male) walk into a room and I can walk into a room – both dressed nicely – in front of a group of students.

            Who do you think will be assumed to be there in order to teach the students physics at a college level?

            This is how you are afforded authority by no other reason than your maleness.

            • A man n woman walk into a parents group, who do you think is seen as authority?

            • Ah, indeed. But a parent and a professor stand side by side, and who is considered a person of authority?

              The point of that rather rhetorical question is to mention that even though women might be seen as people of authority in terms of parenting…when parenting is put into the larger social context, it’s men’s roles which are considered positions of authority.

            • Depends on where you are, and what kind of activity you are doing. Anything to do with childcare the authority automatically goes to females. Business goes to men. Primary n highschool teaching authority over kids will be with teachers whom are more commonly female. At college level probably men (no idea of college as I haven’t been to university, just “TAFE”).

              Women hold authority over morality in modern society, especially as feminism has come in. Women are largely seen as the more pure, better behaved, more decent human beings and their authority over discussions of equality for instance can be quite large. Women are also very quickly gaining authority of intelligence, we’re already seeing quite a lot of discrimination against boys and even 5 year olds are often under the belief that females are more intelligent. With the disparity in genders whom attend university this authority is shifting. Whom has authority in a women’s studies group, or any of the subjects that females tend to study more such as humanity subjects, caring roles, etc? I’d say men hold more authority in S.T.E.M fields and most definitely in the trades (boiler maker, fitter turner, carpenter, etc).

              “when parenting is put into the larger social context, it’s men’s roles which are considered positions of authority.”
              Correction, it’s SOME men’s roles. Being a soldier has little authority vs being general, garbage workers have sweet fuck all authority and many very dangerous and low-paid jobs are occupied by men. I’d say the majority of men alive do not have authority, it’s the top echelon whom hold authority. The professor is 1 person amongst hundreds/thousands of students, the CEO is 1 in 50,000, even politicians and others whom hold power have very few numbers. Men occupy the very top and very bottom largely, and most people of both genders are a mix of low n middle class and I highly doubt they have much authority.

              Men may be leaders but only few get that chance, there are stupidlevels more men who’s role is to SERVE, how do they fit into this theory? I always get the impression that gender is placed as far more important than class, for instance I see far more people wanting women to be CEO’s than occupying mid to high level jobs which have 100,000+ positions vs 1000 if that. Probably 99% of us will not be leader, nor have much authority.

              (This question for the next article or whenever is purely subjective on my experience of what I’ve seen regarding feminism, I really do hope I am wrong)
              Why is there so much focus in feminism on getting top-dog positions vs a more broad spectrum approach of getting the majority into better jobs vs the extreme minority (eg, millions vs thousands of people). Is more work done to bring women and/or people out of poverty vs pushing a few top-dog positions?

            • “Primary n highschool teaching authority over kids will be with teachers whom are more commonly female. ”

              That’s not true. Male teachers are more respected and tend to be promoted more readily. Look at the percentages of male principles compared to male teachers for an example.

              With SMALL children, women are preferred because 1) It’s a lower status job to teach younger children and 2) there is a perception that men are ill-equipped to care for small children and they are met with suspicion (which is absolutely not fair).

              Also, there are MANY female-typical jobs that are all about serving – you know, like SERVERS, secretarial staff, etc.

              The reason that there is so much emphasis on encouraging gender-parity in high status positions is not just that those high-status positions have the authority to affect things for the rest of us; but that one of the BEST (and possibly ONLY) ways to dismantle stereotype threat is to be exposed to seeing people who look like you doing things.

              That’s just how it works. It’s not particularly FAIR – but me simply being female helps female students.

            • Ok, are feminists pushing for women to be including in the dangerous and unglamorous jobs such as logging, etc? To get seen by men as being capable as they are women have to do the hard yards work with the danger attached vs always going for the office-type jobs or the glamorous high up jobs. Women have to get greasy, dirty, with danger involved in some jobs, we’d need to see injury levels at similar rates, income, danger, physical exertion all at similar rates to get the idea of men n women being more similar. We need women in the trades, men in the typically female gender role jobs, is this being pushed? When the garbage folk come around I should be seeing a good mix of men n women shouldn’t I? Military should be a 50:50 mix, police, fire, etc.

              I see some activism for that but most activism I see is more about the higher up jobs and only a few women will get those. What is being done for the 99% of women?

            • I’m not the only one showing concern over feminism’s representation of lower class.
              ht tp://

              “The movement today seems to focus on issues that white, middle-class women face exclusively – such as increasing political and workplace representation, or getting more women into top jobs.”
              “The pay gap, maternity leave, opportunities for promotion, prison conditions – all have been addressed by feminism. But what irks me is when feminists talk about seeking equality. When I see women queueing up for jobs down coalmines, I will believe they are serious about it. ”

              I don’t doubt there are feminists whom are trying to get more into jobs of all types but currently from my limited exposure, I do not see any major push for it. The most I’ve seen are S.T.E.M fields and the upper class jobs such as CEO being pushed for, I see barely anything for tradie style jobs, mining (mining in Australia is the best way for the working class to get access to a mid-upper class income but it demands a lot of work).

              We need more women in the power positions but even more important is to get more women and men into jobs that they WANT to do, that give a decent income to live a decent life, to get people out of poverty and give folks a career. There will be plenty in society whom will question women’s commitment to equality because they are not in the coal mining jobs as much as the men for instance (just as society questions men’s roles with childcare as there aren’t many men there). The tricky part is to help get women into upper level jobs, get them voted in we need to tear down stereotypes that they aren’t prepared to do the dirty n dangerous jobs to some people.

              And in the meantime, we’ll have plenty of people that think feminism cares more about middle class women getting better jobs whilst they bitterly work at their lower class job and it will cause resentment. There will be people who question do women deserve top jobs if they aren’t also doing those low jobs of the garbageman, sewer workers, etc.

              Women are the majority of voters in the U.S, that is HUGE power, is feminism letting women know this? The election will be won by the female vote, if enough women for every man + 1 voted for someone they’d win, hell even half of women voting + a few more would win. Women could put enormous pressure on whoever is in charge, male or female to get shit done. I very much want to see a better mix of genders, races, etc in power but at the moment I do think this resource is largely untapped.

              “but that one of the BEST (and possibly ONLY) ways to dismantle stereotype threat is to be exposed to seeing people who look like you doing things.”
              Even if they are upper class, have luxuries whilst you are struggling to pay the bills? I can tell you that men have huge levels of anger towards politicians and those in power, tall poppy syndrome is very real and there is a lot of contempt for people whom have excess when you are living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not gonna magically change for women, there will be plenty of women that are pissed off at Oprah having so much wealth along with everyone else whom has excess. Quite frankly I think we need to see more working class people in power, people who’ve been in poverty as well. Can most women identify with women of privilege? I don’t identify with many of the current male leaders.

              Push for changing leadership but I would say push harder for change at the lower and middle levels which will naturally progress to people promoted and rising the ranks. S.T.E.M won’t be changed by simply adding a few leaders to the fields, you need to get women into those careers at all costs, to stick it out and fight to push the numbers closer to parity because there you can’t just expect change by seeing a few leaders at the top being your gender, you need to see your workplace have a good level of your gender working there.

            • Archy: Are feminists pushing for women to be included in unglamorous jobs? You bet your behind they are…and you bet your behind there is a lot of push-back against women doing those jobs too. Women fighting for equality in the military, for example, was about women being able to hold all the same dangerous, unglamorous front line positions that men could. The movie North Country with Charlize Theron documents a real life example of women fighting tooth and nail to be able to have jobs as miners without threat of sexual harassment.

              Our society values white collar jobs more than blue collar…so unfortunately a lot of the focus is on white collar jobs. However, there has been a great deal of focus on the less glamorous jobs.

            • I think you over-estimate how many people in STEM have economically privileged backgrounds. Trust me on that one. :)

              Also, as Heather pointed out – feminism has absolutely been involved in opening up high-risk and high-risk blue collar jobs to women. This includes the recent victory of women being allowed into combat positions – which not only give them the opportunity to serve but opens up advancement opportunities within the military.

              I also am getting the impression that “women talking about gender” are being confused with “feminism”.

              I can’t speak to the UK, but if you want to see the quintessential anti-feminist man-hating attitude that the U.S. has to offer – just watch Ann Romney’s speech at the RNC.

              Both my husband and I were incredibly offended; while it resonated with the traditionalists and classists.

              Yeah, if “women” were all the same and thought the same way – we could put anyone in office we wanted to. As it is, at the very least, during the last election the rest of the country sort of figured that out. It was the first time, as far as I’m aware, that the candidate preferred by white men was not elected and ONLY got the majority vote from white men.

              We got to see news-casters trying unsuccessfully to treat the white male as the default human as they talked about the “non-white non-male vote” instead of the “white male vote”.

              It was actually pretty glorious.

            • We have “fox news” channel here on foxtel, I can only watch it for a few minutes at a time because the republicans on there seem soooo damn crazyyyy and everything drips with privilege and money (not to mention the fear mongering with terrorism). Australian politics aren’t much better either, it shocks me how out of touch those in power often are.

              “I also am getting the impression that “women talking about gender” are being confused with “feminism”.”
              When I talk about it I usually mean feminist campaigns or articles in major news, stuff that I believe gets seen quite a bit. I’m sure there are heaps of behind the scenes work being done but I haven’t seen much high-profile stuff, for instance an article in a major news paper by a feminist calling for more bluecollar jobs but have seen plenty for CEO’s, etc. The public faces of feminism I don’t believe are representing the other workers in the movement. So I do believe they exist but it’s just a bit hard to find them which bothers me bigtime because I believe we all should see a lot more emphasis on the blue collar jobs, mining, both dangerous and safe jobs. In Australia people whom do not have a lot of recognized skills (eg a diploma, trade, degree) can head to the mines with a bit of training and get to drive the machinery and do other jobs which pay substantially more than local jobs.

              Feminism here should definitely push for more women to go because it’s quite decent money, eg average income here is $40k for a 38hour workweek, on the mines you can get $100k+ but it’s 1 or 2 weeks ON 1 week off with 10-12 hour days so you can amass a lot more money in a shorter period of time. I’ve got friends that do it and pay off their house. I can’t recall seeing any articles on women in mining though, they may exist but I’ve not noticed any in the years I’ve been reading the news on the mining boom. It’s nearly always about white-collar stuff.

    • @M.A. Melby

      “It’s a common theme that when women focus on their own interests, they are accused of being selfish or not serving others adequately.”

      As opposed to when men focus on our own interests and are accused of being misogynistic and patriarchial?

    • OirishM says:

      The “What about the menz?” phrase is general pulled out not to belittle the men’s topic brought up, but to react to common derailing.

      This assumes that all mentions of men’s experiences with respect to an issue are derailing, which isn’t true. If you claim that men are the primary cause of a problem when they aren’t or that an issue is the exclusive preserve of women when it isn’t, then it’s hardly rocket science to expect that some people will weigh in to correct you. Many of them will be men.

      For example, practically every time I mention Feminist Frequency and that she discusses female tropes in video games, someone chimes in with a demand that she also discuss male tropes.

      I don’t actually want Sarkeesian discussing male tropes, she’s hardly that good at providing decent discussion of female tropes. The point is usually that she is claiming that women are disrespected/misrepresented in games to a particular degree, when men are disrespected further.

      All the baddies in games are men, and are gunned down in their digital billions. And we manage to just deal with it, without demonising a gender, or demanding that we get our own channel funded to make crappy videos about it. One female character in a game isn’t precisely up to scratch? OUTRAGE!

      It’s a common theme that when women focus on their own interests, they are accused of being selfish or not serving others adequately.

      Well, that might have something to do with feminism’s tendency to claim it is for gender equality, which is not the same thing as women’s self-interest, as there are more genders affected by gender inequality than just women. If it’s actually true that it’s not interested in equality, then feminism should really drop the pretence.

      There’s a rather good line on tumblr at the moment – if feminism is for men, why do feminists assume anyone speaking for men’s issues isn’t feminist?

  8. Heather: If women were the majority of leaders of the US/Canada/UK , if the majority of CEOs were women and the situation were exactly the same your logic says that everything would be OK for women and there wouldn’t be a problem because it would be women doing it to other women, If those leaders of industry and Gov who are women weren’t listening to women by your logic it would be OK because you are solely focused on ‘who has the power at the top’.

    I am reminded so much of a saying I heard many years ago “Equality today is defined not on who gets fed, who gets clothed or who has a decent job but WHO GETS TO BE CEO”

    • That’s not what my argument is. I’m not saying everything would be okay if women held equal power at the top to men. I’m saying that men aren’t disempowered because of their gender (and if women held equal power at the top, then women wouldn’t be disempowered because of their gender). They could still be discriminated against. And they could still certainly be disempowered because of class, race, etc…AND they could still certainly be disempowered because of how their gender intersects with their class, race, etc. BUT they wouldn’t be disempowered because of their gender alone.

      This is why I like the term kryiarchy in addition to patriarchy, and this is why I consider myself an intersectional feminist.

      • But numerous times in this article people have shown you that MEN are disempowered because of their gender but you are refusing to even acknowledge it and that is why a lot of people have turned against feminism. You are refusing to even acknowledge instances where men are in fact disempowered because of their gender. YOU were the one who keeps bringing up that MEN are the CEOs, presidents etc and those that you think are in power but those men are helping other men but they sure are helping women.

    • Why accuse the author of a stance that is completely counter to the OP?

  9. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Heather, great article!

  10. Melenas says:

    Except doesn’t “kyriarchy” just mean patriarchy plus a bunch of other things?
    Gender is still considered a unidirectional system of oppression. Yes, men can experience discrimination but not due to *being men*. It is because they are *poor* men or *gay* men or *black* men.
    Other posters have pointed out how men can be disadvantaged due to being men.

    It seems like “patriarchy” is less a system that simply advantages men and disadvantages women, and more of an interlocking, mutually reinforcing set of gender norms that confer a set of privileges on people within those norms, and leveling censure against people stepping outside.
    I guess what annoys me is when I see feminists talk like patriarchy is just men, not realizing that they are very much part of it too.
    Sure, when you see men shaming women for their sexual choices and attempting to control female reproduction you are seeing patriarchy in action.
    But also when you see women shaming men for not “manning up” and serving as utilities for others; every time you see someone talk about what a “real man” is, you are also seeing patriarchy in action.

    Mostly just thinking out loud here…

    • Indeed, yes, women can perpetuate patriarchy.

      “It seems like “patriarchy” is less a system that simply advantages men and disadvantages women, and more of an interlocking, mutually reinforcing set of gender norms that confer a set of privileges on people within those norms, and leveling censure against people stepping outside.”

      I would agree with the above statement, except…except that even when people adhere to those norms, women are disempowered, disadvantaged and discriminated against. That’s where the difference lies between how patriarchy affects men and how it affects women.

      • Melenas says:

        Yes, and while a select few men will occupy the seats of overt power, men will be expected to stoically bear hardship, injury and death in order to protect and provide for women. I know I’ve been repeating this ad nauseam, but where patriarchy reduces women to objects, it reduces men to utilities.
        Their value lies primarily in what they are able to do for others.
        It sucks for everyone.

        • If you look at self-professed patriarchal ideals – it works like this:

          God is over man; man is over woman: woman is over children.

          The idea that a man takes care of a woman, just like a woman takes care of children; advantages her in that she is not expected to have responsibilities that a man has, but it also makes her dependent on him and UNDER his authority.

          That patriarchal structure was once the norm; now it exists in that exact form in many subgroups that proclaim that it is the correct and right social structure.

          Much of woman’s advocacy deals with the realities of those patriarchal systems. Feminism attempts to break down those norms.

          We’re on the same side.

          However, a man’s “primary value” is NOT what he can do for others necessarily. He is afforded and encourages to have ambitions. Until very recently, women were not – at all.

          For a woman, to have any other ambition but to take care of her husband and children was considered obscene and selfish and against the natural order of things. If she decided to work – she would either be expected to volunteer or be paid much less with very little possibility for promotion.

          My grandfather was criticized for sending my aunts to high school because it was seen as pretentious since there were no obvious practical reason for women to have a high school education. Women took on the names of their husbands. It was Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. Mrs. John Smith was your name; and marrying a good man to take care of you was your primary ambition. Giving your husband sons was your primary goal.

          The only reason to constantly mention these things is because it seems that so many people are in denial of them – not because we want to constantly harp on how things sucked or continue to suck.

          • Melenas says:

            I think I see where you are coming from, and I totally agree. Gender absolutely should not be a limiting factor in someone’s education or professional life.

            I beg to differ about men’s value not being what he can do for others though.
            Just look at any portrayal of “loser” men and “manchildren” in the media, in blogs, in popular culture.
            At their core they will almost always be men who are living for themselves. Instead of following the socially-approved path of getting married and being good provider/protectors they choose to value their friends, their personal lives, their own selves.

            Aside from the issues we choose to focus on, I agree that we are on the same side.

          • Condensing a lot of what is being discussed: Patriarchy is the classical “division of labor”.

            The true roots of Patriarchy are that women have babies (directly) and men do not – everything follows: external achievements, male disposability, paternalism and white knights, toxic male sexuality, risk avoidance, role restrictions, statistical tendencies etc

            The Patriarchy smasher then becomes technology and the advent of widely available birth control, which the Patriarchy then produces and distributes.

            I suggest we rename the term BigBelly, as it holds much more explanatory power and is backed by solid evidence.

          • “He is afforded and encourages to have ambitions.”
            And if he is a low ambition man, then he is derided for not exercising his agency.

            What you would call encouragement, I would call coercion.
            Look to the record of Patton slapping PTSD suffering soldiers (at the time they called it shell shock) and threatening them with a firing squad.

            The problem is what men go through *looks* like agency, but really his choices are pre-selected as much as women’s are. The reason is that the culture honors male ACTION, if it is necessary to coerce that action (even if by pain of imprisonment) then that is what the culture will do.

            Women are told “you can’t”, men are told “you must”. Flipsides of the same coin. Patriarchy is an oversimplification of the culture at work. A lot of people are coming to this conclusion.

  11. Love these articles Heather! Here is my convoluted critique:

    The mainstream feminist argument given here falls down for me when it tries to claim that men aren’t disempowered specifically due to their gender. The draft, male violence paradigm, man as provider are all examples of disempowerment in a gendered way. To me it runs like this: Do men have a gender role? Yes. Is it disempowering? Yes. Therefore men are disempowered by their gender. The fact that his gender role is assigned by other men placed above him in a hierarchy is irrelevant to the average man’s lived experience of a disempowering gender role.

    Personally, I think that both men and women are divided into equal and opposite symbiotic gender roles, and they are both hurt by this forceful assignment of a rigid role. The average man and the average woman are both pawns of the kyriarchy, and a pawn is a pawn – powerless. The fact that the elite is gendered (and I agree it is) hasn’t helped the average man through some kind of trickle down or common identity – the only people who have benefited from existence of the kyriarchy are those at the top. Those benefactors are all men, but as you state, they aren’t many men – 99% of men are hurt, and they are hurt in a gendered way that needs to be acknowledged.

    You’ve hit at this yourself in the circumcision debate: If professions and religions run by men are willing to ignore the rights of men, then it shows patriarchal institutions don’t privilege the lower down men. The fact that men are the ones making the decisions is irrelevant to the experience of powerless non-elite men – in this case they they still get circumcised. Strangely, if women were the leaders of a faith and advocated for FGM then your logic would make FGM non-gendered within that faith. I feel this misses the most important point; that people are having things forced on them due to their sex. Under your theory, the gender of the oppressor negates the gender of the oppressed – it is somehow no longer disempowerment on the basis of their gender (My question is what does it become – it is still disempowerment, just not on the basis of their gender? Seems like it misses the forest for the trees…). What I think is that the oppression itself is what is gendered.

    To put the problem in a nutshell – your theory seems to claim that the gender of the oppressor negates the gender of the oppression. Feminism typically looks at those in power because that is the most salient place to look from a gynocentric point of view, however this ends up ignoring the 99% of men who aren’t in power. Ironically I feel we end up missing out on having the more MRA inclined men as allies of feminism due to this very tendency – if only feminism could allow for the idea that men at the top hurt men at the bottom in specifically male gendered ways, it would be compatible with a non-patriarchal man’s experience of his gender. Instead we seem to cling to the idea of men as vanilla or default, and therefore the oppressions they experience seem non-gendered, when in actuality they take place within an overall gender structure.

    When one man assaults another man, for instance, that to me is gendered violence – there are all sorts of rules and conventions around violence between men, and an overarching system that legitimates it in certain circumstances etc etc. Yet I suspect feminists see that both perpetrator and victim in the actual violence are male sexed, and use that to dismiss it as not a gendered thing. Most violence is between men, therefore it is vanilla violence. Well, no, it most definitely takes place within the overall structure of gender and has repercussions throughout. Therefore it is gendered, and important to bring up in discussions of gender.

    A good example of a missed chance for male/female alliance against gender roles is the women’s video game tropes example above. When we talk in a gynocentric forum (which is necessary to do at some point in gender discussions) bringing up male video game tropes is a derailment. The opposite is true if we are in a phallocentric forum (which is also necessary for the same reasons). However at some point we have to leave these fora and get to a point where we see the relationship between these two. A very crude example is that a damsel in distress trope is fundamentally symbiotic with a knight in shining armour trope, and that both are damaging because they require people to be either helpless trophies or relentless killing machine heroes according to their gender. Therefore both tropes should die. This step is one that feminism and MRAs both seem reluctant to take. For example I recently read an article about childrens’ stories where girls have to be pretty princesses whereas boys “get” (but actually “have”) to go on adventures and slay dragons to rescue them. The knight looks empowered to feminists, the princess looks empowered to MRAs. This is what frustrates me, because it misses the solution.

    • Your comment is long and so I’m sure I’m not going to end up commenting on all of it. However I’ll address the assertion you make that men and women are divided into “equal and opposite symbiotic gender roles.” That’s not really true, not only because at the top it is men who are in power, but because throughout the other various systems of oppression and power, it is masculinity which is privileged. So, yes, they are both hurt by the rigidity of gender roles, and they are both hurt by the way they are forced to adhere to the rigidity of their respective gender roles. HOWEVER, because masculinity is privileged above femininity in our social systems, women are ALSO screwed over by rigid masculinity. A man’s relationship to the patriarchy (to gender norms) can be described fairly straightforwardly: being masculine is considered good and being feminine is considered bad. And when a man is feminine (and/or isn’t masculine enough) he gets screwed over. A woman’s is more complicated…because she feels pressure to be masculine too (because masculine traits are considered better). So she feels pressure to be masculine, but is ridiculed for not being feminine enough…so she also feels pressure to be feminine (because she’s a woman). She feels pressure to be the lesser of the two things (feminine and masculine). ALSO even when trying to be masculine, she’s assumed to be less able to do that, because she belongs to the category of “woman” and not “man.” I’m mostly drawing from Simone de Beauvoir here, if you’re at all familiar with her work. But in essence, what I’m saying is that gender roles aren’t actually equally problematic.

      As for the rest of it, again I will point out my very deliberate use of the word “disempower.” Men, as a class, are not disempowered. Women, as a class, are. Working class men are disempowered…but working class men are not disempowered because of their gender…they’re disempowered because of their class. One might even be able to argue that they are disempowered because of the intersection of their class and gender…but even that is not the same thing as saying they are disempowered because of their gender, full stop.

      As for suggesting that men’s violence against other men is something feminists don’t see as gendered, well that’s not entirely true. Certainly some feminists don’t see it as gendered…but quite a few discuss how “toxic masculinity” and our patriarchal system contribute to men’s violence against other men. And moving away from considering men the default is certainly something that feminists are addressing.

      As for that bit where you’re talking about tropes…see the thing is, being an object isn’t empowering. Right, like, there are certain very complicated exchanges of power that Foucault touches on to do with object and subject. And feeling the pressure to go out and DO things is a big problem. But consider that our society values doing…our society values individuals going out and doing things. We write stories about people who do things and we encourage people to do things, so on and so forth. The knight in shining armor is a male power fantasy…a fantasy about being able to go out and do things. Women as objects to be rescued is not a female power fantasy…it’s not something society values (it’s something society considers valuable).

      So both tropes should die, and there are plenty of feminists out there who would agree with me. If you go back to the first bit of answers I left for this Ask the Feminist thing, you’ll see a list of feminists (and people who have influenced feminism) who have examined patriarchy from the perspective of men…and who have similarly come to the conclusion that the pressure on men to be “doers” is a problem. However, both tropes are not equally problematic…and thus feminist groups tend to focus on the one, rather than the other.

      • Melenas says:

        Replying to your paragraph about tropes:
        Looking at it another way, the “knight in shining armor” trope is not a male power fantasy, but another form of objectification. Just like the damsel in distress is an object to be rescued, the knight in shining armor is a utility to rescue others at great potential cost to himself.
        Does the knight really want to risk a gruesome death to rescue the princess? Does the knight have the choice to ignore the quest completely and go do something completely different?

        • The thing is, no. It is a male power fantasy…as evidenced by the HUGE market for male superheroes and action heroes…and the way in which those particular genres are consumed by men, particularly teenage men. The knight in shining armour is not a utility…these characters are fully fleshed out (or as fully fleshed out as any modern movie character is). They have various motivations, origin stories, complicated relationships with good and evil. They’re portrayed as human beings who must make decisions and face complex moral questions, so on and so forth. And, particularly in a movie, the potential risk as minimal…it is very rare that the main character is going to be killed. The story is told from the hero’s perspective…asking the audience to identify with him, to empathize with him and understand why he does what he does. It is a problematic trope when applied to rigidly, most certainly…but it is a trope borne out of men saying “this is freaking awesome, I want to be like this. I want to be 007/Rambo/Spiderman, etc.”

          The opposite, the damsel is not borne out of women saying “I want to be like that.” Often her personality characteristics are minimal, the story doesn’t follow her and she is there to serve a purpose. She is there to show, once again, how awesome the hero is…to flesh out HIS character even more. The damsel was created out of men saying, “She is awesome. I want to have someone like her.”

          • Melenas says:

            Except what makes the superhero / action genre popular, in particular the hero protagonists, goes way beyond the archetype of “knight in shining armor” and doesn’t have to involve a damsel in distress at all.
            And there are plenty of female superheroes and action heroes.
            So yes, the knight in shining armor *trope* is a utility, and the damsel in distress *trope* is an object. But over the course of the movie / game / comic book, the characters will be more fleshed out, though at certain times someone may take on certain tropes. Someone may need to be rescued, and someone will do the rescuing.

            Finally, of course the protagonist is going to get the lion’s share of the screen time. It is their story, so of course they are going to be the ones shown facing complex moral questions and having complicated relationships with good and evil. This is true no matter if the protagonist is male or female.

            • Alrighty, just a few notes: female action heroes are actually pretty rare, and women have been fighting tooth and nail to get them. This precisely because being the hero (not just the damsel) is so valued by our society. Case in point: Katnis from Hunger Games…one of the BIG deals about her is that she’s a female action hero whose role has nothing to do with being the object of a man’s desire. She is, in many ways, a female power fantasy.

              And no, a hero doesn’t always need to have a damsel…but a damsel always needs a hero. That’s part of the point, really. Heroes are autonomous…they do things on their own. Damsels don’t do anything…they don’t even exist without the hero to rescue them.

              And as for the protagonist always having more screen time, yes, indeed…that is always going to happen. But the fact that the protagonist is always the hero (in this particular genre we’re talking about), and that the hero is almost always a man, is part of the point.

          • Isn’t romance fiction in some fashion about a powerful man rescuing or delivering or completing a women? Men don’t buy romances in any great numbers, so their purchase overwhelmingly by women could be evidence that women do in fact value the role of being rescued. Likely social conditioning. Just as men’s valuing their role as rescuer is social conditioning.

            And isn’t the ripped, potent, dashing hero of romances created out of women saying she wants someone like him?

            I see you attempting to split hairs on this issue with the assumption that patriarchy as you describe it exists as the only real evidence that it exists.

            • Meant to add that your distinction that “men” get to do stuff is a bit off base. Typically one man or a few men who meet a rigid standard get to do stuff, often stuff like killing many other humans, most of whom are also men.

              One guy at the top benefits me how if he’s standing on my corpse? And surely on some subconscious level even the symbolism of the male hero is diminished by all the dead males who defined his heroism.

            • Melenas says:

              And bear in mind that when one of those few men on the top is unable to perform anymore (maybe he is maimed, or gets PTSD or something) he is unceremoniously cast aside and forgotten.

            • Which, folks, is a symptom of patriarchy; I’ll point you to my last paragraph: “The other thing to remember about the feminist conception of western patriarchy is that it acknowledges that the patriarchy privileges a very specific, narrow and rigid idea of what manhood is. This is how the patriarchy ends up actually hurting men. The patriarchy privileges men who are heterosexual, physically strong, financially successful, stoic, aggressive, in control, etc. It is when men deviate from these very narrow ideas of masculinity that the patriarchy hurts them.”

            • Melenas says:

              I guess where we weren’t seeing eye to eye, was that I kept thinking you were saying that patriarchy privileges *men” and you were saying that it privileges a certain very narrow idea of *masculinity*.
              So as long as you are able to keep up and stay in that tiny spotlight you will be awesome and privileged and valuable, but if you lose your pace or trip and fall or just get tired of it all, you will suddenly lose a lot of that value and be considered less of a man by patriarchal society.

              Is this closer to what you were saying?

            • Melenas says:

              So…any privilege men are afforded as a gender is because the poor man could become rich; the weak man could become strong; the shy man could become assertive.
              If you are a man you have a chance of reaching that ideal.

            • Yes, basically. And a man is assumed to capable of being strong, assertive, etc. And we value strength and being assertive and what-not, as a society. Though, of course, whether poor men really can become rich (or weak ones become poor, etc) is another matter.

            • Yes, there is such a thing as a female-submission fantasy.

              Apparently my grandmother (however awkward it is for me to know this) loved those types of books.

              Also, when asked by my then-boyfriend now-husband about political events that happened during her life time (it was for a school project) she answered, “Oh, you would have had to talk to my husband about that. I wouldn’t know about that.”

              Of course, my boyfriend would have asked my grandfather those questions, but he was dead. So that wasn’t going to happen.

              The modern female-submission fantasy is the Twilight Series; and you know how much feminists love that. :)

          • “The thing is, no. It is a male power fantasy…as evidenced by the HUGE market for male superheroes and action heroes”

            And you don’t think this speaks to male drive to be cherished and approved of *for doing* in a way most women want to be cherished or approved of for being beautiful?

            What you are doing is taking a destructive need for approval of men and calling it a power fantasy. Does that mean the makeup arms race is do to women’s beauty fantasy?

            This is why feminism is being handed it’s hat and asked to leave the building. They got about 90% the way there, but when they started looking at male roles–they just couldn’t admit that the lives of men were as harsh as they were.

            Instead of admitting that male ceo’s had to run a gamut of back-stabbing, idea-stealing, ruthless soul-crushing mental battle and having to wear an impervious inscrutable game face behind which all pain was hidden and admitting it was THIS environment which held women back from the echelons of power (which women were exempted from if they didn’t seek to go above clerical status).

            Instead as an ideology feminism said women were being held back due to sexism and doubled down on the victim ethos.

            Male CEO’s and power brokers stand upon a mountain of depressed, broken, and even dead men while women are largely exempted from this combat (and stay happily safely in the middle of the power pyramid–not shatting upon any1 or being shat upon either). Feminists use the apex fallacy and examine only the top 1% and erase the male pain of the “wanna bes” and summarily declare men are privileged or (even worse) men aren’t oppressed for the maleness.

            And gender ideologues have the gall to wonder why critics are exploding FROM EVERYWHERE and declaring feminism horribly broken?

      • Sorry about the length! The reply was pretty comprehensive though and there is good stuff to think/read about, so thanks. I think where we come apart is that you see masculinity in general as privileged, and I’m hesitant to conclude that because the privilege is out of reach of most men, so it doesn’t apply to them – perhaps it is just about how class and gender intersect for men, as you mention.

        I guess this says it: “The patriarchy privileges men who are heterosexual, physically strong, financially successful, stoic, aggressive, in control, etc. It is when men deviate from these very narrow ideas of masculinity that the patriarchy hurts them.””

        Most men can’t reach the standard, so basing privilege on it is missing something important. The knight in shining armor is actually a good example – it is an unreachable power fantasy, a con, designed to encourage men to become utilities, accept violence, objectify women as trophies etc. So the idea of men as a class being privileged by it is incorrect. Adrian had some good comments about most men being in the pile of corpses under the knight. I think it is slightly different from class and gender intersecting – maybe class is part of gender for men because of the way income, work, and provider-ship are tied to their gender role.

        It is good that some feminist theory approaches this, ie “toxic masculinity”. I would argue that something akin to feminism but for modern, non-patriarchal men is required – what are your thoughts on that?

        Would you agree that the two gender roles structurally support each other, so you have to dismantle them both simultaneously? For me, arguing about which is more problematic or more hurtful to whom is unhelpful in the end, because they need to be dismantled as a whole. That was what I meant by equal and opposite symbiosis: One side of the gender binary cannot be more problematic, because they are just the two sides of one problem, the same problem.

        • Oh no need to apologise about the length…I just mentioned it in case I ended up missing something. lol.

          Thing thing is, by virtue of social identity categories, masculine privilege does apply to men…even if it’s mostly passive. So for instance, there’s M.A.’s example: a man and a woman walk into a classroom; they’re the same age, race, etc. They’re both dressed relatively professionally. Chances are it will be assumed that the man is the profession in charge, and the woman is an assistant of some kind. A man is assumed to be in a position of authority. Or other examples…where men are assumed to be capable of strength. Men are assumed to be capable…basically assumed to be capable of masculinity.

          You suggest that men as a privileged group is incorrect because most people can’t actually reach the ideal. But that’s true of any ideal…most people can’t reach it. We’ll take the heterosexual ideal…one of the ideals for heterosexual couples is lifelong monogamy in marriage…but most heterosexual people don’t actually achieve this. However, even though most heterosexual people don’t actually achieve it…that doesn’t mean that heterosexuality isn’t privileged (in part because heterosexual monogamy is the ideal).

          I agree that both gender roles need to be dismantled simultaneously. However, I think in order to do that it’s important not to gloss over the way in which those gender roles affect men and women differently. One side of the gender binary is more problematic, because men and women are affected by each side of this binary differently. On the one hand it is two sides to the same problem: the creation of gender ideals which we are supposed to try to achieve…masculinity for men, femininity for women. HOWEVER, women’s relationship to gender is far more complicated, being expected to be both masculine and feminine, because masculinity is privileged. So it isn’t simply two sides of the same coin…there is a third element which comes into play because of the hierarchical way in which we’ve position masculinity over femininity.

          • Hmmm…

            Now I totally agree with you in the context of, say, a boardroom. Not so much in a classroom, since my experience has been around 8/10 female teachers/lecturers throughout my education (Then again I haven’t focused on science and engineering). I assume you mean college lecturers?

            But I get what you are saying and agree. However I feel that you’ve picked a context in which masculinity is privileged, and the obvious rebuttal is that there are contexts where femininity is privileged.

            So if the same two people walk into a preschool, most people are going to see the woman as the superior – and in fact are going to assume she is more competent in that setting. In this situation a man is expected to be both masculine and feminine, because femininity is privileged here – with similar results. Is that not the case? (Feminist theory often argues that ridicule is leveled at the man in this situation because he is demeaning himself – this is something I think feminists get dead wrong that I’d like fixed, the ridicule is primarily because men are seen as incompetent, lesser, in this situation.)

            So a man who wants to be a business executive is privileged, but a woman who wants to be involved with children is privileged. It is subjective whether someone’s relationship with gender is more problematic or complex – based on whether they aspire to masculine dominated spheres or feminine dominated ones.

            I think your point is that masculine spheres have always been held to be superior to feminine ones in our societal discourse? So on average more people aspire to masculine traits, which men are considered by default to have. I’ll think about that more, but I think I agree – I think this is something difficult for me to see subjectively because if anything my upbringing has held the feminine to be superior. Thankfully this has been deconstructed considerably over the last few decades.

            But even if it is the case I just don’t think that does anything to tangibly benefit a man who wants to be say an early childhood educator, or a primary caregiver, and I could maybe make an argument that it supports a woman who wants to climb the career ladder, because that is considered superior in our society and an admirable goal for a woman to have (largely thanks to feminism though, and she is still getting screwed overall).

            • Okay right, but put a professor and a primary school teacher in the room, and who has more authority? Or a business exec and a nurse in the room, and who has more authority?

              Women are viewed as having authority ONLY in a very small subset of human experiences which society has deemed feminine: this usually involves children or being a caregiver in some way. Men, on the other hand, are imbued with authority in a wide range of human experiences which society has simultaneously deemed masculine, but ALSO deemed neutrally human. So having knowledge about, I dunno, biology, for example, is something that is still loosely tied to the masculine, but ALSO is treated as a neutrally positive thing to want to achieve. Having knowledge about children, on the other hand, is still considered quite feminine.

              This is where you get the argument that male nurses, male primary school teachers, etc., are ridiculed for “demeaning” themselves. “Why become a nurse when you could be a doctor?” “Why be a primary school teacher when you could be a professor?” “Why be a stay-at-home parent when you could have a career?” There is an element of men being viewed as incompetent in feminine roles, certainly. Just as there is an element of women being seen as incompetent in masculine roles. But ON TOP OF IT there is the added bit about how feminine roles are seen as less than masculine roles.

              So a woman who has a career feels pressure to be a stay-at-home-mother, because being a stay at home mother is a feminine role and she’s a woman. But it is also acknowledged that she’d WANT to have a career, because having a career is something our society deems important and worth achieving. A man who is a stay-at-home-father feels pressure to have a career, because having a career is a masculine role and he’s man. But it is not acknowledged that he’d WANT to be a stay-at-home-father, because being a stay-at-home-parent is not something our society values as a worthy goal.

  12. Just a note to everyone out there that I’m always looking for more questions to answer! Please ask away in the comments or e-mail me. :)

  13. Random_Stranger says:

    Hey HeatherN,

    I thought I would jump back in here on this ever fascinating topic…

    You state that patriarchy remains and apt descriptor b/c those in power are men and the system is set-up to preserve that power. You didn’t state, but the patriarchal framework generally implies, that that power structure exists to privilege men at the expense of women; would you adopt that position as a feminist? If not, what do you think the purpose of that system is?

    What’s always bothered me about the feminist perspective on gender power structures is its rather narrow imagining of power and its stubborn insistence on strictly monotonic privilege and subjugation. Critical examination of power is limited to broad social systems and institutions, or the largely male social structure. Almost by definition if you focus on the male social system you will find only patriarchy. By contrast, the more intense and intimate social structures consisting of friends, family and lovers goes largely unexamined -systems which women generally dominate as matriarchs. So if you limit your analysis of personal power over others to an examination of influence within institutions and fail to examine influence within the interpersonal you fail to grasp the whole of gendered power.

    On the subject of monotonic privilege and subjugation under patriarchy; I cannot conceive of a world that would encourage a near universal alignment of gender norms, throughout history and among vastly different peoples, if those norms did not contribute to the overall success of the culture practicing them. It seems inconceivable that any culture indulging the dalliance of half its population while failing to fully exploit all of its capabilities in a world rich in rivals and scarce in resources, could avoid a Darwinian extinction. Rather, it would seem more probable and internally consistent, if such a gender code was a collectively imposed system of incentives and penalties to ensure that individuals within the culture adopted behaviors beneficial to the collective (eg. her to make babies, him to risk death) without regard to individual fulfillment. The perpetuation of such as system would require that women as well as men create, support, endorse, enforce, extract privilege from and pay tribute to the system mislabeled as “patriarchy”.

    • For a more nuanced examination of power structures, a lot of feminists turn to Foucault. So it’s not only examined in an absolute powerful/oppressed dichotomy.

      Anyway, the thing is, even if you argue that some domestic relationships are more matriarchal in nature…we’re still situating THAT in a larger social context which privileges economic/political power over domestic power. The systems in which women dominate are often viewed themselves as below the systems in which men dominate. (And even the systems in which women dominate (i.e. domestically), exactly how much official power they have had in western societies until recently has been minimal).

      Also, this “near universal alignment of gender norms,” you mention doesn’t exist. There is no “near universal” set of gender norms. It is highly, highly variable and culturally specific. There are a few, very broad gender concepts which are near universal…but only in the most general way. Men-as-provider, isn’t even a “near universal,” if you take into account the fact that in hunter-gatherer populations it’s the gatherers which acquire most of a community’s calories. And as for farming communities, there are some in which it is the women (and sometimes children) which farm and thus provide subsistence. And this “world rich in rivals and scarce in resources,” also does not describe every culture out there (particularly when we look back in history). There are large chunks of history (particularly prehistory) in which people didn’t have much contact with rivals, and resources were actually pretty abundant.

      Also, the assumption that a culture and cultural norms are set up to most effectively exploit resources (including human labour) is false. Cultures aren’t always set up in the most pragmatic, logical way. Some cultural norms aren’t necessarily beneficial for everyone, or even most people…or even necessarily beneficial to those who perpetuate them. Cultural norms don’t even necessarily benefit the group; sometimes they’re downright hindrances. Hell, cultures aren’t even always all that internally consistent. Most of the time there are all sorts of inconsistencies which those living within the culture have rationalised away. Historians and anthropologists see this all the time…people say that things work one way, and then they end up doing things completely differently.

      The thing I’ll say you got right in that last paragraph is that the gender system is “collectively imposed.” Indeed, sometimes the harshest criticisms of men who step outside gender norms come from men, and the harshest criticisms of women who stem outside gender norms come from women. We impose it on ourselves. But just because we all impose it, doesn’t mean we all benefit similarly from it. As I mentioned above, often the people perpetuating a cultural norm (not just gender) aren’t necessarily benefiting from it.

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        Heather, I disagree about Foucault, although I do agree with much of what you say otherwise. I think Foucault fails to catch structure at other than a linguistic/cultural level, and doesn’t really analyze structure in any other way. Analyzing discourses in handy, but I admit I privilege class– I see upper class women benefiting in ways that privilege them pretty generally over men in lower classes. It may be that women at each level have been symbiotes of the men at each level in our current society. Women are now acquiring more and more instrumental positions in capitalism and capitalistic bureaucracies, admittedly by taking on roles previously seen as having a male flavor. I agree on the role of women as food providers in many societies.

        • I suggested Foucault as a good jumping off point to look at different conceptions of power structures, though by no means do I find him to be the last word on the subject.

          One of the interesting applications of kyriarchy is to do with the way in which you’re saying you privilege class…and thus view other power structures through that prism. Sometimes I privilege gender (patriarchy) and thus view other power structures through that prism. But that’s far too simplistic a way to look at it…rather the different power structures (gender, class, race, etc). all interact with each other…sometimes one is privileged above others, but it’s not consistent. So class isn’t ALWAYS most important…and gender isn’t ALWAYS most important when examining power.

          But also, I find it interesting the way you said it may be that “women at each level have been symbiotes of the men at each level.” Interesting that you phrased it that way, and not that “men might have been symbiotes of women at each level.” Yes, I’m digging into linguistic analysis here…but I think it’s indicative of the way in which we assume that women’s roles are there to be complimentary to men’s…but not necessarily the other way around. If you see what I’m saying.

          But also, even though we might frame it that way…even though we might discuss gender roles as though they were complimentary, that doesn’t mean they necessarily are. That’s what I’m getting at in the paragraphs above. Cultural norms aren’t necessarily cohesive or optimal.

  14. But isn’t patriarchy defined as a social system where the father is the head of the household. I am confused.

  15. Mr Supertypo says:


  16. KC Krupp says:

    One reason I really dislike the concept of kyriarchy is because now intersectionality gets used as a shield to pretend that discrimination never impacts men by their gender. A perfect example of this is the draft, and before anyone jumps up and says “the draft hasn’t impacted anyone in over 40 years,” just hear me out for a second.

    I have seen it argued that the draft is not an example of gender inequality, rather it is an example of class inequality because mostly poor men are the ones who suffer from it.This argument states that when you take intersectionality into account, the draft is the product of class inequalities not gender inequalities. The problem with this framing is that it ALL men are EXPECTED to register and participate in a draft if it were to happen. By default, in the case of a draft, men are expected to go to war and lay down their lives regardless of their class. The fact that upper class men may avoid the draft is an example of how class privilege can override the default state. The draft is not an example of class inequalities forcing poor men to go to war, it is an example of gender inequalities where wealthy and educated men have an extra benefit that allows them to override the default inequality.

    As far as the draft being archaic and having no impact in the lives of present day men, it’s true the draft has had no direct impact on anyone in a long time and for the most part I see it purely as a good example of intersectionality is used to dismiss legitimate gender inequalities. That said, I turned 18 in 2005 as the “War against Terror” hit its first major slump; the military held soldiers on for extra long tours, called soldiers back for second and third tours, and even called the national guard was overseas. While the rumors of a draft were later determine unfounded, for my friends and I soon to be or already 18 at the time the threat seemed absolutely real. A few friends went to universities outside of the country, hoping that if a draft happened they could claim political asylum (I doesn’t work like that, we were 18 and stupid, I know). Most of us resigned ourselves to defeat realizing that our choice was either voluntarily give up our right to freedom in the case our government demanded so, or have it and any possibility of a future seized from us because not signing meant loosing our financial aid and the possibility of prosecution and jail time. True looking back on it, the rumor was little more than a sensational journalism and had no genuine backing, but hey we were 18, and when you have friends and family coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq who didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in beds and getting ready for another tour, and when you have parents and teachers who lived through Vietnam talking about the threat of the draft and their experiences, the threat seemed very real.

  17. Thanks for introducing the “kyriarchy” concept; I’d never heard that term before, and always appreciate learning new words. I also nudges me closer to finding a way to intelligently articulate a question that haunts me in every conversation I have about feminists critiques of “the patriarchy’. I guess first off, I’ll say that that phrase alone rankles; as I understand the word, and the world, “patriarchy” refers to a particular kind of social/cultural architecture based on patrilineage, and heavily biased in favor of able bodied heterosexual males -regardless of ethnicity or cultural milieu. Meaning, I suggest, that there is no such thing as a “the” patriarchy. From an historical, anthropological perspective, there are many patriarchies, some extant, some extinct, some -like America’s, I would argue- in a critical stage of evolution. And of course there are some notable examples of matriarchy in our human history too, and none of them express themselves in exactly the same way either. So, kyriarchy. An interesting tool, one that seems, maybe? to escape the male-female dualism that strangles in the crib so many conversations about who’s responsible for the current state of things. And as I mentioned, it give me this question to ask: is kyriarchy gender/sex neutral? Are “domination, oppression and submission” phenomena that can be eradicated from our social/cultural architecture? Are they problems that can be “fixed”? Or, is that perhaps the way our super-competitive genes have hard-wired us to behave towards one another -males, females, gender-benders and everyone else? Assuming for the sake of this thought experiment that it were possible, would eradicating all patriarchal behaviors significantly lift the boot of “domination, oppression and submission” off the necks of the dominated, oppressed and submissive? Human beings -male & female and everything in between- are, regardless of their sex and/or gender, pretty nasty, hot burning primates, all quite capable of “dominating and oppressing” the other living things we share this planet with if it seems in our immediate interest to do so. Maybe it comes down to something as prosaic and banal as this: girls can be really freakin’ unjust too, to each other, and to men they feel have “disrespected” them. The notion that eliminating patriarchal flavored injustice will, de facto, significantly reduce Injustice writ large, is as suspect to my mind as is the notion that anarchy is the antidote to social inequality and injustice. So I guess my questions is, ultimately; do feminist critiques focused on the evils of patriarchy move us any closer to escaping kyriarchy?

  18. Doesn’t refusing to sign up for the draft in the US come with it certain penalities , i.e. federal grants refused, etc. Don’t know all the details.

  19. Heather you have done a wonderful job of explain systems of power, societys expectations etc.

    What you have utterly failed to do is show “HOW IS THIS PATRIARCHY” unless I just take it at face value that it is, which is what you seem to want me (read: us) to do. Since the definition of patriarchy is a system where the father is the head of the household, this fails to show how all this leads to the father being the head of the household.

    • That isn’t, actually, the definition of patriarchy. Certainly most patriarchies have domestic systems in which men are the head of the household. However, that’s not all there is to it, and that’s not the definition I used. The etymology of the word “patriarchy” goes back to the Greek which means “rule of the fathers.” However, as with basically all language, our use now is not the same as it was back in the day. I addressed the definition of patriarchy I’m using in the third paragraph of my answer: “Simply put, the term patriarchy refers to the gender of the people in power. Economically, politically and even domestically, those in power are men. What’s more, the system is set up in such a way as to maintain the gendered nature of power dynamics.”

      • The people in power are often men. I think that most ordinary men, who by birth are not able or inclined to grab real power, are more like prison trustees, though. We may get some perks, but the price is disdain from everyone and we’re still prisoners :).

  20. “Simply put, the term patriarchy refers to the gender of the people in power. Economically, politically and even domestically, those in power are men. What’s more, the system is set up in such a way as to maintain the gendered nature of power dynamics.”

    Sounds like Japan, not North America circa 2013.

    In Japan, there is a “model” for men who work and for women who work. Men become wage slaves who worship their boss and company, while working insane hours, forfeiting family time in the process. Women go in “make coffee look pretty” type of jobs, paid less, no authority, but those are considered to be temporary-until-marriage jobs. They’re called salaryman and officelady.

    Careers that work independent those models are rather more rare. For both sexes.

    You think we have even something similar which puts women on a track where the only available jobs are those to do with looking pretty and making coffee for “the real men doing real work”? Or which puts the majority of men as wage slaves who work insane hours (men tend to work longer hours on average, but 60+ is not a norm, its the exception here).

    • Indeed we do. I’m not overly familiar with Japanese culture so I won’t comment on them specifically. But just because one culture might be more obviously patriarchal, doesn’t mean that another culture isn’t patriarchal just because it’s a bit less obvious. Plus, you gotta add onto that the fact that it’s generally easier to see how a system works when your outside it in some way.

      Also, a patriarchy is not a switch. It’s not as if there’s one way to be a patriarchy, and that patriarchy must be absolute or it no longer exists. Western society is certainly not as patriarchal as it was in, say, the 1950s…or the 1920s, etc. But just because it’s “not as patriarchal,” doesn’t mean it’s not longer a patriarchy.


  1. […] to be acknowledged, mentioned or covered in most discussions. It has its own forum, say, at the Good Men Project. Women experience the issues above, only […]

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