Rule by men
Patriarchy means, literally, “rule by men”. And that might sound like that would be a good thing for men. But it’s not. And why not?
We’ll get to that.
The first wave of feminists were the suffragettes. They had a clear agenda: get women the vote. In that sense, it was the most direct, ordinary challenge to political rule by men. And they won. And that’s history.
It’s useful to remember that this happened at a time when, in Australia, it was still legal for a man to beat his wife “so long as he does not use a stick thicker than his thumb.”
The second wave of feminists realised that the vote was not enough. Women also deserved economic equality. So the second wave was largely about ensuring that women had equal access to economic power: that they had equal access to opportunities for work and education (which for many also meant access to childcare), that they were equally represented at all levels of hierarchy, and that they received equal pay for equal work. In addition, there was a battle against all forms of violence against women, and for the rights of women to control their own sexuality.
These battles have not yet been won, and for a number of reasons it’s still possible to cheat women of their earnings in almost every country in the world, including Australia.
And we know right now, all around us, women are being beaten, oppressed, raped and murdered—mainly by men.
But it’s the third wave that the feminist analysis of patriarchy moves beyond the surface issues of power, opportunity and violence, and looks at what’s happening beneath the surface.
Here’s where it becomes clear why patriarchy is not good for men, either.
Dividing us all in two
When we raise children, we raise them (still) against models of what it means to be a girl or a boy. And too bad for anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into one of those two categories.
Girls are supposed to have one set of behaviours, and boys another. Girls genteel, boys rough. Girls circumspect, boys direct. Girls nurturing, boys productive. Girls pink, boys blue.
Each of us has been affected by this in that we have been taught to emphasise one half of our capabilities, and suppress the other. And when we violate this training, we are called names. When men show fear, they are called wusses. When women assert themselves, they are called bitches.
We are turned into half-creatures.
So the first reason that I am against patriarchy is that I don’t want half a life. I’ll take the whole of me, thanks.
A gendered world
But this split goes beyond individual conditioning.
Because in patriarchy men rule, so too do stereotypical “masculine” values. Politicians—whether they are men or women—are forced to be “decisive”: which often means they aren’t allowed to think deeply or, perish the thought, change their minds. The city becomes gendered, so heavy, hard, aggressive traffic is allowed to push out bicyclists and parks and quiet squares. We all become stressed in businesses based on ruthless competition, winners take all, and losers who get nothing.
In a society in which such “masculine” behaviours—aggressing, winning, dominating, deciding—are assigned to a superior gender, we get then lopsided and badly run politics, cities and businesses.
I like politics, cities and businesses—and just about every other aspect of human life. And since I like them, I don’t like to see them done in this kind of half-assed way.