Thursday, September 13, 2007

Feminism is not Matriarchy!

C. Ewing sent me a link to this MSN entry on career training entitled "Does 'the Reverse Glass Ceiling Exist?'" My guess is that C. Ewing wanted to see how I reacted to the suggestion that men can face glass ceilings in female-dominated professions. If so, then I will disappoint, since what really interests me about this piece is the discussion of how masculine gender roles push men to take jobs they hate, but think will make more money.

When you see articles that take a well known sexist phenomena and ask if it is happening in the reverse, what underlies such a provocative question is the faulty assumption that feminism is the same thing as matriarchy. Let me explain by first clarifying what patriarchal systems are like. According to anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, patriarchies "monopolize access to the resources women need to rear their young." (245)* The other features of patriarchal societies are the control of female sexuality with the express purpose of determining undisputed paternity, monopolization of resources, aggrandizement of male power, forced dependence on male for subsistence and protection from other males, and the generation of myths that females are passive, submissive, inferior. A patriarchal society can embrace both polygyny and monogamous relationships. Matriarchal societies, then would be the same arrangements, however with women in control versus men. It is unlikely that any such societies have ever existed. The fact that so many anti-feminists mistake feminism with matriarchy is most likely a reflection of their own world-view that sees patriarchy as the norm, and therefore feminism as a homologous ideology that would attempt to invert who rules.

Now that we have settled that, I can move onto what fascinates me most about this entry:

Psychologist Warren Farrell, Ph.D., the San Francisco-based author of such books as Why Men Earn More and The Liberated Man, has a specific take on the equation. "Women enter into those areas [traditional female professions such as nursing, PR, and travel agent] because they are the most fulfilling," he says. "Men don't because they feel they need to take on the responsibility of providing for the family, and the way they earn love is to earn money."
This strikes me as an unfortunate consequence of patriarchy, one that many men would be wise to reevaluate. Patriarchy is certainly not the most stable or best way to ensure you raise children well. I am particularly struck by this psychological hangover of patriarchy haunting men because I see my brother and my father as exemplars of this view. I don't, however, see my husband succumb to this view. And, unfortunately, men who don't see their duty as one of "providing for the family" are chastised by men who do. So, its not enough that you have to deny yourself fulfilling work, but you have to emasculate and taunt men who do, hence furthering your own misery.

The boon of feminism, as I say often, is that it invites men to liberate themselves from the soul crushing ideology of patriarchy. As more women enter traditional male professions and as more laws exist on the books ensuring women's safety and protection, the need for men to concentrate their energy on these tasks if diminished. What is left? Well, they can actually pursue what they love to do, even if it is not rewarded financially as well as the traditional male professions are. Men can share the responsibility of providing for their families with women and even spend more time with children.

Those already doing so are most likely taking a lot of heat, but if more and more men wise up to this, they might just enjoy their lives better, reform institutions to support families, and do what they love.

* Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. 1999. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection. New York: Pantheon Books.