Patriarchy is a social system in which the father or eldest male is head of the household, having authority over women and children. Patriarchy also refers to a system of government by males, and to the dominance of men in social or cultural systems. It may also include title being traced through the male line.
Our patriarchal society
We live in a patriarchal society which is defined as a society organised and run by men. Men make the rules and dominate in business and government. It is said to be a "man's world", men make the rules and dominate in all forums outside the home. A woman's main value is to support a man (behind every good man is a good woman), bear children and housekeeping duties. This is how it is and has been for millennia in most cultures.
Men are by nature more competitive than women. Some say this is good in business, but often the kind of business where these traits do well, are businesses that the world could better do without. Also I've heard the comment that men are smarter than women and have bigger brains. These types of comments are silly, as it depends on the areas to which men or women best apply themselves. And if a man wants to push the bigger brain issue, I would just reply by saying that if men want to use 75% of their brain to think about sex, obviously women come out on top with net brain capacity. I think its a matter of record that women are better at English than men for example, men are better at other things such as operating big machinery, knocking things down, butchery and a whole heap of things that women have no taste for.
Typical attitudes of men which they consider to be superior qualities include - strength of will, dominance, forcing others to back down, bullying, psychological game playing to unnerve the enemy, secrecy, clubs, the old boys' network, letting actions speak stronger than words, not needing to explain themselves, assuming superiority over others (race, sex, outlook), brute force.
It becomes obvious that something is lacking in today's world - and that something is the female aspect of care and respect for life.
Surely, a more advanced civilisation would be one where women and men work equally with the qualities they each possess in building a balanced, humane society.
Matriarchal vs Patriarchal Society
In these and other ways, the power that men have as top bureaucrats is used to keep men collectively in a dominant position over women. In this way, bureaucracy is mobilised by men to support patriarchy. The domination of men over women does not occur in the abstract. In this case it operates via the unequal power distribution within bureaucracies.
Equally important is the way patriarchy is mobilised to serve bureaucracy. Top bureaucrats can maintain and strengthen their power by using, within the bureaucracy, the wider cultural dominance of men over women. The existence of a promotion path which favours men ensures the loyalty of many men in lower positions. The discrimination against women in lower levels (for example, the low salary, lack of autonomy and low prestige of typing positions) provides an opportunity for low-level men to feel superior to someone. In this way the psychology of masculine domination is mobilised to support bureaucratic hierarchy. A patriarchally organised bureaucracy is structured to maximise the linkages between male-female inequality and bureaucratic inequality. This ensures that any fundamental challenge to bureaucratic hierarchy would also require a fundamental challenge to prevailing male-female power relations.
The mobilisation of patriarchy to serve bureaucracy takes place by many of the same methods as listed above by which bureaucracy is mobilised to serve patriarchy. Particularly important is the gender-typing of particular tasks, work styles and occupations, and the association of top positions with masculine values of competition, individualism, emotional aloofness and instrumental rationality.
The same processes of mutual mobilisation apply between patriarchy and other structures, including the state, the military and capitalism. For example, the gender-based definition of 'combat' in the military is used to mobilise men and masculine behaviour for the military, and also to mobilise military hierarchy and command-obedience relations to maintain male dominance over women.
The same processes of mutual mobilisation also provide a dynamic between dominant structures and the oppression of ethnic minorities and gays. For example, capitalists often have exploited and fostered ethnic divisions between workers to hinder and disrupt organisation of workers against employers.
While patriarchy and other war-related structures support each other in many ways, there are also points of friction and direct conflict. For example, it is important in bureaucracies that subordinates respond to female bosses in the same way as to male bosses. But this is incompatible with patriarchy to the extent that subordinate men see power differences as inherently linked to biological sex rather than just to masculine and feminine behaviour. In other words, treating individuals according to their performance, which can be useful for bureaucratic efficiency and legitimation, can conflict with treating individuals differently because they are women.
Another point of friction arises in the military's mobilisation of masculine values. One key masculine value is dominance, which is useful to the military in developing a hostile attitude to the enemy. But for internal control the military insists on obedience within the chain of command, and obedience or submission is a feminine rather than a masculine value.
It would appear that the war system is mainly strengthened by the close interconnections between patriarchy and other war-related structures. But these interconnections also provide a basis for grassroots mobilisation by feminists and others to effectively intervene. An attack on patriarchy, depending on how it is carried out, can also help to undermine structures such as bureaucracy and to promote self-managing alternatives. To see how this can be done, strategies against patriarchy need to be examined.
Strategies against patriarchy
The feminist movement contains a wide range of perspectives. Some of the dominant directions go under the names of liberal feminism, radical feminism, socialist feminism, anarchist feminism and lesbian feminism. Each of these rubrics contains several types of analysis and strategy. The different perspectives within the movement have grown out of different social circumstances, including the historical era, the social class of the women, and the ethnic and cultural environment.
This diversity of perspectives has led to a variety of actions and directions. Here only some strategies against patriarchy will be examined. The focus will be on their strengths and weaknesses as part of efforts to also remove the structures underlying war.
Equality within present structures
One basic strand to the women's movement has been to push for equality for women in society as it is presently organised. The immediate goal is removal of formal inequalities such as unequal pay, lack of support facilities such as childcare, and gender-linked job categories. Discrimination against women is strongly opposed, and legal or quasi-legal avenues for redress are favoured. The goal is fair representation of women within bureaucracies, professions, corporations, political parties, trade unions and churches.
By helping to undercut dominance of men over women within organisations, liberal feminist action of this sort can to some degree weaken the existing power distribution. In a social environment in which explicit discrimination against women is illegitimate, the use of patriarchal inequality to bolster bureaucratic and other power structures is made more difficult.
Furthermore, collective actions to empower women to push for their rights and due rewards within existing hierarchies can serve a radicalising function. In confronting discrimination, women may come to question and organise against the hierarchies themselves. For example, struggles for maternity leave and time off to care for children may become linked with struggles for more flexible work hours and career patterns and for more worker autonomy on the job.
But there are serious limits to the programme of promoting equality within otherwise unchanged structures. Many women who obtain top jobs will be conditioned by perspectives, powers and interactions at the top, and become essentially like other elites. Only the gender composition of the personnel may be changed, and not the relations of power, wealth, status and knowledge. In some ways this would actually strengthen structures such as bureaucracy and capitalism, which in their pure form are supposed to operate on the basis of prescribed rules and performance abilities rather than characteristics such as gender and ethnic origin.
This problem has been realised by many feminists. One common idea is that there are two stages to a feminist programme: first, getting women into positions of power, and second, implementing changes in organisations to undercut hierarchy and inequality. The problem with this is that postponing structural change to a later time is likely to mean indefinite postponement.
The most serious threat from feminists arises from the potential for mobilising women to act against their oppression and, as part of this, against their exclusion from and exploitation by dominant structures. If women are successful in gaining some representation in these structures, this will partly remove the rationale for challenge, namely exclusion and discrimination. In addition, many women who do rise to positions of power thereby gain a vested interest in the hierarchy.
The programme of promoting women into elite positions is sometimes held to be a fruitful avenue for transforming society because women, through their biology or very early and deep socialisation, will be less aggressive, competitive or dominating than men. But even if the deep-seated psychological characteristics of women are different from those of men, this by itself does not necessarily pose a severe threat to dominant structures. Women vary in their characteristics. Furthermore, they do have a potential for violence, for domination and for ruthlessness. Corporations and military forces will select those women, and indeed women will select themselves, who are most suited to operate in them, and the women will be further socialised once they join. Furthermore, even if some caring and cooperative women obtain high positions in corporations and armies and proceed to act according to these values, this might only lead to the failure of some businesses and the defeat of some military forces rather than a collapse of the wider capitalist and military systems.
Another problem with the promotion of equality within present structures is that some structures may be undesirable even if they were balanced by gender or entirely female. The military is a case in point.
The experiences of earlier social movements should not be forgotten. The early feminist movement was often closely connected with socialist ideals. But the socialist goals were set aside to concentrate on obtaining the vote for women. After enormous efforts this was achieved, but with surprisingly little effect on the electoral system. This success was followed by the virtual collapse of the feminist movement and hence also the almost complete loss of a feminist push for socialism. Similarly, the organisation of workers for better working conditions was achieved after enormous effort, but at the expense of jettisoning most of the radical efforts for workers' control.
Struggles for equality within present structures cannot be a substitute for structural change, but they can be an important part of struggles for such change, as I will describe later.
Another strategy against patriarchy is based on changing the attitudes and experiences of individuals, especially women. The aim is to increase their assertiveness, overcome submissiveness, learn new skills such as job skills, and generally to build confidence and ability. A special focus is on girls' education and experiences in early life which need to be changed to promote their skills and self-esteem.
This approach has several advantages. It addresses the problem that women will not attain equality simply by removal of barriers and that they must be able and willing to work for their own interests. Assertiveness training and learning of skills can act to mobilise individual women against their oppression.
But as a means for challenging structures responsible for social problems, change restricted to the individual is severely limited. Because patriarchy and other structures such as bureaucracy are closely intertwined, individual confidence and skills will have limited effect. Instead, organised patterns of discrimination and oppression will continue to create and foster feelings of inferiority and inhibit development or use of skills.
To confront this, attention is needed on collective rather than just individual assertiveness and skills.
Direct challenges to patriarchy
Another set of feminist concerns is to address patriarchal domination and its effects at the immediate level of individuals and the local community. This has led to the development of rape crisis centres, marches to 'take back the night,' women's refuges, campaigns to end legal and professional restrictions on abortion, opposition to sexist language and behaviour, resistance to sexual harassment, and attacks on anti-women pornography. These initiatives are vital in overcoming gender-based inequality and patterns of dominance and submission. They help individual women who are physical and mental victims of violence and sexist attitudes, and empower women to take control over their own lives.
Direct challenges to patriarchy also can have an indirect impact on the support provided by patriarchy to the war system. This occurs through the weakening of patriarchal domination at key points, such as the role of rape, violence and restrictions on abortion in keeping women dependent on men as protectors or providers. This reduces the value of patriarchy as a prop for other structures such as bureaucracy and the military. For example, challenging the treatment of women as sex objects reduces the potential for mobilisation of masculinity in military training.
Another important challenge is to overcome the division of labour between home and workplace. The separation between 'productive' labour for corporations or state bureaucracies and 'reproductive' labour in the home and family is central to patriarchy. Challenging this separation is also a challenge to dominant structures within the sphere of 'production,' which is based on subordination and exploitation of women's labour within the family.
But many direct challenges to patriarchy only peripherally challenge the key large-scale structures of the war system. For example, many campaigns against pornography strengthen state power by promoting the use of law and administrative intervention to stop pornography. Similarly, some campaigns against rape and sexual harassment rely heavily on legal and administrative sanctions. While such campaigns can have a beneficial short-term impact in restraining sexist practices, they do little to address structures such as the state with which patriarchy is intertwined. As long as such structures remain, they will provide a strong support for patriarchy and thus help perpetuate problems such as rape.
The question is, what should be done? While many feminists do not want to strengthen the state, they are also concerned about women being raped now. Laws and state intervention seem to provide a quick and powerful avenue to oppose such problems.
In many cases this dilemma is more apparent than real, because effective administrative intervention to serve the interests of women against patriarchy only occurs as a consequence of grassroots action. Consider for example two possible directions for a campaign against sexual harassment in a state bureaucracy. One path is to apply pressure to top administrators to introduce guidelines and penalties to oppose sexual harassment. This might involve higher-level bureaucrats being responsible for intervening against sexual harassment and the introduction of new disciplinary procedures to deal with harassers. There are several difficulties with this approach. Most top administrators are likely to be males, and relatively unresponsive on the issue of sexual harassment. The implementation of the guidelines will be in the hands of higher-level bureaucrats, mostly males, who will be reluctant to take action against harassers in the top ranks. And the new disciplinary procedures will strengthen the power of the top bureaucrats.
An alternative approach is to act mainly at the grassroots: to raise the issue of sexual harassment with low-level workers, to organise non-violent action training sessions to develop skills in opposing sexual harassment, and to take up individual cases of harassment. The basic aim would be to mobilise women and sympathetic men against sexual harassment and, more generally, to challenge male domination in other areas. This might be linked with other initiatives, for example to reorganise work in a less hierarchical and more cooperative manner, which would reduce the bureaucratic power of men over women which is often linked with sexual harassment. One likely consequence of such a grassroots approach is that the introduction of guidelines and formal penalties would become easier, if this were thought desirable. Indeed, bureaucratic elites might well take the initiative themselves to forestall a more serious challenge to the bureaucratic power structure.
In short, focussing on obtaining changes at the top to challenge patriarchy may only aggravate problems in the long term. Instead, consideration should be given to challenges to patriarchy at the grassroots. Such grassroots initiatives would also challenge other structures such as bureaucracy which provide support for patriarchy.
Women and social action groups
Feminism has made a great impact on the organisation and style of many social action groups. For many decades, most social action groups, such as those of the peace movement, have been organised hierarchically. A few men, who were usually white and middle-class as well, have held the important positions in the main movement organisations, and indeed they still do in many cases. These men have acted as executives, public spokesmen, theorisers, campaign decision makers and sometimes as gurus. Other people have not been given the same opportunities. Women in particular have been relegated to being tea-makers, typists, cleaners and providers of sex. The situation has not been better in the black movement, which also has been organised patriarchally.
The 1960s revival of the feminist movement had its origins in the experience of women in being oppressed within 'progressive' movements of the left. In sharing and comparing their experiences they developed a critique of domination within political movements and helped develop alternative modes of interaction. These included sharing of feelings as well as ideas, encouragement of participation by all, consensus decision making, and sharing or rotation of tasks. These practices had been in use earlier by some groups. The feminist input greatly expanded the range and depth of their use. These approaches are now used in the non-violence movement, some anarchist groups and portions of the environmental movement, as well as the feminist movement itself. Only portions of the peace movement have taken up these approaches, and they are as yet hardly ever used in Marxist groups, trade unions or political parties. The extension of egalitarian methods will depend on development of democratic decision-making procedures for groups which contain strong conflicts of interests, as discussed in chapter 5.
There are now a number of women-only groups in some areas of social action. These are important in providing a place for women to organise and develop their thoughts and feelings away from constant confrontation with sexist men.
While acknowledging the vital role of women-only groups, it is also important to recognise difficulties. One is that there is only limited energy left for working in groups with men, for example in mainstream peace groups. It will remain necessary to challenge hierarchy, power-knowledge connections and other problems in mixed groups. Many women have the choice of working only in women-only groups, or of doing 'double duty' by working both in mixed and women-only groups. This problem is not unique to women's issues. Many people in radical caucuses, for example in professional areas, work both within the caucus and also in the normal professional organisation.
Another and perhaps more serious problem for women-only groups is the possibility of developing new dominance relations between women. These can be based on class, ethnic origin, experience, knowledge or personality. This problem can be hidden by the feeling that 'we are all women' and a consequent reluctance to tackle other sorts of inequalities. The same problem occurs in mixed groups when, as occasionally happens, particular women play a dominating role which no one is willing to question for fear of being branded sexist. At a different level, the same problem occurs when a person in an elite position is not criticised because she is a woman or a feminist. This problem points to the need to link critiques of and challenges to patriarchy with similar efforts against other oppressive structures.
One of the major forces within the antiwar actions of the 1980s has been women-only protests. The most well known is the women's peace camp at Greenham Common in England, and there are numerous others. There are many strengths to the women's actions.
|They mobilise women as a constituency, and attract many who would otherwise not be involved in antiwar action.|
|They provide an opportunity to develop skills and confidence in organising and in challenging the war system.|
|They challenge patriarchal power relations within the antiwar movement, much of which has been hierarchically organised and dominated by male stalwarts and charismatic figures.|
|They provide a powerful and direct symbolic challenge to the patriarchal structures of the state and the military by being an organised protest of women only.|
|They tend to foster a political practice based on nonviolence, cooperative decision-making, integration of personal and political action, and collective work.|
|They provide the basis for moving from symbolic action to direct physical challenge, as happened at Greenham Common.|
|They demonstrate how an ongoing activity, namely the peace camp itself, can be organised in a democratic and nonhierarchical way.|
The women-only or women-led antiwar protests are the most dynamic part of the contemporary antiwar movement. My guess is that the positive consequences for the movement itself are only beginning to be realised. But there are also some limitations to these protests.
First, a primary orientation of many of the women's protests, like most antiwar protests, is to appeal to governments to take action. I have discussed the shortcomings of this approach in chapter 1.
Second, women-only protests tend to orient women to struggling only outside the patriarchal structures in the war system, such as the state and the military. Relatively little attention is given to helping mobilise opposition from inside structures to link with outside challenges. Transforming or abolishing war-linked and patriarchal structures will require working from the inside as well as the outside, and this means taking the struggle to men as well as women.
In many women's antiwar actions, participation is fostered by equating women's role in childbirth and child-rearing with an innate antipathy to war. This connection does serve to mobilise many women who do not see themselves as feminists but who do identify as mothers. But it also serves to accentuate the two limitation of women's protests mentioned above. The appeal-to-women's-conscience aspect is easily linked with the approach of appealing to the consciences of elites, and emphasis on women's alleged innate antipathy to war turns attention away from forging links with men inside the structures of the war system.
The most serious challenge posed by feminists to the war system grows out of the feminist critique of all structures based on domination, inequality and exploitation. Rather than try to get women into positions of power within present hierarchical structures, the aim is to reconstitute the structures to remove the basis for domination. This approach does not reject other strategies such as those described above, but rather builds on aspects of them to link challenges to patriarchy with challenges to other structures.
|Challenges to exclusion of women from bureaucracies, or
their relegation to particular occupations, can be linked with challenges to
the organisational structures. For example, as women gain access to
positions in bureaucracies, they can use them to reorganise work relations
to be more cooperative and responsive to community concerns. At the same
time, the organised demand is not so much for access by women to elite
positions, but rather restructuring of work relations to allow greater
grassroots control within organisations. For example, rather than pushing
for opportunities for a few typists to become executives (who still rely on
low-level typists), the goal would be reorganisation of work so that office
workers share typing as well as executive tasks. This might mean that people
would type their own work, or that work groups would rotate typing and other
routine jobs among individuals in a mutually agreed-upon way.|
|Development of the confidence and skills of individual
women, rather than being done in relative isolation from the social context,
would be linked with organised campaigns for political and economic change.
Assertiveness training could be oriented to community organising and
canvassing, for example within the medical profession to develop challenges
and alternatives to domination by medical administrators, as well as to
develop confidence in questioning one's own doctor.|
The Boston Women's Health Collective, among other groups, has produced information about women's health problems and how to address them politically. Such information, when used individually and collectively, helps to increase women's control over their bodies and to challenge the medical establishment's professional control and domination over women.
|Protests, rather than relying on appeals to elites, can
directly confront patriarchy. Many women's protests have done this to a
In Australia, Anzac Day is a public holiday on which Australian soldiers who died in wars are mourned, and on which the military obtains considerable adulation. In Canberra in 1980, a number of women were arrested for following the march in order to mourn all women raped in all wars. Outraged by the arrests, the next year a large number of women tried to join the Anzac Day march. Many of them did non-violent action training for the event. Many were arrested under specially drafted legislation. In the following years different legislation was introduced, and women were able to march with certain restrictions on time and place.
These women's marches provided a powerful challenge to the military mobilisation of patriarchy. They exposed the extreme hostility of returned servicemen to independent women's protest and also a deep-seated refusal to acknowledge the problem of rape, rape in war in particular. In addition, the actions of the government in bringing in special legislation against the women helped to mobilise many more women from all walks of life. The women's marches also generated a valuable link between parts of the Canberra feminist and peace movements.
The Anzac Day women's actions illustrate the potential of joint challenges to patriarchy and other dominant structures. The demand by the women was not to be able to join the men within the organisations participating on Anzac Day, but to introduce an entirely new and previously excluded group and issue, namely women mourning women raped in war. The development of confidence in public protest and skills in political organising were not simply for individual use within prevailing structures, but rather for collective action. The protest was entirely organised and run by women. It was not designed as an appeal to elites for changes in laws or representation in the march. Instead, the women acted directly, by going ahead and marching, to obtain their goal. Finally, the challenge to patriarchy, especially in raising the issue of rape, was strongly linked to a challenge to a structure closely tied to patriarchy, namely the military.
Brian Martin's website
This site deals with attacks on dissenting views and individuals. The general field of "suppression of dissent" includes whistleblowing, free speech, systems of social control and related topics. The purpose of the site is to foster examination of these issues and action against suppression. It is founded on the assumption that openness and dialogue should be fostered to challenge unaccountable power.