29 August 2014

The Patriarchy (n.)

This keeps coming up. So a quick word about The Patriarchy.

This feminist term of art conjures an image of a vast conspiracy, with room full of patriarchs smoking cigars and inventing sexism all day, sending orders to an army of agents who work quietly and tirelessly to ensure that men are always in charge of everything. Anti-feminists take the absurdity of this image as a demonstration that feminism is bunk because there is no such conspiracy.

But that's not what “The Patriarchy” means.

Feminists know that men aren't always in charge, though we will point out that men are disproportionately in charge. Feminists know that there's no smoke-filled room and no deliberate conspiracy, though it sure does feel that way, sometimes.

But though a big, singular conspiracy does not exist, a vast array of mechanisms — personal, institutional, cultural, structural, systemic, and so forth — work to create and perpetuate sexist injustices against women.

It's important to underline that while sexist bigotry against women plays an important part in animating all this, it's not the only factor. Consider, for example, what folks in the tech industry call “the pipeline problem”: women are scarce in leadership positions because women with the relevant industry experience are rare because women don't study the relevant subjects in college because women in college think there are no careers for them in tech because women to serve as role models are scarce in tech leadership positions, and round and round it goes. Apologists for the tech industry use the pipeline problem as a dodge, to evade talking about men's sexist attitudes. It's a bullshit move, because anyone paying attention knows that men's attitudes are a major driver of sexist inequities in the tech industry. But that doesn't make the pipeline problem just bullshit: it is real and would continue to generate inequities even if we could magically erase everyone's sexist bigotry, making it an example of a self-perpetuating system of inequity which needs systemic-level action.

Feminists need a succinct name that invokes the whole ball of wax, from individuals' sexist bigotry to impersonal sexist systems and everything in between, all the stuff that creates sexist injustices. So The Patriarchy is a necessary and useful feminist term of art.


Rhett Aultman said...

This is used in other circles without much issue. In The Church of the Subgenius, we talk about "The Conspiracy," but we know it isn't a literal conspiracy where people get together and broker power. It is, instead, an "unwitting conspiracy," held together by the tastes, preferences, and habits of people who don't think about their alternatives.

Derek Bredensteiner said...

Take out the word "the" maybe?

Refer to "A patriarchy, such as the pipeline problem, is an example of one of the many patriarchies we encounter as a systematic problem ..."

Jonathan Korman said...

That's a provocative proposal, Derek. I think it would be useful to have a term for a specific domain/mechanism/force for sexism, but it would have to be something new.

The convention is to refer to "the patriarchy", or just "patriarchy", in order to emphasize how all of these specific forces cohere into an overarching super-system that creates inequities, without having to reference what the specific elements are.

I personally use the whimsical capitalization "The Patriarchy" --- which implies that The Patriarchy is a particular, unified, identifiable thing --- as an ironic way of alluding to how it is useful to talk as if The Patriarchy were a Thing when in fact it is the diffuse sum of countless forces big and small.

J'Carlin said...

I suspect that "The Patriarchy" does not exist. It is simply culture. In religion, gendered languages and in business there simply is no concept for female collegue.

As one person said in response to how do you break into a profession like that? "Have a goal, get better at the job than most men, fortunately that isn't difficult, and prove you are."

Probably not what the feminists want to hear, but until a few take on the culture and show that the men are coasting on their privlege the men will continue to do so.