A view of the patriarchy through social anthropology

Last night on Twitter, Justin Kownacki said: “God’s rightful role for families is a patriarchy in which women submit to men? Thank god; I’m a shitty listener.” Now, I follow a number of people with whom I disagree, and I have said things that I’m sure are grating to them, so I tend to let things slide unless I have something greater to say. It was a short discussion, as the medium tends to promote, so now I’m blogging about it.

The concept of a patriarchy, as demonized in the States and other Western societies, is a boogeyman constructed by Radical Feminists (note the proper noun usage) to explain the sorrows of women in society. As a part of the second wave of Feminism, its aim is to “end” the patriarchy. It’s at this point where I have to elevate beyond the political and talk about gender politics from a more anthropological approach.

Men have always been mystified, enamored, attracted to and bewildered by women. Nothing frightens men more than the effect women have on them: for her, a man will deny his identity, isolate himself from friends and family and engage in self-destructive behavior. Hell, even her genitalia provoke a whole slew of irrational responses, as described in this article on vagina dentata (potentially NSFW). The reverse is also true: in her name, men are also capable of great good and nobility. It is this incitement to the irrational (whether for the good or evil) that strikes fear in the heart of men.

It is the woman’s capacity for bearing life, for organizing the household, for tending to the children while men hunt, for bearing a man’s children in the first place, that makes her valuable to men. The man’s strength, his ability to provide and protect are what makes men valuable to women. This has been true for thousands upon thousands of years. Combine the value of women with the fear that men feel towards her power over them, and what you have is the motivation for what feminists consider “control.” What Radical Feminists damn as control, is merely the societal compromise that the sexes have agreed upon to ensure survival. Modern living has challenged this to an extent, but so many revert to “traditional” gender roles sometime between the ages of thirty and fifty (a guesstimate, I admit).

When one gets involved in politics, sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. I’m well aware of Kownacki’s view that religion is used to enslave women. This is the same critique of religion vis-a-vis its role in race relations, foreign policy and colonialism. What so many fail to realize is that religion itself, anthropologically, is a social construct. While, I, having been raised Catholic believe in the existence of the Eternal And Divine (God), He is unknowable without people. Religious beliefs are a codification of the society’s mores and ethe at the time. As societies grow, religions evolve, too.

I told Justin: “It’s a chicken and egg question. Anthropologically, all religion is built around morals of the day not the other way around.” To which he responded: “But the morals of the day are always more varied than it seems. History just happens to be written by the loudest voices.” Variations in morals do not mean that every moral perspective is equally meritorious. Societies and the people who form them decide through cycles of conflict what is “generally accepted to be moral.” Even in a cultural practice as irrational as religion, there is a constant exchange of ideas and debate. The results of these little conflicts are what we live with today, and what our children will live with in the future.

2 thoughts on “A view of the patriarchy through social anthropology”

  1. Just a few points, for clarification and such.

    My original “God’s rightful role for families” tweet was taken directly from a TV special I was watching about the Quiver Full movement, in which a line from the Bible (which equates the children of righteous men to a volley of arrows aimed at the gates of hell) is being used as a rallying cry for an evangelical movement. In Quiver Full (or Quiverfull, I’m not sure of the spacing) families, the husband controls the family, the wife submits and manages the home, and they have as many children as possible.


    Because the Quiverfull movement is concerned with the more secular aspects of society, and their founders believed (as a response to feminism) that if they literally raised an army of Christians, generation after generation, they’d have a massive conservative voting block that could control America’s political destiny.

    So my original comment does have a context, albeit a sarcastic one, which applies to most of what I say.

    Also, as for the role morals in the evolution of society, the basics of “right and wrong” never seem to change too drastically. What changes are the extremes and the exceptions. History has seen its share of politicians, Popes and other evangelists who’ve preached one kind of “good” and lived anotehr entirely — or who’ve rewritten “church laws” to be more in step with their own personal needs or opinions. But when we look in the rearview mirror, we don’t see the myriad of dueling POVs and cultural contexts that battled for supremacy at every turn; we see the histories (and the laws, and the rules, and the chruch doctrines) that were written by the most convincing debaters, or the ones with the material resources necessary to win the argument.

    1. This is the first time I have heard of the Quiver Full movement, and while I disagree with their views on familial roles, I have to commend them for their long-view approach to the subject of affecting social policy. I am sure you are aware of Antonio Gramsci’s strategy of the “Long March Through The Institutions” and how’s it’s been attempted by both Liberal and Conservative long-view activists alike. I have no illusions that the Left has succeeded in the Long March in terms of pop culture, literature, and education. The Quiverfull movement is doing something similar, and shows a remarkable patience that is rarely seen in matters of public policy.

      The strength and weakness of Twitter is that lack of context with which we perceive our messages. I generally keep a more open mind to the context of a Tweet. I hope that my response, though off-topic when taken contextually, is still enriching.

      As for the matter of the corpses of ideas long-dead, thankfully, not all is lost. Especially in a sect as Catholicism, there exist the letters and debates from the founding periods of Christianity, not just the responses of the victors. Sure, the RCC has had campaigns of book-burning and book-banning, but today that exists in the context of Canon, and not Civil Law.

      I admit, that in the context of what you were watching, that my response may be overblown, but it only takes less htat 140 characters to inspire something these days.

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