Patriarchy in Western Civilization

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,030
It has pretty much become a mantra that western civilization was (and some claim still is) "patriarchal" (men control society and call the shots) and unfair to women in a variety of ways.

However if we take this view, how do we explain the following:

1- Why did only men (apart from rare exceptions) had to fight and die in wars until very recent times

2- Why is divorce so complicated for men, and why do women (especially in the US) get so much in case of divorce (e.g. : the Bezos divorce)

3- Why the "women and children first" (e.g. the Titanic) motto.. Note than in this motto women come even before children

The 3 above points (and these are not the only ones) are clearly unfavorable to men. Why would a patriarchy come up with such rules ?
Pushing the argument, why were women simply not turned into sex slaves/domestic help with no rights whatsoever ?

 
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tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,030
On a somewhat related topic

I insisted that there was no such thing as sex. And I knew it. I just knew it. Because I was a gender historian.
This was, in the 1990s, the thing to be in history departments across North America. Gender history—and then gender studies, more generally, across the academy—was part of a broader group of identity-based sub-disciplines that were taking over the liberal arts. History departments across the continent were transformed. When the American Historical Association surveyed the trends among major fields of specialization in 2007, and then again in 2015, the single largest field was women’s and gender history.


I’m sure that I don’t need to instruct Quillette readers in all the ways in which this social constructionist logic has pervaded our culture. But what I can offer is a mea culpa for my own role in all of this, and a detailed critique about why I was wrong then, and why the radical social constructionists are wrong now


 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,723
Dispargum
It has pretty much become a mantra that western civilization was (and some claim still is) "patriarchal" (men control society and call the shots) and unfair to women in a variety of ways.
However if we take this view, how do we explain the following:
1- Why did only men (apart from rare exceptions) had to fight and die in wars until very recent times
2- Why is divorce so complicated for men, and why do women (especially in the US) get so much in case of divorce (e.g. : the Bezos divorce)
3- Why the "women and children first" (e.g. the Titanic) motto.. Note than in this motto women come even before children
The 3 above points (and these are not the only ones) are clearly unfavorable to men. Why would a patriarchy come up with such rules ?
Pushing the argument, why were women simply not turned into sex slaves/domestic help with no rights whatsoever ?
All of these claims are subject to different interpretations.
1. I venture that most men who have ever gone off to war considered it (at least in part) a privilidge to go and saw it as an opportunity to get away from their wives or mothers. Banning women from war was something akin to joining a men's-only club. Wars are relatively rare, and in between wars, men tend to forget how terrible they are.
2. American divorce law is inherently patriarchal. It assumes marriage is a relationship between a provider and a dependent. Therefore, before a divorce can be finalized the provider must provide for his dependent spouse for the rest of her life. If American divorce laws recognized spouses as equals, there would be no need to transfer wealth from one spouse to the other. Every now and then you hear an example of a wealthy wife forced to transfer property to her dependent husband (Marie Osmond was one case), but it's very rare. By the way, American divorces are rarely equal. While an ex-husband can experience a financial setback for the first few years after a divorce, ten years after a divorce the ex-husband is usually better off financially than is the ex-wife. Divorce is one of the leading causes for women living alone after age 65 to be living in poverty. (This assumes the woman was divorced at around age 40. Thirty years later, she will be poor.) Still married women, widows, and women who never married are less likely to be poor in old age.
3. We all recognize that children need special protection. 'Women and children first' denies women their status as adults and demotes them to the status of children.

It's all in how you look at it.
 
Nov 2016
1,262
Germany
Some considerations on the origin of patriarchy:

Until the Neolithic (starting from ca. 10,000 BCE) Paleolithic humans lived in matrifocal communities without fixed partner relationship (in the sense of marriage). When a female lived with a male, she did not move to his family household but he to her family household, that is, the household of the matrifocal community, centered around a matrilineal line. There were no fathers because paternity was most probably unknown until the advent of livestock at the beginning of the Neolithic. When a couple separated the male went back to his original family. When paternity was discovered (in the context of livestock around 8,000 BCE) among the males the desire arose to exactly know who were their sons for the purpose of inheriting their property to them. The precondition for that was the binding of the female to the male and the prohibiton of female relationships to other males. However the total institutionalisation of marriage took a long time and was established in the Ancient East probably not before the 4th millennium BCE. Until then females seem to have had the possibility of marrying two males what become forbidden in Sumer only around 2,500 BCE by king Urukagina.

The purpose of marriage was the disponibility and control of the female by the male, what means the beginning of patriarchy and suppression of women. Simultaneously the warriordom was institutionalized what led to the advent of slavery (war prisoners). By this the males came in control of their females, their children, and their house slaves.

On the religious level, the suppression of women took place in the form of the degradation of the Goddess. However this development proceded with a considerable delay. In the Paleolithic there seems to have been an exclusive veneration of a Mother Goddess who represented, among other things, biological fertility. First male gods arose only in the age of cattle breeding, that is, in the Neolithic, with the bull symbolizing the male fertility god. Anyway, goddesses kept their dominant role in Sumer until around 3,000 BCE with Goddess Inanna being the most venerated deity in all Sumerian cities (13 temples). In the 3rd millennium BCE the degrading of goddesses and the comcomitnat upgrading of male gods commenced because patriarchy endeavored to tranfer its earthly dominance over females to the pantheons in heaven. While the kings of the 3rd mill. still needed the agreement and even love of the goddess for their enthronement (the so-called ´Sacred Marriage´), the kings of the 2nd and 1st mill. claimed the support of male king gods for legitimation of their kingship. From the time of the Exile in the 6th century BCE the Jews were the first to completely exclude female divinity from heaven, institutionalizing their male Yahveh as the one and only god of the universe, which was the basis for the further development of other monotheistic dogmas, the Christendom (which partially reintroduced female divinity through the Mary cult) and the entirely anti-female oriented Islam.

Roughly spoken, the steps were like this:

+ until the beginning of the Neolithic (around 10,000 BCE) females were socially at least equal to males; in the religious field it seems that they had a certain dominance, due to the gender of the main deity.

+ until the mid of the Neolithic (around 5,000 BCE) females were equal to males in both fields (social and religious) cause males caught up through the emergence of male fertility gods.

+ from this time, females became step by step socially downgraded while religiously remaining equal.

+ from the 3rd mill., females considerably lost social rights while goddesses kept their importance in state religion as well as in personal faith.)

+ from the 6th century, females were religiously degraded in Judaism due to the exclusive veneration of the principle of male divinity (however, even Yahweh kept some slight female features). Such discrimination in the religious field would have been impossible in the polytheistic environment of early Judaism, where high priestesses and temple priestesses belonged firmly to the sacral sphere.
 
Feb 2019
894
Pennsylvania, US
It has pretty much become a mantra that western civilization was (and some claim still is) "patriarchal" (men control society and call the shots) and unfair to women in a variety of ways.

However if we take this view, how do we explain the following:

1- Why did only men (apart from rare exceptions) had to fight and die in wars until very recent times

2- Why is divorce so complicated for men, and why do women (especially in the US) get so much in case of divorce (e.g. : the Bezos divorce)

3- Why the "women and children first" (e.g. the Titanic) motto.. Note than in this motto women come even before children

The 3 above points (and these are not the only ones) are clearly unfavorable to men. Why would a patriarchy come up with such rules ?
Pushing the argument, why were women simply not turned into sex slaves/domestic help with no rights whatsoever ?


1. Generally speaking, men start wars and fight wars. I say generally, because in Europe between 1480 and 1913, queens regnant were 27% more likely to wage wars and amass land in conquests than kings, but it is important to consider who was counselling queens and who was leading their army into battle... If a board of women headed up by a female CEO decided to send all their male counterparts to war and death, that would indeed be an unfair thing. Typically women rulers were acting at the advise of their warriors or fighting men and their trusted (and usually far better educated!) male counterparts.

When you look at a war like the American Civil War, which was one of the first where action was taken to make rape illegal (Lieber Code)... the overarching aspect to rape was that it was not considered wrong as a crime against another person; the legislation was directed more at protecting women from damage as they were the property of other men. When you read about the cases of rape in that war (which is often thought of as an era of relative restraint, gentlemanly conduct and civility), I think it would be a preferable thing to be cleanly (or not so cleanly) killed on a battlefield than endure being dragged off and repeatedly raped by six men (as the one case I read described).

I think that the attitude towards women at the time and the fact that no woman contributed to the decision making behind the Civil War paints the picture of the passive and often dangerous position for women in war - beyond the immediate fear of being powerless while loosing a loved one, provider, protector... I've nearly died myself and it was a much easier endeavor to let go myself than it was to watch someone I loved slip away from me...


2. Really? A 2014 study from the University of Essex concluded that women and children suffered the most from a divorce, simply because the income from alimony doesn't offset the loss of a man's earnings. It seems that emotionally men suffer more from divorce - and it seems like more divorces are initiated by women... so I suppose it comes down to how much you weight financial well being over emotional well being/the impact of what seems like a personal betrayal.


3. I think that the phrasing has less to do with priority based on order listed and more to do with the Birkenhead Drill, where the HMS Birkenhead was sinking off the coast of Africa without sufficient lifeboats for all of the passengers and the men aboard set themselves up as the paradigm of chivalrous fearlessness. The solders on board made no attempt to save themselves, they courageously proffered the life boats to the women and children. Their heroic behavior is what inspired the unofficial maritime protocol of "women and children first" - "Birkenhead Drill" became a phrase synonymous with as courageous behavior in hopeless circumstances. The men of the Birkenhead stayed on the ship and even as it sunk; they did not even cry out or panic as it went under the waves.

Honestly, the phrase "women and children first" is not some mandate demanded by women - it was a concept instituted by men who acted upon their highest personal beliefs and exemplified heroism, sacrifice, devotion and bravery that is embodied in that male protector role. Let's not take that from them.

Personally, I rarely think about the surviving women and children of the Titanic - do you?

I often think about the band - all men - playing music to the end to calm the mood, to steady the nerves, giving the best of themselves for the benefit of others, when all sense would urge self-interested behavior. Or all of the ship's all male engineers trying to save lives by working pumps, keeping the lights on and the distress calls being sent... Perhaps my means of measure for the worth of individuals is all wrong.... but are there any better persons to hold in highest esteem than these men?
 
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Nov 2016
1,262
Germany
The earliest textual evidence of women's oppression comes from the legal reform of the Sumerian king Urukagina of Lagash (mid-24th century BCE). In it, the husband is legally entitled to smash the teeth of his wife in case she says something that seems to offend him:

When a woman raises her voice against a man, her mouth is to be smashed with fired bricks.

Condition: The reason for the man's indignation must be carved into the stone.

The social position of women in Greek antiquity corresponded to the particularly patriarchal thinking of the Greeks, who in this respect topped the Ancient Oriental peoples, especially the relatively gender-egalitarian Egyptians. The typical Greek amazon legends had no historical basis, but probably served to portray women who were not under male dictatorship as a natural threat to men.

Three social groups of women are to be distinguished, which are expressed in the following quotation (from the collection of writings "Pseudo-Demosthenes", 59):

We have hetaera for pleasure's sake, concubines for the daily care of our body, but wives for the production of legitimate children and faithful guardians of our domestic being.

The Greek wife had no civil rights (no participation in meetings, no right to vote, no offices - except the limited possibility of becoming a priestess - no property) and was completely at the mercy of her husband's and her master's (Greek: kyrios) will. Except for festive occasions, she was not allowed to go public, had to keep her legs covered to the foot, was less well educated than men, and from a male point of view was generally considered to be mentally and morally low.

In the Roman Empire, women were also regarded as inferior. The following arguments were put forward: 1) the impermanence of her character (levitas animi), 2) the weakness of her sex (infirmitas sexus) and 3) the powerlessness of her mind (imbecillitas mentis). Since the weakness of her body made her neither good for war nor for governing, her true place could only be in the household.

The 'pater familas', the male head of the family, had the 'patrias potestas'. Among them was also the 'vitae necisque potestas', the power over life and death of family members (wife, children, slaves). In order to prevent spontaneous arbitrary decisions against a family member, the rule applied that the pater familias consulted with the rest of the family and his friends beforehand.
 
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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,724
It has pretty much become a mantra that western civilization was (and some claim still is) "patriarchal" (men control society and call the shots) and unfair to women in a variety of ways.

However if we take this view, how do we explain the following:

1- Why did only men (apart from rare exceptions) had to fight and die in wars until very recent times

2- Why is divorce so complicated for men, and why do women (especially in the US) get so much in case of divorce (e.g. : the Bezos divorce)

3- Why the "women and children first" (e.g. the Titanic) motto.. Note than in this motto women come even before children

The 3 above points (and these are not the only ones) are clearly unfavorable to men. Why would a patriarchy come up with such rules ?
Pushing the argument, why were women simply not turned into sex slaves/domestic help with no rights whatsoever ?

1. Women spent most of the years they could have been fighting producing children and raising crops. Ultimately the survival of the tribe/state depending on ensuring enough people lived to fight and continue the culture, if 5,000 young men and women went to war and shared equal losses the women lost count more than twice over against future population as not only did they die but their future offspring could never be born. If 100 men out of 1,000 return from a lost battle the next generation of the tribe will be weaker but survive, if 100 women out of 1,000 are all that return the tribe is dead. It was relatively common for women to have some martial training in many cultures for when the men went off to war women could help protect the home or even fight in lower risk roles such as horse archers, stone throwers, and camp attendants.

2. Not sure what you mean- divorce is complicated for both sides and Bezos is a terrible example as his wife was a finance management executive with lots of connections that put her money and time into getting Amazon started. Once it dominated the online book market she retired from day to day operations and Jeff Bezos continued turning Amazon into the behemoth it is today but she had quite strong arguments if it had gone to court that she deserved a very large share of the company given potential ownership and vested shares as well her active participation in running the business in its earliest most vulnerable startup phase.

Similarily the family is seen as a unit just as Bezos and his wife were the earliest Amazon executives in the company- in a family if there are children involved or if one party broke the marriage contract with cheating/fraud/criminal activity that lowered the value of the partnership the other party is entitled to compensation. Ongoing payments are usually only done if there are children involved or the woman has a good lawyer and had the potential for a promising career she sacrificed for the marriage. The stories where woman abuse child support payments or gets payments so they can continue living in the lifestyle they are accustomed to is actually statistically quite rare. The most common abuse is child support payments that are garnished via judgement and the woman moves out of state and the children the payments are meant to support are no longer that spouses dependents... stopping the garnishment can require to reverse the court order which requires evidence and tracking down a spouse who might have re-married and moved 2-3 times in 10-15 year period is still quite difficult if they have spotty employment records.

3. Ditto on the logic from point 1, women perpetuate the species and are more important than men while children are unknown potential and most societies value men sacrificing for the tribe, especially for children of the tribe. You can see this play out on the Titanic where the wealthy women and children were let into the lifeboats first and then a few of the lower decks but most of the poor women and children went down with the ship because they were a different tribe from the wealthy whom the crew made efforts to save.

You have to remember who the patriarchy represents- it does not represent all men aside from the fact most men 'might' become patriarchs and having a male citizenship class was easier to maintain because most men understood they stood to benefit from how society was arranged if they lived long enough. The patriarchal classes in Rome and Greece were only landowning men or men of a certain amount of wealth and who were naturally born citizens of the state. Slaves, foreigners, poor men, etc were excluded by the laws of the patriarchy only slightly less than women. Women had some rights because they needed to be able to inherit to protect the rights of minors- if the patriarch died before a son was of age to inherit the household. It was fairly common for a man to die with minor heirs and women couldn't protect the family of the patriarch if they had zero rights.

Poor men often upheld these social rules because while they might never have any power politically within their tribe they could still rule their own family and it seems more often than not people react to the fear of loss rather than of the potential for gain. If laws weren't patriarchal than some free men would have lower status than many women and rather than being in the upper 25% of society could fall below 50% (given normal age/gender demographics for most of human history). On the other hand most revolutions come from the bottom parts of society which don't have much further to fall so the risks are proportionately lower while someone from the upper classes who feels insulated by their position from the risks leads the revolution. Or more often in my opinion the upper class person leading a revolt has fallen to the bottom (or risks such a fall without taking drastic measures) of their own class so while it might seem they are better off than 99% of their society, for their particular 1% class at the top they are at the bottom of that 1% so risk from their view is greater NOT to take some action to increase their social position.
 
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tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,030
Thanks everyone for the responses

Still when we compare to other patriarchal structures, the western one seems really mild or even absent

Take the taliban where basically: women have little or rights (even getting shot for simply going to school), are treated as property, do not have a life without a male guardian (father, husband or brother), cannot even show themselves, as far as inheritance goes will inherit at best half a man's share and in case of divorce (which the man can initiate freely by pronoucing 3 times the word "divorce") the father keeps the children (assuming he wants to) and there is no talk of splitting assets

To take the above example from Niobe, on a taliban Titanic cruise, I am not sure any woman would have had access to any lifeboats

This is perhaps extreme but it is logical as far as patriarchy goes... Basically all for the man and nothing for the woman.....