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Patriarchy Rebranding

Hello beautiful internet people - I apologize for the long absence. I'm going to try to be a little more regular at posting here over the next couple of months. Law school sure did happen at me. Fingers crossed, we'll see if I get better at predicting its vagaries.

Another friend of mine who is in law school recently started a public interest clinic. He's had the opportunity to do some basic client representation before administrative judges, and to explore some topics like domestic violence and patriarchy that, if not exactly new to him in theory, are certainly new to him in terms of its real-world effects on his clients. He's discussed a number of these things with me because he knows I do work in this area, and he asked me a question this week that I was hard-pressed to answer. Here's the question: why would any man want to get rid of male privilege? Why would any man want to get rid of patriarchy?

I find this question difficult to answer, not because I don't have any answers, but because my answers are often vague, systemic, and difficult to boil down to a simple and poignant answer. So, to an extent, this post is a question for you, the internet: what are our best talking points here? What are our good selling points for men's involvement in dismantling a system that provides them with a lot of power?

Let me cover my own ass for moment here - I certainly don't want this to come across like I'm supporting patriarchy or rape culture or unfair male privilege. My conundrum is this: when those of us who care about ending these systems of oppression start talking to people who are at the 101 level, let's say, how do we describe the problems they cause, for men, in a way that encourages men to get involved? Because, to an extent, if we're talking to men who haven't had the opportunity to think deeply about these issues, privilege seems pretty damn sweet. It provides, for straight men at least, a world where a lot of women dress and present themselves as an ornament for men to enjoy but where they are not expected to do the same; a labor and capital market where men do not have to compete fairly against roughly half the population; a criminal justice system that takes men's sexual prerogatives over the bodily integrity of women. It assumes men are competent and gives them tremendous benefit of the doubt when they're not. Sure, this isn't a fair deal: I didn't do anything to get all these benefits. But if we're working with men who are starting to get a glimmer of what privilege is, why on earth would they want to give it up? Warning: generalization ahead.

Here are some thoughts, but I could use some help refining them:

1. Privilege causes violence:

Not only against women, and we know that rape culture does do that, but against men, too. Men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, in general, than women (not rape, but pretty much every other violent crime). In a world where we only provide male privilege to men who fit the stereotype of an aggressive, angry man, it doesn't strike me as surprising that the end result of that is violence. Less privilege and patriarchy may mean a reduction in violence all around, which would benefit a lot of guys.

2. More even playing field against other men

One of the more pernicious aspects of a society-wide system like patriarchy is that it's really hard to argue about its effects from outside of its effects. Patriarchy tells men that they shouldn't consider women, and when it comes to things like getting ahead in a career, most men probably don't feel like women are getting in their way (institutionalized sexism helps ensure that for a lot of women, it's hard to do that even if they wanted to get in someone's way). There is an opportunity to use some of the aspects of patriarchy to our advantage, here, though - men are socialized to be competitive and aggressive, but privilege does not provide for all men the same benefits - for men of color, disabled men, or men who do not otherwise meet the gender stereotypes patriarchy requires, male privilege is a two-edged sword. It puts other men ahead of them unfairly. Though this feels like trying to use the master's tools to destroy the master's house, it might help energize some men to join the fight to more parity and equality in gender relations. It's an appeal to selfishness, sure, but a fair one.

3. It prevents men from having sex

Granted, this argument will only be of significant use to men who want to have sex with women, but maybe there are ways to apply it to the LGBT world, too. The argument goes basically like this: patriarchy requires men to both hate and objectify women. This puts men in a strange bind of lusting after women's bodies, but hating the power to arouse them that women possess. This is a recipe for rape, domestic violence, and boundary crossing. This also puts women in the completely ridiculous situation of having to determine whether every potential partner they have is going to injure them. It's hard to get turned on while terrified. The less women fear men, it seems likely that the more sex people will have.

What other arguments do you all have?

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Posted by Dave

Dave has volunteered with BARCC since 2007 and works in higher education administration. He also facilitates a men's pro-feminist group, is a STARZ member of Socializing for Justice, a Yelp Elite '10 member, and sits on the advisory council of the Boston Medical Center's domestic violence prevention board. He got involved with BARCC to further his understanding of feminism and gender justice, and also to get the chance to show his speaking skills far and wide. He lives in Allston, where the music is.


  1. 6) You've touched on this vaguely in the other points, but it's worth saying outright: Male privilege, and the society built around it, restricts men's behaviours and successes as much as it restricts women's. It says things like "men can't like playing with dolls" or "men can't cry" or "men shouldn't show their emotions" or "men need to have HUGE muscles" and so on and so forth. A world that privileges men and "masculinity" and (there has to be a good antithetical word for privileging, I just can't think of it right now) demonizes "femininity" also demonizes men who behave in ways that it sees as "feminine". This results in violence, sure, but it also results in a general degradation of our society, our individuality, and our ability to choose the things we want to do.

    7) Because he wants the world to be fair. And it *isn't*. It isn't just, it isn't equal, it isn't fair, and isn't that a good enough reason all on its own?

  2. Oh, hey, I have a couple...

    4.) A patriarchical structure hurts the women whom men love (their mothers, sisters, daughters, etc.).

    5.) Just because a man is at the "101" level of understanding gender politics doesn't mean he wants a female partner who is nothing more than arm candy, or women in general to fear him. These are negatives for the *vast* majority of men.

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