Patriarchy literally means the rule of fathers.  In more ways than we imagine, we live in a patriarchal society despite the trappings of what we call democracy.  One way this is evident, for instance, is in the desire of so many people around us to be “patriotic.”  That is, people who are patriotic declare their support in the most literal sense for the fatherland.

There are so many directions to go with this discussion, but let me start here on one path.  Patriarchy, I hope it should be obvious, is – like all forms of rule – illegitimate.  Nothing inherent in being a father logically entails the conclusion, “Therefore, you are right to rule over others.”  The thought of trying to prove the conclusion from the premise is laughable.  I provided sperm; sperm is a creative force from which you would not exist; therefore, your existence would not be if not for me.  Those who provide a service are owed a debt, and therefore you owe a debt to your fathers to serve them. 

You’ll note the additional premise connecting service with debt, which is a premise concocted out of thin air.  Yet, it is a premise on which the practical applications of patriarchy surely rest.  I provided the start up money for this company, and therefore I own and have a lien on your production forever.  I created this idea, and therefore my copyright or patent is inviolable.  I planted this land first, and therefore it is mine forever.  The seed of patriarchy that roots from nothing more than a single cell is used in tandem with an invented premise to assert a right of rule over everything that came into existence because of that seed.  We normally do not call this seed sperm; no one would be dignified to think that all of patriarchy arises from the messy, smelly scent of semen.  Instead, we talk of labor, capital investments, improving property, and all the rights and privileges that supposedly come from that.

Obviously, we miss the obvious fact in patriarchy that it takes two to tango.  Women and their eggs have often been left entirely out of the equation – the egg seen as a passive receiver, the earth as that which is there for the labor of man, the worker being the mere tool of the entrepreneur.  In recent years, there is an attempt to correct that and to provide women equal rights.  Something is missed, though.  The logic of domination is still essentially patriarchal.  Rather than resist the fallacy of the concept of rule, we simply choose to make patriarchs out of women, too.  Or, we cleverly try to use terms like matriarchs or democrats or some new way to hide up the fact that we are still living with what are essentially patriarchal premises.  That is, there is a creative force which brings a thing into existence, a debt is owed, and rule arises from the debt that needs repaying.

It is not hard to see, then, how property rights are tools of patriarchy.  The property owner is he who plants his seed through the sweat of his brow (the metaphorical semen) and creates wealth for which he is owed payment.  The property is his.  It is his to defend and even expand upon if someone leaves his land barren and childless.  Wars quickly arise among the fathers and their fatherlands.  Peace activists stupidly say often that “peace is patriotic.”  That’s nonsense.  There is nothing more patriarchal and therefore patriotic than war.  The line of reasoning should be obvious.

We also see patriarchy clearly in the way we conceive of our relationships.  Men have been conceived of as better than women, of course.  However, humans have been better than non-humans.  Some would say that whites have been better than non-whites, though they would eventually be smacked down for not understanding the right arbitrary lines for patriarchy’s slippery slope.  Being a father is to be a ruler of families.  Yet, outside of the obvious hierarchy within the family itself, we begin to see each unit of society as a fiefdom of itself.  Rather than see our fellow beings in our world as a community, they are competitors for what is rightly ours.  We live in fenced off little lands earning our wage and not feeling any sense of responsibility for our neighbors.  We live a life of tyranny driven by jealousy – our sex lives, our intellectual lives, our emotional lives are monopolized by our insular family units.  If we break out of them, we are often considered to be doing something wrong.  So, there’s a whole underground world of adultery, for instance.  People feel constrained by their captive lives, and many inevitably reach out for something beyond their ball and chains.  Yet, such things often become simply about sex.  It’s convenient that the larger constraints of patriarchy are not exposed because many acts of desperate fleeing from the cages of life strike us as cliché and otherwise morally bankrupt.

That may sound extreme.  People surely forge all kinds of friendships outside the home and all kinds of relationships within the larger community.  Of course they do!  The question, though, are the boundaries of those interactions.  I cannot go off to a different country and simply expect to be a welcome member of the community.  I am owned in my case by the United States of America.  I can visit, carry on trade, or perhaps be involved with military or business escapades in the country.  I cannot very easily fall in love and leave without going through a harrowing amount of red tape.  This is as true in the interpersonal level, where we’ve created in many cases all kinds of boundaries that tie us so resolutely to our various fatherlands.  Tell me how many of your children would be allowed to meet another child and then live with them on their own choice for months at a time.  How many of your significant others could venture off the reservation for more than an hour or two – particularly with a close friend (dare we say of the opposite sex) – without seedy things being wondered at, things that violate the private property contracts that really govern our relationships whether most of us are willing to admit it.

I am not arguing that we do not have responsibilities with regard to each other.  That is misconstruing and debasing my argument.  What I am arguing is that our current relationships are rooted in a patriarchal fallacy about rule.  Since that rule is fully illegitimate, we need a revolutionary approach to re-conceiving these things.  Nevertheless, it would be ridiculous to think that we should therefore just go run off, have an affair, or drop out of society, move to Alaska, and die in a magic bus.  Why?  The negation of a falsehood does not necessarily produce a truth.  If I were to say that 2 + 3 does not equal 6, it does not mean I should go out and assert that 7 is the truth because it is not 6.  We have to be careful how we go about unshackling ourselves that we do not replace someone’s illegitimate patriarchy with someone else’s illegitimate matriarchy.  Ultimately, you can guess from this essay – if you have never read anything else about me – that I am urging anarchy.  Yet, what is anarchy in practice?  Does that not depend upon a careful study of our nature?  Are we really prepared to take on that study?

Thus, I’d urge that to undo patriarchy at the macro and micro levels, we need to have real conversations about our nature, and about the nature of reality itself.  Such an act is in some sense defiance against patriarchy, as it puts the onus on us rather than someone else to figure out answers for us.  And, rather than urge more specific answers, I’d call on people to engage the question honestly and seek to root out patriarchy from our lives and own up how it infects each of us (certainly in the case of men like me, but in all humans).  I know I have so very far to go, which is no doubt a large part of what motivates me to write this.

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Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 16, 2012 at 2:25am

Since Rice is a war criminal, and as far as I know, you are not, body size is no indicator.

Comment by KellyAngelPdx on June 24, 2012 at 1:25am

Mark I know it has been awhile but I have to say I disagree with your understanding of Matriarchy as just another form of hierarchy.  It is not a flip to "Women in Top" but a paradigm shift.  

Look up Feminist anarchy type stuff.....

Comment by KellyAngelPdx on June 24, 2012 at 1:26am

i'm not sure that pasted into the correct section...

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 24, 2012 at 2:39am

If matriarchy doesn't mean rule of the mothers, Kelly, then patriarchy doesn't mean rule of the fathers. Are you saying that the definition of patriarchy which began this discussion is incorrect?

Comment by KellyAngelPdx on June 24, 2012 at 3:42am

no, i'm saying you seem to think Matriarchy is the opposite side of the coin of patriarchy, just switch genders?  I'm suggesting the assumptions and dynamics are substantively different & that your assumptions don't line up with my understanding.    

Obviously to dialogue effectively we need to have some shared definitions, and we aren't there yet.

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 24, 2012 at 5:30am

Yes, let's have some shared definitions, Kelly. Let's define the words we're using.

Patriarchy means rule of the fathers. The prefix refers to fathers and the suffix refers to rule. Is that correct?

Anarchy means no rule. The prefix refers to no and the suffix refers to rule. Is that correct?

Matriarchy means rule of the mothers. The prefix refers to mothers and the suffix refers to rule. You are now saying that the word no longer has the same meaning, is that correct?

If anarchist feminists wish to retain patriarchal language, but change the definition of words, they have to understand that when you change the definition of a prefix or suffix derived from a Greek or Latin root, you change the meaning of all words that use that prefix or suffix.

So if matriarchy doesn't mean rule of the mothers, then patriarchy doesn't mean rule of the fathers.

Your understanding of feminist thought omits any understanding of semantics. It's like Alice in Wonderland where words mean whatever the Mad Hatter wants them to mean.

So I could say that in my school of thought, the word ignoramus means learned person and is a term of respect and esteem. Then I could call somebody an ignoramus and insist that I mean it as a compliment, right?

People can use words to mean something other than what the word says, such as using the word anarchy to mean chaos instead of without rulers, or using the word matriarchy to mean without rulers instead of rule of the mothers, but that's not a new paradigm, that's redefinition of a word without regard to its roots. It isn't a rejection of patriarchal language, it is an ignorance of semantics.

Examples of redefinition are the way that the United States has redefined "democracy" to mean power vested in the hands of unaccountable representatives instead of its actual meaning, which is power vested in the hands of the people, the way that the Supreme Court has redefined the word "person" to include a chartered (corporate) business association, instead of its actual meaning, which is a human being, or the way that some feminist anarchists, if I understand what you're saying correctly, have redefined "matriarchy" to mean without rulers, instead of its actual meaning, which is rule of the mothers, but in such cases it is disregard of semantics, not a new paradigm.

Studies have shown that the more equality there is in a given society, the better off everyone within that society is. So as power is more equitably distributed, everyone benefits.

To the extent that feminists adopt the gender role that is assigned to females by patriarchal societies, the role of nurturer, they deny the reality of humanity, which is that there are some males more suitable to a nurturing role than many females, and some females more suitable to a warrior role than many males. There is no human emotion that is unique to males or to females and there are more differences among the sexes than between them.

A hierarchy is a ranking of people. Patriarchy ranks males above females. Matriarchy ranks females above males. Anarchy doesn't rank anyone over anyone on the basis of sex, race, creed, age, or any other factor.

For thousands of years patriarchy denied literacy to females so that females wouldn't learn how patriarchy was created through the violent subjugation of females. When females gained literacy, mostly in the last 2,000 years (there are still many places where females are not allowed to become educated), they found a man-made language in place which created a huge obstacle to equality. An example is pronouns. I'm 72, and back when I went to grade school we were taught that the word "he" was the masculine or generic pronoun, the word "she" was the feminine or diminutive pronoun, and the word "it" was the neutral or indeterminate pronoun. During my lifetime, as women gained some rights within the US, such as the right to higher education, feminists attempted to make "she" the generic pronoun. This was similar to the way in which honorifics were changed. While all adult males were addressed as "Mr.," adult females were addressed in terms of their relationship to males, such as "Miss" for unmarried females and "Mrs." for married females. Feminists (actually the CIA, but that's another story) recognized that this was discriminatory, but did not want to be addressed inclusively as "Mr." without regard to sex, and insisted that they be addressed in terms of sex, as "Ms." rather than as "Miss" or "Mrs." So males retained the exclusive use of "Mr.," while females could choose between being addressed as unmarried, married, or feminist. Neither males nor females were ready to acknowledge their common humanity and address each other as equals without regard to sex.

Personally, I assume that it will be another century or two at least before people begin to have the possibility of understanding that gender roles are arbitrarily assigned, and that they were intended to be divisive, as they indeed are. There have been famous female warriors and famous male pacifists. But I'm not sure that the human race will survive long enough for that to happen.

There's a town in Mexico that has a matriarchal society. The females own the land, homes, and businesses and control the money. They do almost everything. The males don't do much except sit around and enjoy life. Both males and females say that they're very happy with this situation. Matriarchy differs from patriarchy, in this particular instance, in that the females have power but do not abuse it. That doesn't mean that they don't have it. It only means that they don't abuse it. Their interest in having power was not so that they could become corrupted by it, but so that they could use it to improve life for themselves and their families, including the males in their families. So they are "on top" as you put it (I did not), but they are using their power for good instead of for evil. It is a matriarchal society because the females have more power than males. It is rule by the mothers instead of rule by the fathers. It is not an anarchist society where there would be no rulers. It is not an egalitarian society where everyone has equal status and power. It is an example of how matriarchy can be better for everyone than patriarchy, however it is still a hierarchical society. The roles are assigned on the basis of sex. There are undoubtedly a few males who would prefer to be doing business than just sitting around all day, but they accept their assigned roles in life, There are undoubtedly a few females who would rather be just sitting around all day instead of doing business, but they too accept their assigned roles in life. The problem is that assigning roles on the basis of sex ignores individual talents, skills, and potential.

I don't think that social roles and status should be assigned on the basis of sex, race, religion, age, eye color, or any other historically suspect classification. I don't believe in hierarchy, not even benevolent hierarchy, just as I don't believe in tyranny, not even benevolent tyranny. I prefer equality, dignity, and respect for everyone.

Comment by KellyAngelPdx on June 24, 2012 at 3:17pm

Mark first off, I'd like to suggest that your tone is overly argumentative and not conducive to a dialogue that is interesting and enjoyable, but rather one that seems to be based on one of us needing to be right/one wrong.  I am here to be intellectually stimulated and enjoy myself, not be insulted, so play nice in this sandbox.

I do have an understanding of semantics.  I do think you are putting forth an overly simplistic view of Matriarchy, not understanding that anarchist feminists are talking about a paradigm and value shift, not  whether "archy" means "rules"  on not.  Let's agree that ideas & philosophies  are complicated and that we cannot rely simply on the history of words, or from which root they were formed to base a deeper understanding.

My suggestion is that the assumptions, relationships, dynamics under a system that puts some in leadership and decision making roles, that fully values the  intellectual & emotional processes and contributions of women is substantively different than simply flipping  Patriarchy into Matriarchy as if it was the opposite side of the same coin.  It you just see it as another power grab by a (womb bearing) demographic then you are operating with a narrow understanding of power as only limited to power-over.

I hear that your issue is with hierarchy,  I get that analysis (and agree at a gut level) and I see your negative response to Matriarchy as reaction to that.  I also agree with you that much of gender roles are simply arbitrary assignments, and that none of us are encouraged to be our fully developed selves under patriarchy.  However, I do think that men and women are not the same, at some very basic biological levels.  

I too want equality, but I am not willing to ignore real difference and diversity to get there, nor to I see a proclamation that we are all equal & should carry on and make it so to be effective in disrupting the eons of societal assumptions, language and conditioning that privilege the (white) male perspective.  

Perhaps we will talk further.

Comment by KellyAngelPdx on June 24, 2012 at 4:14pm

The first thing I notice about the village you mention is that it sounds like an improvement to Patriarchy.  First off, a matriarchy tends to more collectivist as opposed to the highly valued individualism so prominent in patriarchy.  The vested interest in the community well being/multi generations, and understanding of the interconnection is part of the Matriarchy value set.

I'd also notice that this little town in Mexico is firmly ensconced in patriarchal Mexico, so I wouldn't expect it to be unaffected or influenced by patriarchy.  Third,  I'd wonder about your assertion that men can't do business in this un-named town.  Why couldn't they?  Who is stopping them?  What social forces? 

I mostly agree with many of your assertions but I think we reach different conclusions.  We don;t have to agree on every definition, but we do need to be clear if/when we use words and have a shared understanding or not.

I actually manage a senior lunch program and a rule to serve women first is stupid, and clearly creates more difficulty among those who appear ambiguous.  I'd start in the east, or some random/obvious place and work around.  And refer to someone in a gender non specific manner until their were clues.  If not were provided I may say something like " What shall I call you?  What is your name? Do you have a preferred pronoun?  depending on the context.

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 24, 2012 at 4:16pm

I apologize for coming across as overly argumentative and needing to be right, Kelly.

Do you think my example of that matriarchal Mexican village was an oversimplification? Do you think it is not an example of matriarchy?

In order to discuss things, we do have to agree on definitions, as you said before. So we have to agree on semantics. If the roots and history of words are ignored, how can we agree on definitions?

Do you think that the example of the matriarchal Mexican village was simply flipping patriarchy into matriarchy? Do you think it was just a power grab? It really is power over, not power with, as the males are not allowed to own land, homes, or businesses, and cannot control money. But it is used in beneficial ways that benefit males as well as females, in some ways even benefiting males more than females.

Males and females are different at the basic biological level of reproduction. Neither patriarchy nor matriarchy nor anarchy can change that. But not everything in life is about reproduction.

What basic biological differences between males and females do you think exist that have nothing to do with reproduction?

Another thing I'd like to clarify and see if we can agree on is the difference between men and males, and between women and females. A person can be born biologically male, but they have to be trained into the social gender role of being a man. They have to learn to walk like a man, talk like a man, dress like a man, throw a ball like a man, carry their books like a man, etc. None of this comes naturally to males. Similarly a person can be born female, but they have to be trained into the social gender role of being a woman. They have to learn to walk like a woman, talk like a woman, dress like a woman, throw a ball like a woman, carry their books like a woman, etc. None of this comes naturally to females. In other words, male and female refer to biology, the way most people are born (some are born intersex, as sex is a biological continuum rather than a dichotomy), whereas man and woman refer to the social roles people are assigned on the basis of sex and are required by society to act. Some males don't act like men and some females don't act like women. In order to act a role in a play, the actor has to have an appropriate name, an appropriate costume, and move and speak in ways appropriate to that role. We are born male or female, but we are trained and expected to act like men and women.

The training in how to act begins at birth. Remember the experiment I mentioned above where people couldn't even talk to infants unless they had first figured out if the babies were male or female, because we have been trained to speak to males and females in totally separate and different ways? The very fact that because their genitals were diapered and couldn't be seen, made it impossible for people to determine the infants' sex, is due to the fact that at that age there aren't any distinguishable differences. That changes during reproductive ages, but begins to fade again in the elderly. At the senior center where I used to eat, the volunteers who served the food were required to serve the females first. But since many elderly people had short hair, no make-up, and dressed in unisex clothing like shirts and jeans, new volunteers would often be stumped and would have to ask people at a table if any of them were female. In most cases the choice to dress that way was based on physical infirmities that made it difficult for elderly people to take greater pains with their appearance, along with the fact that many simply weren't interested in attracting sexual partners and therefore had no reason to make their sex known to strangers.

I do find your comments intellectually stimulating and enjoyable, Kelly, and I do hope we will talk more.

Comment by Mark E. Smith on June 24, 2012 at 5:16pm

Okay, this is going to be out of order, but as you mentioned previously, Kelly, it is hard to keep things in order in this type of discussion.

The reason that men can't do business in that Mexican town is because women own all the land, homes, and businesses, and control all the money. Men who want to do business are free to leave, but sociologists who interviewed them found that most seem to have become adapted to their lives of leisure and don't want to leave.

I agree that matriarchy is an improvement over patriarchy (or it can be when the matriarchs aren't greedy capitalist oligarchs like Margaret Thatcher or Hillary Clinton), but it is not anarchy or equality.

Ideally, I would prefer a society in which those who were interested in business could do business and those who weren't wouldn't be required to, without regard to sex (or race, religion, age, weight, etc.)

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