Patriarchy is often consider a feminist (or should I say feminazi!!) conspiracy theory: the idea that all penis-wielding entities are somehow in on the maintenance of a worldwide phallocentric hegemony. Well, understandably this is how it looks sometimes before you read the literature. Some feminist assertions do sound rather like conspiracy theories when there is no “hard evidence” to back it up. After all, suggesting that men around the world not only benefit from but seek to perpetuate, whether consciously or unconsciously, Patriarchal hegemony in its various manifestations (e.g. gender norms; sociocultural and political hierarchies based on race, sex, etc.; rape culture; Sex Binary Construct; etc.) sounds, well, like the Patriarchy: it is a sex-based and thus sexist proposition, for one thing, but also sounds a touch crazy– penis-carriers from around the world subconsciously and/or actively participate in systems of mass control (i.e. dominance hierarchies), even perhaps with the knowledge that they are submitting to a position within such systems, themselves, as a way to make gain?
I admit, that does sound a little X-Files-y. But there is more substance to this theory than readily meets the eye. Something that has become more and more prominent as a concern for the Modern Man is testosterone.
One often hears about the falling levels of testosterone among the modern male population, especially in “developed” countries. Stories and blogs and conversations about and from men claim that they are emasculated, that society has stripped them of their Manhood (capital ‘M’); there are even commercial ventures which benefit from playing off this fear of limp-dickedness (and they sell it with lines like, “when we were still cavemen, we knew how to get what we wanted even if it meant dragging women by their hair into our caves”). The backlash to emasculation often expresses itself, frighteningly, as violence…especially violence against women and marginalized groups.
The flipside to this coin of the Modern Male is that the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by men, against men. Testosterone has long been linked with violent and aggressive behavior. Yet rates of violence have not decreased with the apparent drop in levels of testosterone. Why should this be?
The link between testosterone and aggression is somewhat of an overstated one: there is, in fact, little evidence to support this link in humans and our close relatives (via Nature, Eisenegger 2009). Rather there is a link between testosterone and dominance behavior (which in humans does not usually mean aggression, or “behavior intended to inflict physical injury” [Booth, et al.; Testosterone and Social Behavior, 2006]), which is impacted by sociocultural environment (e.g. ‘social perception, previous experience, propensity for specific behavior’, etc.) in combination with genetic, physiological, and other environmental factors (Booth, et al. 2006). Thus, links between testosterone and dominating and aggressive behaviors are highly individualistic. In general, there does appear to be a causal relationship between higher testosterone and more frequent expression of dominance behavior, but trends of higher testosterone and violence (including perpetration of violent crimes) must be considered on an individual basis that accounts for social, environmental, and physiological factors. In humans, there is little firm evidence correlating increased testosterone and aggression (and, it’s interesting to note, decreased testosterone and reduced libido).
Thus, while dominance behaviors may decrease as a result of lower testosterone, a drop in testosterone does not necessarily mean a drop in violent behavior. That violence is influenced by so much more than biology, alone, possibly supports the idea that men who feel emasculated tend towards violence as a way of regaining masculinity. Indeed, it could be that the very suggestion of emasculation, such as a drop in their collective, “manly” testosterone, increases a man’s aggressive or violent behaviors.
I have often heard men complain about how Politically Correct their world has become, and how much they hate it. They can no longer make sexist jokes. They can no longer openly sexually harrass women. They jeopardize their jobs and risk being socially ostracized by failing to be “PC”. I also hear [American] men complaining a whole lot about how much women are complaining about how much control they’re losing over their reproductive health and bodily autonomy. The justification for this often goes something like, that’s the way it goes because women are the baby makers. (Or they may mention Eve, which really goes too far… Sort of kidding.) Similarly, many American men don’t seem to understand why women desire things like equal pay and equal employment and equal, uh, rights. Why should they need those things when they have men to Provide for them?
Modern men in Developed countries seem to be at the brink. They feel out-of-control, emasculated– like they are losing, have already lost their Manhood. They feel like they’re going soft, and that women are far too dominant over them. They feel that they are under attack, that they can’t be Real Men anymore. Some of them are seriously pissed off by today’s gender bending. Some of them may feel like they can get Manhood back by acting out violently and aggressively, by asserting power or by intimidating and threatening.
This escalating trend of men complaining about losing Manhood and being emasculated, which has really been going on quite a while now (probably quite a bit further back then I recognize) and may be coming to a head, is very strong evidence of Patriarchy. Not a global, organized network of men from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds who actively organize to promote their agenda, but an agenda it still is. And men from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds recognize the benefit of maintaining this agenda. When the agenda begins to slip out of their firm control is when the Patriarchal structure that underpins all societies in its various forms begins to manifest itself. Really, Patriarchy works best when it’s taken for granted, and on the DL.
The idea of society being anything but phallocentric terrifies a lot of men. Many places in the world still loathe female leadership. It is unnatural. Even in a family, my male Cambodian compadres tell me, there may be “equality” but there must always be a head…and that head should be male. It’s really a law of nature.
But let us not forget the role that women play in Patriarchal hegemony, as well. Their role is really crucial, in fact– without their cooperation, Patriarchy would quickly collapse. Women must believe in the naturalness of sex roles– of sex itself. And most women buy willingly into Patriarchy because they, too, benefit somehow. Patriarchy is not a totalitarian regime, but a very cleverly, seemingly organically-built construct that is adaptive and flexible. It would not have lasted this long if it were a pure slave state. The slaves must believe in their own subordination to perpetuate such a state for as long as Patriarchy has survived.
So when women mock men who are too feminine, or talk about how they want a Real Man, or really when they do anything to promote the Chicks-from-Venus-Dicks-from-Mars notion…they are reinforcing their own degradation. And really, the degradation of all humanity. Patriarchy is degrading for all of us.