Thursday 4 April 2013

The Patriarchy? Seriously?

Well now.  Have you ever heard the term 'The Patriarchy'?  I'm sure you have.  It's the go-to boogeyman of feminists, leftists and right-on types, and it gets used and blamed a lot.

They do seem very reluctant to truly define it, though.  Requests for clarification are met with answers like:  "You know.  The Patriarchy."

Which doesn't really help clear things up any.

It's either that or some allusion to the oppression of women by men.  Which is also rather vague, I feel.

So I thought I'd have a little look and see if I couldn't find out for myself what it might be.  Now, this research below didn't take long, and if anyone can give me a better explanation, I'd like to hear it.


Let's start with the name.  The term 'Patriarchy' means that men - or more specifically given its etymology - fathers, rule society.  And indeed, men have ruled over many societies, not just western ones, since time immemorial.  No argument from me there.

The problem I see is that this has lead to the assumption that all men rule over the society of which they are a part.  And this simply is not true. Moreover, there is the idea that men have oppressed women since the dawn of time, and this is also not true.

Allow me to explain.

These twin assumptions would lead one to the impression that all men, throughout the ages, have lived well and had a say in how society is run.  They also would lead you to believe that the lot of women has been far worse, that women have had no say at all in how society is run, and have generally been held in thralldom to the wills of the men to whom they are related or married, and boy have they suffered for it.

Here's the thing:  whilst civilisation has invariably been run by men, it has only been the men at the top: those belonging to an elite class.  Nobody else had a say at all, for a very long time.  Even here in the West, in our much-vaunted democracies, it was pretty much a closed shop.

Allow me to present, as an example, a timeline for the right to vote here in the UK:

1800: Voting allowed on the basis of wealth and class.  About 3% of the population could vote.

1832: The Reform Act allowed certain leaseholders and householders the vote, taking the figure to 5%.

1867: The Second Reform Act extended the voting population to about 20%.

1884: The Third Reform Act extended the vote to any adult male owning or occupying land with an annual rateable value of £10 or more could vote - and the figure went up to 24%

1918: The Representation of the People Act meant that all men over the age of 21 could vote, and all women over the age of 30 could vote.

1969: All adults over the age of 18 could vote.

So, until 1918, the majority of men were unable to vote; even after 1884, less than 50% of men could vote or have any say in what went on.

And in the meantime, who fought the wars that the government decided to fight?  Who worked in the dangerous jobs?

When women were campaigning for suffrage in 1916, where were their men?  Where would you have rather been at that time - chained to railings in Belgravia to campaign for the right to vote, or conscripted against your will to a mud-filled trench in France to get a facefull of mustard gas?

My point being, the Patriarchy, if such we are to call it, oppressed men a damned sight more than it did women.  Which leads one to think that the Patriarchy is, in fact, a myth.

It was a monarchy.  It was an aristocracy.  It was an oligarchy.  Given the use of the militia to quell, inter alia, the chartist riots, it was arguably a timarchy.

But I cannot see how it has ever been a patriarchy.

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