THE MASCULINITY CONSPIRACY

08: Conclusion cont’d

with 11 comments

The Problem

But identifying how the conspiracy manifests—and even how it functions—is not the end of the story. Indeed, the chief problem remains: what is ultimately behind the conspiracy? When talking about this with people there is often an assumption that I am doing something very simply here: namely, using the word “conspiracy” instead of “patriarchy.” That initially sounds quite plausible, as a good number of the points I have made in this book are based on a feminist analysis of patriarchy. Others points are based on an understanding of “hegemonic masculinity” as described by Raewyn Connell, which is about how men regulate themselves as well as women in relation to time-honored ways of being a man. Still others are based on queer theory, which is about subverting and demonstrating the fluidity of meaning that surrounds terms like “masculinity.” All these ways of looking at gender foreground patriarchy, so it is certainly a reasonable assumption that patriarchy is the conspiracy. But it is only a partial answer.

While understanding patriarchy is a crucial aspect of exposing the conspiracy, we have to move past typically entrenched positions on this subject. In debates surrounding men and masculinities, there are two commonly held positions on patriarchy. On the one hand are those with feminist sympathies who talk about patriarchy, and how this marginalizes and oppresses women (and atypical men). On the other hand are men’s rights advocates who identify the many problems suffered by men in society (such as poor health and education standards, violence, incarceration, social isolation, suicide, and so on) and simply do not see claims about patriarchy as valid any more.

But there is a way to reconcile these two seemingly opposed positions. Yes, it is true that patriarchy exists, but patriarchy is not the conspiracy, rather patriarchy is mobilized by the conspiracy. The conspiracy co-opts men to oppress women, a statement which supports the feminist claim that patriarchy operates as a regulating force within society. But, paradoxically, the conspiracy has little interest in men as individuals, which explains why men simultaneously enjoy the benefits of systemic privilege while often being on the shitty end of the stick as individuals. (There is a lot more complexity to be unpacked in this paragraph, but this will have to wait for another time).

It is crucial for those with a feminist worldview to realize that patriarchy is ultimately a tool of the conspiracy, not an end in itself. And while there are only few radical separatist feminists around these days, it is therefore important to acknowledge that there is nothing inherently bad about men, simply that they have been co-opted by the conspiracy in such an extraordinarily effective way that they usually don’t even realize it has happened. Of course, this does not absolve men of the ills wrought by patriarchy, nor of the requirement to counter its oppressive effects. It is also crucial for those with a men’s rights worldview to acknowledge that patriarchy does exist, to understand the complexity that comes with owning systemic privilege (the kind of thing that still results in men often earning more money than women for the same job) and understanding this is different to individual privilege (from which individual men may or may benefit).

CONTINUE >>>

Written by Joseph Gelfer

August 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm

11 Responses

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  1. How do you feel about the idea that the “conspiracy” that you’re talking about is just tyranny or domination in general? Patriarchy is one consequence of it but there are lots of others as well (classism, racism, etc.).

    Consider also that whenever you have pronounced sexual dimorphism in a species, with one sex being much physically bigger than the other, the bigger sex almost always dominates the other. But if the sexes are similarly-sized, and there is less dimorphism, there will be more egalitarianism in their social behaviors, e.g. see the egalitarian behaviors of gibbons.

    EDIT: Ah, I just saw the next part of your chapter in which you say that the conspiracy is power and domination in general. Yes, I’m agreed. 🙂

    ned

    September 4, 2011 at 3:11 am

  2. I’m strongly resonating with what you are saying here about bridging feminist perspectives (which I believe often waste far too much time critiquing machismo rather than critiquing women’s own false consciousness aka excessively emasculated behaviors) and perspectives on the exploitation of men in patriarchal societies. This is something I’m hoping to think more deeply about too. I think you are definitely on to something here:

    “But there is a way to reconcile these two seemingly opposed positions. Yes, it is true that patriarchy exists, but patriarchy is not the conspiracy, rather patriarchy is mobilized by the conspiracy. The conspiracy co-opts men to oppress women, a statement which supports the feminist claim that patriarchy operates as a regulating force within society. But, paradoxically, the conspiracy has little interest in men as individuals, which explains why men simultaneously enjoy the benefits of systemic privilege while often being on the shitty end of the stick as individuals. (There is a lot more complexity to be unpacked in this paragraph, but this will have to wait for another time).”

    Have you read Roy Baumeister’s book “Is There Anything Good About Men? How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men”? It was recently published by Oxford University Press. He also gave a talk on this topic below:
    http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm

    I already disagree with a lot of what he says in this talk (esp. the bit about women not improvising in jazz, which I think is a really dubious claim — I think women do improvise, but don’t get enough attention for it), so I suspect I won’t like the book either.

    I haven’t read the book yet, but it got a pretty negative review by Wendy McElroy in the Globe and Mail, in which she said it was more like a polemic or essay than a scholarly work, with lots of cherrypicked sources, so I’m already skeptical of Baumeister’s perspective (esp. since McElroy is not even a sufficiently radical feminist for me). So when you say the following:

    “It is also crucial for those with a men’s rights worldview to acknowledge that patriarchy does exist, to understand the complexity that comes with owning systemic privilege (the kind of thing that still results in men often earning more money than women for the same job) and understanding this is different to individual privilege (from which individual men may or may benefit).”

    This really hits an important note for me, in terms of bridging feminist and men’s rights perspectives. I hope you’ll write more on this topic later on.

    ned

    September 4, 2011 at 3:05 am

    • I haven’t read the book, no, but the “exploiting men” bit sounds like the usual men’s rights stuff. As is often the case, they rightly identify that something is amiss, and then make a profound error about what that something actually is, and who/what is responsible for it.

      I do plan to work some more on this aspect. I agree, it’s important. And while it doesn’t make any especially insightful claims, I believe genuinely taking it on board could make a big difference.

      Joseph

      September 4, 2011 at 8:05 am

      • Because of Baumeister’s impeccable social psych credentials, I suspect I will have to go through the book, visit the primary sources, and do some kind of critique, though I suspect someone or other will publish a proper critical review in a peer-reviewed journal sooner or later. He claims his view is a “third alternative” to feminism and to pro-patriarchal perspectives. It seems to me that although his view isn’t anti-feminist per se, it’s certainly ignorant of or fails to take into account feminist analyses of the effects of systemic oppression.

        Consider again the example he keeps giving of women not improvising in jazz. How true is this, really? Take a look at this PhD dissertation on the supposed invisibility of female improvisers in jazz:
        http://jazzstudiesonline.org/?q=node/397

        It just seems like another case of boys’ club mentality shutting out female talent and preventing female achievement from getting public recognition. I’m actually genuinely surprised that Baumeister hasn’t referenced perspectives like this or hasn’t referenced actual female jazz improvisers (given that he claims he is part of the jazz scene himself). The impression you would get from his contention is that they are totally nonexistent, but when I went out actually looking for them, I found that while women improvisers are feminized and deeply discouraged within the jazz scene in general, they are far from nonexistent.

        I’ll definitely check back at your blog to see your work on bridging feminism and men’s rights perspectives. I think it’s a very important project that is guaranteed to benefit both men and women and to improve male-female relations in general. There are also, despite appearances to the contrary, lots of meeting points between feminism and the profeminist men’s movement. Masculinity theorists like yourself are perhaps the most important male allies of the feminist movement.

        ned

        September 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm

        • I’m sure there *is* a “third alternative” to feminism and to pro-patriarchal perspectives to be had, but as you rightly note it involves genuinely having accommodated the full feminist analysis of power, and I don’t see that happening with supposedly post-feminist men.

          Joseph

          September 5, 2011 at 8:07 am

        • I personally do NOT think feminism has the full story. I’m currently reading a book edited by David Buss and Neil Malamuth bridging radical feminist and evolutionary psychology perspectives. Theories about the origins of patriarchy are worth exploring, and given the size dimorphism between men and women as well as reproductive roles that give more mobility to men, I’m led to conclude (like many other feminists) that patriarchy was probably historically inevitable, and that prior to the rise of democracy and capitalism, a sustained women’s movement was actually impossible. While I don’t buy into simplistic evolutionary psychology accounts of male and female psychology, there are more sophisticated versions of ev psych coming up based on newer “evo-eco-devo” approaches to evolution that acknowledge the impact of development and culture on evolution itself. This gives us an appropriately complex and dynamic picture to work with, and liberates us from stringent conceptions of male and female nature. I hope to work on some of these ideas during my PhD and develop them further later on.

          But like you, I’m interested in incorporating feminist analyses along with other approaches (such as ev psych or masculinity theory) into my overall metaphilosophy/metatheory regarding sex and gender. Include and transcend, as Wilber would say.

          ned

          September 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm

          • I’m wary about claims that patriarchy was historically inevitable (at least as presented as “patrifocal” by Wilber in SES), and write a bit about this in Numen, Old Men. However, I’d be interested to see where you go with this: happy to give you the benefit of the doubt (which doesn’t happen too often!) 🙂

            Joseph

            September 6, 2011 at 9:27 am

          • I’m wary about making such claims in front of certain audiences as well! But it just seems like if you study comparative primatology, whenever the male is substantially bigger than the female it always dominates. In cases where the sexes are roughly equally-sized, like the gibbons, the sexes are codominant. Our embodiment is probably also one reason why we’ve never seen a real matriarchy. But I’m open to questioning myself here as well — there could be deeper reasons for the origins of patriarchy that I’m not aware of. I do make it a point to separate questions about the origins of patriarchy from the moral need for gender equality. People who use biology to argue against feminism are just committing the naturalistic fallacy.

            ned

            September 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm

        • For me, the main advantage of ev psych approaches (though not the simplistic ultra-Darwinian ones) is that at least we can see that the origins of patriarchy were probably not really anybody’s fault, initially, though afterwards those structures get exacerbated by extreme male self-interest and the instinct/desire to dominate women. Ev psych also gives some explanation for why women have been widely complicit in maintaining and perpetuating patriarchy — here’s something that feminism, in my opinion, just hasn’t focused on enough.

          But it’s important NOT to conflate questions about the biological/embodied origins of patriarchy — which is a separate and interesting topic in its own right — with the moral imperative of our age to move into a postpatriarchal era. Anti-essentialism can be an ontological claim, but I think that more importantly, it’s an analytical strategy that we can use to conduct historical-critical analysis of the way that constructions of sex and gender are used to perpetuate male dominance.

          ned

          September 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      • Based on my reading of the social psych literature, and my personal experience of resisting systemic misogyny in my home country (Pakistan), it seems like the single biggest effect of inherited patriarchal structures on male and female psychology is that men tend to be overconfident and women tend to be underconfident. This leads men to exhibit lots of high-risk behaviors, while women do the opposite. If there’s one thing women need to work on gaining as a collective, it’s confidence — other things will surely follow as a logical consequence of that.

        ned

        September 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm


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