Friday, September 25, 2009

Living in the patriarchy

Bucking the patriarchy

Say what you will about the many great and undeniable strides we have taken over the last 200 years, ours is still a largely patriarchal society.

For women, in spite of pioneers like Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher, the patriarchy affords more value to their sex appeal, their physical appearance, than to their intellectual, entrepreneurial, or political accomplishments.

F**king the patriarchy

Examples abound. Consider how the cameras and microphones flock around such vacuous personalities as Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. And what else can possibly explain the phenomenon of a feather brain like Sarah Palin being seriously considered as a potential presidential candidate other than the mystique of a physically attractive woman? She can scarcely articulate a coherent thought, much less formulate a vision of governance.

(And hats off to those women who use the patriarchy to their advantage. Take, for example, Madonna who, back in the 80's, recognized the premium placed on female sexuality and skillfully used her own to build a financial empire of enormous proportions.)

"Get back in the game, Marino!"

The patriarchy takes a toll on the male psyche as well. So often, sexual potency is deemed to be the true measure of a man. Consider all the ads on television for Viagra and similar products. Or the weight-loss advertisements featuring has-been athletes like Dan Marino who are being urged by a nubile female to "get back in the game." Or take a gander through the junk folder of your email to see all the advertisements for "male enhancement" snake oil.

Traditional courtship

Some of this is inherent in our DNA, it seems to me. Human procreation has not evolved with the success of the species. During our hunter-gatherer phase of existence, perpetuation of the species followed the general rule of nature: males were driven to spread their seed far and wide, increasing the probability that some of their progeny would survive to sexual maturity. Conversely, sexually well-endowed women attracted and retained men to help them care for children. Hence, today a promiscuous male is tacitly admired and respected, while his female counterpart is deemed a "slut." A responsible and conscientious mother is a paragon of virtue, while males who are faithful to their families, despite loud and pious public acclamations to the contrary, are often held in a certain dismissive contempt.

As much as I like to imagine myself to be a relatively progressive, forward-thinking individual here in the 21st century,  not beholden to anachronistic modes of behavior, I find that it is nearly impossible to escape the patriarchal tradition of modern culture. Or, to put it more plainly: I'm afraid I'm more of a sexist than I might like.

I had a conversation with a female coworker once, a dear friend. We were having a bit of a spat, over some work matter. She accused me of being patronizing toward women.

Said she, "You treat women like precious flowers!"

To which I replied, "Honey, don't you worry your pretty little head about such things."

Livin' in the patriarchy, people. Just livin' in the patriarchy.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Indeed; we are all "living in the patriarchy." It's funny; 20 years ago i was a militant pro-choice feminist. and now; it's funny how middle age and motherhood can diminish some of that radicalism and replace with tenderness of ALL of humanity (not just all-suffering women under the thumb of the patriarchy). Suffering is indiscriminate; it is the human condition. The truth is, life is brutal and harsh for men and women, but in disparate ways.