What Is Patriarchy?

In yesterday's post I stated that the growing lack of interest in organized, patriarchal religion in Scandinavia is not some simple, casual social cause-and-effect, but rather the unplanned byproduct of the social elimination of patriarchy. This may sound startling, but I have a number of excellent reasons for this statement.

First, though, let's take a moment to examine what I'm referring to when I say patriarchy. For example, what are its integral structural elements? There are two main ones: social establishment of dualistic thinking, followed quite naturally by social hierarchy. This is why "rule of the fathers" (the literal definition of patriarchy) is so pernicious: it is the nature of such thinking to define oppositionally, and thereby to assign value or hierarchy. Thus if "rule of the fathers" and dualistic thinking is the social norm, no other options may exist in the minds of its proponents — because if the social norm is "good," then by definition all other forms of ruling and thinking are "bad." As further example, I suspect most of us have heard of the man / good / strong / active / ordered civilization trope. Unsurprisingly, in such a situation woman can only — and by definition — be what is not-man: wicked / weak / passive / chaotic destruction.

So that's an extremely simplified working definition of patriarchy. Do we see this implemented in the Scandinavian countries? No, it's quite the contrary. What we see instead is repeated examples of egalitarianism: where strict and/or rigid hierarchy is dispensed with, and categories such as woman and man, or civilization and nature, can be considered to be of equal value. Curiously, Zuckerman himself mentions these as interesting oddities, but he seems to completely miss their importance. He wonders if the Scandinavians' "extremely passionate belief in the value of equality" (30) might have any influence on the dearth of religiosity, and sadly explores the frightening inequities of American life (173). He mentions the extremely high Scandinavian rates of education (92, 119), political participation, and charitable donations (74) — unsurprising in societies which feel everyone should have both a voice and a chance.

Later Zuckerman quotes several individuals who either discuss their individual spirituality, or mention that a high standard of living tends to produce diverse spiritualities (as in, an increased tolerance for varied religious beliefs, since they are all of equal value) rather than allegiance to a single, hierarchical, organized religion (51, 92, 126, 142, 149, 163). He quotes yet more individuals who are indifferent to or actively resist the standard hierarchical social structures such as marriage, imposed organized religion, or undemocratic kings (83, 126, 142, 139, 170).

Yet even after all that, Zuckerman cannot see the possibility of a spirituality outside of the "major" organized religions! Instead he casually asserts that "many contemporary Europeans [are] implicitly religious in that they may be believers without actively belonging to a church or congregation, [but] the situation is just the opposite in Scandinavia where … the majority of men and women actually 'belong without believing'" (150).

Perhaps most personally striking is the author's description of a discussion between himself and several Danish individuals regarding whether freedom of speech should have any limits. Zuckerman is an American, so his effectively dualistic thinking style was no surprise: freedom of speech must exist as a greatest good with absolutely no impediment, in the paternalistic hierarchy of values. However, I would like to believe that Zuckerman also was quite moved by the commentary by one thoughtful gentleman there who replied to him:

[H]e of course also had a great deal of respect for freedom of the press, [but] he said that one cannot use that ideal to smugly justify deliberate acts of provocation. He felt that the newspaper was out of line — that the publication … was unnecessary and unkind. And furthermore, he believed that to insult people's religion just because you can is not the wisest of editorial choices. Satire may be an admirable and useful tool for a weak minority to employ against a powerful majority. But when a powerful majority uses satire to mock a weak minority, it is a pernicious act. (37)

Clearly this gentleman understands — and has beautifully explained — both religious tolerance and egalitarianism, as well as the abuse of power for which patriarchal modes of thought are infamous. This is not simply a dualistic question of freedom of speech uber alles, as one friend tried to frame it to me. There is also the question of hierarchy: just because I am in the more-valued majority, does that give me the right to mock the supposedly inferior minority with impunity? I believe the answer to that question is a strong no — otherwise it becomes not freedom of speech, but a cruel and spiteful act.

Who's Odd Man Out?

The above example is particularly poignant because my next step in my argument is to look and see who is not fitting into modern Scandinavian society. One of Zuckerman's interviews was with a Danish criminal prosecutor, and according to this gentleman well over half the violent crime is committed by the (usually Muslim) immigrants — and yet this group constitutes only about 15% of the populace. As the prosecutor notes: "We have this large group of people from other countries and they are really doing a lot of crime. It's a big problem, especially because they're not educated and they don't want to adapt to the Danish society" (49; italics mine). He goes on to describe these criminals as predominantly male, between the ages of 10 and 30, engaging in violence such as "street fights" after drinking, muggings, robberies, and rapes.

I find this incredibly significant, because it powerfully reminds me of part of the previously reviewed book The Tending Instinct: How Nurturing is Essential to Who We Are & How We Live by Shelley E. Taylor. In particular, I'm reminded of the following, in Part IV of the same review:

Creepily, in times of great social upheaval when the tending system breaks down, those who die the most are the unmarried men (126). The reasons why are obvious when you know what to look for: men depend heavily on women for emotional sustenance, and do not have social networks of their own to provide access to basic life necessities. When deprived of women's nurturance, the unmarried men not only often go short on things like food, meaningful work, and/or shelter, but they also turn for their social needs to each other. This does decrease the possibility of having their masculinity challenged and their self-esteem undermined by looking for work… but also increasing their often-drunken, terminal risk-taking behavior (Taylor, 128-129).

Violent crime in this case is not just terminal risk-taking behavior — it's also a clear expression of men who feel out of control attempting to re-assert their masculinity. Think about it: in patriarchal Muslim society, as in many equally patriarchal Christian societies, the man is supposed to be the master of his house, the social superior, the provider of food and money and protection. These men might even have been initially excited about moving to Denmark, just as Taylor's Eastern European men mentioned above were excited to become part of the non-communist world. That excitement turns pretty quickly to shock, despair, and anger, though, once they realize they are uneducated and under-trained for this brave new world — and there aren't enough jobs for them. In such situations rage turns easily to violence, especially when drinking or drugs are added to this already-volatile emotional mix.

To reiterate: the people who do not or cannot fit into the Scandinavian societies are men raised in — and still clinging strongly to — patriarchal social precepts.


Similar Posts: