Okay, so now we know who doesn’t fit into Scandinavian society: those (usually) men who are heavily invested in patriarchal hierarchies. However, we also know similar types of men did very poorly when Eastern Europe broke away from the Communist bloc — yet Europe as a whole is certainly not dispensing with patriarchy. So obviously it’s not just who doesn’t fit in that determines what sort of society we’re talking about. Let’s examine instead for a moment what Scandinavian society is like, and how it compares to the rest of the world.
Zuckerman mentions that the Scandinavian overall rates of violent crime are among the lowest on earth (6); that Denmark leads the world in the residents’ overall happiness levels (7); and that there are no national anti-gay or anti-abortion movements in Scandinavia (13). Further, Denmark and Sweden have among the highest life expectancies in the world; have almost completely eradicated poverty and starvation such that the gap between rich and poor is smaller than in any other industrialized democracies; and that nearly everyone has access to decent housing, health care, food, education, and shelter (114). Not only that, but these two countries also have among the lowest world rates for percentages of infants born with low birth weight, rates of HIV infections, maternal mortality rations, and cases of tuberculosis (114-115).
That’s not all, though. Zuckerman goes on to mention the very high rankings of the Scandinavian countries according to the United Nations Human Development Report (26), UNICEF’s report on overall child welfare (26-27), and The Economist’s Quality of Life Index (29). Perhaps most personally fascinating, the UN Gender Empowerment Measure shows the top three countries are all Scandinavian — in order: Norway, Denmark, Sweden — with (startlingly) Sweden being the only country on earth where women’s poverty rates are less than or equal to men’s (27)! Finally, according to the Global Peace Index, which ranks nations according to their peace and security, Norway ranks number one, Denmark ranks third, Sweden is seventh… and the US trails at a dismal 96th (115), with the shameful “honor” of having the highest poverty rate of the developed democracies (173).
Tell me again why we’re not trying to emulate them? ;-)
So if hierarchically-obsessed men don’t fit in well with the prosperous, peaceful, well-educated, secular, egalitarian, Scandinavian welfare-state societies, then who does? Well, for starters I’d have to say women do; it must be nice to be always treated like an equal by your male colleagues. In fact, I’d guess anyone who truly believes in equality will fit in well. We may talk the “all men are created equal” talk here in the US, but we sure don’t walk the walk.
The end of patriarchy?
I attribute these societal differences between Scandinavia and the rest of the world to their being welfare states of a particular type: ones with extremely high levels of social secureness. Remember Zuckerman’s curiosity regarding levels of security within a society? He had an entire section on secure societies (113-115) in his chapter exploring the why of Scandinavian irreligiosity. But I don’t think it’s the lack of organized religion that’s the point here — I think it’s something else. I am reminded of a fascinating essay I read last semester: En’owkin: Decision-Making as if Sustainability Mattered by Okanagan Canadian educator, artist, and activist Jeannette Armstrong. Here’s the relevant quote:
I have noticed that when we include the perspective of the land and of human relationships in our decisions, people in the community change. Material things and all the worrying about matters such as money start to lose their power. When people realize that the community is there to sustain them, they have the most secure feeling in the world. The fear starts to leave, and they are imbued with hope. (16-17; italics mine)
Like the Scandinavians, the Okanagans are heavily egalitarian. So what does this show the Scandinavians are doing? It shows that they don’t believe in rigid patriarchal hierarchies of male-dominated values — that they believe everyone deserves to live secure, peaceful, prosperous, happy lives — that their egalitarian welfare state is making sure the community is there to sustain everyone.
Why is this important? It’s a concrete, real-world example that modern Western people can wrap their heads around… of what life is like after patriarchy. True, there are still quite a few matrifocused, matrilineal, and/or matriarchal societies in the world today. However, for most people in the US these societies are either completely unknown (due to being assiduously obliterated or ignored), or they’re strange and peculiar — not “normal” seeming enough — and thus, sadly, are regarded through an ethnocentric lens as nothing more than curiosities and aberrations.
Most Americans are at least vaguely familiar with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, though, just as we are familiar with France, Germany, England, or Spain. To hear of wildly successful examples of post-patriarchal living in those countries is on some level to hear that it is feasible, reasonable, achievable… even rational and well past time to strive for a post-patriarchal world. The alternatives are very clearly laid out for us: governmental bloat and incompetence, brutally unethical corporate malfeasance, an increasing gap between rich and poor, constant struggles against racism and sexism referee’d by an ever more indifferent and violently militarized police force, increasing numbers of our people dying in pointless overseas wars, heightened hatred and terrorism directed at us, an ever more poisoned environment… or:
[Q]uaint towns, inviting cities, beautiful forests, lonely beaches, healthy democracies, among the lowest violent crime rates in the world, the lowest levels of corruption in the world, excellent educational systems, innovative architecture, strong economies, well-supported arts, successful entrepreneurship, clean hospitals, delicious beer, free health care, maverick filmmaking, egalitarian social policies, sleek design, comfortable bike paths. (2-3)
All right, I admit I don’t really care about the beer. ;) But the rest of it? Hell, yes.
As I recently read in another book, Leo Braudy’s From Chivalry to Terrorism, “The problem in reducing masculinity to the penis as the mark of power is that it can easily become the mark of impotence” (184). Patriarchy is showing itself to be a self-destructive failure. Look at what’s happening in the world economy: those in power are calling upon the poor to practice yet more austerity — and the poor are exhausted and worn out. Why is it never the rich who have to tighten their belts? It’s time to move on, to create a post-patriarchal world. Let’s do it!