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The Patriarchy, the Gynocracy, and Other Comforting Myths of Struggle

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This post was very sweetly nominated for the 3 Quarks Daily Philosophy Prize. I think Karl Smith’s Pessimist Manifesto articulates the same philosophical points more generally and better.


Conspiracy theories are comforting. They posit an enemy – “bad guys” who are responsible for the mess we’re in – and they give us a group to imagine we’re struggling against, allowing us to be the “good guys.”

Patriarchy is, of course, real – in the Sudan, in Afghanistan, and for tens of thousands of years of human history. “Males dominate public/political realm” is on D.E. Brown’s list of human universals; it characterizes every human society that has ever been studied. Contrary to the wishes of wiccans and the like, there never have been any female-dominated societies.

In the modern West, however, almost all legal barriers to gender equality have been removed – as well as many practical ones (e.g., birth control, abortion, and the information economy). So why aren’t all our problem solved? Why do men still commit the vast majority of lethal violence? Why do men still “dominate the public/political realm”? Why aren’t there as many female math professors as male math professors? Why are female leading actors still mostly young and beautiful?

The comforting conspiracy theory is that all this is from socialization. Boys and girls are somehow influenced, from a young age, to take on the gender roles that they do. If we “good guys” could only change this socialization, then all the problems attributed to patriarchy would vanish.

But only an evolution denier could hold such a position (and, indeed, many feminists are evolutionary psychology deniers). A species with (historic and present) effective polygyny as high as ours is never going to achieve gender equality in anything but a legal sense.

And gynocracy, of course, is real, too – at least recently, in the West. While there are few situations in which the law prefers men over women, there are many situations in which the law protects (and sometimes “protects”) women at the expense of men’s interests. Here are a few:

  • By United States federal law, baby girls may not have their genitals mutilated, but baby boys may.
  • The near-universal prohibition on prostitution primarily affects men’s interests, because men are nearly the sole consumers of sexual services of both male and female prostitutes (fantasies like the television show Hung notwithstanding). A male who is unwilling or unable to enter a mutual sexual output contract has few legal options for obtaining sexual services – certainly a very important part of human happiness.
  • For a female, consent to sex does not equal consent to have and support a child. For a male, it does. A man may be forced to support a child he did not wish to have merely because he is the genetic parent.
  • On the other hand, for a female, being the genetic parent is enough to establish parental rights to the child. A male must often demonstrate more than genetic paternity – e.g., a relationship with the child or attempt to support the child – in order to have parental rights recognized at law.

The above examples of what might be termed “gynocracy” are wrong, and should be rectified. But will all the problems between men and women disappear if only we get the right legal system in place? If it didn’t work for women, why would we expect it to work for men? Or for any other oppressed group?

Evil exists. But there is no “enemy” except ourselves. Evolution has created organisms that compete with each other – intrasexually as well as intersexually. Our organism has developed the concepts of “good” and “evil,” “fairness and “cheating,” that help us live in large groups and compete successfully. But all the “good” and “fairness” in the world does not guarantee human happiness. In fact, it is human suffering that is guaranteed.

Conceiving of problems as struggles between us and our enemies is problematic because it gives false hope – hope that one can “win” the struggle. If only the right people were in charge, we think, things would be alright.

But the hope is a false one. Problems such as those between men and women are deep, systemic, and insoluble. They are part of our nature and will always exist. If we perpetuate our species, we perpetuate the problems. There will never be a time when “it was all worth it” – when we can look back on our previous struggles and pat ourselves on the back.

As we perpetuate our species, we do so on the backs of the suffering. And always shall.

On the curious proposition that women are as violent as men in relationships, see also my Demonic Males and Attack Heifers: On the Sex Ratio of Marital Violence.

Written by Sister Y

July 23, 2010 at 12:03 am

What is Special about Genetic Paternity?

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This post is a follow-up to Child Support for Unwanted Children is Wrong.

I am trying to find arguments why it might be morally just to force a genetic father to pay child support, even if he did not wish to conceive a child.

The closest thing to an argument I have come across in support of this proposition is this: What matters is not the rights of the parents, but the best interests of the child. The focus should be on what is best for the child, who after all did not choose to be conceived or born; and it is in the child’s interest to have a legal father responsible for her well-being, at least financially.

This argument has some validity; perhaps the focus should be on what is best for the child, and the rights of adults should come second. But we still have no account of why genetic paternity matters.

If we performed a “best interests of the child” analysis when assigning a child a legal father, we would have to look at many things besides genetic paternity. Perhaps the wealthiest candidate should be chosen, or perhaps the one best equipped to be a father. This would very often be someone other than the genetic father of the child.

If consent to sex is all that is required to forcibly assign paternity, why not inquire into which of the mother’s former sex partners would be the best father for the child, and assign him the burden? This would be better for the child than always assigning this burden to the genetic father. Better yet, we could force all former sex partners of the mother to share in the financial support of the child, which would certainly be better for the child than having just one (potentially deadbeat) father. But why stop there? Unless we have an account of why consent to sex equals consent to birth, we should really expand the circle of potential fathers to include everyone. (And why limit it to males?) Why should genetic fathers pay child support, and not the public in general or a “father” chosen by the best-interests-of-the-child lottery – regardless of whether he had sex with mom?

In forcibly assigning child support to someone against his will, why does genetic paternity matter at all?

Written by Sister Y

June 1, 2010 at 9:59 pm