Woman as scarecrow

I’m reading a historical document from the 1960’s, a feminist article by Marlene Dixon, in which she describes what it is to be a woman:

“They know their lives are mutilated, because they see within themselves a promise of creativity and personal integration. Feeling the contradiction between the essentially creative and self-actualizing human being within her, and the cruel and degrading less-than-human role she is compelled to play, a woman begins to perceive the falseness of what her society has forced her to be. And once she perceives this, she knows that she must fight.”

Notice there’s a definition of woman here — a creative and self-actualizing human being forced to play a less-than-human role. Those were the days when it was still possible to define woman, the days when only misogynist gay men denigrated women with the term “breeder” — unlike today when we’re supposed to accept being called “menstruator” or “bleeder” or “vagina-holder” or simply “non-men”.

So I began to wonder what males see when they look at a woman. It’s pretty clear that a significant portion of males don’t see the essentially creative female human striving to actualize her potential, to grow in wisdom through searching for meaning. Trxns males, in particular, show what they see in how they present womanhood. They see only the skin, the costume. They claim a dress, a wig as woman — this is colonization as much as Europeans who, coming to American, saw only empty land, blind to the humans on the land engaged in the perpetual human task of wresting meaning from an infinite universe.

The fact that almost all the  male-dominated institutions of the public world accept this means it’s not only trxns males  who see women as nothing more than scarecrows, clothing stuffed with straw.

But you know, perception is subjective. What we see is often a reflection of ourselves, rather than the reality. If a man sees woman as straw, is that because he feels himself to be nothing but a sack of the same? If so there is no greater representation of the male lack than the trxns male decked out in makeup and heels.

I think a  case can be made that many modern western males are alienated. Capitalist patriarchy has seduced them for generations with roles that are supposed to gratify their egos: jobs that offer status and importance, and the role of “head” of a family. But a lot of men don’t expect to find meaning in work anymore. They’ve become disenchanted. We all know that if you want someone to talk about a job, hire a man, but if you want someone to do the job, hire a woman. And many women have no need anymore of a second head plopped on top of their own. A woman can do anything a man can do, and frequently better. So what role does a man have these days?

Women, on the other hand, have been fuelled by a couple of decades of “grrrrrl-power”, and special programs to boost girls’ self-esteem. Doors are still opening for women, and there’s excitement to being first at something. First high-profile defense attorney, first attorney-general, first neuro-surgeon, first presidential candidate. Women don’t hollow themselves out in pursuit of these goals. We continue to feel emotions, to monitor our inner state, to question whether what we’re doing is giving a sense of fulfillment. One thing patriarchy has not taken from us is an inner life.

But that’s exactly what patriarchy has taken from men. So when there is nothing external for them to hang onto, no job or role that tells them they’re important or valuable, they have nothing else. Straw men, that’s what we’re dealing with. Straw men who hate the women who are excited, dynamic, bravely pushing past barriers. Straw men who have to remind us over and over again that while we may *think* we’re important or successful or valuable, but we’re really just pieces of meat. A little sexual harassment accomplishes that very well.

And for those that don’t have that opportunity, there’s the ultimate ploy. Colonize the costume of “woman”, parade it in front of women to rub our noses in the image you have of us, the image you want us to have of ourselves. If that’s the case, trxns males are jealous of women. And they’re trying to drag us down to their level of hollowness and cynicism.

Finally, trxns males are ditching the responsibilities of manhood, which are the same as those of womanhood — to find some meaning and purpose to life on a tiny planet at the edge of a huge and indifferent universe. And while they disown the responsibilities, they’re holding on to the priviledges.

So there he is — pretending to be a woman as he lords it over us. Because he’s jealous. And because joining women as we conquer worlds would demean him. A sack of straw blowing away in the wind.

Advertisements

How “man” renders men invisible

I recently came across an article by Clifford J. Green on the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved in the German resistance to the Nazis and was eventually imprisoned and killed by them. Bonhoeffer questioned at length his own desire to be a Christian theologian, and Green argues that the personal issues Bonhoeffer faced in himself became part of his theology. That’s the overall thrust of Green’s article.

I was interested in how Bonhoeffer analyzed his own self-perceived egocentricity. He describes an egocentric as (1) “a man of impressive power” who (2) “dominates others”, viewing them as “things”. This way of relating to others (3) violates human relationships and destroys community. His conscience, instead of repairing what he destroys, (4)justifies his “autocratic solitude”.

The word “man” is used by both Bonhoeffer and Green as if it refers to humanity in general. But I ask you, does this four-fold analysis describe women? When Bonhoeffer generalized from what he saw in himself, does anyone think he considered women? Of course not. The idea is ludicrous.

YET — in pretending to talk about humanity through terms like “man”, academics like Bonhoeffer and Green lose the opportunity to discover insights about men.

Bonhoeffer made his remarks in the 1930’s. Green’s article appeared in 1967. Even though exactly the same thing continues to happen, I thought this article showed particularly clearly how men — in failing to see women — fail to see themselves.

Bonhoeffer’s analysis  is an acute indictment of patriarchally-conditioned masculinity. I am particularly struck by his conclusions regarding male “autocratic solitude”. It makes perfect sense that when people seek power to dominate others, they can have no true relationships with others. Masters and slaves aren’t intimate with each other, and that includes when the master is the husband, and the slave is his wife. As a consequence, men are alone. And lonely.

Recent male commentators are starting to suspect that men join misogynist and racist hate groups primarily for a sense of belonging. How desperately lonely do you have to be to join misogynist MRA groups where participants howl out their pain over lack of female companionship? Does serial rape fill the void in the heart?

I doubt that the patriarchy can be dismantled without male cooperation. So I think it’s essential that men figure out that they are half the human race only, and start paying attention to the other half. By that I don’t mean paying attention to women’s sexuality, or to all the other ways that men have coerced women into serving them.

I mean paying attention to them as if they were just as autonomous as men, living their own lives for self-directed purposes. I mean referring to men as men, not as “menandwomen”, thus leaving open a space for women. And I mean becoming curious about what’s in that space.

“Masculinity” , when it’s confused with “humanity” through such words as “mankind” is, if anything, anti-humanity. That’s because it offers the human being as a uniped rather than a biped ( to use a very appropriate metaphor). Human beings’ personalities comprise countless attributes. Men in patriarchy divided them all into two large categories — the masculine and the feminine. These categories are ideas only. They don’t actually exist.

Still, the world men see contains people with the “leg” of femininity bent and bound at the knee, forcing people to stump along on only the “leg” of masculinity. It doesn’t work. Humanity has not progressed since patriarchy began about 8000 years ago; it simply cycles between less brutal and more brutal. We cannot progress until men unbind the “leg” of femininity and unpack and legitimize the contents of that category.

Both men and women need the attributes of both categories. Feminine compassion without masculine discernment leads to the enabling of all kinds of things that should be contained rather than enabled. And masculine judgement without feminine empathy leads to state-sanctioned murder.

The problems with identity

The subtitle of this blog is “deconstructing identity and culture”. The culture part is patriarchy of course. But in these days of “identity politics”, of identity being used as a weapon for exclusion or inclusion, of the proliferation of ideas about identity, I think it’s time I said something about why I feel identity needs to be deconstructed.

Identity is more or less a synonym for what Freud called the “ego”. He coined the word to describe that part of the self that says “I”. In other words the part of us that recognizes ourselves as autonomous and discrete on the one hand, and a unified package consistent over time on the other. That is our sense of self, or of identity as a self.

It’s a challenge to develop a healthy ego/identity/sense of self, and that development is overwhelmingly affected by external circumstances. It takes years for a child to accept that she (or he) is autonomous and discrete, separate from all others. It’s frightening. It means that in some way we are alone on the planet, in the universe. That “alone-ity” can be terrifying. Those who can’t handle it become needy and clingy, always looking for someone to merge with. Then look at whose job it is to guide the young through the journey to selfhood. Ordinary people. Flawed people. People with all kinds of ideas about how to do it. People who don’t care. People who are themselves needy, who’ve had children for the purpose of keeping the aloneness away.

The end result is an ego that is a mess of scar tissue. Wounds to the sense of self can’t be undone, only covered up. Our sense of identity, then, often becomes a clutch of claims we make to make ourselves feel like we matter. It’s like saying, “if I am a discrete, autonomous individual then I want to be a special one, an important one, I want my difference from others to be significant.” But that means we’re not truly autonomous. A truly autonomous being simply gets on with life, being who they are without having to make claims about who they are or measuring themselves against others.

A lot of these claims are really limiting, and I think one purpose they serve is to create walls to box us in like the walls of a house. They’re comforting and they ensure we don’t have to experience the infinity of time and space, which is really, really scary. Think about “identifying” simply as one of billions of human beings who have lived on the planet earth — an outlier planet in the milky way galaxy which is itself an outlier galaxy in the bit of the universe our machines have access to — over the past million or so years. Talk about reducing your importance to nothing.

So on the one hand we make identity claims to make a place for ourselves in the universe and in our specific time and place, in our society. But that brings us back to the second problem, which is that identity is created through interaction with a world of other people. I’m referring now not to the flawed immediate family, but to the public, political world. This world is not unbiased. The world around us has an agenda.

No society wants authentic members. No society wants people of integrity. No society wants self-aware people.

What society wants are copies of itself. It wants people who fit into easy stereotypes.  It wants to tell you the size and shape of your box and amputate parts of you until you fit. It wants people who conform, which means people who are controllable. If you want to be authentic, it’s likely you’ll need to withdraw from society so that you can try to liberate yourself from its expectations.

And while we go about making claims about our identity, society is also making claims about our identity. Society identifies us largely by externals: as male/female, white/brown/black, rich/poor, sophisticated/ignorant, handsome/ugly, fat/slim. In that way it imposes identity on us. Then our identity is a box that imprisons us.

Most of us don’t identify with large parts of ourselves. Who identifies as a liar? As a cheat? As selfish? In order to maintain a sense of identity that makes us feel good about ourselves we have to tell ourselves lots of lies because, frankly, most of us are selfish lying cheats, aren’t we?

Identity becomes a barrier to authenticity and to genuine individuation. Our sense of identity stops us from growing up.

Most spiritual paths are about either transcending or dissolving the ego self. Whether or not you think there’s anything “spiritual”, the fact that lots of humans have thought getting beyond the ego was a good thing is itself evidence that the ego self is a problem.

So I think personal happiness and fulfillment requires that we explore who we are beyond identity. But there’s yet another permutation to the problem of identity. If we “identify” in some ways acceptable to our families and to our culture, we perpetuate that culture. When that culture is as harmful and destructive as patriarchy, we bring that destructiveness inside ourselves in order to replicate it outside of ourselves. We internalize patriarchy.

If we want to end patriarchy we need to deconstruct our patriarchally-constructed identities. We need to find ways to be human that go beyond the limitations of identity.

 

 

Is kindness possible?

20180511_122413

I read something in the New Yorker magazine yesterday that I really needed to read as an antidote to the interminable, depressing and infuriating news that keeps streaming into my reader about the assaults of the war on women. I almost — but not quite — begin to understand women who refuse to know, who want to keep it light. Just before reading the New Yorker article, in the actual paper magazine, I received an online post from weirdward in Dusk is Falling who referred to patriarchy as a “death cult”. It occurred to me that she’s right. In my early postings on this blog I referred to it as “POP culture” and then “POP Cult”. These were meant as black humour. Patriarchy means the leadership of the father, and Pop is an American slang word for father, right? Get it? I’m not sure that anybody did. But I also meant POP as an anagram for “People of Power”, because patriarchy can be defined as organization of a populace by gradations of power, and some patriarchs can be female. And I changed “culture” to “cult” because there’s nothing cultured about it. We are all brainwashed as thoroughly as the poor souls who drank the koolaid in Jonestown.

But I think “death cult” is more to the point, not only because it leads to all kinds of death including soul or spiritual death but because death was the original purpose for which patriarchy was instituted. Patriarchy spread across populations between 8000 and 5000 years ago, at exactly the same time as the greatest wars we know about were fought. As Marilyn French reported, the world suddenly exploded into mass violence, death and destruction. It seems that men all around the globe, from the middle east to south American, decided to start killing each other. Historians don’t yet know why. They speculate that populations might have grown to the point that various communities began impinging on each other.

Another possibility is that men had been developing team play and competitiveness through the hunt and killing of animals, particularly big animals, for long enough that they became drunk with the need for competition and for greater and greater hunting challenges. It has recently been discovered that as human populations spread across the earth, the largest animals disappeared, hunted to extinction. It’s not such a stretch to think that some hunting teams decided that men of another population group would be the perfect prey. At any rate, after they killed the neighbouring men, they enslaved the women and children. It’s also possible that access to those women and children was the point of the killing.

And so patriarchy, as a hierarchical system of power in which men were trained to kill, and women were enslaved, was slowly and painfully born. You’d think it would be out of date now. It’s not. What I see all around me here in North America is a population of men powerfully conditioned with the attributes that a killer needs, and a population of women still powerfully conditioned with the attributes that keep a slave alive.

That’s the only explanation for why men keep sexually harassing, stalking and killing women at a time and place where women are supposedly equal to men and supposedly free to enter the public world of work and politics alongside men. What the patriarchy gives with the right hand, it takes away with the left.

In patriarchy the whole ladder of competition, power and status is reserved for men. And men are placed on it whether they want to be or not. A man who refuses to compete finds himself at the bottom of the ladder. There is no way for him to remove himself from it. Women are never on the ladder, even when they work alongside men, even when they are better than men at the job, even when they are men’s superior officers. A man scores no points for beating a woman at work, but loses many points for being beaten by a woman. This is why men prefer to have male-only workplaces. They sexualize women in the workplace to remind women of their role, which is only one. Women are, first and last, men’s reward. They are the silver cup given to the winning team. That’s it.

And so many women provide the appropriate response. They smile. They compete to be the best trophy. They say “pick me! pick me!” The highest status male gets the best reward, whether that is the most beautiful wife, the best mother of his children, the best servant or the most elegant prostitute. And women compete in all those categories because being picked by the highest status male offers a better guarantee of continued life.

There have always been some men who don’t want the life of a master and who romanticize the life of the slave. The history of imperialism doesn’t say much about them except for the curious description of men who “turn native”. I suspect this includes men who wanted to outdo the slave in slavery, or who continued to dominate the enslaved class while pretending to be one of them. Is that what the trans movement is about? Is it men who have romanticized femininity and believe they are better women than women and want to teach women how to do it right while they continue to treat women just as men have always treated women in patriarchy — through domination and subjugation? I despair at all the women who welcome them and at all the men who must be laughing up their sleeves as they record male victories over women as if they were women’s victories.

My opinion of humanity has never been all that high, but it is sliding to new lows. Then I read Elif Batuman’s Letter from Tokyo about a booming business in renting family members and friends. It seems as Japanese society becomes more like western society, with more people than ever before living alone due to divorce and children leaving home, the Japanese have invented a service of renting people to replace missing friends and relatives. A man whose wife had died, and whose daughter had left home, hired a woman and daughter pair to have dinner with him occasionally. A woman no longer in contact with an abusive husband hired a man to play the role of father to her child. Some of these arrangements go on for years. The man who played the role of father read books and watched videos to prepare for the role, to learn how to be a good dad. There are services for middle-aged married woman, where men will romance them for a fee (no sex included or allowed). You can hire a young man to help you cry by showing you sad videos and crying with you. You can hire a groom for a false wedding. You can even hire an entire wedding party.

It struck me as I was reading that these are kindness services. The Japanese are hiring people of both sexes to be kind to them in one context or another, and the people they hire do what actors do by preparing for their role.

I wonder if such a service would be possible in North America. Would young women be willing to hire themselves out for an evening as “girlfriends” to a man without (no sex included or allowed). Would such a woman study up on how to be a good girlfriend so she could play the role well? And would men be willing to rent themselves out to be companions to lonely women, also preparing for their role through research? And what effect might such role-playing have on the customers and on the actors? If you’ve researched how to be a kind girlfriend or boyfriend, mother, father or grandchild would that learning carry over into your real life relationships?

There’s not much kindness between the sexes here in North America. Oh, people seem to learn to be “nice” at daycare and preschool, but “nice” is a tactic for avoiding conflict. Kindness, on the other hand, has a morality about it. One has to deliberately choose to be kind, often over easier options. I suspect that’s what “incels” really want from women, despite what they say. And I know that’s what women want from men.  Could men and women choose kindness rather than the gendered stereotypical behaviours we’re accustomed to?

Psychologists know that role-playing can be a powerful force for change. We all know the phrase, “fake it til you make it”. If we started by giving kindness for a fee, might we not end up choosing it for its own sake?

 

“American Idea” excludes women

This month The Atlantic had a fascinating article by Yoni Appelbaum in which he ruminated about the lack of enthusiasm some Americans feel for democracy as an idea. In all its two or three thousand words, not one was the word “woman”.  This is not in itself unusual among political historians — one can read entire histories of European societies which were apparently populated only by men, and historians have been erasing women’s histories since they began applying their pens to paper.

But this substantial essay occupying the “Dispatches” slot in the magazine occurred in a year when the election was polarized between “woman” and “anti-woman”, when sexism determined the outcome of the election, when an orange orangutang’s visible misogyny was accepted and reiterated by a majority of white men and a majority of their white wives. That an essay on American democracy could not contain a single reference to “woman” in a year when the election of a blissful woman-hater  led directly to 2.5 million people, mostly women, marching in cities around the world for the sake of democracy — that’s  about as careless as a man can be.

What kind of blindness is it that leads a man like Appelbaum to open his drapes on January 21 and not see the hundred thousand women in pink “pussy hats” thronging the streets of his city? What did he see instead?

Appelbaum refers to statistics indicating two thirds of people born after 1980 do not place the highest value on living in a democracy and do not think civil rights are needed to protect people’s liberties. Who are those young — well, youngish — people? Surely those statistics were broken down by race and gender, perhaps by education level? I’m betting not a single African-American woman is complacent about democracy. The consequences of patriarchal authoritarianism haven’t bled out of her system yet, surely.

In a time when American politics is polarized not just between left and right, but between male and female and between white and non-white, and when those categories align so that right means male and white, and left at least includes female and non-white, I’m betting those not repulsed by the idea of living in an authoritarian state are exclusively white right-wing male pseudo-Christians and their unfortunate stepford wives.

It is telling of the unforgiveable ignorance of men that Appelbaum, a man who has spent years as a professional political commentator in Washington, is not aware that democracy, as an idea, is being fought for harder now than it has been fought for in a long time — by those who always fight for democracy, that is, by the oppressed.

Democracy has never been the ideal of wealthy power-brokers. Democracy has been forced on them bit by bit over hundreds of years through the growing power of less-powerful groups. First aristocrats wrested some democratic rights from absolute monarchs, then the gentry, the bourgeousie, the merchant classes managed to extend democracy to include them. Eventually non-landowners, and non-white males were included in democracies in the west. The hardest fight, though, was always that waged by women.

Women, particularly women of colour, are still the most oppressed group in America and their access to democracy is minimal. They can vote, yes, but not for women. There are almost no women to vote for and that says everything about American men.

Appelbaum’s entire essay is a lie by over-generalization. It’s not young people who are complacent — it’s the inheritors of priviledge who are complacent. It’s white men who see democracy isn’t giving them the wealth, status and priviledge that their ancestors got from the vote. They’re simply thinking that maybe a return to brute patriarchy will give it to them.

 

The ten-letter word no man speaks

As I was reading last month’s Atlantic magazine, I was struck by what was actually being discussed in several articles, without being named in any of them.

For example, in “Breaking Faith”, Peter Beinart examined possible consequences of declining church-going among the “religious” right. He quotes a sociologist: “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

What exactly are these “traditional” ambitions? Are they morally neutral? These white men replace intolerance for some categories of people (i.e. homosexuals) with intolerance of other categories (i.e.ethnic minorities), he notes.

Beinart concludes that maybe these white men are more overtly discontent now because they haven’t imbibed “the values of hierarchy, authority and tradition that churches instill.”

S’okay … anybody see any circular reasoning here? Men with unmet traditional aspirations suffer from the lack of tradition that churches instill? Men intolerant of those they see as their inferiors suffer from the lack of hierarchy that churches instill?

It’s tough to argue logically when you can’t bring yourself to name the problem you’re trying to analyze. Beinart is actually suggesting that one form of patriarchy could ease the problems caused by the lessening of another form of patriarchy. I don’t think so.

The “traditional aspirations” of white men, church-going or not, are to be top of the heap. If white men can’t all be president of something, at least they can be head of a household, in charge of women and children. Or maybe head of a town council, or a school, or a school board. But. goddam it, what white men want is to be in charge. They want the recognition of their superior capability, they want the control, they want the privilege and the status. And they’re not getting it. Boo hoo. (Unless they’re in the tech industry where they’ve forcibly created a whole  vacuum-packed environment that duplicates the social patriarchies of a hundred years ago — the subject of another article in the same issue)

Only a man could fail to see that these “traditional aspirations” are by no means morally neutral. If you value equality and freedom, as Americans claim too, you cannot say that hierarchies are without moral consequence. Power corrupts, as the adage goes, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A man given sole power in a family is a menace to that family.

If these white men have trouble getting married, or staying married, it’s highly likely there’s something women find unsavoury about them. Probably that something is a neediness for power and control. Self-respecting women find such a quality pitiful. These men are probably stuck in  patriarchal male gender restrictions: don’t show your feelings, better yet don’t have feelings. If you have to have a feeling, make it anger. Just to name one such restriction.

The authority and hierarchy of Christian institutionalized churches has been used to legitimize political and social masculine authority and hierarchy. Sending these lapsed Christians back to church is not likely to solve the problem.

What we really need is a much more comprehensive knowledge of patriarchy, and men willing to analyze patriarchy without shame. We need school courses on the History of Patriarchy, sociology courses on variations of patriarchy across cultures and times, anthropological courses on patriarchy, philosophy courses on patriarchy. Women’s studies courses have, in the past fifty or so years, tried to cover all these bases, but there’s too much. Way too much. And now women know something about patriarchy, but all those men who did not take women’s studies in college don’t.

Patriarchy is as water is for fish. It’s such a given, so omni-present, so apparently necessary, so much just “the way things are” that it’s invisible, especially though not exclusively to men. One seeming result is that men are ashamed of it. They appear to think they’re personally responsible for it. The fact is that the values of patriarchy, while originally created by men for men, have become so thoroughly propagated that everyone lives them, largely without questioning them. Only a tiny fragment of any given population actually and intelligently wants to smash the patriarchy. The rest of those who complain about male power just want to massage it, open it up a bit so women can have more control over their own lives. They don’t know the full extent to which patriarchy suffocates, constricts, enslaves and kills.

Truly spiritual people do, as it turns out. Men like Jesus, and countless prophets, saints, sages of all cultures have tried to warn men to give up their patriarchal values. The teachings of Jesus are largely in praise of the qualities men have derided as “feminine”: be compassionate, non-judgmental servants of your fellow humans. And, really, isn’t this what those intolerant, dissatisfied shouting white men need more than anything else?

The Real Enemy of Democracy

A clutch of synonyms is making the rounds of the media these days: populist, nationalist, traditionalist, right wing, alt-right, authoritarian. Pundits choose one, but it doesn’t really matter which. They’re all substitutes for the one word they don’t care to use – patriarchal.

The March edition of The Atlantic quotes a pair of male researchers who have concluded that ”alienation and fear of civilizational collapse have eroded  . . . faith in democracy, and created a yearning for a strongman who can stave off catastrophe.” Sociologists like the term “strongman” for its perceived moral neutrality.

Patriarchy – the cult of the strongman – has been trying to hide itself for the last fifty years or so.

In white western cultures, it has been shamed, repeatedly. Banned from making jokes at the expense of wives, mothers-in-law, unmarried women past the expiry date, patriarchy has hung its head in shame and acquiesced to more respectful speech and behaviour.

Despite male attempts to shame the shamers by dismissing respect as mere political correctness, respect has gained some ground. It’s not okay to grab women’s backsides in the office anymore. And demanding that white men show respect for women has led to further demands: respect for people of ethnic minorities, and the disabled,  lesbians and gay men, and now “queer non-binaries”.

The multi-headed monster that is patriarchy is not happy. It has been shifting just under the surface in its multiple hiding places. A mere 70-odd years after the second world war, the logical culmination of unadulterated western patriarchy, some of its heads have broken the surface and discovered other heads. And they are communicating in chat caves online.

And the rest of us have to face the horrifying reality that what we thought had been diminishing had only been growing out of sight.

To take a word out of the plate, when people talk about wanting a return to traditional values, what they mean is a return to a more brutal and unashamed patriarchy.

I think there’s a lack of understanding of what patriarchy actually is. Most people seem to believe it’s simply a system that prioritizes men, or that regards men as superior to women. That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately this is the patriarchy we’ve been attempting to eradicate since first wave feminists fought for the vote.

Almost all gains made for women – the vote, the right to work, the right to credit, the right to divorce, the right to sign contracts, the right to work free of sexual harassment, the right to reproductive control, the right to education – have been levelling measures, edging women closer to equality with men.

The equilibrium is unstable, with various of these rights under threat. That’s because the deeper layers of patriarchy have not been addressed.

Patriarchy is not just about a claim that men are superior to or more valuable than women. It’s a larger claim that “masculine” characteristics are more important and superior to “feminine” characteristics. The former are those qualities needed in a militaristic societies, in which men kill other men to claim their property, which includes their women. Think of the qualities of a fighter,  think of the qualities of gang leaders who, along with their followers, are still living this kind of life.

In patriarchal societies at their most brutal, only men are allowed to possess strength, greed, lust, leadership, power. Men who don’t are weeded out quickly. Women are expected to acquire those qualities needed by male fighters, which include compassion and tenderness, the willingness to breed and to have sex on demand, to cook, sew and clean.

So far the fight against patriarchy has been limited to allowing more women to enter the male world of striving, competing, earning. It has become more acceptable for women to be strong, decisive, partners with men in the public realms. American television shows us exactly what men are willing to accept – police shows, law shows and doctor shows all show us women acting pretty much just like men. The men themselves have not changed. And the women continue to be sexually desirable, their “femininity” on full display.

The most distinctive attribute of patriarchy is hierarchy. Men create ladders of achievement and require other men to know where they stand on the ladder. They reward those at the top with status, and the accoutrements of status, which include wealth and the “best” women.

Democracy, the leveling out of the hierarchies, is antithetical to patriarchy.

Given that men created democracy, this may come as a surprise, but the history of western democracy is a history of power shared as little as possible with the smallest number. First the  most powerful men, often the monarch and his closest allies, were forced to cede power to those just below them in wealth and status and strength.  After the powerful landholders gained power, those immediately below them, the bourgeoisie or the rising mercantile class, demanded a share of power. Eventually all landholding men got representation, then all men, then, in America, black men and finally women. The sharing of power, by way of the vote, never came easily or without a struggle.

Democracy is, in fact, a “feminine” force. It presumes that all people in society are of value, regardless of wealth or status. In that way it is an expression of compassion and of communalism. It takes great magnanimity of heart to give the least among us a voice in how we all live.

Those who are expressing a longing for a return to a more brutal and open patriarchy are giving notice that they have lost the heart to care about their neighbours. They are willing for the weak and vulnerable to be oppressed. They are willing for women to be the property of whoever has the force of arms to possess them. If they think the “strongman” will protect them, they are dead wrong. In primitive patriarchies, the weak are the losers and they’re treated with the contempt the winners think they deserve.

Life under unapologetic patriarchy has always been brutal for the majority, so brutal that patriarchs have invented religions to bolster the case for their power. They’ve conceptualized the Creator of all life as male, a disembodied representative of toxic masculinity who punishes those who don’t obey. Fear of the afterlife is required to subdue the masses of oppressed.

Human beings have not yet had anything that comes close to civilization. Male anthropologists have been happy to refer to the empires of the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Persians, the Romans, the Chinese as great civilizations of the past, but each has been a brutal patriarchy that relied on mass slavery, murder and fear of the afterlife to prop up a handful of the ultra-wealthy. A few works of art and architecture don’t make a civilization.

The current nostalgia for the cult of the strongman ignores thousands of years of history. The winners will be the wealthiest and their cronies. And they won’t share. Far from saving civilization, unapologetic patriarchy will destroy it, as it always has done, over and over, as long as people have lived under the thumb of “strongmen”.