Reddit Repost: “The Literal Patriarchy, Men And Masculinity”


This is a repost of an article I originally wrote for /r/Masculism and posted here:

“Patriarchy” is typically used in gender studies to refer to one of two things; either a gender system which is masculosexist and femmephobic (Third Wave definition), or a gender system which is systematically constructed as a tool of class oppression by men to oppress women (Radical Second Wave definition).

But the literal meaning of “Patriarchy” isn’t synonymous with “Androcracy.” The literal meaning of “Patriarchy” is the rule of the father.

In this essay, I will be looking at a feature of the gender system which disproportionately oppresses males, particularly young ones – the Literal Patriarchy.

Part 2: A Quick Recap of the Gender System
The social norms around gender evolved in an environment where many, even most, children did not reach adulthood, and humans lived at subsistence level or close to it (this is why the first substantial challenges to the gender system did not emerge until the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – for the vast majority of human history, the gender norms were a survival necessity). Because of the low level of technological development, human survival was predicated on a consistently expanding supply of labor, i.e. consistent population growth. We needed more protector/providers and we needed more producers of protector/providers. Sexual dimorphism provided the template for the basic division of labor between the sexes.

As such, the social norms were established to reward men that were good protector/providers, and reward women that were good (i.e. fertile) mothers.

Society demanded that women serve the function of bearing children (a risky, high-maintenance process which renders a woman less mobile and more resource-consuming during pregnancy), whilst men serve the function of protecting the women and children and sustaining them. Individuals of both sexes were judged on the basis of how well they served these socially mandated functions (or gender roles)… “proper” femininity was the mother, “proper” masculinity was the warrior/hunter.

But females would, almost inevitably, end up capable of bearing children due to natural biological maturation. “Girls” would just become “women” due to the onset of puberty (with a small number of exceptions due to natural infertility). A woman’s “proper” femininity (i.e. value to society in serving the female function) was thus socially conceptualized as an innate property of women.

Males, on the other hand, did not have the biological assuredness of becoming a satisfactory protector/provider. These tasks required proving oneself in dangerous, strenuous physical activity. Not only that but they required the demonstration of a reliable track record (consistency) in results. Not all male individuals managed to do this, and those that did still varied in the level of skill they displayed. Whilst “girls” managed to just “become” “proper” women, “boys” were not guaranteed “real manhood.” They needed to prove themselves to their peers and elders. “Real manhood” (i.e. value to society in serving the male function) was thus socially conceptualized as an ideal to aspire to for males.

As a result, there are two kinds of Epistemological Essentialism which underpin our gender system. Femininity is understood through the lens of Aristotelian (or Immanent) Essentialism. Masculinity is understood through the lens of Platonic (or Transcendent) Essentialism.

This is ultimately the underpinning of the basic gender role in our society; the subject-object dichotomy. Men are seen as subjects, i.e. actors and agents, beings with the capacity to choose a goal and strive to achieve it. Women are seen as objects, since action is not a necessary component of femininity. Men do, women are. Men have to act, women do not. Men are actors, women are acted upon.

But there is a twist here – as stated before, the gender system ascribes value to the fulfillment of both the male function and the female function. Since females are (assumed to be) automatically capable of fulfilling this female function, they possess an innate value. Males do not have this assumption on their side – they must prove their capability to serve the male function, and thus they possess no innate value. Women are innately valuable objects and men are innately valueless subjects (with the capacity to acquire some value).

This system arose to incentivize population growth during a time when most children did not survive to reach puberty, let alone to reproduce. Thankfully, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution made the prosperity of the modern world possible, but as such our gender system has been rendered obsolete. The system needs to be examined, critiqued, and rejected or modified where necessary.

Part 3: Maturity and Manhood
As alluded to above, the gender system’s mandated roles are connected to biological maturation. Women cannot serve their mandated function until their body is sufficiently developed (i.e. they start mensturating). In the case of female maturation, the onset of mensturation provides a clear biological sign of a woman’s ability to bear children.

A man, however, is biologically incapable of serving this function – he can only serve the mandated male functions of protector/provider (protecting women, particularly pregnant women, and providing for them and his children). But there is no single biological “he’s ready” indicator. Not only that, but merely reaching puberty doesn’t guarantee capability or competence at physical tasks. As such, various social institutions (such as initiation rites into manhood) evolved to fill this function – these rites typically consist of testing the man’s ability and, should he succeed, granting him the social status of “real man.”

But in both cases, the gender system’s mandated roles are based on notions of maturity. After all, a male that is not a “real man” is considered a “boy” and socially emasculated. “Boy” just means “young male” but the way the term is used contemptuously as a form of verbal emasculation is quite telling (“girl” isn’t used the same way (or at least not nearly as commonly), because a female’s ability to serve the mandated female function is treated as innate). So to be a “real man” is to not be a “boy” is to “grow up” and be “mature.”

As stated before, however, male biological maturation is only part of the picture. Since there is no simple biological indicator of “he’s ready to go out and be a hunter/gatherer,” various social institutions took that role, and these social institutions were typically administered by elder men (those men that had earned “real manhood” in society’s eyes). The elder males became one of the judges of manhood (particularly the judges of the manhood of younger males), and also one of the conferrers of manhood. This status is not exclusive to the elders – the gender system creates many other judges and conferrers of manhood (peer groups and women particularly), but the point is that there is an intersectionality effect between ageism and masculosexism.

So who is the first elder male that most male children know? Who is the first elder male in a position to judge the child’s maturity, capability and competence?

Part 4: The Literal Patriarchy
Whatever one’s stance on feminist Patriarchy Theory (in either its Radical Second Wave or Third Wave variants) is, it is hard to deny that a huge number of males are psychologically “ruled” (so to speak) by their fathers. This “rule” is based on the fact that our gender system sees fathers as possessing the ability to legitimately confer or revoke their sons’ status as a “real man.” Your father automatically possesses Alpha Male status over you (in my article Separating The ‘Boys’ From The ‘Men’: Male Heirarchy And The Oppression Of Men I define an “Alpha Male” as a male with the ability to revoke another man’s “real man” status, and thus to reduce them to a “boy”).

As I have emphasized, this is an extremely effective form of psychological control – it makes a fact of one’s nature (one’s gender identity) socially contingent on validation granted by others (in this case, one’s father). If by “power” one means the ability to live one’s own life on one’s own terms, then this Literal Patriarchy is very destructive to the power of male individuals.

The cultural prevalence of so-called “Daddy Issues” in countless amounts of male-targeted art and fiction – even the classical “Hero’s Journey” monomyth has an “atonement with the father” component as well as the Wise Old Man that blesses/endorses the hero – goes without saying. Now, whilst there are a few exceptions, “Daddy Issues” in fiction typically is of the “I wish I pleased you, Dad” variety. Why would this fictional trope be so prevalent if it weren’t a trope which vast numbers of males relate to?

As stated before, there are other avenues besides paternal endorsement by which one can gain “real man” status – peer endorsement and female endorsement being two common alternatives. A male denied paternal endorsement may choose to pursue one of the other two avenues in order to achieve their validation, or they may decide to employ paternal substitution in order to do it (or some combination of the aforementioned avenues).

Paternal substitution is possible because of the ageism-masculosexism intersection effect; because our gender system implicitly casts the “real man” in terms of maturity, a male that believes the gender system is true will see elder males in general as embodying “real manhood” more than he does. If a young male does not receive paternal endorsement from his biological father (or perhaps suffers a sufficient trauma from his father so as to nullify the father’s credibility) yet still believes in the gender system, he will revoke the power his father has over him but then grant it to some other elder man.

This younger man will voluntarily take a subordinate role, as a “lesser man,” to that elder. This younger man has made the elder into his Alpha, possessing the power to confer or revoke his “real manhood.” The younger man then attempts to earn the elder man’s approval so as to finally have his real manhood conferred upon him. A young man can in fact disperse this power amongst multiple different “father figures,” and perhaps even invest that power within certain heirarchical institutions (the military, or a street gang, serve good examples). In each case, the dynamic is fundamentally the same.

Part 5: Empowering Men, Depowering The Father Figure
Masculism, or Men’s Rights, seeks to do for men what first-wave and early-second-wave feminism sought (at least nominally) to do for women: guarantee legal equality of the sexes and to attack popular stereotypes, prejudices, obligations and expectations assigned on the basis of sex. In short, the objective is to empower men to live their own life on their own terms (assuming they respect the right of others to do the same), irrespective of the demands of traditional gender norms.

Doing this requires that we destroy the power that the Father Figure has over us.

Just to clarify, I am protesting not fathers, but rather traditional masculinity. I am simply pointing out that traditional gender roles are entangled with notions of maturity in such a way as to place elder men into a position which can grant them (within the gender system) the ability to pass judgment on a younger male’s masculinity/maturity. I also argue that plenty of male-targeted culture reinforces this (and the foundational attitudes for it). This does not mean fathers are bad – it simply means that the gender system burdens males with having to “earn” social recognition of their gender identity, and one of the ways this is done is through proving oneself to one’s Father Figure/s (who can be one’s biological or adoptive father, or not).

This is a change which must begin in men themselves. We must reject the gender system, in particular the Platonic Essentialist idea of “real manhood.” We must reject attempts by anyone (especially our elders) to gender-police us. We must ruthlessly question the “wisdom of the fathers” and acknowledge the fallibility of our Father Figures. We must attack the idea that a “real man” is a servant of others. We must refuse to let our sex impose a list of arbitrary duties upon us. And most critically of all, we must not live to make our Father Figures proud of us. We can desire that he/they be proud of us, but if we are willing to alter ourselves in order to win his/their approval, then we have lost and the gender system has won.

Part 6: Conclusion
The gender system of our society evolved to incentivize consistent reproduction; sexual dimorphism meant that the most “efficient” (from the perspective of population growth) course of action was for women to be mothers and men to be protector/providers. This formed the basis for our society’s concepts of masculinity and femininity. However, females were more-or-less biologically assured of being capable of serving their socially-mandated function and males had to prove their capability at performing tasks with far less certain outcomes. This led to femininity being seen as an innate property of women, but “real manhood” being cast as something a male must “earn” (which in turn underlies the men-as-actors, women-as-acted-upon distinction in our culture).

Both femininity and masculinity were connected with maturity, yet a male’s ability to serve his socially-mandated function was not biologically evidenced in the same way that a female’s ability was. As such, various social institutions developed to separate the “men” (those capable of serving the male social function) from the “boys” (those incapable of doing such). This resulted in a situation where elder males held the ability to extend or revoke “real manhood” to younger men. Thus, becoming a “real man” was, at least in part, about proving oneself to elder men. The father-son relationship, at least as traditionally cast, seems to be the archetypal and obvious example of this pattern.

Since males, to earn their “real manhood,” are incentivized to please their father (or substitute), the gender system can be described as perpetuating a Literal Patriarchy (so to speak) amongst males. Since this damages the psychological self-sovereignty of males, it is a bad thing and we should oppose it.

Discussion and feedback is appreciated.

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="4021">43 comments</span>

  • “Whatever one’s stance on feminist Patriarchy Theory (in either its Radical Second Wave or Third Wave variants) is, it is hard to deny that a huge number of males are psychologically “ruled” by their fathers.”

    I deny this. Ever since the industrial revolution most fathers have been out working all the time.

    I grew up in a house hold where my mother discarded my father for being useless to her, my father had no influence. The UK has one of the highest rates of single motherhood.

    I think women evolved irrational and controlling behaviors over men as a means to keep them under thumb. In the modern environment these behaviors are completely out of control and socially destructive.

    The females own innate reproductive value and well being of the kids is held hostage when the women is acting up. Women could not be punished as severely as a man as it would risk her reproductive value. Also a irrational hysterical women in the relationship is scary as she is indirectly threatening the stability of the family unit and therefore her own kids.

    Men have been living under this type of controlling female throughout the whole of history. This type of hysterical female is very of dangerous as her behavior in the past was limited by the environment, not only is it tolerated, it is in fact encouraged by the modern state.

    I think a women who killed all her babies in the past, would at the very least be completely discarded by her tribe, a women who does so no doesn’t even go to prison.

  • Tamerlame:

    This is all true of the mindset of the English, but this website has long talked about the illusory nature of this pseudoreality: the overwhelming and heavily inflated valuation of motherhood. The English are looking at some seriously difficult social problems in the next two decades.

  • Tamerlane: Women could not be punished as severely as a man as it would risk her reproductive value.

    What a relief to learn women never get beat up, harmed, raped or killed by men. I guess Ted Bundy was just a fictional character. (And I guess my own experience and that of my mother, aunt, grandmother, etc… never happens to other women.)

    Good to know! Thanks.

    PS: if you expect anyone to take your arguments seriously, you might want to rephrase. Also, talking about women “acting up”? As if they/we are children? Can I start talking about those pesky men always “acting up”? You won’t think that’s patronizing or infantilizing or anything, will you?

  • Tamerlane: Men have been living under this type of controlling female throughout the whole of history.

    And yet somehow, even in 2014, only 17% of congress is female. And we’ve never had a woman president or pope, of course… so how do we do all this “controlling”? Why are we still having to fight for the right to abortion and birth control, if we are “controlling” men?

    87% of counties in the USA have NO abortion access. If we are supposedly “controlling” everything, why is that true?

    And another thing… your remark reminds me of an exchange in Ed Wood’s famous B-movie, “Plan 9 from Outer Space”:

    Cop: Hmph! Modern women!

    Tom: Yeah, they’ve been like that all down through the ages! Especially in a spot like this!

  • Tamerlane: I think a women who killed all her babies in the past, would at the very least be completely discarded by her tribe, a women who does so no doesn’t even go to prison.

    Is this a reference to abortion? (Are you anti-abortion? How can you be anti-abortion and claim to care about men’s rights? Women are not the only ones trapped by unwanted pregnancies, you know.)

    If not, what/who are you talking about? Andrea Yates?

    Who killed all their babies and didn’t go to prison?

  • Daisy:

    Ted was real. As were the 99.9999999999999999+% of murderers throughout history who never touched a woman harmfully. You. Muggins. You.

    And yes. Society does treat women like children, and calling genuine bad behaviour on their part is a benefit to them. It’s just not a benefit to the 99.9% of women who aren’t sociopaths. No-one talks about men “acting up”, that would show signs of actual concern for their welfare ahead of their utilisation.

  • Tamerlame,

    Your entire comment is off-topic.

    Do you really have to shift this discussion onto Teh Wimminz? Because quite honestly I’d like to have a discussion about Teh Menz! Yes, the hand that rocks the cradle is an important thing, but that’s not the topic I’m trying to discuss.

    Not only that but just because men are typically working outside the home, that does not imply my thesis is false… our society, due to gender norms, places the father as a judge of gender-compliance and demands young males get his approval in order to become “real men.” Just because the father is mostly outside the home does not mean this meme complex suddenly disappears.

    Honestly, you took an article about the male condition and effectively derailed/hijacked the discussion to make it about Teh Wimminz. But this post is meant to be about Teh Menz, so lets talk about Teh Menz, thank you.

  • Looking at men out of context of women is pointless. Also my post was on topic, it was in the context of male powerless in society.

    Masculinity is now a joke, a father is just a guest in the family unit. All your observations should be taken in context to that fact.

  • I think you work while interesting is too theoretical.

    I basically completely disagree with your conclusion. Men being emasculated is the problem, not men feeling pressured to conform to daddies wishes or whatever abstract point you was making.

    I honestly believe control of the family unit needs to be taken from mothers and placed back in the hands of fathers.

  • >”Looking at men out of context of women is pointless.”

    I disagree. You can look at men in the context of other men. One of feminism’s biggest blind-spots is that it ONLY looks at men in the context of women.

    >”Masculinity is now a joke, a father is just a guest in the family unit.”

    Legally speaking you have a point, but the gender system is far older than today’s legal system and the law’s bias against fathers. Cultural norms and values and ideas are pretty resilient and don’t instantly reformat themselves to conform with judicial or legislative fiat.

    I mean, the gender norms have remained mostly intact even through the Industrial Revolution as well as feminism (indeed you could argue that feminism’s success was in part due to the gender norms). If these haven’t yet uprooted the gender system, the bias against fathers in the family court hardly will.

    >”I basically completely disagree with your conclusion. Men being emasculated is the problem, not men feeling pressured to conform to daddies wishes or whatever abstract point you was making.”

    Men being emasculated is the problem, correct. What I am arguing is that due to a particular feature of male gender norms, men are easier to socially emasculate relative to women being socially defeminized… its harder to revoke an innate identity than it is to revoke a social status. Because “real man” status is social, you have certain authorities which are given the power to confer or revoke it… one of these is the father figure.

    No, this isn’t the ONLY feature of male gender norms. It is a single feature. I am focusing on it because I believe that the cultural prevalence of “daddy issues” in our culture’s narratives says a lot about a feature of male gender norms which hasn’t been discussed at length in gender theory.

    >”I think you work while interesting is too theoretical.”

    I’m a theorist. This is what I do. A good theory is a theory which explains reality (or in this case, social norms). It is an empirical fact our culture is FULL of stories and songs and movies and art which basically obsess over Trying To Please Daddy. I’m proposing an explanation for this fact.

  • This seems like a much more useful way to examine gender roles than the usual feminist definition of patriarchy. One small quibble: the vast majority of third wavers use the same definition of patriarchy as second wavers and don’t have a concept of femmephobia or masculosexism. When they do, they’re usually just misused as synonyms for misogyny, and men’s problems are “the partiarchy backfiring”.

    Another kind of literal patriarchy is the top 1-2% of society, which is still mainly male. And for the last 35 years, they have been setting the agenda in economic affairs. But in the realm of social and cultural changes the middle class seems to have the most influence, and the middle class is not a patriarchy.

  • I think the emasculation is mostly done by women. Women treat weak men with utter contempt.

    How men treat each other is a real problem but I think this problem is mostly outside the family unit. (Men turning on each other for the approval of women.)

  • Tamerlame,

    Women certainly do engage in emasculating men, but so do other men. And both kinds of emasculation can happen inside or outside the family unit.

  • Explain how fathers are emasculating their sons then? I know about the theory of a male dominance hierarchy and I agree that exists. I think emotional incest with mothers a lack of a male figure in a lot of households are doing a lot of damage to boys.

    Also it is mostly women in schools drugging boys. I know some anecdotal stories that happened to me in schools and some third hand accounts that are more recent that has happened to other boys but I suppose you would consider that off topic.

    Men tend to be white knight thugs or statist goons. For example it is police thugs who cart men off on false domestic violence charges. It is white knight thug bouncers who kick the shit out of men in knight clubs on behalf of “distressed” women.

    Prison culture is a result of men who come from damaged single mother homes.

    I could give more examples, I honestly think looking at men without looking at women is pointless, even in the context of men’s relationships with each other.

    I have lost male friends to women. Women just suck them away, they are so freaking controlling. These manginas swear they will stick by me and always be there, etc…

    Anyway this post is too long now, lol

  • I’ve been enjoying your articles and this is another good one. Not because I agree with what you say, but because your argument is well-presented, interesting, and thought-provoking. I like the way you break out two different feminist definitions for Patriarchy and differentiate those from what you call literal patriarchy. I still disagree that any form of patriarchy exists in its pure form, but literal patriarchy as you define it exists to some degree in conjunction with (to a degree) matriarchy. The way I view the social structure of most societies is patrilineal, with a division of authority between mother and father. Mothers tend to hold the authority when it comes to raising the children with fathers holding a disciplinary role, and fathers holding authority in all other regards. This arrangement is present in most every society with differences only in how the balance of power is distributed. Modern society has disrupted this structure by removing the father from the family altogether.

    Your discussion of the influence of fathers over sons reminds me of Freud and the resolution of the Oedipus conflict, but is largely accurate; especially your point about sons finding father substitutes when fathers are not present or are ineffective. I think this has had a tremendous impact on today’s boys as fathers have been removed from the family and there are very few father figures available as substitutes. This has left boys to grow into men on their own, but even worse they are influenced by society’s rejection and demonization of masculinity and television’s portrayal of fathers and men as violent thugs, criminals, and/or clownish buffoons as their primary examples of manhood.

    Your discussion of the value ascribed to the male and female role is particularly interesting. Women have innate value because of their ability to bear children while men must prove their worth. This ties the concepts of masculinity and femininity to biology, demonstrating that gender roles are not entirely socially constructed, but are biologically based. This is the problem I see with your suggestion that we “depower the father figure.” If there is a biological basis for masculinity, then that would be unnatural. Fathers (or father substitutes) become necessary agents of manhood as they teach boys about their intrinsic value. Rather than depowering father figures, we need to empower them.

    There is a lot of psychology to back this up. Oddly, much of it comes from humanistic theory which is often associated with feminism. Maslow and Rogers are the prime examples. Rogers discussed unconditional love and self-esteem leading to self-worth and Maslow proposed it in his hierarchy of needs. These theories (and some others) point to an innate need for a person to place value on oneself, but also to be valued by others. This may also be borne out in that no person can survive (even as an adult) without some assistance from other human beings. Our needs for food, clothing, and shelter are far too great. We have an innate need for society and in order to have a society, each individual must contribute some value. For women it is the ability to reproduce, for men it is the ability to produce. While these are natural abilities, men must be taught how to produce. Their skills must be honed, and finally they must be proven. Only then does a boy become a man.

    Moving forward the real question is “what does it mean to produce? “ Further, since technology now permits women to become producers in addition to (or instead of) being reproducers, what does this mean for the male role. Certain feminists seem to think it will make men obsolete. Women will be capable of doing all that is necessary. But reality has thus far proven different. It remains necessary for men to produce more than they consume for a society to survive, and especially to survive. This means that society continues to need men and masculinity must still be proven. However, the means by which it is proven may be shifting and what is meant by production may be redefined. By most people’s standards, I would be considered an MRA, but I do not believe anyone (man or woman) can completely “live their own life on their own terms.” All men and women will have some degree of dependence on and therefore some responsibility to society. The real goal is to create a balance of rights and responsibilities within for both men and women in which no one is considered to be worth less simply because of their sex (or gender identification).

  • @ TDOM

    “This means that society continues to need men and masculinity must still be proven.”

    A lack of female production is an extremely unusual feature of our society. In most societies around the world and historically, women are productive.

    I can’t see subsidizing western women’s laziness as a legitimate reason to hold men’s identities captive to production.

    @ YAC

    I think you are over extending your theories about the “father figure” being the source of earning-based masculine identity.

    He’s the conduit.

  • @typhonblue

    I agree that women are productive, even in the western world women are productive and always have been. I didn’t really go into it in my comment (it was getting too long), but I see a qualitative difference in the productivity of women and the productivity I ascribe to being required of men. Women have been productive in and around the home and certainly raising children involves labor. But I am not just talking about work. Both men and women work and always have. But for women, the work and production doesn’t really define femininity. Note that the term “reproduction” includes the root “production.

    Men on the other hand have always been expected to produce more than they consume in order to provide for their family. They are also expected to sacrifice themselves for the greater good (especially of their family). A lot of people refer to this as the man’s role of provision and protection. I prefer production because it translates better into the more modern role where most men are seldom called upon to protect by using physical force (at least in the first world), but still allows for that role if one considers that security is a product.

    As to your last point, whether or not one sees western women as lazy has nothing to do with male identity, or at least it shouldn’t. when I speak of more modern versions of production I am speaking about society as a whole which includes other men. In other words male utility towards society as a whole, not merely utility towards women. Further it doesn’t work in just one direction, a successful (and more equal) society would be supportive of men (and women) and would not view them as disposable objects (as it does now). In other words all members of society would be treated as though they have intrinsic value, but would prove their masculinity or femininity through their extrinsic value. One of these days I’ll get around to writing a full article on it, but for now a comment here and there will have to do.

  • Tamerlame,

    Whether or not fathers are emasculating their sons isn’t the issue; I was talking about a structural feature of the male gender role which would not exist if it weren’t for the fact that masculinity is seen as earned, proven and socially validated.

    That said, some fathers clearly do emasculate their sons. As do some mothers.

    I am most emphatically NOT trying to allege that the ONLY source of social masculinity is paternal approval, and I am NOT trying to allege that all fathers are bad. Nor am I trying to excuse bad mothers.

    I am simply trying to explain a facet of the male experience as a consequence of gender norms. That is all.


    Thank you very much. I’m glad you found my articles thought-provoking even if you disagree.

    I don’t, however, think modern culture lets people grow up into “real men” on their own. Our culture still treats manhood as socially earned/validated, and in the absense of a father in the family there are other conduits to earning masculinity such as peer groups and females and paternal substitution.

    Also, your argument about the ‘unnaturalness’ of depowering the father figure is fallacious. I am a biosocial interactionist, so I don’t think gender norms are just arbitrary constructs… however, I believe they are OUTDATED constructs. The gender norms, as I see them, were responses to a world where most children died before their tenth birthday and brute force was the primary driver of economic productivity (and human survival generally). Human survival required strong men and it required women to produce strong men and produce a lot of them, and since only women could get pregnant they had to shoulder the entire reproductive burden (which, before modern medicine, was huge) and men had to shoulder everything else (and at the time, “everything else” was basically hunter-warrior stuff).

    We don’t live in that world any more. We live in a world of modern medicine, modern technology, immense productivity and unprecedented abundance.

    This is why the first serious challenges to the gender system arose from relatively well-off people in relatively well-off societies; gender transgression was a luxury for most of human history.

    Either way, the basis for masculinity wasn’t purely biological; gender norms were the product of a specific biological fact (sexual dimorphism with respect to reproduction) combined with the economic challenges faced by our ancestors.

    Society needs productivity and it needs producers; as long as people’s happiness and flourishing has material prerequisites, we will always need producers. But both sexes can be productive, and net population growth doesn’t require women consistently being barefoot and pregnant any more. Indeed, physical labor is one of the less-contributive factors of production these days; knowledge and capital are far more important (yet we still live in a culture which valorizes WARRIOR MANLINESS (GAAAAAAAR) and socially emasculates the nerds, even though Bill Gates helped increase human productivity far more than all of the slaves of the ancient world combined).


    I think you’re over-estimating my argument a little. I’m not trying to say fathers/father-figures are THE source of masculine identity – I’m saying they are ONE source. There are at least two others – same sex peer groups and women in general. Additionally, the father/father-figure thing is really just an instance of the overall pattern where some men are culturally granted the ability to bestow or revoke “real manhood” on other males.

    I’m focusing on the father/father-figure aspect in this article, but that should not be construed as a denial or marginalization of alternative sources of manhood-validation. There have, however, been many instances of gender theorists looking at peer-group-validation and female-validation… but I don’t think I’ve seen much discussion of the role of the father-figure.

    “Conduit” certainly is a good way to put it. The father-figure is the judge and jury, but ultimately the gender system is the real source. The father-figure is simply acting as (one of) the system’s agent.

  • @ TDOM

    “Men on the other hand have always been expected to produce more than they consume in order to provide for their family.”

    Always? There have been periods of time in which a man, by virtue of being the male head of a household, was given what amounts to a welfare check by the government.

    In that particular society, men were also seen as the possessors of the divine spark, while women were the decomposed matter that they animated. Sexual intercourse with a woman was seen to reduce a man’s virility; while increasing her health.

    I think in that situation it was men who did not need to prove their utility for an identity. Incidentally it was also a society based on slavery, possibly because there wasn’t a ready supply of men wanting to prove they were men through production, so they had to go the extra step of creating a slave class.

  • @typhonblue

    A lot of meaning gets lost in brief comments. “Always” was meant as a generalizing term. Nothing is ever absolute. Of course there will be exceptions in specific cultures at specific times.

    Creation of a slave culture would fulfill the requirement where the slave is the proxy producer of the master. Not that much different than corporate culture where the workforce is the proxy producer for the CEO. By exploiting the workforce, a manager can be compensated with far more than he can consume, but only if the workforce produces considerably more than it can consume (i.e. turn a profit). The manager or slave owner is still productive by my definition. Therefore by being masters or managers, they were still proving their manhood. I can’t really address anything else without knowing which specific culture you are discussing.


    Don’t get me wrong. I believe that many gender norms are outdated constructs. But I also believe that there is a biological basis for all of human behavior. I didn’t do it this time, but I often differentiate sex roles from gender roles. I believe that sex roles are biological while gender roles are socially constructed, based on that biology. The basic role of man and woman has been far too consistent and far too widespread for far too long to believe that it is not biological at its base. I also believe that technology has created a crisis for modern humanity because for the first time in our history, it is possible for large numbers of people to cross over and violate these roles. But the basic, biologically based sex roles are not obsolete and won’t be until it becomes possible for humans to reproduce mechanically. When a fetus can be created without sperm and/or eggs, then incubated outside the womb, biology will be obsolete, not before. However, gender roles that are based on these sex roles are rapidly becoming obsolete. Bill Gates is a perfect example. Many in today’s society may still consider him unmasculine because he doesn’t fit the stereotypical idea of a man, although he is perhaps the man of the future. But as you state, he is still productive. He produces far more than he consumes and he makes it possible for lots of other to be productive as well. But regardless, he continues to fill the masculine role of producer. That hasn’t changed.

    Thus the biological sex role remains intact while the constructed gender role is fluid. Manhood must still be proven and although surrogates exist, the father figure remains necessary as the arbiter of manhood as he is the man who has the highest investment in his offspring. Removing him from the family and taking away his power and authority has had a catastrophic effect on western society in a very short time. Women in general have not been successful as arbiters of manhood. Boys have been left to their own devices, but without adult men who are invested in them to guide them, they are lost and fail to develop an adequate concept of masculinity. As a result masculinity has more or less lost its meaning which is one reason why so many people are continually attempting to redefine it. the problem is that these redefinitions have generally been unsuccessful because the meaning hasn’t really changed, only the expression of manhood has changed. In other words, it is the definition of productivity that is changing, not masculinity.

    Much the same can be said for femininity. Feminism has helped to liberate women from their traditional gender roles and allowed them to enter the male realm of production. Early second wave feminists attempted to impose this as a requirement, but failed (feminism never eliminated the housewife, though it tried). The failure was due to a lack of understanding of the biological basis for femininity (reproduction). The definition of femininity never changed, but the expression of femininity changed (although it remains optional, production was added to reproduction). This failure was due to the denial of the influence of biology on gender roles.

  • TDOM,

    >”The basic role of man and woman has been far too consistent and far too widespread for far too long to believe that it is not biological at its base.”

    Historically speaking the conditions of the modern world are freakishly new and extraordinarily anomalous. My technological/economic explanation is also consistent with the transcultural and transhistorical nature of the gender system because up until very recently in human history the gender system was economically necessary; it was only rendered technologically obsolete within the western world within the last few decades IMO (the early second wave feminist movement’s rise pretty much signalled the point at which the system had reached its use-by date).

    Of course millennia-old, religiously-reinforced, morally-normative traditions can last half a century beyond their use-by date.

    Also, the fact that women are the only humans who CAN bear children does not imply that they SHOULD bear children. If a sex role is ultimately biologically determined then it by definition cannot be transgressed and it should not be morally normative; morality can only apply to that which is within the realm of choice. Biology doesn’t impose moral norms (although it is clearly a factor which forms a component of the human condition from which moral norms are derived, but that’s another story). Additionally, your reasoning treats biological categories as Platonic givens (i.e. you treat the category’s defined role as more important than individual preferences, and as a moral ideal)… I embrace an Aristotelian ontology and a particularist and conceptualist view of universals/categories, so I disagree with you.

    >”But the basic, biologically based sex roles are not obsolete and won’t be until it becomes possible for humans to reproduce mechanically.”

    Like I said, the mere difference in the reproductive contributions of the sexes isn’t enough to justify the basic division of labor imposed by traditional roles. You need to take into account the material conditions the species faced in the early days of the human race: most kids died before they could reach maturity and become productive-or-reproductive in the first place. Physical labor was the greatest resource at our disposal. The birth rate required to secure and improve our condition was stratospherically higher back then than it is today (note at how in today’s world, the birth rate is generally much higher in poor nations than rich ones). This is the economic contribution.

    Only one half of the population were capable of shouldering this phenomenal burden. This is biology’s contribution.

    You are right that until fully external artificial reproduction exists, or perhaps some particularly inventive genetic/bioengineering comes along, we’re pretty much stuck with the biology. But the economic situation has massively changed. Reproductivity is nowhere near as mandatory as it used to be, and the traits which generate productivity are not the same as the ones which used to (and additionally, the traits which do generate productivity in the modern world are less unevenly distributed amongst the sexes).

  • “Additionally, your reasoning treats biological categories as Platonic givens (i.e. you treat the category’s defined role as more important than individual preferences, and as a moral ideal)… I embrace an Aristotelian ontology and a particularist and conceptualist view of universals/categories, so I disagree with you.”
    In these statements lies the crux of our disagreement. You identify yourself as an Aristotelian and therefore interpret available data through that lens. I use no such lens. If my interpretation of the data is consistent with Platonism, it is because the data suggests it should be, not the other way around. One of my biggest criticisms of qualitative research methods (especially in the social sciences) is its highly subjective nature which not only makes it possible for researchers to bring their personal bias into their research, but frequently encourages it. I prefer to take a much more objective position to data analysis by allowing my hypotheses to be guided by the data.
    “My technological/economic explanation is also consistent with the transcultural and transhistorical nature of the gender system because up until very recently in human history the gender system was economically necessary; it was only rendered technologically obsolete within the western world within the last few decades IMO (the early second wave feminist movement’s rise pretty much signaled the point at which the system had reached its use-by date).”
    I am not disputing this. I have often pointed to the industrial revolution as having created the conditions that gave rise to feminism. It completely changed our social structure. But it has not changed our biology which evolved over time as a result of the economies of pre-industrial conditions. We still act as though the industrial revolution never occurred. In other words, technology is outpacing evolution.
    Society may no longer need women to reproduce and I agree that they should not be required to. But the vast majority of women still do and many of those who don’t regret that they didn’t. Ethics or morality has nothing to do with it, it is a basic biological drive. It is my position that sex roles have not changed because they are based on biological drives that have evolved over thousands of years. However, the gender roles that are socially constructed around them can and probably should change. This is where morality enters the equation. As social constructs, gender roles are the acceptable expression of sex roles. As such they are changeable.
    “Of course millennia-old, religiously-reinforced, morally-normative traditions can last half a century beyond their use-by date.”
    They can last well beyond that. But as I said they are changeable. They have changed considerably over the course of history. This is why there are a wide variety of cultures in existence and that have existed throughout history. But regardless of the differences (which can be great) they are all based on the basic sex roles of production and reproduction. Economic conditions created by environmental circumstances create cultural evolution, and therefore change the way we express our sex roles. But genetically we have not changed much as a species and as a result our basic biological needs and drives have remained consistent.
    We remain bi-pedal omnivores with opposable thumbs and a basic drive to reproduce that is not satisfied by sexual activity alone, but must be accompanied by actual reproduction. That the female is the only sex capable of this forces the male into a supportive role. These roles may no longer be necessary, but remain part of our genetic makeup. Social convention cannot deny basic biology, but we can construct better social convention.

  • TDOM,
    “I am not disputing this. I have often pointed to the industrial revolution as having created the conditions that gave rise to feminism.”

    Great minds think alike:

    She has other interesting things to say.

    I don’t agree with her on everything but she is clear and logical and doesn’t let on position she holds deform another. I can agree with a lot of what she says and pass the other by.

  • Very interesting article.

    In some ways I found tamerlames original post off-the-mark in understanding the post, I somewhat agree that examining male enforcement of gender norms upon men without examining female enforcement upon men is of reduced utility.

    To my mind the case in point about your designation of “alpha male” to my mind, the opinion (or at least public humiliation) of a man by nearly any women counts way more than an “alpha male”.

    If you are a beta male and do something foolish and the alpha makes fun of you, only the people in that group will laugh. If a woman makes fun of a man, everybody in the vicinity will laugh.

    You’re forgetting that men compete with other men for *female* attention and access. Yes, being the alpha of a group will get you more of that, but that’s like saying the executor of somebody’s insurance policy is calling the shots instead of the beneficiary.

    Women are the beneficiary of this dynamic, men the most detrimented.

    In that regard any woman can “out alpha” any alpha male at any moment in time.

    This actually creates another layer to the hierarchy because while an alpha can revoke or approve other men’s “real man” status, any woman (even fairly homely women) can revoke an alpha’s “real man” status. And *only women* can do this if the mans alpha status is bona fide.

  • @Ginkgo

    Yes, she is rather interesting, especially some of her thoughts on the subjective nature of cultural identity fueling what she calls the “politics of recognition.” I don’t completely disagree, but I think she’s missing something. I may have more to say on that later, but it will require more time than I have at the moment.

  • TDOM,

    If you claim to be a data-driven empiricist (an approach which Aristotle was arguably the intellectual father of), then you can’t argue that “biology demands empowering the father figure.”

    The whole “daddy issues” complex is clearly socially constructed, the concept of “real man” is an abstraction and a moral concept – whilst we may have drives or urges from biology, there is no abstract knowledge within the mind at birth. Indeed, as my article argued the lack of a clear biological “he’s ready and able to perform the male task!” signal (relative to how women started mensturating when they were able to bear children) meant that “real manhood”/”male maturity” was ALWAYS a far more socially constructed thing than the female variant.

    Let’s say a specific man rejects trying to please his father or father figures more broadly… let’s say he rejects the idea that he should have to comply with gender norms in the first place (including the whole prove-I’m-a-real-man-to-daddy norm). Is he going against nature?

    Of course human biology meant that the only way to address the economic circumstances of the early days of our species meant that women had to keep popping out kids and men had to be hunters and warriors; that is the product of an INTERACTION between biological and non-biological factors.

    The point about platonism is that you seem to be treating a biological typicality as if it were a moral norm. Let’s suggest for the purpose of the argument that the typical woman wants a child someday – I am concerned that you would accuse an atypical woman who does NOT want a child of “going against nature.”

    Needless to say, I think you’d realize that biology doesn’t work that way – it doesn’t produce perfectly discrete categories but rather overlapping bell-curves, and being typical is not morally normative.

    John D,

    I absolutely agree women are part of the gender system too. They can socially emasculate men. They are one of the sources of ‘real manhood’ validation I pointed to (the others being peer approval and the approval of ‘real men’ (which is the supercategory to which the whole father-figure thing belongs)).

    But just because I am only focusing on ONE element of this system doesn’t imply that I don’t think the rest of the system doesn’t exist!

    I’m simply discussing this issue because I believe it to be an important part of the male condition (like I said, it shows up in our stories very frequently!), but one which has not been discussed in a gender issues context before.

  • YAC:
    Actually, I found your post informative and insightful. As I was reading I was easily able to apply it to my own life experiences and realize that I have given far too much power to other men in various groups.

    I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong or erroneous in your analysis–only that it could be expanded.

  • @YetAnotherCommenter
    “If you claim to be a data-driven empiricist (an approach which Aristotle was arguably the intellectual father of), then you can’t argue that “biology demands empowering the father figure.””

    What I actually stated was “rather than depowering father figures, we need to empower them.” This is somewhat different than saying that “biology demands it.” Further there is an empirical basis for what I did say. A rather large body of social science supports that statement. Children, both male and female, growing up in households without a father tend to exhibit a wide range of psychological and behavioral problems at a much higher rate than those that grow up in households with a father present. While having a father in the household does not guarantee healthy, well-adjusted children, it helps. That the family unit (mother, father, children) has been the basic building block of practically every successful and enduring society throughout history would certainly suggest a biological component. Even the most matriarchal society in the world today provides a father figure for its children.

    The Mosuo of China aren’t quite a matriarchy, but they are matrifocal and matrilineal. Men have very limited rights, are not permitted to own property, practically no say in the running of the society, and are not generally permitted to parent their own children. However, they do help parent younger siblings and nieces and nephews. Even this society has an informal ritual providing entry into manhood. I can’ty remember the exact term used for it, but upon becoming men, a young man is sent out into the world to fend for himself for a few years. He is expected to obtain an education and/or employment (sending anything he doesn’t require for his own subsistence back to his mother) before returning to the village to find a mate (he will have proven himself suitable). Young Mosuo women do not do this. The men of this society are about as disempowered as they possibly could be, yet older men are still expected to mentor the younger men of the village and are therefore empowered as father figures.

    “The whole “daddy issues” complex is clearly socially constructed, the concept of “real man” is an abstraction and a moral concept – whilst we may have drives or urges from biology, there is no abstract knowledge within the mind at birth.”

    The concept of tabula rosa is not exactly proven, but arguably correct. Many lower animals appear to be born with certain innate knowledge (basic instincts) and behave accordingly. Sea turtles are a good example. When they hatch, they are on dry land. Yet they always go directly towards the water as though they seem to know that this is where they belong. There really isn’t any reason to believe that humans do not have some of these same instincts. A “real man” may be a socially defined construct according to culture, but the concept seems to exist across cultures and across time indicating there is some instinctual need for this. Freud and Jung addressed this most directly in their theories of psychology and Maslow included it rather indirectly in his hierarchy of needs.

    “The point about Platonism is that you seem to be treating a biological typicality as if it were a moral norm. Let’s suggest for the purpose of the argument that the typical woman wants a child someday – I am concerned that you would accuse an atypical woman who does NOT want a child of “going against nature.””

    You are misunderstanding me. A biological imperative has no moral value. Morality enters into it only when socialization begins to define the acceptable and unacceptable methods of expressing that imperative. Production and reproduction are biological (sex) roles but how they are expressed in a particular culture are the result of socialization (gender roles). A woman who chooses not to bear children may very well be “going against nature,” but this does not make her decision immoral. Morality is a value judgment assigned to an action. It is entirely socialized. Nature is amoral and has its own consequences that can be as severe for going with it as for going against it. This is the basis for perhaps the greatest of the religious conundrums; why does God permit bad things to happen to good people? God appears to be quite unjust and unfair when an act of nature (often referred to as an act of God) does harm to good and moral people. Nature (biology in this case) and morality have nothing to do with each other (or at least very little).

    “Needless to say, I think you’d realize that biology doesn’t work that way – it doesn’t produce perfectly discrete categories but rather overlapping bell-curves, and being typical is not morally normative.”

    Absolutely. In fact, the drive to reproduce may be quite weak in some women (making up one tail of the bell curve for that drive) which would mean the women in that tail would certainly not be going against nature (at least not much) if they choose not to reproduce.

  • John D,

    Thank you very much for the clarification. Indeed, this analysis of mine absolutely could be expanded into various different areas. I’m glad you find my theory has a lot of explanatory power!


    Upon reading your response I’m thinking we aren’t as different as I may have suspected earlier. But to clarify, by “depowering the father figure” what I mean is that men should not have to socially earn “real manhood” – as a consequence the entire macho dominance hierarchy needs to go, and one element of that hierarchy is the fact that elders/fathers/etc. have the ability to confer or revoke ‘real man’ status.

    This doesn’t mean that we should have less parenting from fathers. What it means is that we should stop treating masculinity as Platonic.

    Interestingly enough, some studies on same-sex parenting have shown that a two-parent same-sex couple produces better results for children than a single-parent household. This to me indicates that what matters is the quantity of parental resources avaliable for children rather than the sex of the parents.

    Far too often we get social conservatives arguing that paternal child-beating is the cure for crime, and from there they argue we need more fathers (implicitly they argue we need bullies for fathers, really). What I think is that the important factor is access to parenting, which is easier when there are more parents around.

    Anyway, as long as you recognize that biology isn’t a moral imposition, then I don’t think we’re as different in our positions as I initially suspected. Sorry for the misinterpretation.

  • One can’t compare single parents and same-sex parents and come to valid conclusions about how either compares to different-sex parents. It may well be that it’s the quantity of parents that matters and not the sex of them, but only one side of that is shown when you compare the results of single parenting and same-sex parenting. You’d also have to compare same-sex parents to different-sex parents. Both factors might be important.

    Before I’m on board with this deconstruction of Platonic masculinity and the power of men to confer social manhood, I’m going to need to know what it’s going to be replaced with. I never had a coming-of-age ritual after which it was made clear both to me and to others that I had Made It and was now A Man. The result of this wasn’t that I decided on my own what it meant to be a man; rather, I continued to feel like a child or overgrown adolescent until my late twenties, when my fiancée finally (mostly) convinced me I was a grown-up. I don’t see this as an improvement over the hierarchical situation you describe. Another woman might (in fact did) do the exact opposite, impugning my masculinity in front of friends and relations.

    I think the need for socially conferred manhood is quite firmly and deeply rooted in men, and so we can’t simply tear down the system like some corrupt dictator without chaos ensuing. We’d need to replace it with something, and I can’t see that anything could both fulfill my need to be tested and found worthy of being called a man, and be any different in essentials from what we have already.

  • Theodmann,

    The studies which I have read about (I’ll fully concede I’m not extensively familiar with the literature in this area so remember that this is tentative) demonstrate that, speaking on average, couples of any sex combo provide better parenting than single parenting. Also, a few studies have indicated little statistically significant difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in terms of parenting outcomes.

    Now all these studies would have the obvious limitation of small sample sizes with respect to the number of same-sex couples who are parents. Again, this is tentative and the literature is relatively recent, not to mention this is a field which tends to cause a lot of emotionally-heated discussion (and in the case of some socially-conservative think-tanks, motivated reasoning). So obviously I don’t intend my pronouncements to be some final word. I’m simply conveying the overall results of the studies which I am familiar with.

    Now, as for the issue of Platonic masculinity…

    First, Platonism is simply wrong. It is an absolutely loopy belief system. This alone is enough to support my case, because if Platonism is wrong then Platonic masculinity is also wrong.

    Second, you argue that perhaps men have an ingrained need to prove themselves ‘real men’ or have this manhood validated. The nature/nurture question again rears its head here, because 1) “real manhood” is a complex abstract notion (as I said, it is implicitly based on a Platonic view of universals) and there is no abstract knowledge in the brain at birth (there may be drives or instincts, true, but there are no abstractions), and 2) pretty much every single human society has used the notion of ‘real man’ to control and regulate male behavior. The pattern is transcultural/transhistorical, and as such it comes as no surprise that very many men including yourself (by your own admission) have issues over the subject (I’m not trying to impugn you by this… the existential crisis of manhood is familiar to pretty much all men and embodied in male-oriented stories and media so yeah, I’m saying that fundamentally your experience is quite normal). Social constructivism is absolutely consistent with your experiences as well.

    Given how the feminine gender role focuses on a task that is served directly by a natural biological function, and the tasks which constitute the masculine gender role aren’t nearly as ensured-by-biology, your experience is really unsurprising.

    Women being able to impugn your masculinity (or confer it) is part of the system I criticize. My article focused on one part of the system (i.e. the role of elder ‘real men’, the father-figure as an instance of this), but there are multiple “ladders” to “real manhood” – success with women is another, and having one’s peer group validate things is yet another. Just because this article focused on one component of the system doesn’t imply that there aren’t any other components of the system.

    Now, with respect to the argument that we can’t tear down these norms without chaos ensuing, the fact is that we have this thing called “ethics” and “morality” which exist to answer the questions of what behavior is good or bad. We don’t need to shove an additional set of gendered norms onto men any more when we have ethics. I mean, women don’t have their social gender identity subject to revocation and they don’t seem to be more (or less) depraved than men (on average).

    Since I think the “real manhood” system is a clear case of a social construct, I think it is better to teach men to live by their own independently chosen, rational set of standards rather than to simply have another system take the current one’s place. There can be no “real manhood” system which doesn’t socially emasculate at least some males. There can be no “real manhood” system which DOESN’T give people “am I a real man?” angst.

    You may have a point in that some men haven’t necessarily the developed the psychological independence necessary to fully reject the traditional system. Perhaps we do need a ‘stepping stone’ or some sort of psychological technology to enable men to get away from the current system and ease the pressure of it whilst still comforting those remnants of the traditional system remaining. I am not a psychologist… I have some knowledge of theoretical psychology but I have zero familiarity with clinical practices… so I’m not sure where to start but I’d think the situation would have to be addressed on an individualized basis at the very least.

  • @YetAnotherCommenter
    It never seemed to me that we were all that far apart. I didn’t get it either until the question of assigning morality to biology became clear. I would agree that two parents are better than one (regardless of sex or gender identity). But even in same sex families where both are women, I’m guessing there is some fulfillment of the father role or another substitute is found. But this is speculation on my part. There isn’t nearly enough data available to draw a conclusion.

    “Far too often we get social conservatives arguing that paternal child-beating is the cure for crime, and from there they argue we need more fathers (implicitly they argue we need bullies for fathers, really).”

    I agree that a lot of people tend to hold this belief. But this is exactly the opposite of what is needed. Bullying or abusive fathers are exceedingly poor fathers and are probably the reason so many young men have the daddy issues we’ve been discussing.

    “Second, you argue that perhaps men have an ingrained need to prove themselves ‘real men’ or have this manhood validated. The nature/nurture question again rears its head here, because 1) “real manhood” is a complex abstract notion (as I said, it is implicitly based on a Platonic view of universals) and there is no abstract knowledge in the brain at birth (there may be drives or instincts, true, but there are no abstractions), and 2) pretty much every single human society has used the notion of ‘real man’ to control and regulate male behavior. The pattern is transcultural/transhistorical…”

    I would agree that there is no abstract knowledge (at least in the sense we are discussing here), however because this need for validating manhood is so universal, one of our basic psychological drives or needs may be to create the abstract construct of manhood and therefore the standards for achieving it.

    I do agree that the construct of manhood has been used to control male behavior, but equally so, the construct of femininity has also been used to control female behavior. Simply because one has a natural marker and the other is more socially constructed does not mean they aren’t used for the same purpose. I am also not of the opinion that this is necessarily a bad thing. Human beings are social creatures and social interactions require rules. These rules need to be enforced and enforcement requires means. But I also think that gender roles and norms are more than rules for social interaction.

    I have studied psychology and have worked in the field for 30 years. Gender roles and norms fill another need; that of identity formation. Identity is multifaceted, but sexual identity is a very important facet. It is so important that in today’s world in which feminism claims to want to do away with gender roles and norms, it instead encourages the creation of multiple genders and identities that are more narrowly defined than masculine and feminine. Rather than doing away with masculinity, the world of gender studies is creating “multiple masculinities.” If these are accepted, more men will fall into the category of “real men” as the category will be broadened, not eliminated.

    All societies require producers and reproducers. Especially in today’s society where reproduction has become lees important, production is becoming even more important. When women fill the role of reproducer (and only women can), their ability to produce is diminished. This appears to have placed even more of the burden on men, as production remains optional for women. IMHO we cannot do away with masculinity (or earned manhood), but we can redefine what is meant by production (and we are) to expand the role, thereby creating more “real men.”

    I see you’ve got another post up. I’ll be taking a look at that one.

  • TDOM,

    I’m glad you agree that the last thing we need is bullying or abusive fathers. However, is that necessarily the reason for the whole “daddy issues” thing? I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t abusive fathers be more likely to create some sort of rebellion against the drive to comply with daddy’s standards?

    The only way to explain the lingering “must please daddy” desires in the face of abusive fathering is 1) innate ideas, which I reject, or 2) gender cliches inculcating the “must prove self a real man!” complex.

    I also agree entirely that femininity was used to control female behavior too. That’s beyond refute. However, when you bring up the fact that we need rules, the problem is that we already have a mechanism for this: morality. Why do we need an additional layer of gendered rules when morality and natural human empathy can more than suffice?

    With respect to your point regarding identity formation, like I said the concept of “real manhood” will always create an underclass of losers who don’t achieve it. However, I do think that the “multiple masculinities” model is a step in the right direction, because broadening the category whilst simultaneously making it more subjective and arbitrary will certainly help people ‘get over’ the “real manhood” complex (by weakening it).

  • “However, is that necessarily the reason for the whole “daddy issues” thing? I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t abusive fathers be more likely to create some sort of rebellion against the drive to comply with daddy’s standards?”

    Not the whole reason. Just a large part of it. If you remove the sexual nature of Freudian theory, I think the Oedipus complex makes a lot of sense. Fathers are both, mentors and rivals and the resolution of this conflict is a key to successful masculine identity. For Freud this is an innate drive, but would also contain a considerable social and individual component. The range of resolution is anything from nearly total emulation to complete rejection and is very difficult to predict, but either way the result is to become productive as a man either through competition or cooperation. Those who don’t are likely the ones ending up as failures. I’m not a big fan of multiple masculinities, but I am a fan of multiple productivities.

  • Well I incline towards cognitivism rather than Freudianism, but I do think that in the context of the gender system the son vs. father relationship is clearly quite significant to psychological development.

  • The point about platonism is that you seem to be treating a biological typicality as if it were a moral norm.

    That’s the naturalistic fallacy.

    And treating sex roles as not only “natural” but therefore desirable, is an appeal to nature, another fallacy.

    What is desirable is what is needed. When something is no longer NEEDED (we can do without), then it’s no longer better to enforce it. The cost/benefit analysis for the people involved drops to near 0. I guess it remains high for people who want to exploit the labor of those.

    In short, we could entirely drop the male role, some (men and women both) would still do it, it would be sufficient. We NEED to bring that “society of leisure” that was promised in the 1950s, with robots doing the labor, and people all having an income for “being there”, and more income if they worked. Not be held by the starvation threat.

  • @YetAnotherCommenter

    I am definitely not a Freudian, but I do have a great appreciation for his theory. It isn’t particularly scientific, but is quite insightful, comprehensive, and explanitory. The problem is that it highly subjective in its use and development (developed using the qualitative method of case study) and difficult to test quantitatively.

    I much prefer a cognitive behavioral approach, but that can be problematic as well since it is quite difficult to connect thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and drives to physically to the brain. Despite all of our modern technology, the ties remain quite crude. Further, cognitive psychology also relies on subjective contructs like intelligence, knowledge, and memory even though they are better defined than the Freudian constructs like id, ego. superego, etc.

    Psychology is an inexact science. There are no universal laws of psychology and therefore no single theory can be used entirely to explain human thought and behavior.

  • We humans are too social to be content with our own individual inner identities. We must have our picture of ourselves confirmed by other people whose opinion is important to us. Gender identity is one of the things that it’s not enough just to know about yourself; other people have to agree to treat you like a member of the right gender. People need (to a degree) to have some broad categories for people–we don’t want to treat a 5-year-old child the same as a 30-year-old man, nor an 80-year-old woman–and we also need to be able to categorize ourselves with the same system, so we know how to relate to each other. For human beings, identity is in both the psyche and our social interactions and relationships.

    That’s why morality is not a replacement for gender roles. Knowing what is right and wrong won’t help when you’re trying to decide who you are and what that says about how you relate to others. It’s like saying religion could replace a career. Religion can at best tell you how to act while you do your job, but it can’t tell you which job to do. Religion and morality are the same for everyone, but the roles people play, whether gender roles or those to do with career or friendship or familial relationships, have to be much more specific.

    My first remark (about the same- vs. opposite-sex couples) was based entirely on your description, in which it was unclear how extensive the studies were, and I wanted to be careful about how much we assume about such things. It was my inner pedant showing.

    If I understand the concept rightly (there is no guarantee of this, since I’ve never studied any philosophy), Platonism is indeed empirically loopy. But it is very close to what people think the world is like, because that’s how they build it in their minds. I’ve seen a lot of dogs, and a great variety of them, so the category “Dog” in my mind is quite broad, but every animal in it has a certain doggy something about it, and it’s that something, if it could be distilled and embodied, that would correspond to the Platonic Dog Ideal. It exists nowhere but in people’s minds, but I daresay everybody has some version of it, and I would guess it varies very little from person to person. I call this a Good Thing, because it lets us use words like “dog” without having to explain what we mean every time.

    “Man” and “Woman” are similar to “Dog” in this way, so there will always be an ideal, whatever that means. I mean we won’t be able to prevent people making generalizations about each other, but I’m not sure about the moralistic element implied in an ideal of manhood. It may just be possible to get people to stop at generalizing what men are like, rather than proscribing how they should be.

    I’m trying to say that I think dismantling the system of gender roles is both impossible and ill-advised. What is needed instead is to change the system so that it allows people to be who they want to be, and still be accepted by society. The system you criticize is indeed a social construct, but its function in society is universal. While the details of the system may vary across cultures and time, the fact that it exists does not, as you say.

    It’s like language: different cultures have different languages (or at least different dialects), but every culture has at least one. Children are born not knowing any language, but the ability (indeed, the compulsion) to learn at least one. Similarly, a child won’t have a concept of ‘real manhood’ at birth, but it will have an overwhelming predisposition to form such concepts in order to understand the world.

    I am realizing that TDOM said much of this in different words already. Ah, well.

  • Schala,

    I absolutely agree that the ideal situation would be a post-scarcity society (i.e. we have enough resources/productive capacity to satisfy everyone’s wants), so I’m with you there. However, it will take time and technological progress to reach that goal and we still aren’t there yet. But yes, when the Economic Problem has been transcended things will be quite different.


    I should point out when I said “cognitivist” I didn’t mean “behavioral” (as in cognitive-behavior therapy). I hate behaviorism and I consider B. F. Skinner a scientistic (i.e. trying to force the methods of the physical and natural sciences into what is, like you said, a much more subjective field) totalitarian whacko… which isn’t surprising considering that scientism and totalitarianism tended to get along quite well (see the works of F. A. Hayek for more on that issue).

    Of course psychology is an inexact science and we’re dealing with human beings that have agency/free will as well as individualized situations and temperments. However, I do think that there are at least some universal-or-close-enough principles we can postulate about human nature, human action and human cognition. For instance, “humans act teleologically” seems pretty undeniable – the mere act of denying it falsifies the denial because denying the teleological nature of human action is an act intended to produce some sort of outcome.

    And the basic principle of cognitivism… that feelings/emotions are the product of automatized thought processes, that if you feel good about something you must have positive thoughts/evaulations of it… this seems pretty accurate and general. Certainly its true in my experience. Naturally, I’ll change my ideas if I see falsifying evidence.


    Of course humans like having their individual identities validated. That’s fine! My problem is that the traditional system always ends up DENYING this to gender-transgressive men.

    Expanding the category of “real manhood” will in effect destroy the system, because the system is predicated on the denial/revocation of the status. Even if we keep the nomenclature, the underlying concept (when significantly expanded) will change considerably. It will in effect be tamed and ‘dismantled.’

    Do people think Platonically in many ways? Yes, they do. However this isn’t necessarily natural, its a cognitive error which can be fixed.

  • YAC,

    On what do you base your idea that thinking Platonically is not integral to the way humans make sense of the world? I am basing my idea that it is integral on one course I took in college: it was a sociology course about ethnomethodology, and the textbook was written by one Harold Garfinkel. It’s been long enough that I’ve certainly forgotten some of the ins and outs, but one central idea as I remember it was that rational thought is separate from everyday thought. Scientists doing science are not thinking the same way that people (even those same scientists) think in social situations when they are trying to figure out how to act. This is why people so often fail to think and act rationally; reason is in many ways a foreign method of thought that itself must be learned.

    I’ve noticed there are many things we’ve discussed that I assume are natural and that you assume are not. “Natural” does not always mean “good”, but it does often mean “harder to get rid of than maybe we’d like”.

    If you think that “expanding the category of ‘real manhood’ will in effect destroy the system,” then we aren’t talking about quite the same thing. This is good; we are more in agreement than I thought. You seem to mean only the destructive part of the system, the ability of it to revoke “real man” status. I think ‘the system’ is much larger than that, and dismantling it would entail taking away people’s ability to make sense of social interactions on a fundamental level. It would mean social awkwardness of infinite depth and without foreseeable end. Chaos. That’s why I’m against it.

    But you seem more interested in expanding the categories of “real manhood”, “real womanhood” and so forth to the point where they are meaningless. That’s a different question, and while I suspect I wouldn’t go as far as you in that direction either, I would definitely go most of the way with you.

    It’s my opinion that one (generally underestimated) reason that the male gender role is so narrow and precarious and so fiercely defended is the disproportionate expansion by feminism of the female gender role. While failing at manhood doesn’t mean succeeding at womanhood, taking on feminine traits is indeed one way to fail at manhood. Thus, when womanhood is expanded, manhood must shrink. Not only that, but when the rules are clear and the structure of them is stable, people actually have a lot of freedom within the rules to be themselves. Feminism has destabilized the female role, thus destabilizing the male role. That’s why I think everybody would feel at least a little bit better if we went back to the pre-industrial traditional gender roles. I also think it’s far too late for that, and not enough would be gained to be worth it.

    But if it were me, and I had any control over the matter, I’d probably shrink the female role slightly so that it would be easier to expand the male role to be equal to it. Women don’t seem to be much happier with their lack of rules or even guidelines than men are with their overabundance of both.

  • Theodmann,

    Your proposition about people having a natural predisposition towards platonism is interesting, but if this were true then you’d expect most people to handle most concepts in a Platonic way.

    However, there are basically four theories of universals – Platonism, Aristotelian Essentialism, Conceptualism and Nominalism. Very few people are consistently adherents of one position. If people were predisposed to Platonism, the other three theories would be far more poorly represented.

    Not only that, but like I said before the gender system treats femininity as an Aristotelian Essence – masculinity is treated Platonically but femininity isn’t. This would seem to undermine the claim of an innate Platonic bias.

    I do think we aren’t as in opposition as I once thought, absolutely, however I don’t think shrinking the female role is going to help. I don’t think we’re in a zero-sum game. Your reasoning about that presupposes that most people understand masculinity as the “not-feminine” (as opposed to a thing in itself), i.e. something which is defined only in terms of its relationship to the feminine (see “Beyond the Binary Gender Structure” for more). Is this true? Perhaps it is to some degree, but I think the solution to this would be to fix people’s underlying erroneous belief rather than to shrink the scope of acceptable womanhood.

  • As someone who only ever read Plato to learn Greek (I aced the test but remember distressingly little of the grammar and none of the philosophy), and never read any of those others at all, I can’t comment on the people’s use of Platonism, Aristotelian Essentialism, Conceptualism or Nominalism, nor how often they use one or another compared to the rest. I’m not in a position to read up on them now, either, alas. But I’d entertain the notion that most people look at the world differently at different times, to suit the occasion or their mood. My point that people usually don’t think scientifically should still stand regardless, though. Science puts restrictions on what types of conclusions can be reached based on what kinds of evidence, and how loosely terms can be defined and used. But if you try that kind of thing in everyday conversation, people very quickly get frustrated with you, because those rules are only for science.

    I think I’ve been a little sloppy myself, as it happens, with my thinking. There is a difference between people’s ideas of things as they are, and their ideals of how they should be. And people don’t generally have the same moralistic attitude toward their concept of “Dog” that they do with regard to “Woman” and “Man”. I’ll have to work that into my theory (if you want to call it that) at some point. It’ll go something like this: people’s concept of what men or women are like is as I’ve described (every man or woman is a data point, and the major commonalities within each group define it and add up to the essence of that category), but their concept of how they should be is based on an “improved” (idealized) version of how they are, and this ideal is the standard by which they judge individuals’ adherence to “real” manhood or womanhood. I’ll need to give it more thought though.

    I wouldn’t say we’re in a zero-sum game either. It’s not that there are only so many attributes and each must belong to only one of the genders. Rather, I see it as more of a see-saw. When the feminine is more expansive or has more stuff than the masculine, the masculine has to move further from the fulcrum in order to keep the beam in balance. Masculinity has to be more extreme to counterbalance the breadth (weight?) of femininity. This is bad because we always feel like we’re going to fall off the end, and that’s stressful. So we can either take some of femininity’s stuff away or give more stuff to masculinity or both, if we want to get both sides to about the same distance from the center (and I think we do). I’d take a little away from femininity and give a lot to masculinity, whereas I gather you’d only give to masculinity. Either would work, I suppose. Yes, I do think that there is the notion floating around that the masculine is the not-feminine, but I agree that it’s only to a degree, and where it does exist it’s mostly superficial.

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