Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why does the patriarchy exist?

I am not asking about why it exists currently, as that is a pretty easy question, it comes from over 5000 years of cultural and social conditioning. I am also not asking as a way of trying to abolish it, although I am trying to abolish it, but that is not what this post is about. What I am asking is under what conditions and situations does the beginning of the patriarchy begin to make sense both evolutionarily and also socially? I mean at what point did pre-modern people "decide" that men should be in charge and women should be subservient. I have to include both women and men in making this decision, as initially there is no social programming that tells us that men are superior and women are inferior. It is basically people deciding that this is the natural order of things and then making it happen. It is language shaping and creating our reality. How does this begin?

In reality any one gender having superiority over the other seems to make no sense. Both genders are needed to continue the procreation of the species, men cannot do it without women and women cannot procreate without men. Hell if anything women have a slight edge as they are the carriers of the child, but they cannot create a child without the sperm of a man. So then why did pre-modern peoples decide that men are superior? Looking at nature, no other species seems to make the male gender superior, in fact it is probably the opposite. When species have bright colors or plumage, cardinals and peacocks for example, it is always the male. When you see fighting for a mate in nature it is usually the males that are fighting for the right to mate with the female. I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, that the male is the showy or aggressive one, but I cannot think of one and it seems that in general the male has to compete more for mating rights. So the patriarchy does not make sense either in terms of procreation or when compared to the rest of the animal world, so does it makes sense socially?

I am sure that some people would argue that humans are above animals, that we are not truly part of the animal kingdom either because of our ability to reason or create complex thought, I would not be one of them, but I have to address this anyway. So then, I guess the reason that the patriarchy exists is because we are able to reason and to think and to then create and force our way of thinking upon others. I look toward Beresheit (Genesis) as a way of telling how this patriarchy began, this is also why I used the thought that the social conditioning has existed for over 5000 years, I am not arguing that people have always been patriarchal, just more recently. I use over 5000 as the year according to the Jewish tradition is 5768 (yes I did have to look that up). Anyway, so if we look at the the biblical story of creation we think that God created woman from man. Woman was created from the rib of a man. This, of course, supports the idea that man is superior to women as women are created after man and they are taken from man, hence men must be superior. Well there are some interesting points from this. First, when I look at my Torah there are actually two creation stories, the first one, Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 and then a second one from Genesis 2:4-24. The point of bringing this up is that it is in the second one that woman and man are created separately, woman from the rib of Adam. According to Genesis 1:27, And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them (the italics are mine of course). So here in this story male and female are created at the same time as equals, there is no women is created as a helper to man as there is in the second story. I know there are those of you reading this who are saying, oh don't get into religion on this, I am honestly not. My point is that at some point it was decided by men, of course, that they would emphasize the part of the second story that subjugates the woman to a lesser role. And why are there two stories? My theory is that at some point "learned men" decided that by adding the second story, as the Bible was written by man, it would support the thoughts that man was superior by being able to say, "See god made us and he made man superior, so woman go back into the kitchen and cook." Ok so maybe not those exact words but what other reason is there than to propagate the whole patriarchy? It would also make sense to me that this type of propaganda would be helpful in conversion of native peoples and subjugation of the women. "See it says in our holy book that our god is better than your god and that men are better than women."

So this still does not answer the whole, where does the patriarchy come from. Another example of what would seem to be support for at least equality if not a more matriarchal society is that within the Jewish religion, the religion of the child is passed down on the mother's side, so a child who is born to a Jewish mother is Jewish no matter what the religion of the father (like me). This also works when trying to take over a community, I just realized, as this way the women have the child and the child then has to be Jewish. It does not matter if the women's husband is a pagan, and early on this would probably have been the case, as the child was now Jewish and so within a short period of time everyone is Jewish in an area and they can move on to conquer, quietly, another area, OK wow this was a bit off topic and may make for another post. Anyway... so then why is the Jewish society patriarchal, because it was already ingrained in these people or being ingrained by the religious leaders that man is superior.

I am not sure I have really gotten any further in figuring out why the patriarchy exists and at what point it made sense to people as it makes no sense to me. It would seem to be contrary to all "natural" evidence and is even suspiciously contrary to initial writings of the holy texts. This also would support the idea that man wrote the Torah (Bible) and that it was probably edited and changed many times before we have the version that we see now.

This post may not have flowed well and may not totally makes sense to others, but as I am struggling with this and have no answers, I needed to post this so that I can get my thoughts out and then I can continue to think about them. I thank you if you made it this far and please comment if you have the answer as to why the patriarchy made any sense initially or any other thoughts that may help me to get further in trying to figure this out.


FranIAm said...

Boxer- wow! What a thought provoking post. Really well done.

Who knows? I wish I did. There are many reasons.

I do know this- and I cringe every time I hear the beginning of Genesis... It's all Eve's freaking fault.

That does have some precedence regarding the negativity to women.

Whatever it is, we need to work towards where it is not the case.

And you are doing smashingly in that regard. Lucky that shaina maidl who is beshert for you.

GourmetGoddess said...

Patriarchy is an interesting thing. And there are different types of patriarchy and different levels of power gain/loss at different times. Did it actually make sense at one time? Did it evolve? Was it forced on populations?

If you get a chance, there is a book you might like a lot called The Creation of patriarchy by Gerda Lerner. It's an older text but still provides a lot for musing. Also Texts of Terror by Phyllis Tribble.

Genesis is one of my favorite books for interpretation. Is Eve really inferior because she was taken from man, or is she superior for that very same reason? Or neither? And was eating the apple a bad thing really? Free will vs fate? Oh! Too much fun! My kids find this exercise makes their heads hurt, but it also opens a lot of eyes.

In a lot of feminist theology, we oftne speak of the kyriarchy rather than the patriarchy - rule of the lord rather than rule of the father. Because it can be argued that we don't actually have a patriarchy because so many men, even if they don't see it, are disempowered under the current system. The current system favors (and hopefully this is changing) the rich, white males. Most of Elasebth Schussler-Fiorenza's books at least touch on this topic...

BAC said...

An old joke is that God made man, took one look and said "I can do better" and then made woman.

I have always thought that since the Bible was written by men, it was written to benefit men. I'm not familiar with other religions text, but I would imagine the same thought applies.

There is a book that I've had for more than 20 years, but never finished, written by Marilyn French called "Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals". I bought it after hearing her give a talk about it. She outlines in the book how she thinks patriarchy began, and that originally we were a matriarchal society. (We, meaning the world.)

According to French, during this time there is no evidence that anyone die from anything other than natural causes. That it was only when we became a patriarchy that evidence of weapons, and people dying from them, was found.

Now I'm going to have to find that book and finally read the darned thing!


GourmetGoddess said...

BAC - you might also want to look at the works of Marija Gimbutas - Language of the Goddess, etc. He works are controversial, naturally, but thought provoking....

BAC said...

Thats for the tip, gourmetgoddess ... my challenge is that I have dozens of books, that I've never read. I keep buying them, but never seen to get around to reading them.


KVT said...

Just came across this when google searching when we evolved into a patriarchal society for my politics lecture. This was really interesting and well written. well done.