How to change patriarchy.

  • Posted on: 4 December 2016
  • By: Reeler

One of the major hidden debates behind the growth of feminism is the implication that this has for men and for patriarchy more generally. Betty Friedan, so many years ago, in her important book, The Second Stage (1981), pointed out that one of the consequences of the feminist revolution was that American men seemed to be quietly changing in response to this. With the acceptance that women were no longer to be bound to home and child care, the social world had changed and this meant that the roles in relationship were changing. This does not seem to have developed very far in the past thirty odd years when women in America reject Hilary Clinton for a man that epitomises all the worst characteristics of maleness, but it is also true that many American men rejected Donald Trump for exactly the reasons of his crude chauvinism.

But the point behind Friedan’s argument was that the problems that men were wrestling with in trying to come to terms with the feminist thesis had begun so much earlier in their lives. In order to find what Jung called the anima, the feminine aspect of our unconscious, men have to overcome the overlay that comes with their cultural upbringing. This is no simple task with the many thousands of generations of the stress on the other aspect of our unconscious, the animus, the male aspect of our unconscious. I am deliberately simplifying Jung here, but the basic point can be seen in the ways in which women have changed in the past 100 years.

Women have found the space to express their animus. Through being able to be educated, acquiring professions, entering the wider work world, women have found their place in the world. It has not been easy and the challenges of balancing work and home have fallen disproportionately upon women. And this has not been met without resistance from men, and it is still the case universally that the work space more easily accommodates men than women. But this too is slowly changing.

But the problem of helping men find their animus will probably never be resolved by policies such as those that have helped women find space in the wider world. For men the problem begins in the home and very early on, in the ways in which they are socialised in to world. If the nurturing role is wholly provide by the mother, if the work in the domestic space is largely provided by women, if boys and girls are fitted into different roles, then boys will enter the outside world fully-formed to meet the requirements of the dominant patriarchy. And if it ever occurs to a man that this arrangement is probably unfair and inappropriate in the modern world, the journey to change is extremely hard.

For a start, the notion that a man needs to find his feminine side will not generally go down well with his male counterparts. Women in their struggle to find equality in the world find boundless support from other women, and, of course, women support the struggle of the men. But if men are ridiculed at worst for not living up to the male script, and, even if it makes rational sense to try to find a feminine side to themselves, it will often feel for men that they are changing something fundamental in themselves.

So what would help in this struggle?

I think the first place to start is in the home, and with the notion that domestic life is not gender-specific: everybody can cook, clean, shop, and so on. After all, these are the basic tasks of life for every human being, and not the responsibility of half the planet. Boys and young men brought up this way will be more complete humans and importantly develop an understanding of what is nurturance.

The second place to begin is to change another fundamentally flawed separation in the roles of men and women, and this is to do with child rearing. Apart from actually being pregnant, giving birth, and breast-feeding, there is no task involved in bringing up a child that requires a woman only. Men can anything that a woman does in looking after children, especially if their upbringing followed the recipe described above. So why do we still persist in so many parts of the world in giving women many weeks of maternity leave and men a few days?

Apart from the fact that this deprives men from developing a good and active relationship with their new born child, it also perpetuates the prejudice that women face in the work place: that women cannot be given high responsibility until they have finished child bearing, and, even worse, that the fact that women have to have children is a nuisance and disruptive to the world of work.

Surely it is time to change all of this? Make home and work mutually supportive, and allow men the time and space to help change patriarchy!

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