Cultural power games

It can be tempting to think of patriarchy as a system that benefits all men at the expense of all women. This itself is a line of thought that benefits patriarchy, because the more you entrench ideas of gender division, the easier it is for the patriarchy to stay in place. Most men do not benefit from this system, but by creating the illusion that they could be winners, they are encouraged to play along, and have been for hundreds of years. There are also women who play along, who seek ease through complicity, seek to win on the terms patriarchy lays out, and who are happy to denigrate other women to make a position for themselves.

Patriarchy can be really shitty to many of its male participants. In unbalancing gender relationships, it undermines what relationships you can have. Just as there are limits on what you can do as a nice slave owner, there are limits on what you can do as a nice guy in a heavily patriarchal culture. If you do not match how the culture defines masculinity – maybe you are gay, non-violent, not ambitious, not hungry for power over others – then you will be labelled as feminine and the culture will denigrate you that same way it does its women. If women are cast as inferior, then a woman being better than you at something is really threatening. Patriarchal cultures put most men in positions where they do not get to feel superior, but are forever watching their backs, and are as limited in their identity options as their womenfolk are. Culture is people, so this only works because the majority are willing to participate or do not notice what they are upholding. (Consider ‘throws like a girl’.)

The important question to ask, is who wins this game? Who benefits?

Patriarchy is a system of power-over. It gives men power over women, but it also gives men power over each other. Physical power, financial power, ownership of resources, and that more ephemeral notion of ‘authority’. It is a system that encourages all participants to let the people (mostly men) and institutions (mostly run by men) that are in charge, to stay in charge, because they have authority and authority should be respected. If that upsets you, then in a patriarchal culture, the answer isn’t to challenge those above you, but to kick an inferior so as to achieve catharsis (UKIP in a nutshell, most forms of fascism in fact). Inferiority is constructed along lines of gender, race, poverty and lack of power. Only a handful of people really benefit in a system of this shape, and they get to sit at the top of the heap, wielding authority because that’s what they’ve always done, because they have more money and habits of power than anyone else.

If you like having power over people and you want the freedom to use other people as objects, then patriarchy is a system that will suit you well. If, regardless of gender, you don’t enjoy using or being used, this is not a system you are ever going to be happy in. What enables it to survive is that patriarchy does not present itself as a system, it has always offered itself as an unassailable reality. Of course it’s just natural that these are the people who end up in power making all the decisions. And now, cleverly, they have us largely convinced that we pick them by voting, and not looking hard enough at how many of them went through the same elite educational institutions.

Gender conflict is a symptom, not an underlying cause. It is a consequence of a system that fundamentally believes in power-over and the use of resources, where other people’s lives, bodies, minds, health and existence most certainly do count as a resource to be used. My feeling is that we are only going to sort out issues of gender politics when enough of us stop being enthusiastic players of the power-over game which has been set up explicitly such that none of us can win it. This is basically feudalism with a new hat, and we have been persuaded to do it to ourselves.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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