Before you decide to read this, please be aware that this is going to be my most controversial post so far. Today’s topic is the patriarchy, which is a controversial subject – especially among conservatives! What’s even more controversial is my view of the patriarchy, or rather I should say traditional gender roles; namely, that conservatives should not promote them.
Before I begin, let’s define Patriarchy – like I said, it’s a very controversial term and many conservatives would go so far as to say that no such thing exists. First, I would agree that some feminists overuse the term patriarchy – in fact, one of my very first blog posts back in 2010 (before I started blogging here at CT) was a post ridiculing feminists for using terms like oppression, patriarchy, misogyny etc in every other sentence. Technically, patriarchy means the structural oppression of women – but let’s put it in practical terms: A patriarchal society is one where women do not get the same opportunities as men, where crimes against women are not taken as seriously as crimes against men (rape victim-blaming, anyone?) and where women are just, overall, somewhat less free than men are.
I don’t think conservatives should support this. I do not believe we, whether as private citizens or in government, should promote traditional gender roles. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with them, and radical feminists who actually do seek to destroy the nuclear family and force women to behave in an anti-patriarchal (that is, masculine) way should definitely be opposed.
However, it is just as wrong for us to force traditional roles down women’s throats. Many conservatives think that this – patriarchal family structures where the man is the breadwinner and the woman stays home, gives birth to a dozen kids and spends her life nursing them – is an essential part of conservatism.
It’s an essential part of what I’d like to consider Economics 101.
I’m not kidding, this stuff is literally in economics 101: Nearly every foundational microeconomics module begins with the lecturer explaining the benefits of trade in the following way: Imagine there are two indiviuals, both stuck on a deserted island. They need two goods in order to survive – coconuts and fish. One of them is good at collecting coconuts – he can collect 15 coconuts per day, but he can only catch 10 fish. The other one is good at fishing – he can catch 15 fish per day, but he can only collect 10 coconuts. Hence, they will both be better off by specialising – one of them spends all day fishing while the other climbs the palm trees for coconuts, and then they trade with each other (1-for-1), and they’re both better off.
Now what on earth does this have to do with gender roles?
Think about it: Before the industrial revolution, taking care of the home was a full time job (I know plenty of women would argue it still is, and they may have a point, but that’s not relevant right now). Like, really, a full time job: Cooking without electric stoves, washing without a laundry machine, cleaning without vacuum cleaners and other modern equipment, keeping the kids in line without TV (that’s got to be the worst one) etc.
But household work doesn’t pay the bills (unless you do it for others) – and so someone has to do the wage-earning job. Now, let’s think back to the kind of jobs that were avaible to the majority before the industrial revolution: Farmer, lumberjack, miner, soldier – the list goes on, but there is one common characteristic that nearly every job shares: Physical strength is important. Since men do have a natural, biological “competitive advantage” in that area, while women have an even stronger competitive advantage in the area known as “giving birth”, it made perfect sense that men worked for a paycheck and women stayed home. The large families also made a lot of sense – sure, part of it was the lack of birth control, but even with birth control families back then had to be large, as a child was a type of investment (as horrible as that sounds) – without children, there was nobody who could provide you with a pension and otherwise care for you once you got old. And given the low salaries at the time, it took quite a few children to provide for two parents.
Note that this does not in any way justify the abuse that women suffered at the hands of abusive husbands and authorities, I’m just saying that the economic order (the man works while the woman stays at home) made a lot of sense from a strict economic perspective.
And really, everything else associated with the patriarchy can be said to be caused by the economic order: Women didn’t work, therefore those who provided for them (their husbands/fathers) could rule them with an iron fist. The women were more dependent on men than the men were on women. This resulted in systematic abuse, known by feminists as the “patriarchy”.
Having understood the (very simplified) origin of patriarchy, the next question is: Where did feminism come from? If you ask certain christian conservatives, feminism is just some kind of demon that escaped the depths of hell during the 19th century and that has been poisoning the minds of pious women ever since.
However, it is kind of a strange coincidence that the emergence of feminism as a political force coincides with urbanisation, rising living standards and women joining the labour market. See, as incomes got higher, we no longer needed dozens of kids to provide for us in our old age – we could simply set apart some of the salary and save it for when we could no longer work.
The industrial revolution was based on new technology – thousands and thousands of innovations that made work less physical. With physical strength no longer necessary to earn a living, women could ever-so-slowly begin to seriously compete with men in the labour market. With increasing national wealth, countries could afford to provide all its citizens with basic education – something most men already had but which was completely new to women. The industrial revolution meant that men no longer had a competitive advantage in most sectors, and since the patriarchy was really just based on economic efficiency all along, its grip on women slowly began to weaken. Also, the industrial revolution gave us modern innovations which made household work easier and less time consuming: Dishwashers, laundry machines, vacuum cleaners and all the others. So, there was now time left over to work, and suddenly there were plenty of jobs which women could perform.
Urbanisation was another factor, which was also brought on by the industrial revolution: People moved from the countryside to the cities, and as they got closer to one another, they could spend more time talking to one another. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? And, as people began to socialise to a degree they hadn’t really done before, they realized that everyone else had the same complaints about society as they did. You can kind of imagine the conversations among the men at the time, “Really, you also think our boss is a jerk? I thought I was the only one”, “Yeah, you’re right, we really are getting underpaid” – there were no labour unions before the industrial revolution and for a good reason: Workers, for the most part, weren’t concentrated in one and the same location (it’s always harder to organise yourselves when you are spread out over a huge geographic area and don’t see the majority of your colleagues very often).
Now let’s apply that to women – it’s not hard to see them having the same kind of conversations: “Really, you think your husband is abusive too?”, “Wow, do you also think we deserve the same opportunities men have? I really thought I was the only one”.
Of course it didn’t literally happen that way, I’m just trying to give everyone a basic idea of how feminism – and socialism for that matter – came around. There is a reason why “christian” patriarchists (I really wouldn’t consider them christian, they’re more like sociopaths in religious disguise) always emphasize that women should be separated from other women – even other christian women – because otherwise they may realize that they all have the same concerns and problems, and then they may unite. And the last time women united, they got suffrage – that’s a risk you really can’t afford if you’re a patriarchist.
Now, why shouldn’t conservatives oppose women in the workplace? I really hope it’s obvious to everyone at this point, but just in case it’s not, here’s why: As conservatives, we are not obligated to support everything that is old. Some politically uninformed people may think so, but it’s not true. We don’t want to bring back the horse and buggy, even though it was used for thousands of years. Why? Because we have cars now, and horses do not have any competitive advantage versus cars. Just like patriarchy no longer has any competitive advantage versus equal opportunities regardless of gender.
To hold onto the patriarchal structure is not to be a conservative – it is to be a luddite. The luddites, you may remember, were a group of people who desperately tried to stop the industrial revolution and all the innovations, as they were (wrongly) convinced that the innovations would make them unemployed.
Here’s the most amazing part about this: What this really means is that, were it not for capitalism – which brought the industrial revolution – feminism would never have existed. In the beginning, the fiercest opponents to feminism were not the religious conservatives, but the labour unions who were worried that women entering the job market would reduce wages by increasing the supply of labour. And yet most feminists today identify as liberals or socialists. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you…
But what about the family? If we believe the family unit is the foundation of society – as all conservatives do – wouldn’t it make sense to oppose things that lead to fewer families? Because, no doubt, marriage is not as popular as it used to be before women entered the workforce. However, I would argue that that’s actually not a bad thing: Most of us would agree that marriage should be voluntary, but in practice, that’s not the way it has been for most of history. Marriage, in particular for girls, has been absolutely mandatory. The concept that marriage is only supposed to be entered into voluntarily and based on love is relatively recent (though of course those marriages have existed for a long time). Arranged, forced marriages for economic reasons really only became uncommon some way into the 20th century.
Basically, when it comes to marriage, I believe in quality over quantity: It’s better to have a population were only half the people are married, then to have a population where everyone is married and half of those who are secretly dream of the day when their spouse will finally kick the bucket.
Instead of trying to get women back to the homes, we should recognize that women have a right (no, it’s not a privilege) to be in the workplace, and try to do everything to make sure that workplaces accomodate women so that they don’t have to choose between having children and having a career (trust me, many women want both – and since men get to be parents and have a career, why shouldn’t women?). The reason why marriages may have a lower likelihood of lasting if both partners are working is because society, more than 200 years after the industrial revolution began, still hasn’t adopted to the fact that the patriarchy is no longer economically efficient.
And of course – I’ve said this already but it bears repeating – we should oppose with full force those radical feminists who actually do want to destroy marriage as an institution, who support matriarchy and who wants to force masculinity down girls’ throats.
But let’s not oppose giving everyone a choice about what they want to do with their lives. Let’s not oppose economic development (because that’s exactly what this is; a superior economic system replacing a now inferior economic system). Let’s not be luddites.
Thank you for reading.