Patriarchy is a social structure.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a figment of the imagination of crazed conspiracy theorists. It has quite reputable origins in anthropology, right around the time during which social scientists of varying degrees of conservatism were quite solidly convinced that male-dominated societies had been preceded by non-patriarchal or matriarchal cultures. Usually, both kind of societies, patriarchal and matriarchal, were constructed to be diametrically opposed with the former being described as progressive through ceaseless competition while the latter would appear as peaceful and harmonious but stagnant.
There is no doubt about the ruthlessness of patriarchal hierarchies. In the most traditional sense patriarchies are societies in which the father (pater) of the family (pater familias) stands at the top of the social hierarchy. At his disposal there is a host of powers he can wield to the detriment and betterment of his family and other household members who are considered property. Being property and having either no or only a limited number of rights but never more than their master their well-being is completely dependent on his character and moods. The sons of the household are considered more valuable than the daughters – however, they are still subject to their father’s plans.
So, there are two very important structural characteristics to be kept in mind when it comes to patriarchies:
1) Men have more power than women.
2) Some men have more power than others.
Patriarchy never means equality between men. That certain individuals are so convinced that if women were kept in complete control men would live in a paradise where their skills, personalities and attractivity didn’t matter is wishful thinking.
However, power is male as women are delegitimized or even outright disempowered because of the stigma of their sex. As a result, most men are not interested in abolishing patriarchy. They know that by virtue of their maleness “the rule of the father” can be obtained. Consequentially, a low-status male will not rebel against patriarchy – he will rebel against men of higher status in his quest to obtain the power that he thinks should be his because of his sex alone. Large sectors of society successfully remain oppressive towards the general populace precisely because no revolution has ever bothered itself with matters insignificant to male ambition. Remember that child abuse and rape were not present as problematic in society until women’s rights activists began talking about and advocating against it. In Germany, the first magazine or newspaper to run a feature on the topic was its only feminist magazine.
Because men have similar interests they share a peculiar kind of solidarity in which they are willing and able to agitate against common enemies but never against one of their own group. Men have successfully scapegoated entire groups of people for every ill possible if the individuals of these groups had shared characteristics different from their own. The most successful scapegoating, however, is carried out against women. Men actively bond over women’s oppression and debasement. Most conveniently, this allows for male-on-male violence to either disappear or to be blamed on women instead. The victims of male-on-male violence are in reality nothing more than collateral damage in service of upholding patriarchal structures. They only become important when their victimhood can be blamed on someone outside of a given male reference group. Sometimes the victims themselves are in denial. And who can blame them when they have been told to “chercher la femme” for their entire lives?
Therefore, it is both wrong and right to say that patriarchy hurts men, too. Factually speaking, men have been sacrificing each other for centuries. However, consider that Western patriarchy is less severe than many of those we can find in the past. Still, the lion’s share of men’s criticism in regards to the damage they inflict on each other has been located in modern Western societies. Actually, as has become common, they do not even speak about men as actors, they only invoke an amorphous construct which they then call “patriarchy” and speak about it like it was an actor to not be forced to name men as the perpetrator – or better yet: speaking in the passive voice to focus on the victims without addressing the context and the men they were victimized by*. Why now, why not 500 years ago or earlier when patriarchy was often much more violent? The answer is simple: having a permanent subjugated class is such a sweet privilege to have that all other costs of patriarchy lose their severity. What is especially hurtful to men now is to see their privileges being eroded, an outcome of their habitual disregard of women’s ambition and strength. Men have not suffered under patriarchy in so far that patriarchy was never considered the root cause of their suffering. Unequal distribution of resources among men as a result of systems like capitalism and monarchy were always considered main culprits.
Therefore, attacking feminism can be understood as a diversionary tactic. But it also is a strategy to funnel women’s energy into working for men seeing as “working for men” is the role definition of woman in patriarchal societies. In many ways, being always attuned to men’s emotions and well-beings, women are easily guilt-tripped into investing in men’s well being. Men are interested in taking advantage of this because this kind of relationship/emotional work most likely cannot be expected from other men since they have not been socialized into providing social support and end up as, if patriarchal socialization proves to be successful, more or less psychologically unstable. Being psychologically unstable, i.e. having difficulties in managing emotional complexities, serves to make men desperate to hinder social progress that would put them at a disadvantage relative to their current status.
So now, we have identified the following factors:
1. Patriarchy is a social structure.
2. Patriarchy is hierarchical.
3. Patriarchy is upheld by men to benefit men.