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Crown Him Patriarch

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How should we tell people what they need to know--but don't want to hear? As usual, "Dr" Gray has the answers. In Chapter 11 of MMWV, he says we should write a love letter. Using the much-touted "I" statements, we should have sections which express our anger, sadness, fear, regret, and love. "Dr" Gray's suggestion impressed Kim Jones so much that she actually wrote him a love letter,which inspired me to do the same. I had no problem writing the anger, sadness, fear, and regret part. But the clincher came when I had to write the "I love" part. What on Earth (or Mars or Venus or Saturn or Uranus or Jupiter or the asteroid belt) could I say?

After a few minutes in my cave--or was it my well!--I wrote, "My dear "Dr" Gray, I just love the opportunity you're giving me to talk about our patriarchal social system. How could anyone avoid it after reading all your books? How could Out of the Cave have any credibility if I stayed silent? Patriarchy is such a taboo topic that I can't be grateful enough for this chance to share such marvelous social research with the public. Thank you so much."

Yes, I'm being facetious. But not completely. I am grateful to "Dr" Gray for unwittingly giving me the chance to break a taboo. Thanks to Mars&Venus, more people believe me when I say we're still in a patriarchal society. But seriously, if we want to get out of Gray's anatomy, we have no choice but to study how this complex social system affects our heterosexual love relationships. Patriarchy is a difficult topic, but it is also a liberating topic. The truth will make you angry, but eventually, it will set you free. Trust me, if you could get through my first essay, you can get through this one! Patriarchy is not a code word for men's personalities--it is a social system. It shows how relationships between men affect relationships between men and women. It shows why many women like the Mars&Venus books. And most importantly, it shows what we need to do to have more loving, egalitarian relationships.

In this essay, I will start by defining patriarchy and commenting on the connections between individuals and social systems. I will then show how patriarchy affects intimate relationships and how people sustain "the system". Of course, I will reflect on the "inevitability" of patriarchy and yes, you will hear a few words about God and genes. I will conclude by giving well-grounded hope for a better future.

"But We'd Have Chaos":
The Fundamentals of Patriarchy

What is the kernel of patriarchy? What is the core concept which undergirds this complex, paradoxical social system? The general consensus is that it's the fear and control mechanism of "somebody's got to be in charge--and that somebody's got to be a male." I've seen it happen all too often in global politics, natural resource utilization, romantic relationships, and even local volunteer groups. A few years ago, some fundamentalist women told me God ordained male dominance because "We'd have chaos if someone wasn't in charge." Several months ago, I went to a ski club board meeting with a history of political problems. The leaders wisely realized the only way to handle them was through consensus decision making. But just as we finished a productive meeting, a Rush Limbaugh fan hastily walked to the front of the room and yelled, "Somebody has to be in charge. We're going to have chaos." While this Rushie didn't say, "The leader must be male", his eyes darted over to the men. Against this cultural backdrop, is anyone surprised that the Maharishi Yogi's star disciple would be all too willing to cater to this core belief? As so many people in the late 80's feared relationship erosion, the culture provided the perfect foundation for the "cult" of Mars&Venus.

I would never deny that in some situations, somebody has to be in charge. Sometimes, the most qualified leader happens to be male. There is nothing wrong with wanting a sense of mastery, as dominion over our environment is one of the hallmarks of the human species. Without the ability to control, we could never raise children, create art, develop technology, save lives, engage in athletics, and work for social justice. As feminist breakthroughs brought new challenges to relationships, I could easily understand why so many people wanted control over their love lives. But in a patriarchal social system, control is more than an expression of human creativity or a way to protect ourselves from harm. "It's valued and pursued to a degree that gives social life an oppressive form by taking a natural human capacity to obsessive extremes."(1) The core of all patriarchal thought is fear and control, which John Gray manipulates with consummate virtuosity. It starts sotto voce in the Introduction of MMWV, when he advises "role reversal" couples to read his book to "create more passion in their relationships".(2) It escalates as Gray manipulates women to submit to men's quickies. And it climaxes as Gray warns single "women from Mars" that "the more successful a woman is, the less inviting to a man she may become."(3)

Fundamentally, patriarchy is "the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general."(4) While it implies that men control society's institutions, it does not infer that women lack rights. Many people are aghast when they hear we're still in a patriarchy. Didn't the women's movement abolish those backward laws? Haven't most weddings removed "obey" from the vows? True, second wave feminist activism brought about many breakthroughs. But the net effect of those reforms was the modernization of patriarchy, not the absolution of it. Never forget that fear and control kept the Equal Rights Amendment out of the U.S. Constitution.

In a contemporary American patriarchy, the family name is the father's name. Brides don't obey, but grooms don't promise to treat them as equals. The father is the "real" provider. Sex is "sexiest" when it's male-dominated. Dating works "best" when he asks her out and picks up the tab. Birth control, housework, relationship maintenance and childcare are her responsibilities. And women and men are viewed as different species, which gets reinforced via masculinity and femininity. Gray's anatomy conforms perfectly to this modernized male dominance. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus! While he doesn't tell women to stay home, he doesn't admonish men to make sacrifices for their wives' careers. He never tells men how to be equal domestic and emotional partners. He tells women, not men, to "take precautions" against STDs and pregnancy.(5) Gray's most blatant support of male dominance comes when he laments that "Men have no role models for leading and directing the family in a way that respects and includes their partners' points of view.(6)

With all the evidence that patriarchy is still alive and kicking, several people nonetheless think we're in the twilight of this social system, for an unprecedented number of women are in "male" professions. Indeed, the director of the Mars-Venus Institute is a woman named Merril Berens. Just remember that patriarchy doesn't imply women are powerless. There's always a place in this system for a limited number of exceptional women who adhere to core patriarchal values and are supported by powerful men. Even in antiquity, a few women "made it".(7) Patriarchy can survive female leadership because it is not only male-dominated, it is male-centered and male-identified. It is an andocentric system, which means that humanity is defined in terms of male experience--the human race is called mankind, people in mixed groups are called "you guys", at-home moms don't "work". Gray's anatomy conforms so completely to andocentrism that it's hard to pick his most outstanding examples. If forced to choose, I'd give the prize to his infamous Yahoo interview, where he said sex was always for the man and told women to give their husbands two-minute hand jobs because they've been working hard all day, but also added that women should have great sex because it would make "better marriages for men".(8) However, his statements on dating rank a very close second. He claims "when a man pays for a woman's meal, . . . It is his pleasure to give."(9) It just so happens that this "giving" is on the man's terms.

Hearing these common applications of modern patriarchy is bound to make us feel defensive. Who hasn't followed the crowd at least some of the time? I can just hear the voices out in cyberspace: "But I have all this power, why do I feel so powerless around women?", "But I wanted to be on the Mommy track", "But scientists haven't invented a male birth control pill yet", and the ultimate, "YOU ANGRY MAN-HATING LEZZIE FEMINAZI!" It's difficult to avoid taking these social facts personally. But strange as it may seem, these truths have little to do with personalities and almost everything to do with taking paths of least resistance. A few days ago, I asked a friend who chose to stay home, "Berit, if we had a 30-hour workweek, a family-friendly work culture, no glass ceilings, and all husbands took equal responsibility for housework and childcare, would you have continued your career?" Without missing a beat, she replied, "Would I! Would I ever! I don't like being economically dependent on a husband." And that's exactly why we need to understand the relationship between the individual and "the system" if we're ever going to get out of Gray's anatomy.

"Don't Blame Me!":
The System In Us In The System

It's hardly a mystery why people hardly ever say "patriarchy" in discussions about male-female relationships. Even in mainstream feminist groups, the 'p' word is somewhat taboo. Who wants to be accused of hating men! This "patriarchy means men" mentality comes primarily from our individualistic mindset. Since we Americans tend to think society is just a collection of individuals, we're bound to get stuck between attacking men or not talking about patriarchy at all. Either way, discussions on gender will stay locked in Mars&Venus on the one extreme and blame games on the other.

Most Americans are fixated on "the individual", which is one reason why we buy so many self-help books. And yet, when asked to describe ourselves, do we ever start by saying, "I am an individual"? Hardly. We often talk about ourselves in terms of our family, friends, hobbies, philosophical and religious beliefs, and professions, as in "I am single, white, middle class 30-something American woman, a daughter, cousin, friend, significant other, documentation analyst, Christian, feminist, skiier, and opera lover." The truth is that we're more than individuals. As an interdependent species within an interdependent ecosystem, how could we be anything else? We always act in relation to something larger than ourselves. For many, it's a disturbing idea. However, it doesn't diminish our worth as human beings; it simply means that social life doesn't begin and end with me, myself, and I. When friends say, "I'm a non-conformist", I'll respond, "A non-conformist to what?" Non-conformity can't exist in isolation.

Human beings always act within a social system, which is "any interdependent set of cultural and structural elements that can be thought of as a unit." Marriages, friendships, basketball teams, corporations, armies, the Mars&Venus empire, the world economy--no matter how small and informal or vast and intricate, all can be considered social systems. The core concept is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.(10) What does this mean for patriarchy? Essentially, that while men are a part of patriarchy, they are not patriarchy itself. Men are to patriarchy as the central processing unit is to a computer. While both men and CPUs are essential elements of respectively a patriarchal social system and a computer system, they are not THE SYSTEM itself. In any type of system, it is the arrangement of the elements that gives the whole its distinct identity, not merely the characteristics of the elements themselves.

This knowledge can be very empowering. At some subconscious level, we all know we act within a system, as we will talk about changes in "the dating game" and complain about America's "stacked" two-party system. When friends say, "THE SYSTEM is against us", it strikes a powerful chord. And yet, how many of us have asked ourselves, "What exactly is a system and how could it be against us? Do we as individuals have anything to do with shaping it, and if so, how?"(11) Perhaps if a critical mass of Americans had probed these questions, "Dr" Gray would have never become a billionaire.

When thinking of social systems, it's useful to compare them to games.(12) If we want to win or at least, survive, we have to adopt various behaviors and play by the rules (or at least, manipulate them). For instance, I'm poker-faced and analytical during chess but flamboyant and whimsical during Charades. I'm greedy during Monopoly but sensitive during The Ungame. My different behaviors have little to do with my core personality and everything to do with winning the game. "Dr" Gray plays on this "game" motif by "allowing" women to act like assertive "Martians" at work but "encouraging" them to behave like submissive "Venusians" in love relationships. For all his talk about our home planets, his advocacy of certain behaviors has little to do with personalities and everything to do with "winning" in a patriarchy. And yet, "Dr" Gray gets away with the Mars&Venus myth because when problems occur in relationships, we tend to blame individuals. Like fish in water, the culture is the last thing we notice when the going gets tough.

This individualistic approach can lead to blame games. Paradoxically, it can promote stereotyping. A friend once told me about a stockbroker he met at a party. "I think she really liked me, but she expected me to take all the initiative. What's wrong with women? Are they so afraid of rejection that they can't ask a guy out?", Pete complained. I countered, "Pete, have you read The Rules and Mars and Venus On a Date? I doubt that she's afraid of rejection. Hey, she's a stockbroker. The problem is our patriarchal social system. With these "experts" telling her it's social suicide, she's not going to ask you out unless she's a pioneer." Pete didn't know what to say.

When hearing about social systems, many people act exactly Pete. They feel powerless. However, understanding "the system in us in the system" can actually give us power to work for personal and social change. Social systems are not cosmic forces. They can only exist through human beings, which means we can build something better than Gray's anatomy. Several years ago, my friends Marcia and Brad fell in love and got married. A few months after the honeymoon, they had problems and immediately headed for a therapist who swore by John Gray. Marcia and Brad fell in love again and talked about how "the relationship genius" saved their marriage. However, a few months later, Marcia began to resent the "quickies" and threw the Mars&Venus books in the fireplace. So they saw another therapist. This new expert did not like John Gray and helped Brad become a better listener. But he cautioned Marcia to be patient with Brad on housework because "his parents didn't teach him how to do it". For awhile, this approach worked pretty well. However, Marcia felt cheated soon after their child was born. So she gave him an ultimatum: "Either we go to that feminist family therapist or we get a divorce."

Brad reluctantly agreed. With much gentle, skillful probing, the feminist therapist learned that while Brad's parents didn't teach him to do housework, he did work as a cook at McDonalds as a teenager. And while he was in the Navy, he cleaned the latrines and hand-washed his clothes during boot camp. So why would this man who willingly did housework on the job and in the military be so adverse to doing it for the family he loved? Could patriarchy have something to do with it? With tremendous skill and courage, the therapist talked to Marcia and Brad about how patriarchy affected their marital happiness. For awhile, it was threatening to both parties. During one session, Brad slammed the door and yelled, "Don't blame me. I didn't invent patriarchy". But they stayed and eventually transformed their marriage. Indeed, the experience has inspired Brad to get involved in a local men against sexism group. Friends were quick to notice a difference in Marcia and Brad's relationship and asked for their secrets. But when they started talking about patriarchy, which they nicknamed "the invisible web", most changed the subject.

In a recent New Age Journal interview, John Gray said, "I think changing our intimate relationships is exactly how society will be changed." (13) Feminist scholar Riane Eisler countered, "But by the same token, it's also much more difficult for people to relate in partnership as long as they don't have the social support."(14) If people don't understand how society affects their relationships, how can they ever demand the social support they need? The dichotomy between individual responsibility and social activism is false. We must do both. Building something better than Gray's anatomy isn't about taking revenge on the Mars&Venus empire; it isn't about accepting blame for a system we didn't create; and it isn't about activists wanting to "change the world" because "they're hooked on victimology". As sociologist Allan G. Johnson says, "Ultimately, the choice is about empowering ourselves to take our share of responsibility for the patriarchal legacy that we've all inherited." (15) It is with this sense of empowerment that we can now examine how a male-dominated, male-centered, and male-identified system influences our most intimate connections. 

The Invisible Web:
How Patriarchy Affects Relationships

Several years ago, I got into a discussion with some female colleagues about Irish film star Pierce Brosnan. "Handsome, charming, witty, urbane--the Cary Grant of the 90's" was our consensus. But a male colleague shattered our warm feelings when he belted out, "Pierce Brosnan's a boob. He's not a man's man. He's a woman's man." I retorted, "Of course, he's a woman's man. He's heterosexual." The man then bullhorned, "PIERCE BROSNAN NEEDS TO BE A MAN'S MAN" and left the room in a huff.

A few months after the conversation, Brosnan proved himself a "man's man" by successfully playing James Bond. But that still didn't convince many "brothers". It didn't matter that his second wife is several years younger, that he could hold his own against all the other great James Bonds on film, and that he's a financial success by the most stringent "male" standards. If Pierce Brosnan wasn't always acting and looking like a REAL MAN, then he wasn't a REAL MAN.

This story shows that in spite of the popular belief that patriarchy is a just a system to keep women down, the fear and control cycle that drives the invisible web is founded more on relations among men than with women. "With few exceptions, men look to other men to affirm their manhood, whether as coaches, friends, teammates, co-workers, sports figures, fathers, or mentors." (16) Little wonder that "Dr" Gray strongly urges men to "spend time with other men competing on a team or individually" if they want the world to think they're masculine.(17)

"Dr" Gray adequately sums up male relationships in a patriarchy when he says "Martians have a win/lose philosophy--I want to win, and I don't care if you lose."(18) But sociologist Allan G. Johnson is much more incisive:

"Men's abuse of other men is a staple ingredient of patriarchal culture, from high school locker rooms to college fraternity hazing to military basic training. The man who takes abuse without complaint improves his chance of being accepted as a real man who deserves to share in male privilege. A man who objects, however, who dares identify abuse for what it is, risks being ostracized as a sissy, a mamma's boy who belongs with "the girls"." (19)
Little wonder again that "Dr" Gray also urges men to "Go to action movies. It is healthy for adult males to experience violence on the big screen . . ." (20)

"Dr" Gray wants men to watch violence so that they will remember to protect others, but the truth may be that men will remember to protect themselves--from their fellow men. As a man from Idaho wrote to syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman about the controversy over gays in the U.S. military, "Some of the gays are not little pansy guys but big hulking guys and if a small man said no, what is to stop him?" (21)Aside from moral considerations, this may be the source of so much intense homophobia among so many heterosexual men. In the patriarchal mindset, the ultimate humiliation is for a man to be in the "receptor" position during sexual intercourse. That possibility can only exist among men, not between men and women.

The kernel of patriarchal manhood is total control--from the boardroom to the bedroom. Our culture may as well have "Crown Him Patriarch" ceremonies every time a baby boy is born. Of course, these crowns would be of varying quality, with white, upper class boys getting the most durable. But vis--vis the women and girls within their own race and class, men and boys are considered superior. And they're expected to always prove it--to both men and women. "Dr" Gray reiterates: "When he argues, he always has to be right"(22), "Men love to be experts,"(23) "Whenever a situation arises where leadership is required, men should jump at that opportunity." (24)

In an excellent commentary on the Clinton scandals, journalism professor Robert Jensen correctly states that "in our world, male dominance is expressed through, among other things, sex."(25) A man who doesn't give the impression of being "on the make" may have his manhood questioned. And people will wonder if he is gay, as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman realized a few years ago. Gray's anatomy doesn't challenge this paradigm.(26) He "reassures" single women that "most men do not expect a woman to be physically intimate; they just hope to get lucky."(27) But by whose standards is he "lucky"? By the patriarchal male's! Gray's compliance with hegemonic masculinity goes to absurd lengths when he tells men to secretly go to their wives' bureau drawers and become "experts" in unfastening their bras. "As he releases her bra with one hand, she will begin to melt and surrender to his knowledgeable and masterful touch."(28) But by whose standards is he a "master"? Do I really need to answer!

Many women wonder why men sometimes seem insecure. Allan Johnson would respond: "Men's participation in patriarchy tends to lock them in an endless pursuit of and defense against control, for under patriarchy, control is both the source of and the only solution they can see to their fear."(29) In such a culture, is it any wonder that most men paradoxically feel powerless? Most men don't harbor delusions of grandeur. But in a patriarchy, "every man is diminished if he can't sustain a self-image in which somewhere, in someone's eyes, he's seen as triumphant, a winner, dominant, heroic, or at least, in control of things."(30)

And guess who's expected to do the pumping up! In the invisible web, women are men's compensation. They are expected to protect men damaged by their "brothers". Patriarchy sets men against men, but it also rests on male solidarity in relation to women, who in turn are expected to make men feel like heroes and be their "trophies". It's a badge of success for a man to have a beautiful wife, but not a brilliant one.

Women support patriarchy in three ways: by adhering to society's difference dividend, by maintaining an illusion of male independence and female dependence, and by accepting "the pedestal". While one does not need to believe in androgyny to advocate equal rights for women, we can't deny that masculinity and femininity are often euphemisms for male dominance and female subordination. If women show their aggressiveness, then how can men view it as proof of REAL MANHOOD? Is it any mystery that Mars is the god of war while Venus is the goddess of love? This Mars&Venus myth promotes the illusion that men are independent while women are dependent. In Gray's anatomy, women must marry men they view as more competent than themselves in certain ways, they must surrender to someone they trust, and if they want "domestic perfection", they're too much on their "male" side.(31) "Dr" Gray talks often about how men protect women, but in effect, who's protecting whom? If a man feels controlled when a woman says "could you" instead of "would you", it's a pretty sure bet she's supposed to protect him from seeing how his participation in patriarchy produces this "powerlessness".

Women's role in the invisible web gets complex through "the pedestal". As Allan Johnson says, "Under patriarchy, women are viewed as trustees of all that makes a rich emotional life possible--of empathy and sympathy . . .of emotional attention and expressiveness--all of which are driven out by the cycle of control and fear." (32) This view of women as "special" puts them in a double bind. While Gray tells women that traditional chivalry and dating customs are men's way of honoring them,(33) we all know what would happen if women insisted on opening doors for men and paying for the date. Patriarchy devalues the human qualities associated with femininity, but it also sets men up to resent women for "getting away" with expressing vulnerability.

In a misogynistic culture which views women's anger as "the resentment flu"(34), it's no shock that many women feel ambivalent about their own femaleness. Patriarchy isolates women--and not just in terms of race and class. It separates women via their relationships to men--single vs. married vs. heterosexual vs. lesbian vs. nun vs. prostitute. Gray plays on this separation by talking about why some women remain single.(35) He doesn't talk about why some men remain single. This divide and conquer strategy is a stape ingredient of oppressive social systems. It does a "beautiful" job of keeping subordinates from becoming true allies and challenging the system.

We shouldn't be surprised that many women like the Mars&Venus books. Various psychological theories have postulated why women are "their own worst enemies". Feminist psychologist Dee Graham believes women suffer from Societal Stockholm Syndrome, which I find valid. But we don't have to probe women's psyches to learn why they tolerate and sometimes embrace patriarchy. Fundamentally, they don't think they have a choice. In a culture which ridicules feminists and ponders whether a John Gray fan like TV superstar Oprah Winfrey would be a "good wife", is it any wonder so many women think things will never really change? Man's control of woman has never been complete. If women were really passive, "Dr" Gray wouldn't have spent so much time telling them how to be submissive. But as long as our culture believes men would be sexless wet noodles if they didn't dominate, many women will savor every single crumb "Dr" Gray feeds them.

It's impossible to conceive of true love ever occurring in Gray's anatomy. Most people don't follow patriarchal principles completely to the letter every minute of the day, but we're kidding ourselves if we think we're immune. More than once, I've lied to men because I didn't want them to feel bad and feared that my peers would accuse me of "emasculating" them. It's tempting to wonder, "How could people of good will allow this abuse in their love relationships?" But to even begin answering that question, we have to look at how people rationalize a system which does such a masterful job of manipulating our fears.

Then Comes the But:
How People Sustain Patriarchy

Anytime someone says "I believe in equal rights but . . .", I know an excuse for patriarchy is coming. As a friend notes, "People will say great things about women. But just as soon as you think they're on your side, then comes the but. You'll hear that "Women are as intelligent and ambitious as men, but women are the nurturers . . ." and so on." Every time I hear a "but", I remember that the easiest way to sustain an oppressive social system is through denial, which can be done in an infinite number of ways. As I show how "Dr" Gray defends Mars&Venus, get ready for lots of "buts". Denial is built into the entire defense of our patriarchal social system. Unfortunately, it sustains it very well, as shown by these examples:

  • But it's not really sexist: Several years ago, I attended a lecture series on The Roman Empire. Against all evidence that ancient Rome was patriarchal, the instructor said, "Life wasn't really bad for women because they had some power as mothers." While this teacher downplayed the oppression of women, he didn't dare trivialize the abuses of slavery. Gray plays this same game when he says some of his ideas may seem old fashioned and sexist, but that they are really modern and egalitarian because he's helping women get what they want.(36)

  • But men suffer too: The false parallel technique is one of patriarchy's most popular denial mechanisms. Men do suffer in this system, especially when poor men are forced to fight rich men's wars. However, men's pain comes with compensation--society's permission to assert power over women ("Show those balls, man"). Gender prejudice affects men and women so differently that it's highly suspect to call male-bashing a form of sexism. "Antimale prejudice may hurt individual men, but it isn't connected to a system that devalues maleness and oppresses men."(37) The privileges of being male often outweigh the costs because men belong to the dominant gender group. Nonetheless, "Dr" Gray plays the false parallel game when he claims that "men also walk on eggshells in a relationship"(38) and that "men also surrender a major part of themselves". (39)

  • But men have nothing to do with it: While men are the visible sex in a patriarchy, the system will make them invisible when it's in their own best interests. In the media, we'll hear about "women being raped" rather than "men raping women". During The Jonesboro Shootings, in which two Arkansas schoolboys murdered five girls and injured ten others, the mass media said he killed five children and ignored strong evidence that he intended to kill girls. "Dr" Gray plays on this male invisibility technique by claiming that men can't do anything when women get into their wells. When "Dr" Gray made that statement, I thought of a male colleague whose ex-wife was an incest victim. She'd go into deep depressions and he'd feel helpless to do anything about them. She resented his attitude, as it never occurred to him to support anti-incest activists, to challenge her father and brothers when they made sexist remarks, and to avoid saying "daddy's little girl". By not doing anything about the social issue of incest, he was being a passive part of the problem, which only reinforced her depression.

  • But he's trying: Since sexism, racism, and classism are considered subordinate's problems, dominant groups aren't expected to take responsibility for them. On some level, most people believe subordinate groups got what they deserved and dominant groups had nothing to do with it. Men don't get it about sexism, whites don't get it about racism, and the middle and upper classes don't get it about classism because it's considered beneath them to get it. Thus, if a woman criticizes a "sensitive" male for not reading books on patriarchy, she'll get ostracized by her peers (often female) because "unlike so many men, he's trying". The "he's trying" excuse is used in virtually all aspects of male-female relationships, from communication to housework to sex. Susan Hamson's Commentary On Chapter Nine of MMWV beautifully exposes "Dr" Gray's version of the "he's trying" smokescreen.

  • But it's her choice: When I expressed dismay that a highly competent board member of a famous opera company called herself Mrs. John Smith, an acquaintance retorted, "But it's her choice". One of the biggest excuses for patriarchy is that "women want it this way". In spite of 150 years of feminist activism in a hostile environment, we're told that "women want men to lead". In a sense, that is true. However, choices are never made in a vacuum. Subordinate groups use many strategies for dealing with their oppression. The riskiest is to challenge the system, the "safest" is to make the best of a bad deal. "Dr" Gray continuously plays on this theme by reminding us that women want men to protect them, never stopping to realize there's a difference between caring for someone and being "taken care of".

  • But I really believe in equality: Dominant groups often maintain their privileges by placating subordinates. They'll accede to some greviances and expect subordinates to be grateful to them. Co-optation is so prevalent in contemporary America that I could give an essay full of examples. The most striking ones occur in professional women's networking groups. Corporations will give financial support as long as members don't talk openly about feminism and patriarchy and NEVER help women file discrimination lawsuits. "Dr" Gray is a master of the art of co-optation. His most stunning example occurred when feminist activist Riane Eisler came to his house and joined him for an interview with sex therapist Gina Ogden.(40) Gray used Eisler's elementary language about a dominator system vs. a partnership system. But he never used Eisler's incisive language about an andocratic system vs. a gylanic system.(41) And apparently, she didn't expect him to do it.

  • I have a daughter: When accused of sexism, many middle-aged men will say, "I'm sensitive. I have a daughter." However, these "sensitive" men know almost nothing about patriarchy and are not teaching their sons to treat women and other men as equals. Having a daughter is no guarantee that men will not exploit younger women, as shown by President Clinton and opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti. Nonetheless, "Dr" Gray hid behind his daughters as he told Riane Eisler and Gina Ogden about how they would remind him to pray to God as a "she" instead of a "he".(42)

  • All you need is love: When a 16 year old woman complained that she would probably never met an eligible pro-feminist man, her mother replied, "If he loves you, he'll treat you as an equal." The daughter retorted, "Mom, that's patronizing. A man should treat a woman as an equal regardless of how he feels. This is about justice." Love patriarchalism, a term coined by Christian feminists, is highly offensive and yet, people use it all the time to deny patriarchy. I'm all for love, but the evidence suggests it's not enough to affirm a woman in marriage.(43) "Dr" Gray milked the love theme by telling Riane Eisler and Gina Ogden about how Bonnie told him during "a moment of lovemaking" how much she was convinced he loved her.(44) All I can say is . . . I'd better take the fifth!

  • The hand that rocks the cradle: This takes the cake! It's absurd to claim we're really in a matriarchy, but men still get away with it. Mothers are often the scapegoats. It's hardly surprising that one of "Dr" Gray's tips for men on masculinity is to "experience gatherings of the men's movement".(45) People have noticed the mother-bashing anti-feminism of the mythopoetic men's seminars.(46) "Dr" Gray had the gall to tell Riane Eisler that women must learn "how not to be the dominators in the personal relationship", to which she replied that men must learn how to accept criticism from women.(47) But as Allan Johnson wisely notes:
    "When men feel inconsequential, it's easier to blame women that it is to confront patriarchy--the true source of diminishment and lack of meaning in so many men's lives. . .When men feel unloved and disconnected, it's easier to accuse women of not loving them well enough than it is to consider men's own alienation from life. . .It's easier to theorize about powerful, devouring mothers than to confront the reality of a powerful, devouring patriarchy . . . What men lack, women didn't take from them, and it isn't up to women to give it back."(48)

    Denials and rationalizations of patriarchy are infinite. These same techniques have been used to promote every oppressive social system known to humankind. But they pale before the ultimate rationalization: that patriarchy is designed into our ecosystem and there's nothing we can do about it. As I promised, you will hear a few words about God and genes. It truly deserves its own section.

Of Origins and Eternity:
Reflections on the "Inevitability" of Patriarchy

If I believed patriarchy was just "the way things are", I would justify it through both the natural and the supernatural. In the West, we use biology and the Bible to show that "It's God's will, it's in our evolution, it's always been this way, and it'll never change." But are the naysayers right? Well, let's look at the Bible first. Most of us have heard the patriarchal passages, but evangelical feminists claim they're taken out of historical context and have been somewhat mistranslated.(49) We rarely hear the egalitarian passages, which have inspired non-conformist Christians throughout the ages to use the Bible as an agent of social change.(50) Still, the debate on feminism and the Bible has only come to a head during the past twenty-five years. For all the publicity about Southern Baptists and Promise Keepers, several theologically conservative Christians are concluding that the Bible, when holistically understood, can promote male-female equality. The groundbreaking Men, Women, and Biblical Equality statement of 1989 provoked quite an outcry, especially since the late F.F. Bruce, the dean of evangelical Bible scholars, was one of its many signers.

Likewise in the natural sciences, an acrimonious debate has been occurring on sex and gender issues. For all its contributions to humanity, science has often been wrong on these items, a fact that "Dr" Gray overlooks.(51) In the nineteenth century, respected scientists thought women couldn't handle higher education because their heads were smaller. It was only in the twentieth century, well over two hundred years after the microscope had been invented, that scientists could finally see the obvious: female and male are equal in the process of conception. The eminent geneticist Richard Leewontin and the superstar evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould are constantly reminding their colleagues that scientists are not immune from thinking "I'll see it when I believe it", rather than "I'll believe it when I see it."

When neither biologists nor Bible scholars speak with one voice on gender, many patriarchalists will settle for "it's always been that way." But several anthropologists have wondered about that one. Such nineteenth century scholars as J.J. Bachofen and Lewis Henry Morgan believed the earliest societies were matriarchal. However, there is no evidence that any society has ever been female-dominated, female-centered, and female-identified. The Amazons only exist in the patriarchal imagination. But can we conclude that the world has always been patriarchal? Such scholars as Gerda Lerner, Riane Eisler, Marija Gimbutas and Elizabeth Fisher are casting a strong doubt. Patriarchy may be less than 9000 years old!

Nobody currently has "the answers" on the inevitability of patriarchy. But that is no excuse to take the path of least resistance. While believing the Bible is ambivalent on women's equality, many theologians remind us that the church has taken leaps of faith on several other "gray" issues in the past (i.e. slavery) and has emerged a winner. While biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham believes genetics is involved in patriarchy, he is hardly an advocate of the Mars&Venus mentality. He argues that while it is in our evolution to act like patriarchal chimpanzees, it could also be in our biological makeup to act like the egalitarian bonobo apes.(52) Concerning the quest for a feminist Eden, social psychologist Carol Tavris reminds us that the future doesn't have to equal the past--the peaceful Scandinavians are descendents of the violent Vikings.(53)

The truth is that one has to act more on faith than knowledge to find alternatives to Gray's anatomy. However, we don't have to despair. If reality is always in motion and ecosystems are by nature a continuing process of slow but sure change from one arrangement to another, then someday, patriarchy may be replaced by another gender system. Those who adhere to a Judaic-Christian worldview may have some difficulty with this paradigm. Nevertheless, the feminist Gender Studies Team at the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship looks forward in hope to "the shalom of a new heaven and a new earth, in which all things--and all relationships--will be made new." (54)

Ultimately, our decisions about patriarchy will be based on our ethics, not the system's "inevitability". If we want to leave a more promising gender legacy to the next generation, we will practice and advocate good alternatives to Gray's anatomy. As a friend in Fort Worth, Texas says, "I don't think things will ever really change. People are too used to patriarchy. But we've got to fight it anyway because it's wrong. Besides, I don't want my grandchildren to think I was a John Gray fan. I have too much Texas pride for that." If our society ever realizes that patriarchy is unethical, it will slowly but surely find a way out of Gray's anatomy. But it will only happen if a critical mass of activists keep insisting on it . Indeed, that is the only way the world has ever changed--on any issue. When I visited Poland in 1979, a woman told me, "We may be defeated but we will never surrender." Almost thirty years later, Poland is finally free from Soviet domination.

Toward a Future and a Hope

To look into the eye of patriarchy is a dark night of the soul, but it is also a joy in the morning. Patriarchy shows us that we have choices about how we will live our lives as women and men. It displays with microscopic clarity the evils of Gray's anatomy. And most importantly, it avoids silly euphemisms like "communication problems" and shows the real problems which exist both among and between the sexes. I firmly believe this knowledge is essential for harmonious relationships between women and men in today's society. As my friend, Jack, a twenty-one year old engineering student and varsity basketball player, says:

"It made an incredible difference in my relationships with women when I was finally able to say something like, "I'm sorry I made those sexist remarks. Patriarchy gets into everyone's lives, including mine, so I'll just have to do something about it. Thanks for nudging me." It took me a long time to work through the defensiveness, fear, anger, and guilt and frankly, I know I'll always be working on it. But the results are worth it."

Taking responsibility for patriarchy is an act of hope which automatically leads us to a study of contemporary feminism, which I will discuss in the next essay. As it takes two to make a relationship work, advocating alternatives to Gray's anatomy demands equal participation from both men and women. True, many women have eschewed feminism while taking advantage of its achievements. Still, the fact remains that women have done almost all the work on gender justice. While it has made a difference, it has also left many women feeling exhausted, angry and frustrated. Since men gauge their masculinity via their "brothers", it is imperative that they take equal responsibility for the invisible web. And it doesn't hurt a bit if they're star athletes like Jack, who is currently involved in a "Men Against Violence" group on campus. But still, doubts are bound to gnaw at anyone who contemplates saying good-bye to Gray's anatomy. So will it really be worth it?

While I know some women and men who found their true vocations and met their soul mates through feminist activism, I cannot guarantee anything like you-know-who. We all know our culture is not terribly enthusiastic about expanding on the legacy of the Johnsons and the Abzugs. Still, it is much easier to work towards egalitarian relationships in the 90's than it was in the 50's and 60's. And if we keep up the activism, it will get easier and easier throughout the 21st century. This progress will come because we accept the gift of hope, which is believing in spite of the evidence--and watching the evidence change. Yes, there will be more dark nights of the soul, but there will also be more joy in the morning. Those of you who take the risk will attain a stronger sense of gender security, a new and quite diverse family of choice, and a gift that nobody can take away from you. For at the end of your days, you will be able to look back and say: "I gave everything I had for justice."


Kathleen Trigiani
February 1999

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Masculinity-Femininity: Society's Difference Dividend
Crown Him Patriarch--Endnotes
Those Martian Women!
From Gender Vertigo to Gender Peace
Transforming Our Mars&Venus Society

Copyright 1999 Kathleen Trigiani. All rights reserved.