Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Gender Knot

One thing I really enjoy doing is learning new things. Fortunately, I have the type of job where I get to learn new things every day. Unfortunately, the scope of the new things I learn is limited to math, science, high-performance computing, and maybe a little bit about the workings of my employer.

But I've decided to carve out some time from my busy schedule to follow along with Zuska's Outreach Project for D00dly D00ds, which involves reading the book The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G. Johnson. Zuska's project hasn't yet made it through much of the book, but I've read on through Chapter 5, and I'm really learning a lot.

I took a women's studies course as an undergraduate, from which I learned a lot of things, but the picture was incomplete. Johnson's book really seems to fill in the gaps and provide answers to why a lot of things that would seem to defy patriarchy actually serve to reinforce it.

Johnson's definition of a patriarchal society is a society that "promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered." Privilege is defined as "any unearned advantage that is available to members of a social category while being systematically denied to others" (p. 5).

You can easily enough see that our society is male dominated, male identified, and male centered. Positions of power and authority are disproportionately occupied by men. The "default" third-person pronoun is masculine and the word describing us as a group is "man;" positive character traits are overwhelmingly associated with masculinity, and negative traits associated with femininity. There are few movies, television shows, or plays with a woman as the central character; too often, in meetings a woman's idea is overlooked until it is brought up by a man a few minutes later.

I've often encountered people who think that if we don't have a patriarchy, then we will have a matriarchy. Is systematically conferring advantage to certain groups of people the only way in which humans can interact? That is certainly not the case. We could interact more cooperatively. Sure, a hierarchy may be useful, but a true meritocracy, in which the positions in the hierarchy are filled based on talents and abilities, would result in a better outcome for all.


ScienceGirl said...

I also never understood why people think that someone has to be "in charge" in a relationship; I am quite happy with my equal partnership, as is my husband - no need to try to convince either of us that he should be in charge.

FrauTech said...

Thanks for the link, I really appreciated stumbling upon the discussions over there and would not have known about the book otherwise.