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To What Extent Do Men Benefit From Patriarchy?

Feminism is – and always has been – at war. Feminism is warring against social

injustice, gendered discrimination and, surprisingly, itself. One such skirmish

within feminism and related fields is in the conceptualization of patriarchy, its

essences and forms. Patriarchy undoubtedly bestows ‘men’ with privilege, but in

order to truly nuance our view of the power inhering within its betrothal, we

must critically understand the different ways in which ‘men’ and ‘masculinity’

are affected by patriarchy. This essay will: employ an intersectional approach in

order to account for what kind of men benefit from patriarchal power structures;

how they benefit and examine instances in which certain identities of ‘men’ are

oppressed by the same structure that privileges them. Thus, it will be concluded

that ‘men’ and ‘masculinity’ are loaded and deceiving terms, which belie the truly

damaging effects of patriarchy on all genders and sexes.

Patriarchy, as a social structure; benefits men in that it subjects women.

This is to say that the positive glorification of one end of the binary cannot occur

without an ‘other’ through which the ‘self’ projects fears and negative

connotations onto. Men are therefore privileged in both their public and private

lives above women. This diffusion from the public to the private can be explained

through a Foucauldian understanding of power, which does no come from a

central authorative source, but comes from every direction, in which they form

‘Venn Diagrams’ of power relations (Foucault, 1980, p. 104).

More specifically, men are more likely to succeed in politics and receive

higher positions (and salaries) in businesses due to the assumption that these

realms are ‘masculine’ and men are therefore more attuned to their Modus
Operandi. Privately, this public ownership of power by men trickles down and

means that men – psychosocially –take on the role of leader in relationships and

families. This is beneficial, as men therefore have a higher sense of personal

worth and have a greater chance of financial wealth. In general, most

monotheisms also only allow –or prefer – men to attain positions in the clergy,

meaning that men also become the spiritual arbiters of morality, creating

systems suited to their needs that both create and perpetuate new sites of

patriarchy that conflate and bolster existing political, social and economic

systems. Men can also feel the benefit of the patriarchy in more insidious areas;

recent NHS advertising has directly targeted women, informing them of what

they can do to prevent rape, the suggestion being that inebriation can be partly

to blame for one being raped. This means that men are not directly criticised

(Sherriff, 2014, p. 1).

Men do not face the same stigma women do for certain characteristics,

such as promiscuity and ironically, homosexuality. Although patriarchy does not

protect male homosexuals, the gay rights movement has been predominately

focused on men. This can be explained as homonormativity, the transmutation of

patriarchal sexism into the queer community. Although gay, men still have

precedence over women. (Kacere, 2015, p. 1)

But what are men? If we take into account institutionaled racism,

homophobia, transphobia and psychophobia, we begin to realise that it is

particularly white, cisgender, heterosexual abled men that are most privileged
under patriarchy. Although a minority, these men are able to slot comfortably

into the normative template of hegemonic masculinity. As Connell and

Messerschmitt have shown us, it is then the repetition of certain actions that

legitimates the subordination of women, rarely through force, but by repetition

and cultural perpetuation of ideals and norms (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005,

p. 5).

Transsexual/gender individuals who have adopted the identity ‘male’ also

upset common ideas of maleness. While not counter-hegemonic in practice, the

transition to ‘male’ under transphobic patriarchy can constitute subjects who

radically reconfigure conceptions of maleness as they form viable identities. This

occurs because patriarchy does not easily accommodate such a non-normative

conception of maleness (Rubin, 2003, p. 180).

Regional hegemonic masculinities also operate differently to western or

national conceptions. They operate their own cultural practices of masculinity

and thus reward different configurations of maleness. Ergo; only with a

geographically contextualised understanding of how intersectionalised identities

trespass upon one another can we understand how regional masculinities work.

The global power of the western academy and states has also meant that western

maleness benefits in ‘transnational arenas’ such as global politics and

international academia. Subaltern masculinities fall prey to the colonial project

and it’s enabling tropes of irrelevance (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 22).

In conclusion, ‘men’ is itself an assumed term created by patriarchy. The

normative man that benefits from patriarchy is in fact a minority, but the power
of patriarchy bolsters his power and subjugates not only women, but men who

are not complicit in consolidating masculine power. LGBTQ men; disabled men

and men of colour are examples of men who suffer profusely at the hands of an

essentialising patriarchy. We would do well to remember that the essentialising

of men by feminist activists and allies not only aids the patriarchal system, but

consolidates normative masculinities.

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic Masculinity:
Rethinking the Concept. Gender & Society , 32.
Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings
1972–1977. London: Harvester Press.
Kacere, L. (2015, January 25th). Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s
Hurting Our Movement. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from Everyday Feminism:
Rubin, H. (2003). elf-made men: Identity and embodiment among transsexual men
. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. .
Sherriff, L. (2014, July 31). 'There Will Be No Apology' Over NHS Rape Posters -
Despite 43,000-Strong Petition. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from The
Huffington Post: