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Martin LeFevre: A Patriarchal Matriarchy

Meditations (Spirituality) - From Martin LeFevre in California

A Patriarchal Matriarchy

Our paths literally converged in the parkland. She was a young mother, walking alone, and our colloquial conversation somehow quickly turned to the relationship between the sexes. “Women have become men, and men have become women,” she blurted out.

Just then a couple walked by, the man pushing a baby carriage, with an obligatory dog on a leash, while the woman walked alongside. The woman clearly looked in charge. The young woman nodded in their direction and said, “See what I mean?”

Though I understood exactly what she meant, I asked her to elaborate. “Have you noticed how many young and even older men have assumed the roles women used to have? It’s obvious that women have become the dominant sex, and what they say goes in the relationship and in the home.”

We agreed that though women have won the ‘the war between the sexes,’ it’s a Pyrrhic victory. We also agreed the issue goes much further than the home.

Patriarchy, which has always been synonymous with male domination, has to do with consciously or sub-consciously held attitudes about power, dominance, and hierarchy. Women can be patriarchal too, and a woman who aspires to equality on the battlefield is patriarchal in all but gender.

The young woman went on to say that there is a real gulf between young women of her generation, and “baby boomer women.” Older women, she said, often seemed vaguely jealous, lost, and bitter toward her and her friends, who often note how different their generation’s world-view is from that of baby boomer women.

Anthropologists have an expression: “Women are the culture bearers.” That means the values, mores, and traditions of a culture are primarily passed down through women. In the North American culture hearth, we seem to have taken the worst traits from both sexes and combined them into something unprecedented in human history. What we have in North America today is a patriarchal matriarchy.

What should we do about the deterioration in men and women? The young woman advocated a return to traditional roles, where the husband sets the direction and makes the decisions in the home, and the wife follows them. I replied that she certainly didn’t seem like the kind of woman took orders from a man. Besides, aren’t such roles are the source of the problem in the first place, and can we go back even if we wanted to?

The attitude of many older women is that ‘it’s our turn now.’ That was the mantra of the legions of ‘Hillary girls,’ many of whom are still bitter over her defeat in the primaries. They are prepared to vote against their interests and put McCain in the White House, or not vote at all, which may well have the same effect. Can some combination of nurtured grievance and victimhood explain such irrationality?

Perhaps, but the problem goes deeper, to the unremitting alienation women feel and men suppress in this lifeless culture. In my view, the vast majority of men have simply quit. Women, being generally the stronger sex emotionally, feel they have no choice except to take up the slack. And naturally they resent it.

Because the darkness of this culture is so pervasive, and because women see so few men who are standing up, they don’t see any alternative but to keep this dead culture going. Whatever implicit gender contract existed with previous generations, it’s been torn to shreds.

One of the differences between men and women in this culture is that men generally try to have consistency between their words and actions, because if they don’t, other men will call them on it. Though they may be simplistic brutes, they’ll say, ‘I am what I am.’

On the other hand, many women seem to see contradiction as a virtue, a way of leaving their options open. That probably has to do with old patterns of domination by and subservience to men, and the need to be able to react in different ways to manage the situation. Of course smarts and subtlety, without the urge to resolve contradictions, can easily turn into manipulation.

Be that as it may, some younger guys are looking for new role models, especially since many of them never had a father in the home. So I think there’s some hope there. But the few men left standing (not on the battlefield in a macho way, but in terms of taking responsibility) have to step forth.

I’m not advocating a return to chivalric codes, though there are still a lot of dragons to slay. The Bush-Cheney Administration may be prostrate, but putting McCain in the White House would be insane. So now is the time for all good men, and women, to come to the aid of their country.

Many men feel no purpose, no place, and no need for them as men. But men have to forge a new definition of what it means to be a man. The old definition is as dead as this culture, and women can’t create a new society by themselves. Egalitarianism is not equality.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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