I find it hard not to be disappointed when I hear a feminist talk about “The Patriarchy”.  I should say straight away that have no wish to attack anyone purely because they hold a given point of view; feminism is no more or less than any other political position one can adopt and thus has as much right to an airing as any other.  But I will try to understand the point of view intellectually, and I will question it if I find it wanting.

At the heart of this thought is that I have never heard a clear definition of “the Patriarchy”.  In a literal sense, those words and their usage suggest a ruling, if slightly mystical group of fathers who are implacably powerful.  I think this notion has a number of flaws.  For example, it is not clear how that can be calculated to be the case in a democracy.  What is clear that there are more men in the House of Commons, for example, than women.  Acquiring ruling power democratically is clearly a competitive business and so perhaps it is not surprising that more of its successful subjects will be of the gender that is more ambitious and willingly competitive (male), than one that is typically less so (female).  The gender demographic of this group is therefore just a sort of measure of the difference between men and women in this way and so the use of the term “the patriarchy” to refer to them seems weak.

Another obvious observation to make about the underlying meaning of “the patriarchy” is that it refers to men in general.  This is evident from a combination of the use of the words “the patriarchy” to refer to any behaviour or decision by men—from ones who happen to have any kind of authority, as well as those who do not know how to behave in wine bars.  At the very least, the term itself cannot avoid referring to maleness in some form and so a meaning referring to masculine people is an easy shorthand to use.  The trouble is, that conclusion would mean that feminists are indulging their dislike of those who are different from them with a somewhat archaic term to criticise any man simply for being so.  This would be small-minded and is certainly not what I want to think of a group of people that includes a number of intellects that are demonstrably better than my own.  Perhaps it therefore refers to a certain proportion of male species?  Perhaps it is those who are powerful.  That group is not constant and does not refer to all men, so at first sight it seems possible.  Let us explore that possibility for a moment.

It is clear from even the lightest analysis that the men who have risen to the top of large organisations, either democratically or by appointment, are not the weedy stupid ones with a weak sense of self and no vision of what they want to achieve.  This is probably why those powerful men are regarded as egotistical.  Perhaps they are, though it is probably a pejorative and alienating way of putting it.  Either way, I am not sure I see how this reconciles with any kind of “patriarchy”; are we really to believe that the most powerful, egotistical, men are somehow working together in an unseen co-ordinated effort to subjugate all others, especially women, and in a way that none of us have noticed nor can do anything about?  Although it would explain the fashion for teambuilding training days, I hope that is not the intended conclusion, because a belief in anything like that without some pretty firm evidence is surely where madness lies.

So, it seems unlikely that the term “the Patriarchy” refers to all men, or the most powerful/competitive/ambitious ones.  So, presumably it refers to the less powerful, weaker ones.  Is that credible though? Obviously some men are pricks.  It is a given.  Just like there are clearly some women who are moody and others who have intimacy issues.  However, amazingly, that goes for some men, too. So, singlinig out men for censure on that seems rather unnecessary, less still the reason for a ruling belief.  So what benefit in holding such a view to be self-evident?