Keynote Address: The Changing Position of Men
Dr. Errol Miller Faculty of education, University of the West Indies
The Caribbean is part of the frontier of the transformation of societies everywhere, but we suffer from the Columbus Syndrome. Columbus was lost. He was in the West but thought he was in the East. And like him we are in front but think we are behind.
I am saying also that conventional Caribbean explanations of slavery, indentureship, plantations and colonialism are too colloquial to help us to fully understand the issue we are dealing with and advance our understanding very little. I am also taking the position that the alternative wisdom of advanced industrial countries and backward developing countries is part of the chauvinism of power in the world today. And what it obscures is that Caribbean Countries are really first world countries of lesser needs, and Caribbean people are very modern people indeed and we therefore have to understand ourselves in that way.
My late colleague, Carl Stone, did a poll in Jamaica and found the 62% of the population would migrate if given the opportunity. And 35% would not and 2% did not know. What I found intriguing is that the 35% who did not know, did. I thought the solution was obvious. Give the 62% the chance they deserve.
I want to begin the discourse by saying the question we have to address is a central and difficult question. The question is: how did men come to dominate society? In the public and private sphere, in the home and elsewhere? How did it happen? This is the central question to all that we will explore, because it deals with the issue of the creation of patriarchy.
If we are to take the position that patriarchy and the male dominant society is divinely ordained, then the answer to what is occurring is clearly sin, repentance and a return of old patterns.
Neither do I take the position that patriarchy and male dominance of society is biologically determined because of man’s greater speed, size, endurance and strength. Not even among men are these leaders dominant. Even if it is biology we are dealing with, all the changes we’re observing must be mutations and we have no scientific evidence that there is selective mutation taking place across the world.
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The Creation of Patriarchy
I therefore take the position that patriarchy started in history, as the result of largely social forces and it is rooted both in history and social and anthropological factors, and it is in these areas we must find the answers. Whatever it was that created it in the first instance must now explain its unraveling.
Ernest Gilder, one of the great English anthropologists makes the point: “Stone Age man has lived several times, once for himself and once for every other person who has sought to reconstruct his existence.” And I exercise my democratic right to reconstruct his existence along with all those who have, and if you would call me arrogant for saying that I believe my explanations are better then I accept the charge of arrogance. Because I believe that it is those factors that can help us understand what is happening today.
I put forward three points. One, demography. In ancient society, you have human populations very sparse, scattered throughout the world. Isolated from each other, living in very small groups. That demographic fact points to constraints as to how human society was first organized.
The second was ecological. They faced an environment that could then be described as hostile. In terms that the earth frequently vomited hot lava; there were floods and hurricanes and all the other things and they had very little to deal with that situation. In addition to that, their knowledge and technology was primitive and in those circumstances it was group living that provided the adaptive behaviour.
Therefore, mankind learned to live in groups. The early natural groups tended to be those who shared some form of common ancestry, and in facing those circumstances these small autonomous groups seeking to survive against the odds developed certain ways of dealing with their situations. One universal factor that all had to face was the issue of life and death. Not only of their members but in dealing with outside forces. Biology determined that the life-giving and the life-preserving powers fell to women; by default the life-taking powers fell to men.
The first definition of gender was not the division of labour. Western scholarship for the last two hundred years has been preoccupied with labour and capital, and therefore defined gender in terms of the sexual divisions of labour and maintains it was the sexual division of power that first defined that the life-giving and life-preserving powers fell to women, and the life-taking power by default fell to men.
That is how for example, the jury, the priest before the Norman Conquest in Britain, had the first part which we normally quote: “That every man is the lord of his own castle”. What we don’t quote is the other part of that: “He has the power of life and death, over his wife, children and slaves” because that is what emerged – the life-taking powers.
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In group living, while you might be eternally grateful to the one who gave you life, you’re living in fear of the one who could take it from you. Therefore, in group dynamics and group living, although the powers were equally divided and equally incorporated to bind men and women in a society, what women did not see and men did not see at the time, was that the life-giving power would be unequal to the life-taking powers in continued daily intercourse.
I also maintain that age, long life played a part. Elder males took the final decision within the kinship collective and therefore defined who the patriarchs were. Saying patriarchy is the ultimate decision-making power exercised by men within a kinship collective, defines patriarchy not simply as male domination of women or the organization of society on the basis of kinship, gender and age; but in terms of the separation of the life-giving and life-preserving powers, from life- taking power.
Having defined patriarchy in that way, I want to say that division of power in recent society set up a number of things. First, it defined masculinity and femininity. I am saying that patriarchal society determined that the female be socialized to master behavior and habits such as caring, nurturing, gentleness, kindness, cleanliness, accommodation of differences, long suffering: as these were the traits you had to develop if you were going to preserve and help maintain life. These were the life-preserving traits.
How Males Were Defined
Also, males were defined and masculinity was defined in terms of traits such as assertiveness, aggressiveness, ruggedness, toughness, decisiveness, inventiveness, taking, confrontation, conquest, ruthlessness, and the killer instinct. For these were the traits needed if you were to take life with impunity. Not only those who challenged you from outside, but those from within, because life was often taken from group members themselves in ritual defense of the group, in sacrifice to the gods.
To those who are Christian and others, one can remember in the Bible where Abraham offered his son. This story was told because it showed where the lamb became the substituted for the son. These are the traits necessary. Men, boys and girls had to be socialized in these traits from the very beginning. These traits became ‘routinised’ in the relationships within society and ‘routinised’ in the wider culture, and have come down to us as part of both masculinity and feminity.
Patriarchy not only defines masculinity and femininity in these terms, but also defines society as based on kinship collectives or ethnicity, blood relationship and society structured on an age basis. Society has changed in significant ways from those ancient days.
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What we have witnessed from the move of society from patriarchy then to today are fundamental shifts which I can best describe in terms of polar opposites. We’re talking about the movement of society structured on the basis of genealogical and blood relationships as against society structured on notions of citizenship, nationality, part, class, religion, union, corporation, school and region, which are essentially non-kinship types of social organizations which disregard blood on the basis of party, religion, school, etc, and develop solidarity on those bases.
The Opposites Society based on the kinship collective as the unit of social organization; as against society based on the individual, as the unit of social organization.
In linear society the person belonged in and belonged to, and could be disposed of more easily than the lineage property. A move now to society based on the rights of people where the rights of the individual are supreme, from society based on government by descent where a particular lineage owned the government and it was transmitted by genealogical succession from one generation to the next in terms of chief or king or emperor, to government based on consent either by bullet or the ballot.
The purpose of society then being the advancement of the lineage as the supreme purpose of life, the continuation of the line; to society based on individual advancement through material progress; from society in which intimate relations predominated and were the basis of social intercourse to society based on impersonal and anonymous relationships even if they are sometimes fraternal.
It is in this context of the microshift where we have to see the state as the repository of all the notions we are talking about. The non-kinship forms in terms of the rights of people, in terms of individual rights that are protected, the anonymous and impersonal relationships, and civil society as the repository of the continuation of patriarchal traditions. And one has to see, therefore, the state and civil society in fundamental conflict and tension with each other, based on the two axis of this transformation.
This transformation is by no means clean, or complete. Tremendous confusion in customs have resulted because we are still in various states of flux. In the context of this transformation and in a way the new is arising in the context of the old. What are the factors driving the new? Changes in the demographics we spoke about, the world is no longer a few scattered people. It’s over five billion. The whole ecology as well and in the growth of technology and knowledge. It is these fundamental factors that at few would change, but patriarchy is not about to give up because it is the basis on which people have held power in the world. Power concedes nothing without demand. To concede power it had to be conquered, and power has to be taken. It would not be simply granted and, therefore, there is this great dynamic tension in this regard.
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I want to talk about power. First of all, changes in location of power. In the linear society power was inside the group. They exercised it within. The patriarch exercised power over his children, his wife, his brothers but it was in the group.
We have witnessed the movement of power outside the group to specialized institutions. So governance goes to the state, defense to the military, education to the school, work to the corporation, worship to the church. All of these powers that were transferred were powers that were essentially male powers that were transferred out of the group. This transformation took place largely around the time of the Agricultural Revolution. Women’s marginalization was doubled. She was no longer marginal to her father or brothers but she was now marginal to all men, as d her powers of life-preservation remained in the group. This is why the men moveout and they were the kings and the teachers, the clerics and the military in the first instance, and women’s marginalization was doubled. That movement set up a new situation because they could no longer succeed their fathers, they could exceed them.
I will speak now about the shift in the distribution of power. Many men exercised absolute power over a few. In each man, the Jewish statement made was – a lord, a king in his own area, he exercised authority probably over fifty people.
As populations grew, ethnic groups had to live together. Greater aggravations became possible. Fewer and fewer men exercised the patriarchal powers, and power between men became more unequal as fewer men exercised the same patriarchal powers over people. More men became marginalized in the exercise of original patriarchy. That itself set up tremendous conflict between men.
I go to the next transformation of power and that is the idiom of power. The way in which power expresses itself. In human society there are always two idioms, but one idiom prevails over the other… that in which the patriarch exercises power directly, transparently and brutally.
Those were the days when kings and emperors let their armies. Everybody knew who the patriarch was and he was bribed with appropriate ceremony. It was understood that he would look after his own first. That was legitimate but was civilized by codes of honour and gallantry as to how he should behave.
I wish to say the second mode was materialistic, in which power is concealed, disguised, operated through the manipulations of material things. Patriarchy always had an inherent contradiction and problem. Because it defines those who belong to the kinship collective as essentially and inherently human. Part of the covenant of kinship is sometimes referred to as ‘the brotherhood’, and of course the inclusion of ‘the sisterhood’. What of those who are not members of the kinship collective? What happens to those groups that fall outside of the covenant of kinship? Whatever in human society groups have confronted each other outside of the covenant of kinship, the response has always been brutal.
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First, you have the killing of everybody, man, woman and child of the opposing group. Ethnic cleansing has been around from the dawn of human history. What it assures is the death of the group.
Everytime we think we have become so civilized, that is not really so. New occurrences show this. In our century we used to think of the Jew and Hitler as one thing. Another practice was to kill all the men, because it was easier to absorb the life-giving and preserving than the dead. The challenge was to kill all the men or to commute their death sentence, and to give them life, but life without the physical means of their manhood. They were castrated.
Within the kinship collective, women were marginalized in dealing with groups outside the covenant of kinship. Patriarchy always dealt more severely with the males of the competing kinship than with its females, who were always more easily absorbed than they could deal with the males. This is throughout history. How does patriarchy operate within the materialistic idiom of power?
It denies the material means by which males of the subordinate group can exercise and maintain their masculinity. So, it denies them access to jobs and income, education and schooling, and all the other status symbols by which they can maintain their manhood. This is done in very subtle ways. We must not see women’s liberation as the cause of increasing male marginalization. Both are arising from the same source.
For everything one has to get into, there are gate keepers and the people keeping the gates are very selective. For example, when women could not get into medical school in the U.S., it’s not because they did not have the education; the gate keepers kept them out.
Another way of institutionalizing mobility in terms of mastering the culture of the dominant group, and using the upward mobile members of the subordinate group as the gate keepers and using a bewildering maze of rules and authority.
The state and its bureaucracy, the parliament and its committees, the court and its judiciary and its technicalities, and the market and its exchanges. You cannot understand a modern society if (by and large, although we have been trying to create nation states on objective criteria) underneath society continues to be organized under patriarchal criteria of race and ethnicity, gender and age. Other things have been added – like class. You cannot separate gender by itself and understand what is happening, neither can you discuss class and race and relate it to gender. It’s the interaction of all together that is important. And because it is social categories we are dealing with, it is not only the persons who have those ascriptive features that are necessarily the holders of those particular positions.
That is why you can have in North America, African-Americans that are more white than the Klu Klux Klan. You can have within the Caribbean some women who are more masculine that
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some men, because there is the crossover between the biological and the social. So that the holder of the set of traits that define is not necessarily the person who has the biological traits associated with the thing and that makes the situation more complex.
How have marginalized males managed, if this affects young males more than the older males? The males of the dominant group who still own the pinnacle of power cannot respond to the subordinate group by eliminating them. Ethnic cleansing is not done. Cannot castrate them, cannot enslave them, that’s unconstitutional. How do they deal in the materialistic idiom, where you have to allow some measure of integration? My thesis is that the majority of opportunities that are conceded goes to the females of the subordinate groups, and less to the males of the subordinate group; the middle becomes more females than at the polar ends; that the ‘glass ceiling’ operated coincidentally with male marginalization; and the so-called underclass becomes increasingly male, young, unemployable, illiterate, all of those things that modern society uses to justify their positions in the lower sections. How do they respond?
By naked violence – by resorting to the personalized idiom of power. They now exercise and re-establish their masculinity by resorting to violence, because the male personality is defined in terms of violence. Normally, it is not used against the patriarch, it is used among themselves and also women. The marginalized males are eliminating themselves. Another one is resorting to cults. Deviant religions, cults that are not of universal religions.Another emphasizes sexual and religious powers and t hen self-destruction; and then denial that any change is taking place.
What we are dealing with is – that patriarchy is no longer relevant in the world. It no longer fits the circumstances, but what we are dealing with is the inability of society to make the transformation to new bases of operation.
In the Caribbean, we are Indians without caste, Africans without pride, Chinese without dynasty, Lebanese without militias and Europeans without class. By that I mean that we have lost the Old World connections, we have gone further down the road of understanding the common humanity of mankind, understanding more directly than any other group.
We have not moved our societies to a just base of social organization where the ascriptions of race, gender, age are of no more significance than they really deserve. Where it is the person, and who the person is, the character and capabilities of that person that confers worth to the individual irrespective of their ascriptions. These are indeed challenges, but men deny there is any fundamental change. Deny that their presence in society has shifted, hope it would go away, blame it on the feminists – women who are experiencing the movement out of their own marginalization. What we have is a situation where we are still groping for answers. I believe if we have a better diagnosis, we can make a prescription.
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And so I come formally to the presentation … to the ‘diagnosis’ as it were:
The changing position of men in society is intimately interrelated to the breakdown of the traditional family, street children, women’s liberation, male marginalization and increasing violence in the home and on the streets. From boardroom to bedroom, from school to the work place, from church to entertainment, changes in gender roles and relationships are challenged. Interestingly, these changes are often debated separately and in isolation by different interest groups. The approach taken here is to attempt to understand the changing position of men in the context of general societal transformation.
What accounts for the changes affecting men, women, and children and the family in the society? Interestingly, conventional explanations offered in the United States in terms of racism and capitalism, in the Eastern bloc countries in terms of civil war, world war, totalitarianism, and communism – and in the Caribbean in terms of slavery, the plantation and colonialism – are very limited and too parochial to account for the universal and widespread nature of these changes.
The starting point for obtaining answers is to ask, how did men come to dominate society universally? That is, how was patriarchy created? How were masculinity and feminity originally defined? What were the bases upon which society was first orgnaised?
The critical question to answer is, how did men come to dominate all aspects of human society in the first place? This question is crucial because of all the different lines of explanations advanced to account for contemporary changes, must implicitly or explicitly address this issue. If the position is taken that men dominate society because God so ordained it, then the observed changes must be the result of human deviation from the Divine ideal, in other words, sin. The cure would therefore be repentance and return to the ordained pattern.
If the position is taken that men’s domination is biological, based on hormonal, muscular and enzymatic differences between men and women, then the observed changes must be the result of biological changes among men and women in the societies concerned. In such a case there would be little care outside of genetic engineering. The point is that whatever explains the creation of male dominance in the first place would account for the observed changes.
If the position taken is that men’s domination in society originated in history as a result of mainly social factors, then uncovering these factors would be key not only to understanding the nature of the changes but also for practical steps to cope with and direct future actions.
Single Factor Explanations of the Creation of Patriarchy
There have been numerous explanations of the creation of patriarchy. They can be categorized into single factor and multiple factor explanations. The single factor explanations can be listed as
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- Man’s greater physical endowment compared to women which manifests itself in differences in speed, endurance, strength and size. This has been a traditional explanation whose author has been lost in the course of history.
- Freud’s dictum that “anatomy was destiny” and his assumption that the normal human being was male, hence the female was deviant lacking a penis, and whose entire psychological struggles centred around compensation for the deficiency.
- Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that it was the early division of labour that centred women’s activities in dreary, repetitious tasks – immanence – as against men’s daring exploits – transcendence – which became the fountainhead of inequality between the sexes.
- Nancy Chodorow’s reinterpretation of the Freudian explanation of how gender identity is formed in boys and girls: boys eventually turn away from the mother as they develop a distinct other than mother identity, while girls come to identify with mother which leads to more flexible ego boundaries as self and other are not totally differentiated. This stronger self identity accounts for men’s greater assertiveness and dominance over women.
- Susan Brown-Miller’s claim that it is men’s ability to rape them, that leads to male supremacy over women.
- Elizabeth Fisher’s contention that man’s knowledge gained from the domestication of animals taught them how to domesticate and dominate women.
- Mary O’Brien’s insistence that female domination arose from men’s psychological need to compensate for their inability to have children that led to their construction of institutions of dominance.
- Claude Levi-Strauss’s “exchange of women” theory as the cause of female subordi- nation.Levi-Strauss noted that the exchange of women was a wide-spread practice in tribal society. He noted that marriage was not primarily a relationship established between a man and a woman but rather between two groups – the women figured as an object of exchange and not as one of the partners. He maintained that as a result that women were redefined as they became objects of ex- change instead of being treated as persons and were subordinated in the process.
- Friedrich Engel’s explanation of the breakdown between the old kinship relations based on communal property ownership and the emergence of the individual family as the eco- nomic unit and with it private property ownership. With the development of the state the monog- amous family changed into a patriarchal family, the wife’s labour became private household service, and with her being cut off from social production her subjugation was ensured.
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The great difficulty with each of these single factor explanations is that none of them is comprehensive enough to account for the multiple factors which constitute patriarchy. By concentrating on a single factor, each leaves too many factors unaccounted for. In addition, several are without either empirical or historical foundation.
The only single factor explanation that requires further comment, is the very popular biological explanation. The essence of this explanation is that sex-related genetic characteristic which determine biochemical differences between men and women – which manifest themselves in differences in aggressiveness, physical size, muscular strength, and speed – endow men on the average to enjoy the advantage of each attribute, thus giving them advantage of assuming dominance and leadership position in all aspects of society.
Even the most casual observations established that there is considerable overlap between men and women with respect to each of these attributes. Hence it these characteristics was the basis of leadership and dominance in society, then women from antiquity would have had a fair share of dominant roles. More importantly, among men, it would be those who possessed these attributes that would almost invariably be the leaders. But not even among men, it is the most aggressive, the biggest, the fastest and the strongest that are normally the leaders. Men with these attributes are usually employed as the bodyguards if their less physically endowed bosses. Neither is it women with these attributes that have been able to succeed in a male-dominated world.
Leadership and dominance in human affairs are far more complicated than biochemical differences related to genetic endowments that confer advantages on men with respect to greater speed, size, endurance, and strength. This is not underestimating the importance of biological differences between men and women, rather it is not elevating them to a pre-eminence that they do not have in societal relations. Male dominance in society is not merely due to the outcomes of biological factors. Like the other single factor explanations, it ignores many other considerations that are clearly of some significance.
In the limited time and space available it is not possible to describe and critique the multifactor explanations of Wilson and Lehner. Those interested could find a full treatment of the matter in Miller (1991), Men at Risk. (Jamaica Publishing House Ltd. Kingston, Jamaica, — Ed.)
An Alternative Explanation of the Creation of Patriarchy
The essence of this explanation of the creation of patriarchy can be summarized as follows:
- Patriarchy is the label that has been used to signify the bases upon which nascent human society was organized in antiquity as small isolated groups, sharing common descent, tried to ensure their survival in the hostile environment in which they lived as they operated with limited
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- By virtue of the small numbers of humans and their isolation from each other, kinship collectives became the norm. Long living members proved to be invaluable resources of knowledge and wisdom in the collective. This coupled with the natural dependence of children on adults made age an important criterion on which groups were structured.
- These kinship collectives were isolated and autonomous hence they had to deal with all the issues related to life and death of their members. It was not appropriate for both sets of powers to be exercised by the same persons. Life taking and life giving powers were separated. Biology determined that life giving and life preserving powers fell to women, hence the life taking power fell to men by default.
- The sexual division of life-giving and life taking powers led unintentionally to women’s subordination in the kinship collective decision making.
- The sexual division of the powers related to life and death determined that men and women learn, develop and master the habits, traits, dispositions and behaviours that were consistent with the powers they exercised. The socialization of males and females consistent with these powers defined and determined the content of masculinity and femininity as they have been passed from one generation to the next.
The assertion here is that patriarchy as it emerged from antiquity was not about the domination of women by men. Patriarchy was the outcome of responses of early humans to ensure their survival. The subordination of women we as unintended consequence of those adaptive responses with neither men nor women foresaw. Life giving powers of women proved less equal than life taking powers of men in the discharge of collective obligations. Men held the life taking powers by default. They were incapable of giving birth to children. Men’s dominance of the collective was not only ensured by elder males holding the power, but also by the prospects of younger males replacing their older peers through genealogical succession.
The universality of patriarchy is accounted for in the universality of the circumstances and factors that created it. Human beings were few in number everywhere. They formed small isolated kinship collectives wherever they were to be found. They were universally ignorant about themselves and their surroundings and equally crude in the implements and instruments they devised. Life expectancy was low everywhere and therefore long life as an exception and not the rule. Autonomous groups, globally, had to deal with the issues related to the life and death of their members. It was the uniformity of the macro-factors shaping the existence and survival of early humans that accounts for a similarity of their adaptive responses.
In other words, patriarchy did not diffuse through the ancient world. It was independently
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Patriarchy’s Definition of Masculinity and Femininity
The assertion here is that the separation of life-giving and life-taking powers between men and women determined the definitions of masculinity and femininity that have been transmitted over the centuries. Biology determined that the life-giving and life-preserving roles would fall to women; this resulted in females being socialized into behaviours and habits that were consistent with caring and preserving life. Patriarchy’s assignment of the life taking powers to men resulted in males being socialized in behaviors and habits that were consistent with those powers.
A patriarchal society, therefore, determined that females being socialized to master behaviours and habits such as caring, nurturing, gentleness, kindness, tenderness, co-operativeness, accommodation of differences, long-suffering, patience, acquiescence and passivity. These became the broad parameters of femininity. Likewise, patriarchy determined that males be socialized to master behaviours and habits such as assertiveness, aggressiveness, ruggedness, toughness, decisiveness, innovativeness, inventiveness, courage, valor, risk-taking, confrontation, conquest, ruthlessness, and the killer instinct. Those became the broad parameters of masculinity.
Essentially these were the traits, dispositions, habits, and behaviours that had to be sharpened and shaped if men and women were to execute their respective powers effectively. The traits, dispositions, habits, and behaviours had to be sharpened and shaped if men and women were to execute their respective powers effectively. The traits, dispositions, habits, and behaviours had to be consistent with the power being exercised. While the traits, dispositions, habits, and behaviours could be common to both males and females they had to be differentiated according to gender, if men and women were to exercise the powers assigned each gender.
Because the human lifespan was relatively short and childbearing began at a relatively early age, it was imperative to initiate boys and girls to their respective behavior modes almost from birth. The socialization of boys and girls into masculine and feminine behavior and habits, therefore, began from the earliest age and was inculcated through various schedules of rewards and punishments as well as through the imitation of older siblings and parents of the same sex.
These definitions of masculinity and femininity were also codified and routinized in the wider culture through customs and mores that reinforced relationships within the family. The wide variety of masculinities and femininities that emerged in history are testimonies of the ways in which the common response to the separation of life giving and life taking powers was interpreted and implemented in widely different settings. Running through these varieties of masculinity and femininity, however, are some core traits related to the preservation of life on the one hand and the taking of life on the other.
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Violence: Self and the Young Male Like every other area of human existence, the socialization of males and females along masculine and feminine lines had never been perfect. However masculinity and femininity have been defined in a particular culture, there are males and females who develop behaviours and habits that are characteristics of the opposite sex. In a manner of speaking there have also been masculine women and feminine men. The extent to which this is punished, ostracized or rewarded in the particular culture depends on the nature and extent of the deviation, and the cultural interpretations of those deviations.
Perpetuation and Termination of Patriarchy
The strong contention here is that patriarchy is not a gender phenomenon. It is the basis on which human society was first organized. The essence of patriarchy is blood bonded kinship collectives as the unit of social organization and with the collective, age and gender as the bases on which power and status are determined.
Patriarchy, in some form, has been the basis of social organization of human society from antiquity to the present time. Global change from this pattern of social structure is still to be accomplished in human history. From this perspective changes in patriarchy are intimately and integrally related to fundamental changes in the organization of society. The two cannot be separated.
Plainly stated, the organization of society on the basis of race, ethnicity, caste, tribe, lineage, family, clan and dynasty are inherently related to issues of gender since both are aspects of patriarchy. So too, are issues related to the organization of society on the basis of age and the discussion on the rights of children. Not to be left out of the picture are issues that deal with power, particularly with respect to who exercises the life taking powers, whether over the unborn child, the criminal or the owner of the life itself. Patriarchal organization of the society developed answers to all of these questions. Changes in patriarchy have implications for all traditional answers.
The Fundamental Shift in the Basis of the Organization of Society
Much has changed since humankind started to live in groups. The changes in the macro-factors of demography, environment and technology have been enormous. Human populations are no longer small and isolated. There are over five billion people currently living on the earth. Millions of people living in crowded cities in common practice worldwide. Several areas of the earth are overpopulated. The challenge today is to avoid crowded living. Groups living in isolation are the exception and not the rule.
The environment no longer holds the terrors of antiquity. It could be said that mankind has tamed the environment to the point that the environment is being destroyed. While it is still not possible to predict earthquakes, the occurrence of most other natural disasters are predictable. This
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Violence: Self and the Young Male allows precautionary measures to be taken against loss of life, if not property. Many animals have been domesticated and wild ones are limited to reservations and are even sources of fascination to tourists. Much is known about diseases. Clean water is almost taken for granted in many parts of the world and the production of food is no longer subject to Malthusian pessimism.
Technological invention is probably the most spectacular difference between ancient and present-day mankind. Instruments and tools have been created to deal with a bewildering array of human tasks. Contraptions exist for everything, including instant banking. This is not to say that these gadgets are universally used, although the transistor radio may be close to such a status. It is to say that technology has transformed medicine, food production, water supply, transportation, warfare, communication, housing and just about every aspect of human existence.
The growth of human populations, the unevenness in the possibilities of survival offered by the environment in different locations and technological inventions developed to ensure survival, have all had profound implications for the organization of human society on its ancient patriarchal basis. As human populations grew, in some locations the environment was sufficiently harsh to deny the possibility of lineages continuing to live in isolation, and of resolving conflicts through special separation. Conquest became the mode of conflict resolution. These circumstances forced non-kins to begin to live together and to develop new forms of societal organization. The basic nature of the shift could be captioned as the shift from society structured on the basis of lineage, to society structured on the basis of non-kinship social formations.
The essential difference between the two forms of societal organization, for the sake of discussion, can be exaggerated, polarized and summarized briefly as follows:
- Social solidarity based on genealogical or blood relationships, as against solidarity based notions of citizenship, nationality, party, class, religion, union, corporation or region.
- The collective as the unit of social organization as against the individual as the unit of social organization.
- Rights in individuals as against the rights of individuals.
- Government by right of descent as against government by consent through election.
- The purpose of life being the advancement of the lineage as against the purpose of life being individual advancement through material progress.
- Intimate relationships being the norm of lineage life as against impersonal and often anonymous relationships in modern society.
The transition of society from its ancient lineage basis to the more modern non-kin basis has been very uneven and is far from complete. Societies worldwide have been and continue to be in
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Violence: Self and the Young Male states of flux as ancient and modern forms of societal organization co-exist. The engine of modern non-kin social organization is civil society organized on patriarchal norms. The state based on individual rights and achievement, is in fundamental conflict with patriarchal civil society based on filial loyalty and family honour. Nationality co-exists with tribe; caste and race co-mingle with citizenship and party as criteria for structuring national society. Notions of class co-mingle with notions of family origin. The end result is serious confusion in value systems that guide both individual and group behavior.
It should also be noted that the transition from lineage to non-kin forms of society has not only been uneven but also reversible. New city and national boundaries have not always coincided with old lineages. Accordingly some cities have been destroyed and nations have been dissolved, and others are at risk of being dissolved, by the exertions of those who find traditional cultural and genealogical cleavages powerful rallying points for mobilizing resistance where the promised material progress of the non-kin had not been forthcoming.
The Genealogical and Ethnic Origins of Nations
To exaggerate the trends of the transformations that have taken place in society since antiquity, could give the false impression that the modern features have completely replaced the ancient characteristics. This is certainly not the case. While the transformations have devalued genealogical descent, family ties and the bonds of kinship, these have not been eliminated. Instead notions of citizenship, nationality, class membership and individual material progress have emerged to challenge and compete with their earlier antecedents. This point is best made by attempting to connect the emergence of modern nations with early social formations of antiquity.
As populations grew it would appear that these lineages began to co-exist in some places and to form ethnic communities. Anthony Smith in his classic, The Ethnic Origins of Nations, defines the following as the basic elements of ethnic communities:
– A common myth of descent which seeks to provide answers to questions of origin, similarities and reasons for belonging.
– A shared history which unites successive generations, each with its set of experiences which are added to the common stock, and provide a temporal sequence of the shared memories and identity of the community.
– A distinctive culture which differentiates the community from others in terms of traits related to language, religion, folklore, music, dress, food, architecture etc.
– An association with a specific territory or homeland which they call their own. This is as much a symbolic geographical centre or sacred place to which members can return on visits
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Violence: Self and the Young Male even if they are scattered throughout the globe, as an actual place of residence.
– A sense of solidarity which stems from the shared identity, a common name, descent myths, shared history and territorial association. This sense of solidarity almost always finds institutional expression centered around co-operative action which overrides other kinds of loyalties especially in the face of external threat, dangers or disasters.
Ethnic communities evolved into an array of sociopolitical formations which are variously found across the globe and throughout history. Some became nomadic or sedentary tribes. Others formed a confederation of tribes with loose relationships between the ruling lineages. Still others evolved into kingdoms or confederations of kingdoms or even empires. In all of these formations the principles of patriarchy developed in lineage society were simply extended, expanded and enshrined in the new situation.
Membership in the formation was by descent. Elder makes ruled and lineages that provided the kings and the chiefs were determined by heredity, fictive or factual. In the kingdoms and confederations, a system of tributes of varying sizes differentiated the hierarchy among the chiefs, kings and lineage heads. Ritual observances bonded all together and provided the code of honour by which conflicts were resolved and infractions were punished. The entire system was unified by reciprocals duties, obligations, rights and rituals based on and justified by the myths of shared ancestry and routinized in the common culture of the community.
Patriarchy which was conceived and inaugurated in the isolated lineages of antiquity, was now translated into the government of tribes, clans, kingdoms, confederations and empires. The rule of fathers prevailed.
The most elaborate extension of society organized on the basis of descent and genealogy consisted of the organization of lineages into hierarchical layers, called castes, which were regarded as immutable and unequal in terms of religious purity. This differentiation of castes was then marked by elaborate rituals mediating their interrelationships which excluded mobility in this life. Societies so organized remained remarkably stable and resistant to change.
The biggest break with society based upon descent and genealogy came about with the emergence of the city-states. The city-states of ancient Greece are usually cited as the typical examples of this social formation. They, therefore, serve as useful pointers to the departure that is being high- lighted here.
These city-states dispensed with kings, chiefs and other hereditary rulers and instead were ruled by an aristocratic oligarchy of landowners of more or less equal standing. The city-state also con- sisted of traders who generated much of its wealth but who were not included in the oligarchy that governed the city. The artisans did not generate as much wealth as the traders but represented the cutting edge of technological expertise available in the area.
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Within the city-state new notions of society were advanced. These were that of the citizen, his rights in law and his privileges in pursuing particular occupations. The identity of the citizen and the loyalty required, took precedence over family and genealogical descent. Wile only men accorded the rights and privileges of citizenship, the point of departure was that all citizens had the same rights in law and enjoyed privileges that did not depend on the lineage in which they were born.
City-states had loose relationships with the neighboring villages and countryside, which continued to be organized society on genealogical lines. Sometimes the peoples of the surrounding villages and countryside helped to defend the city. Sometimes they helped to conquer it. In some instances the city-state conquered and subdued the surrounding countryside and expanded its territory. In the case of Rom, the city-state conquered not only the surrounding countryside but created and empire by subduing tribes, confederations, kingdoms and other city-states.
The point is that even where city-states emerged with a different rationale of social organization, it was operating in ethnic communities in which patriarchy had been entrenched. Hence its radical departure respected the status quo, and limited the notion of citizenship only to men of the families from which the citizens were drawn.
Note, however, must be taken of the contradiction that was introduced in city-state society. While the city-state was organized on the basis of citizenship and notions of civic duty, families within the city-state continued to be organized on the basis of descent, genealogical succession of the elder males and their patriarchal duties and obligations. While the state pre-empted some of the areas of potential conflict by conferring citizenship only on the men of some families, the foundation of the conflicts and tension between state and family had been defined.
Much later into history ethnic communities began to be transformed into nation-states. These entities encompassed not only city and surrounding countryside but several cities and their neighboring villages. As such these nation-states have encompassed several ethnic communities under the umbrella of a single national polity. While the degree of difference between these ethnic groups may vary considerably, invariably nation-states are marked by some degree of cultural pluralism.
Nationality supersedes family and ethnic loyalty. At least that is the assumption and the ideal. Each member of the kinship collective belongs individually to the nation and enjoys the same rights and privileges. As least that is usually the law. Yet the continued existence of ethnic and family identity within the nation-state means that there is dualism between the demands of nationality and the obligations of kinship and ethnic bonds. This dualism resides in the principles of organization of the state and the traditions of the ethnic communities that comprise the national polity.
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It should also be noted that the transition from lineage society to nation-state has not only been uneven but also reversible. New city and national boundaries have not always coincided with old ethnic communities. Accordingly, some cities have been destroyed and some nations have been dissolved, and others are at risk of being dissolved, by the exertions of those who find traditional culture and genealogical cleavages powerful rallying points for mobilizing resistance where the promised material progress of national society had not been forthcoming. Probably the only universals in this transition that has been taking place for centuries, are that it has fueled conflict over the means of production and stimulated changes in the mode of production as both of these assume greater importance than they ever did in the societies of the ancients.
Civil society in the nation-state is the locus of the residue of social forms developed in lineage society and ethnic communities of antiquity. Membership based on descent; genealogical survival of the collective as the purpose of individual existence; kinship as the basis of social solidarity; family as the unit of social organization, and patriarchy as basis of the determination and exercise of power in and by the collective; are all entrenched traditions which dictate values, define, identity, are celebrated by myths and legends, are justified by the beliefs held and routinized in rituals practiced by the various ethnic groups that compose civil society.
The state is the locus of the social formations and notions that depart from lineage and ethnic traditions. Membership on the basis of citizenship; material progress as the reason for individual existence; nationality as the basis of social solidarity; the individual as the unit of social organization; and consent and election as the basis of government; are all entrenched in the constitution underpinning the state; highlighted in ideology of nationalism; and justified by the myths, legends and heroes of the nation.
Within the nation, the state and civil society are in fundamental conflict in several areas. The manner in which these conflicts are resolved in any nation depends on the relative strengths of the ethnic communities comprising civil society and the strength of the state in that nation. Ancient and modern social formations continue to co-exist in almost all nations to a greater or lesser extent.
Conflict and the Covenant of Kinship
Men’s domination of society in patriarchy has not only been of women but also of other men. Within the kingship collective, conflict is mediated by the covenant of kinship and notions of brotherhood. The question is – what happens where men confront other men outside the covenant of kinship? To find such circumstances one has to look at situations in which blood relations, common ethnic heritage, friendship, or some other form of bonding are neither perceived nor assumed. One has to look for circumstances in which the perceptions are that the men are of different ancestries, different ethnic groups, different cultures, or different nations.
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The practices of killing all male captives, of castrating the men whose lives have been spared, and of offering men less opportunities for manumission from slavery, all point to the fact that male domination of men outside the bonds of kinship and community has been more severe and brutal than male domination of women within or outside the kin or ethnic group. Women captives were usually allowed to live, were not mutilated and where they were enslaved, were offered greater opportunities of social redemption than their male relatives.
If one were to construct a pecking order of brutality and severity of domination in patriarchy, then it would be necessary to recognize two levels in the order: domination of those belonging to the group, and domination of those brought into the group as a result of conquest. Within the kinship group or ethnic community it is accurate to that younger men were treated the least brutal and severe. By being potential patriarchs through generational succession, the current holders of the positions treated their heirs better than the women of the group. Next in order would be women of the group. While they were dominated they were also protected by the reciprocal rights, obligations and duties characteristic of patriarchy. Coders of chivalry, gallantry and honour prescribed the appropriate treatment that should be accorded women of the group.
When it came, however, to those brought into the group or community as a result of conquest, the pecking order of brutality and severity of domination was the reverse of what it was within the group. The women of the outsiders were treated better than the men. The men of the rival lineage or ethnic community were treated in the harshest manner of all.
To ignore this aspect of patriarchy is to miss one its fundamental features and its most salient characteristic – the inability to deal humanely and equitably with men of rival groups or communities which represent a real challenge or constitute meaningful opposition to one’s group. By patriarchy’s own assumptions and premises, people of other descent lines and cultural heritages are less human than one’s own. By dehumanizing these rivals, any treatment meted out to them was justified. But the greatest indignities and inhuman brutalities are reserved for the males of the rival group, since by its own premises and assumptions women are more easily absorbed into lineages and ethnic communities organized on patriarchal lines.
Changes in the Nature of Power
In the beginning both men’s and women’s powers were exercised in the family or the lineage. Gradually as populations grew and societies became larger, as lineages amalgamated first into ethnic communities and later into kingdoms, city-states, empires and nation-states, men’s powers were transferred outside of the intimate circumstances of family and kinship collective. Women’s powers remained in the home and family. A separation was therefore made between the public and private spheres: men’s sphere and women’s sphere. While men continued to dominate both spheres in different ways, new possibilities arose as generational mobility became possible. Sons
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Violence: Self and the Young Male could not succeed their fathers but exceed them.
As the human populations grew and groups amalgamated, not only did the locus of power shift from home and lineage to specialized institutions – such as the state, the school, the church, the military – but power began to be more unequally distributed. Autonomous decentralized and hierarchically organized aggregations. The increasing centralization of power and the greater inequality it created, spurred increasing conflict between groups. It also marginalized the woman even further as she was excluded from the public sphere.
The third transformation was probably a consequence of the first two. The idiom of power steadily shifted from the direct personalistic idiom to the more anonymous and euphemistic materialistic idiom in which the exercise of power is concealed and disguised as it is manipulated through material exchanges between persons.
The Essence of Materialistic Idiom of Power
The quintessence of the materialistic idiom of patriarchal power is its veneer of civility and justice which gloves the iron hand of bias and injustice that determines ultimate outcomes. It becomes critical therefore to examine the mechanisms used by patriarchy to marginalize both men and women. Four interlocking and interrelated mechanisms can be identified:
- Establishing rational and ‘objective’ standards, criteria and rules governing how material progress ought to be made. By creating an elaborate set of ‘objective’ standards, criteria and rules, which are not related to ascriptive characteristics but rather to capabilities that should be possessed in relation to tasks to be undertaken; the subjects to be learned; or by specifying which goods, capital or services can be acquired; the impression of openness, fairness and freedom is assured. Those who would challenge such standards, criteria and rules expose themselves to charges of wishing to lower standards, open the door to unfair practices and allow ascriptive attributes to be used. However, buy setting rational and objective standards and criteria that coincide with the strengths of the dominant groups, or with the weaknesses of subordinate groups, advantages are surreptitiously and subtly conferred on the former.
In some countries, for example, by using standards of literacy as aqualifying condition for voting, large numbers of members of subordinate groups are excluded from the electoral process. Again in some cultures to require a higher level of performance in mathematics for some jobs, may immediately exclude large numbers of women. Yet the performance of the job itself may not require the level of mathematics knowledge required to get the job. These are simple examples of the ways by which standards, criteria and rules with defensible rationales and seemingly objective application can be used as indirect means of biased access to material progress. The underlying principle is to formulate the specifications for the standards, criteria or rules to fit the capabilities
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Violence: Self and the Young Male of some vested interest or to exclude their opponents through their lack of developed capacity in the area specified.
- Controlling and biasing the selection, appointment and admission process to education, employment and other avenues of material progress. Every avenue or path to material progress is guarded by gatekeepers mandated to perform their functions through a multitude of entry procedures. Control of these gate-keeping mechanisms is a critical and supremely important element in securing the hegemony of the dominant group. Once the subordinate group control even a few ‘gates’ they can determine the entry of greater numbers of their own than in circumstances where all gates are controlled by the dominant group.
Keeping out the subordinated groups can be done on crude and ugly bases: employing ascriptive characteristics of race, colour, ethnicity, gender, religion or party membership. These crude bases are seldom sustained without successful challenge at some point. Less crude procedures attach great importance to schools previously attended, previous employers, geographic residence, mastery of language, accent, dress, physical appearance and other such trivial attributes.
Much more sophisticated measures involve the use of tests that are culturally and otherwise biased; the use of interviewing panels consisting mainly of members of the dominant group; the imposition and insistence on high standards in circumstances where one group has a current or historical advantage; the requirement of recommendations from important personages; and the employment of subjective judgments of notions of public acceptability of the type of person with whom they would deal in the delivery of some service or in conducting some transaction. These latter measures are more easily sustained because their biases are more concealed and therefore harder to prove. The evidence seeking to establish discrimination is always equivocal, hence skilled advocated are able to introduce elements of doubt backed by very plausible and rational arguments.
- Institutionalising mobility so that it is conditional upon adopting the culture of the dominant group and deploying upwardly mobile mainly in positions of gatekeepers, enforcers of public order and in safe middle level positions and sponsoring a few to hold isolated positions at the top. This is the most subtle and sophisticated mechanism of the materialistic idiom of power. It anticipates that there will be some exceptional persons from a group being discriminated against, who will meet the set standards and criteria and circumvent the rules by successfully navigating the barriers imposed by the most sophisticated selection, appointment or admission measures employed.
It offers these exceptional persons material progress on the same terms as it is offered to their own – mastery of the culture and belief system of the group. In this respect there is no discrimination. The only difference is that in the process of mastering the culture of the dominant group, these outstanding members of the subordinate groups either become alienated from their ancestry, or end up thoroughly confused or ambivalent about their identity and mission. Either
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Violence: Self and the Young Male way there is some fracture between these upwardly mobile members and their reference group, and some loosening of the ties that bind them.
In its most successful operations, this process has produced Caribbean Blacks, Indians, Chinese who have been more Anglo-Saxon than the English; Black Americans who have been more white than the Klu Klux Klan, and women who have been more masculine than most men. That is, it produces persons who by background or biological inheritance belong to one group in society, but by core values, culture and presentation of self are clearly members of the group that subordinates their peers or ancestors.
These persons are then deployed as gatekeepers, enforcers of public order or bureaucrats at the middle level. They are constrained to carry out rules that they did not formulate and with which they may not even agree. They are therefore brought into the front-line of the conflict with their own groups in a manner which confuses and muddies all the areas of conflict between the groups. In addition, these positions give them the opportunity to display their newly acquired skills, knowledge, status and loyalty. They are also given a vested interest in protecting and defending the status quo since this is the very route by which their own success was achieved. At the same time they provide the holders of power with a wide variety of disclaimers in their conflict with the subordinate groups.
- Maintaining in the various systems of bias, by frustrating fundamental change in those systems. The elements of this mechanism are legion. A brief listing is all that can be given here. They include:
–The use of a cumbersome and bewildering maze of authorities and procedures in cases where redress is sought with respect to persons claiming to have been unfairly treated, or objections are raised about the standards or the mechanisms employed to change the standards, criteria or rules. Successfully negotiating this maze demands monumental efforts and inordinate energy that secures relatively minor results. The end product is fatigue and reluctance to continue to invest so much effort in order to secure so little redress or change.
– Escalating the cost of change in relation to the benefits to be derived from changes, so that the disadvantaged voluntarily decides not to invest in change, but to try to work within the existing system.
– Benign neglect of revealed biases if these are in the desired direction.
– The uses of commissions, committees, task forces and studies to diffuse tension and confuse and delay action.
– Employing inefficient and ineffective strategies and programmes offering compensation to those who are disadvantaged by the standards, criteria and rules; and the
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Violence: Self and the Young Male subsequent termination of such programmes and strategies by virtue of their failure and waste.
– Neutralizing the leadershio of the subordinate groups by compromising them through individual promotions; access to a better life style through corrupt means; blackmail; or actual exposure of past indiscretions.
– Assissinations of effective leaders, by some individual ‘acting on their own’, in instances where all other efforts of frustrating or compromising them have failed.
These four mechanisms are interrelated and interlocking. Together they constitute formidable means of encouraging and conditioning compliance, even where objections are voiced and injustice is felt. More than anything else they promote feelings of helplessness on the part of the disadvantaged. To crown it all, they allow the powerful to sympathise with the victims of their manipulations and to disassociate themselves from the disasters they have created.
Patriarchal Conflict in the Materialistic Idiom of Power
What happens when men of different groups combine for position in society, while operating in the materialistic idiom of power? By the rules of the materialistic idiom it means that those who triumph cannot physically eliminate the vanquished, not can they castrate or enslave them. These latter are the methods of the personalistic idiom of power.
In the materialistic idiom of power men who triumph or dominate, deny the other men of the material means by which they can maintain their masculinity. They deny them access to jobs and income, education and schooling and the status symbols that define masculinity in material terms.
The subtlety and covert nature of the means employed results in the compliance of the marginalized in their own marginalization. The victim actually participates in his own marginalization by complying with the dictates of the structure of opportunity which is biased against him. Ironically the victim is blamed for the crime and the villain disclaims responsibility or has no senses of the same.
Marginalized Men’s Responses to the Shifts in Society
While some men continue to be patriarchs and in fact exercise enormous power over more and more people, more men have been knocked off their traditional perch of male dominance in the public and private spheres. More and more men are faced with life outside the secure and reassuring comfort of family life; are confronted with the anonymous and
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Violence: Self and the Young Male impersonal face of bureaucracy; are consigned to menial tasks and unimportant jobs and are devastated by unemployment.
At this point it is necessary to summarize and list some of the most common responses of marginalized males to their new position in society.
- The resort to naked violence. In the materialistic idiom of power, men are marginalized by subtle and concealed means. It could be said that they are marginalized by camouflaged or structural violence. One response of the marginalized men is the resort to naked violence, that is, to return to the personalistic idiom of power. Central to understanding this response is some consideration of the target of that violence. For violence cannot be fully comprehended without relating violence to its victims.
Simple logic would seem to suggest that if powerful men are marginalizing others by concealed means, naked violence used by the marginalized would be directed to those powerful men. However, the use of naked violence is much more complicated than that. The least likely targets are the powerful men, the patriarchs. Naked violence directed at the powerful is usually the final stage in the use of the violence. When violence is directed at the patriarchs the circumstances are usually revolution or war of some kind: guerilla, civil or full-scale war between countries. In these circumstances there is outright and open confrontation between the marginalized, and powerful men. History is punctuated with such confrontations, but they are not as numerous as the other objects of naked violence perpetrated by marginalized men.
The most frequent and numerous victims of naked violence by the marginalized men are other marginalized people, particularly other marginalized men. Klan members, black men, skin-heads and Neo-Nazis in the United States are for the most part, marginalized. The lower ranks of policemen, soldiers and criminals who use violence are usually from the same social stratum of society. If one ignores the question of law and legitimacy, those shooting each other are by and large more closely associated than either are to the patriarchs.
This pattern of violence is patently clear with respect to violence between rival gangs from depressed communities. To any objective observer it seems like madness for marginalized males to be eliminating themselves with such brutal efficiency. It does not appear either logical or sensible. Surely, joining forces against the oppressor would be more meaningful. Such sentiments misunderstand the psychological factor involved. At least four factors appear to be involved:
- a) Men marginalized, disadvantaged through the exercise of power in the materialistic idiom, seem to regress to the personalistic idiom. Consequently, the rules of the materialistic idiom no longer apply.
There is also the perception that justice does not exist. In the maintaining of their masculinity, they seek to defend that masculinity by personal and direct means which are clear and transparent.
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Violence: Self and the Young Male Issues are therefore settled immediately and with finality. Pre-emptive strikes are the key to survival. Minor slights and disagreements take on major proportions. Only the strong and quick survive. Justice is what might says.
Masculinity was originally defined by patriarchy in terms of life taking powers. Men marginalized from the material means of sustaining masculinity, wantonly and callously exercise the life taking powers as a means of reclaiming their masculinity. By exercising it among themselves new patriarchs are created, albeit by means declared illegal and illegitimate by the laws of the materialistic idiom. The drug lords, the gang leaders, the heads of crime syndicates and dragons of the Klan are examples of the reclamation of patriarchal power through the use of violence, particularly life taking actions.
- b) Identification with the powerful is a means of vicariously sharing power and prominence. Marginalized men, therefore, voluntarily become the willing and often eager foot soldiers, enforcers, strongmen, bodyguards and defenders of the powerful. While colour, race and ethnic ties may sometimes facilitate such identification they are quite incidental. Other bases of identification are usually constructed. By identifying with the powerful and assisting them to maintain power, the marginalized vicariously shares power and importance and may even derive some small benefits through preferential treatment. Dictators who create police states or rule through the military, fully understand this aspect of the marginalized male mentality.
- c) Displacement of aggression. It is dangerous to confront the powerful. It is much safer to violate a fellow victim. Marginalized makes therefore find it much safer to vent their anger and aggression on other victims than to direct it at the source of their suffering. For this reason members of their own family and women generally are in danger of being their victims.
- d) The ‘crabs in a barrel’ syndrome. If any among the marginalized are liberated from their circumstances, then this implicitly condemns those that remain. To prevent this from happening, those who appear to be attempting to escape are pulled back down into the barrel. Others seeing this are discouraged from even attempting.
When these separate factors are taken in combination they go a far way in explaining why marginalized males direct naked violence more among themselves and other victims, than toward the source of their exclusion from the material means of maintaining their manhood as defined by patriarchy.
- Reversion to religious beliefs and practices which exalt patriarchy. Men whose social definition of masculinity is compromised often revert to religious beliefs and practices which insist on the observance of patriarchal norms. This has to be understood as defense of manhood and masculinity by ritual and religious means.
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Almost all universalist religions have deep symbolic roots in patriarchy. These have become important means by which marginalized men seek to cope and to resist their circumstances. By withdrawing, or escaping, from the so-called rat race of the materialistic idiom, reconstructing and reforming one of the major religions to the specifics of their circumstances, they formulate the basis of their resistance to marginalization.
The specific of the belief of a particular group is relatively unimportant when compared to the overall purposes that they serve. This is true whether one is looking at the Yaweh ben Yaweh and the Black Muslims of the United Stated, the Rastafarians of Jamaica and the Caribbean or the Jamaat al Muslimeen of Trinidad and Tobago. While their theology may differ, they are united as religious movements promoting resistance of marginalized men to the forces working against them.
Several apparent contradictions mark this psychological aspect of male marginalization. First, it involves a deliberate throw back to the past, yet it seeks to create a future different from the past. They may even appear obsolete or quaint. At the same time there is prophetic proclamation of a bright and glorious future. The key to resolving these apparent contradictions is to understand that the aim is not to remove male marginalization as a condition, but rather to assist these marginalized males to replace the powerful.
Second, the position adopted seems to be an escape from reality, yet the posture of its adherents is that of confrontation of the status quo. This apparent contradiction is resolved by understanding that the contest between the men concerned is shifted to a new plane. By withdrawing from the mainstream these marginalized males are with-holding their productive labour from the exploitation of the powerful, at the same time they are contesting and confronting the values and norms of mainstream society.
- Emphasis on sexual prowess and the neglect of parental responsibility. Machismo is one of the defining features of masculinity as determined by the patriarchy. It was particularly relevant when the earth was scarcely populated. It must be noted that machismo included the protection and provision for the numerous women and children. More importantly machismo was always a correlate of power. It was the most powerful men that could accumulate the most wives and had the most children.
The tendency of marginalized males to adopt a Hulk/stud life-style must be understood as a means of seeking to retain power and prestige in an area totally under their control. By conquering several women sexually and siring numerous offspring, one of the patriarch’s original symbols of power is extravagantly displayed, even if the women and children are not protected or provided for.
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This results in the severing of association between the biological and social roles in fathering children. The biological father plays no social role in the upbringing of his children. By so doing marginalized males participate in furthering their own marginalization in that they alienate themselves from parenting responsibilities, which is an essential part of self-fulfillment.
When this tendency of marginalized males is discussed it is often referred to as male irresponsibility. The emphasis is on the neglect of both mothers and children. What is ignored is the element of self destruction by the men themselves, who by emphasizing sexual prowess and avoiding parenting are denying themselves a whole range of social meaning in existence. While the mother’s responsibilities are usually onerous, she is rewarded by undying love and loyalty from the children as well as unending satisfaction for having done more than enough as a parent. On the other hand the fathers’ lives are more permanently impoverished by their neglect. Their marginalization is thus compounded.
- Acquiescence and self destruction. In a real sense it would seem as if some marginalized men have internalized the forces arrayed against them and have engaged in there own self destruction. Their defense is the absence of resistance and the acceleration of their own doom. As such, they appear to be participants in their own elimination. The violence is turned upon oneself.
The most extreme form of this response is suicide. While the self destruction of taking one’s life in a single dramatic act is transparent and unequivocal, the self destruction through less dramatic and more prolonged means may not be as unequivocal, and certainly not as spectacular. Substance abuse including alcohol and narcotics has become almost an integral part of the lifestyle of large numbers of marginalized men. In some instances it has been ritualized, glamourized and routinized. The habit resulting is almost taken for granted.
Another less direct means of self destruction is engaging in dangerous and highly risky undertakings in which death is more than a likely possibility. Such desperate action could bring glory and recognition if successful but self destruction if they fail. Marginalized men seem predisposed to such risk taking.
There are several ways that one could attempt to interpret this tendency of marginalized men to turn the life taking powers on themselves. First, marginalized men by taking action to hasten their own death could be seen as attempting to take some control of their lives by denying them their productive capacity. The destruction of self becomes a means of diminishing the powerful.
The Inertia of Success and the War Mentality
Men have dominated society since antiquity, they have come to accept this as natural. They have developed a mentality which accepts their dominance of society as permanent. Men, therefore, are deluded by the inertia of success. The vast majority cannot even think that men’s position in
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Violence: Self and the Young Male society will change.
Men with power continue to promote their family, lineage, clan, tribe, caste or race. By so doing they continue to promote themselves and the men of these groups. They basically ignore irrelevance of the strategies, corruption of the means by which they secure their ends, the moral outrage of many including some of their own and the increasing desperation of the marginalized. Neither do they contemplate the long term consequences of these outcomes.
Men marginalized in the contest for power and position in society adopt defense strategies that literally seek to revive and restore patriarchy – either through violence, religious piety and purity, obscene displays of strength and sexuality, or self-destruction aimed at denying the powerful further advancement at their expense. Their efforts are not intended to abolish patriarchy, but rather to gain or reclaim for themselves the position of patriarch.
Both powerful and marginalized males share a common feature. They are both ignoring the societal implications of the fundamental factors shaping changes in human society. They are both living more in the past than in the present. They are both out of step with present day reality while seeking to perpetuate an obsolete past.
Men are therefore possessed of a mentality that assumes their right to run things at all levels of society, that has misplaced confidence in the permanence of that right and that ignores and misinterprets signs and signals of fundamental change. Men who fail to follow in the masculine tradition are viewed as individuals that have failed. Women dominating in some sectors of society are seen as exercising temporary supremacy due to pathologies in those sectors. Nowhere is there any perception that patriarchy has outlived its relevance and meaning.
Patriarchy defined masculinity in terms of life taking powers. Men therefore continue to seek resolution of all difficult problems in terms of death. The ultimate expression of this mentality is full-scale war between countries. Patriarchs and marginalized men find common cause in the fierce fury of seeking to eliminate the enemy, the source of all problems. But the war mentality is carried over into practically all levels of society. Wars are raged in the streets between gangs; in some countries between tribes; and in some regions between adherents of different religions. It is also carried over into other aspects of life, even where the aim is not the immediate and sudden destruction of the persons concerned.
The basic tenet of the patriarchal mentality is that where it is not possible to establish hegemony by incorporating, reconciling and rationalizing opposing positions, then one party to the dispute must be eliminated. That mentality has brought mankind to the brink of exterminating itself by nuclear holocaust. While there seems to be some pull back from such catastrophe, there is no guarantee that this is not a temporary accommodation between the combatants instead of a lasting and permanent abandonment of the contemplation of such folly.
28 Proceedings of a Regional Policy Conference 1993 June 15 to 17
Violence: Self and the Young Male
The men are much like a class undergoing downward social mobility. They either deny the reality of the circumstances or strike out in vengeance even where this involves their own destruction.
I look forward to joining the Conference discussions and I thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
29 Proceedings of a Regional Policy Conference 1993 June 15 to 17