Author: Errol Miller


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 the boardroom to the bedroom, from school to the workplace, from church to entertainment changes in gender roles and relationships are manifest. Invariably men’s traditional 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, children and the family in society? Interestingly, conventional explanations offered in the United States in terms of racism and capitalism, in the Eastern block 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 femininity originally defined? What were the bases upon which society was first organized?

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 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 cure outside of genetic engineering. The point is that whatever explains the creation of male dominance in the first place would also account for the observed changes.

If the position is taken, that men’s domination of 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.


There have been numerous explanations of the creation of patriarchy. They can be categorized into single factor and multiple factors explanations. The single factor explanations can be listed as follows:

  1. Man’s greater physical endowment compared to women which manifest 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.
  2. 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 struggle centered around compensation for this deficiency.
  3. Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that it was the early division of labour that centered women’s activities in dreary, repetitious, daily tasks – immanence – as against men’s daring exploits – transcendence – which became the fountainhead of inequality between the sexes.
  4. Nancy Chodorow’s reinterpretation of 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.
  5. Susan Brown-Miller’s claim that it is men’s ability to rape women leading to the propensity to rape them, that lead to male supremacy over women.
  6. Elizabeth Fisher’s contention that man’s knowledge gained from the domestication of animals taught them how to domesticate and dominate women.
  7. 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.
  8. Claude Levi-Strauss’s “exchange of women” theory as the cause of female subordination. Levi-Strauss noted that the exchange of women was a widespread 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 woman figured as a object of exchange and not as one of the partners. He maintained that as a result women were reified as they became objects of exchange instead of being treated as persons and were subordinated in the process.
  9. Fredrick 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 economic unit and with it private property ownership. With the development of the state, the monogamous family changed into the patriarchal family, the wife’s labour became private household service and with her being cut off from social production, her subjugation was ensured.

The great difficulty with each of these single-factor explanations is that none of them are 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 characteristics which detemine 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 on each attribute, thus giving them advantage of assuming dominance and leadership positions in all aspects of society.

Even the most casual observations would establish that there is considerable overlap between men and women with respect to each of these attributes. Hence if these characteristics were the basis of leadership and dominance in society, then women from antiquity would have 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, is it 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, of 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 to 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 is society is not merely to an outcome of biological factors. Like the other single factor explanation, 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.


The essence of this explanation of the creation of patriarchy can be summarized as follows:

  1. 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 knowledge and primitive technology. In these circumstances, communal living proved to have greater survival potential than individual existence.
  2. 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.
  3. These kinship collectives were isolated and autonomous hence they had to deal with all the issues related to the life and death of its 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 preserving powers fell to women, hence the life taking power fell to men by default.
  4. The sexual division of life giving and life taking powers led unintentionally to women’s subordination in the kinship collective and the elevation of elder men to be the final arbiters in collective decision making.
  5. 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 power 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 the adaptive responses of early humans to ensure their survival. The subordination of women was an unintended consequence of those adaptive responses which 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 men 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 was an exception and not the rule. Autonomous groups, globally, had to deal with the issues related to the life and death of its 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 created by these scattered populations of humans struggling to survive against the odds.

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 throughout the centuries. Biology determined that the life-giving and life-preserving roles would fall to women 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 behaviours and habits that were consistent with these powers.

Patriarchal society therefore determined that females be 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. These 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 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 into their respective behaviour modes almost from birth. The socialization of boys and girls into masculine and feminine behaviour 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.

Like every other area of human existence, the socialization of male and females along masculine and feminine lines has 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 characteristic 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 upon the nature and extent of the deviation and the cultural interpretation of those deviations.

Perpetuation and Termination of Patriarchy.

The strong contention here is that patriarchy is not a gendered 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 within 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 is 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 discussions 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 these questions. Changes in patriarchy have implications for all traditional answers.


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 are common practice worldwide. Several areas of the earth are over-populated. The challenge today is to avoid crowded living. Groups living in isolation is 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 is predictable. This 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 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 as to deny the possibility of lineages continuing to live in isolation and of resolving conflicts through spatial 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 a social structure on the basis of lineage to a society structured on the basis of non-kinship social formations.

The essential differences between the two forms of societal organization, for the sake of discussion, can be exaggerated, polarised and summarized briefly as follows:

  1. Social solidarity based on genealogical relationships as against solidarity based notions of citizenship, nationality, party, class, religion, union, corporation or region.
  2. The collective as the unit of social organization as against the individual as the unit of social organization.
  3. Rights in individuals as against the rights of individuals.
  4. Government by right of descent as against government by consent through election.
  5. The purpose of life being the advancement of the lineage as against the purpose of life being individual advancement through material progress.
  6. Intimate relationships being the norm of lineage life as against impersonal and often anonymous relations 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 states of flux as ancient and modern forms of societal organization co-exist. The engine of the modern non-kin social organization has been the state. The repository of ancient social organization is civil society organized on patriarchal norms. The state based on individual rights and achievement is in fundamental conflict with a patriarchal civil society based on filial loyalty and family honour. Nationality co-exists with tribe, caste and race comingle 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 behaviour.

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-kins had not been forthcoming.


To exaggerate the trends of the transformations that have taken place in society since antiquity could give a 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 coexist 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 provides 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 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 centred 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 socio-political 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 males ruled and the 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 reciprocal 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 a 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 highlighted 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 consisted 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 technical expertise available in that area.

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 citizen and the loyalty required took precedence over family and genealogical descent. While only men were 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 neighbouring villages and country-side, which continued to organize society on genealogical lines. Sometimes the peoples of the surrounding villages and country-side helped to defend the city. Sometimes they helped to conquer it. In some instances, the city-state conquered and subdued the surrounding country-side and expanded its territory. In the case of Rome, the city-state conquered not only the surrounding country-side but created an empire by subduing tribes, confederations kingdoms, and other city-states.

The point is that even where city-state 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, a 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 foundations of the conflict and tension between state and family had been defined.

Much later in history ethnic communities began to be transformed into nation-states. These entities encompassed not only city and surrounding country-side but several cities and their neighbouring 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. At least that is usually the law. Yet the continued existence of ethnic and family identity within the nation-state means that there is a 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.

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 cultural 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 to assume greater importance in modern society 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 comprise 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 coexist in almost all nations to a greater or lesser extent.


Men’s domination of society in patriarchy has not only been of women but also of other men. Within the kinship 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.

The practices of killing all male captives, of castrating the men whose life’s 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 for 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 say 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 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. Codes 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 of its fundamental features and most salient characteristic – the inability to deal humanely and equitably with men of rival groups or communities which present 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 inhumane 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.


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 could not only 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 groups became incorporated into larger, more centralized and hierarchically organized aggregations. The increasing centralization of power and the greater inequality it created, spurred increasing conflict between groups. It also marginalized women 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 the 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.

  1. 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, by setting rational and objective standards and criteria that coincide with the strengths of the dominant group, 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 a qualifying condition for voting, large numbers of members of subordinate groups are excluded from the electoral process. Again in some cultures to require a high 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 of some vested interest or to exclude their opponents through their lack of developed capacity in the area specified.

  1. Controlling and biasing the selection, appointment and admissions processes 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 the 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 historic 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 advocates are able to introduce elements of doubt backed by very plausible and rational argument.

  1. Institutionalizing mobility so that it is conditional upon adopting the culture of the dominant group and deploying the upwardly mobile mainly in positions of gatekeepers, enforcers of public order and in safe middle level positions and sponsors 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 the 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 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, and Chinese who have been more Anglo-Saxon than the English, Black American 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 subordinated 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 also are 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.

  1. Maintaining 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 use 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 subsequent termination of such programmes and strategies by virtue of their failure and waste.

– Neutralizing the leadership 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.

– Assassination 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 sympathize with the victims of their manipulation and to disassociate themselves from the disasters they have created.


While some men continue to be patriarchs and in fact exercise enormous power over more and more people, more men have been knocked off the 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 the anonymous and 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 marginailized males to their new position in society.

  1. 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 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 victim.

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 violence. When violence is directed at the patriarch’s the circumstances are usually revolution or war of some kind: guerrilla, civil or full-scale war between countries. In these circumstances, there is out-right 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-Nazi 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 strata of society. If one ignores the question of law and legitimacy, those shooting at each other are by and large more closely associated than either is 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 factors involved. At least four factors appear to be involved:

  1. 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 absence of justice and excluded from the material means of maintaining their masculinity, they seek to defend that masculinity by personal and direct means which are clear and transparent. Issues are therefore settled immediately and with finality. Pre-emptive strikes are key to survival. Minor slights and disagreements take on major proportions. Only the strong and the 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.

  1. 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 share 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.
  2. c) Displacement of aggression. It is dangerous to confront the powerful. It is much safer to violate a fellow victim. Marginalized males, 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.
  3. 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.

  1. Reversion to religious beliefs and practices which exalts 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.

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 religion to the specifics of their circumstances, they formulate the basis of their resistance to marginalization.

The specifics of the beliefs 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 Yahweh ben Yahweh and Black Muslims of the United States, the Rastafarians of Jamaica and the Caribbean or the Jamat al Mudeen 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 throwback to the past, yet it seeks to create a future different from the past. The postures and mentality manifested are reminiscent of the past. They may even appear obsolete, or quaint. At the same time, there is a prophetic proclamation of 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 withholding their productive labour from the exploitation of the powerful, at the same time they are contesting and confronting the values and the norms of mainstream society.

  1. Emphasis on sexual prowess and the neglect of parental responsibility. Machismo is one of the defining features of masculinity as determined by patriarchy. It was particularly relevant when the earth was scarcely populated. It must be noted that machismo included the protection and provision of 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 lifestyle 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 patriarchy’s original symbols of power is extravagantly displayed, even if the women and children are not protected or provided for.

This results in the severing of the association between 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 mothers’ 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 permanently impoverished by their neglect. Their marginalization is thus compounded.

  1. 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 their 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 of 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, glamorized 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 lives could be seen as attempting to take some control of their lives by denying powerful men from being directly responsible for their demise. Second, marginalized men could be seen to be taking revenge on powerful men by denying them their productive capacity. The destruction of self becomes a means of diminishing the powerful.

  1. 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 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 those 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 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 again 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 the masculine tradition are viewed as individuals that have failed. Women domination in some sectors of society is 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 a 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 a not temporary accommodation between the combatants instead of a lasting and permanent abandonment of the contemplation of such folly.

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.