Friday, November 11, 2005


Feminist bloggers have developed an acronym, “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too.”, or PHMT. The context typically goes something like this: “Yes, of course men are harmed by patriarchy and sexism in that they cannot properly relate to their spouses and lovers. PHMT.”1 What is patriarchy? How are gender roles formed, and how is gender distinct from sex (or “biological gender”)? How much of the radical feminist focus on patriarchy's impact on women rather than a more flexible construct that notices the parallel impact upon men is necessary and how much is unnecessary “identity politicking?” This paper will attempt to answer these questions.
Clearly, men and women have different reproductive apparatuses. Some genetic difference, as scientists know from biological analysis, is obviously there. Humans may be “weakly dimorphic” (Judith Lorber, “Night To His Day”), but they are in fact dimorphic. However, as Lorber continues to argue, “For human beings there is no essential femaleness and maleness, femininity or masculinity, womanhood, or manhood, but once gender is ascribed, the social order constructs and holds individuals to strongly gendered norms and expectations. Individuals may vary on many of the components of gender any may shift genders temporarily or permanently, but they must fit into the limited number of gender statuses their society recognizes.” Thinking of gender as similar to other institutions such as the state helps. Of course humans socially organize fairly much independent of culture. But the modern nation-state is a unique cultural artifact distinct from the tribe or even the monarchy. While intrinsic intelligence may lead someone to become a doctor, the meaning of “doctor” (its wages, social prestige, training requirements, etc.) obviously varies across societies. Even the “man”/”woman” dichotomy is not innate: As Lorber continues to describe, “Some societies have three genders-men, women, and berdaches, or hijras, and xaniths.” Even language is impacted by gender norms: As Tannen describes in “You Just Don't Understand”, the way that men and women as well as ethnic and geographic groups perceive interruptions is not innate but quite fluid. A key fact that will return later is Tannen's position that both men and women can be proceeding quite respectably and kindly according to their norms yet make each other unhappy and come into conflict, through no fault of their own but through the way their behavior is being filtered negatively.

What leads to the consistent and historical perpetuation of these norms if there is little or no gender reality? There are an infinite array of mechanisms, but among the most important include kinship structures and the distribution of gender-related labor (such as childrearing, social support, etc.), expectation of behavior and ostracism for those who do not behave, and often wholesale application of violence. Lorber describes the formation of gender hierarchies, “Most societies rank genders according to prestige and power and construct them to be unequal, so that moving from one to another also means moving up or down the social scale. Among some North American Indian cultures, the hierarchy was male men, male women, female men, female women.” Hochschild describes in her work, “The Second Shift”, an intriguing dialectical interaction between economy and gender. The feminist movement managed to gain successes in terms of equal access to jobs, but because of the nuclear family (associated with capitalist institutions) that artificially made the support and childrearing systems concentrated in the household, women ended up on average working a guaranteed 8 additional hours around the house after 8 hours of work, a “second shift” of labor. Of course men would pick up some degree of the slack, but as Hochschild makes clear, this was usually less formal, upon their leisure and far less of an imposition upon their day. Further, the men would reply that they were still the primary breadwinners and thereby had more stress on the economic end, but that is a normative statement that Hochschild shows to cut both ways: women thereby are made artificially dependent, which makes them afraid of the future as well, but also helpless.

Most importantly for the point of the essay: To which gender does the system lean in terms of material benefit, if any? The above Hochschild arguments establish one unfair inequity. Women are far more likely to get Ph. Ds than men yet less likely to get tenure track positions2. The Ferraro and Johnson article, “How Women Experience Battering”, argues convincingly that, aside from the arrangement of psychological difficulties that is lumped together under “battered wife syndrome”, the feeling of social obligation and the lack of economic resources prevents moving out. Men and women of equal “objective” qualifications are perceived as having markedly different skills and abilities (women's successes are domesticated, underplayed, sexualized, etc. and generally made not “the norm” while male outlooks are believed to be the standard by which we judge behavior.)

To what extent does patriarchy hurt men too? A Violence Against Women's piece describes how increasingly women abuse men, either physically or emotionally, in relationships3. The Messner piece, “The Meaning of Success”, describes how the need for identification and recognition by male peers leads many men to highly destructive athletic situations, wherein they damage their bodies and are ironically deprived of the community that they are seeking by the rampant homophobia and competitiveness. Men disproportionately enter into the patriarchal, personally destructive and imperialist military system. The Tannen piece describes how men become artificially estranged from their wives, girlfriends and female acquaintances even in their conversations. Much like women, men constantly are questioning their virility, attractiveness, and fashion sense. Homosexual men are attacked and discriminated against, often forced into unstable heterosexual marriages that produce unhappy children. Being estranged from brothers, fathers, and friends by homophobic pressures and the association of intimacy with female qualities means men lose contact with a vibrant social network that would sustain them.
Gender institutions are not simply occasional bouts of sexism perpetrated by horny men, but are rules and norms that impact every person. Their childhood is contoured because of the way they are placed into gender categories with expectations placed upon those categories despite whatever personal feelings they may have. Their relationship with their parents and the life of those parents is similarly affected. Their sexualization and their intimate lives are assaulted. And men are victims of it too.

For an example of the usage of PHMT, see “PHMT”, ap://

For discussion of Ph. D incidences, see Diversity Web's article on the topic . An AP story available at is another good article.

“Are Heterosexual Men Also Victims Of Intimate Partner Abuse?” Violence Against Women. A compilation of numerous studies.


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