Patriarchy Isn’t as Natural as You Think

For a modern-day feminist, it is very easy to slip back into patriarchal thinking and actions, as Deborah Francois White’s podcast The Guilty Feminist explores. Whilst this is entirely understandable because of ideas of “boy’s roles” and “girl’s roles” we have been taught throughout our lives, perhaps a little re-thinking of history could help us combat these ideas in everyday life, so we can be the generation that thinks differently. Religion, the media, political representation, the teaching of history, and even science have played a part in establishing and justifying the patriarchy. We need to stop accepting this. That, in 2019 we have only had two female prime ministers and that their gender has been of great interest, is a problem. That we still think there is a single type of “healthy body” or “sexy body” for women, is terrible. That we think patriarchy is normal, is wrong. Equality might actually be more natural than we think. 

Let’s start with Darwin. Whether his fault or not, Darwinism has often been used as a justification for our patriarchal social structure, as it reflects some primate systems. Disregarding even the obvious argument that we are more advanced mentally than apes and so don’t have to copy their system, there are actually close primate cousins to humans which have different systems! Bonobo monkeys actually live in matriarchal societies. Interestingly, they are also said to be among the most peaceful primates on the planet and settle conflicts through sex. Research into Bonobos was neglected for decades by primatologists because they assumed Bonobos were just smaller versions of chimps. In the 1990s researcher Amy Parish and her team researched bonobos and came to the conclusion: chimps and bonobos are nothing alike, a crucial difference being that females form strong bonds with other females, even ones they’re not related to. Something I certainly see reflected in humans! I can’t help but wonder if these wonderful creatures were not researched for so long because they are evidence against the naturalness of patriarchy. Possibly.

Because of the western focus on the Abrahamic religions we may have the notion that ‘religion’ backs up patriarchy. In the book, When God Was a Woman (1976), historian Merlin Stone traces worship of the Goddess back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. Stone writes that there is evidence that the “development of the female deity [in the Middle East] was intertwined with the earliest beginnings of religion so far discovered anywhere.” This Goddess was actually the highest deity as: “creator and law-maker of the universe, provider of human destinies, inventor, healer, hunter and valiant leader in battle”. In The Beauty Myth (1990)Naomi Wolf writes about “the matriarchal Goddess religions” that dominated the Mediterranean from around 25000 B.C.E. - 700 B.C.E.  Wolf considers the pattern of older goddesses having young male lovers who serve them, such as Ishtar and Tammuz, Venus and Adonis, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Orisis. Just because there is evidence of historic patriarchy, it doesn’t mean it is natural. Just in the same way that this evidence of historic matriarchy doesn’t mean that we should have female dominance, just that either is possible, and therefore equality is possible. 

Women’s beauty standards are also not a natural forgone conclusion. In an ABC News article exploring the origins of beauty ideals (2018) art historian Dr Adelina Modesti states that representations of female beauty in art have dramatically changed across different artistic periods and indeed that “thinness is really a modern concept”. It has historically been deemed natural that men would desire women who are more “attractive” because they want to ensure the survival of the species. If that was the case, then the defining features of beauty would need to have clear correlation with the ability to have children. Furthermore, if this was the natural way of sustaining the human race then surely there would only be one historic and international set of beauty ideals for women, rather than hundreds. 

Finally, when it comes to deomestic “women’s roles”, Mothers and Others, The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (2009), by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy exposes that there is actually evolutionary history of cooperative childcare by both parents. When it comes to hunter/gatherers we have been misled. In book Distorting the Past (2005), by Linda Owen, it is revealed that the ‘man the hunter’ and ‘woman the gatherer’ is untrue in cases she studied. 

History and science actually could teach a very different story, possibly even one of matriarchy. 

So, surely, the future can be a story of equality for all genders.