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Down With the Matriarchy? What Matriarchy?

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MASCULINITY
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In a recent article in the Guardian, Jack O'Sullivan laments the "absence of an intelligent discussion conducted by men about ourselves" and seems to blame women for what he deems men's lack of confidence. He appears to especially think that this takes place in homes, where there is what he calls an unacknowledged matriarchy that keeps men silent and passive.

Excuse me while I get out the world's smallest violin and play a sorrowful tune. Poor, poor men.

How we women pity you.

Er, wait, sorry, I didn't mean "pity". I meant "shake our heads at your presumption and obliviousness". Sorry about that. My hand slipped while I was typing because I was laughing so much at O'Sullivan's ridiculous article.

While I certainly agree that both men and women must recognise and escape the "confines of our gender", as O'Sullivan puts it, and that we need to acknowledge that we have all been ill-served by our culture's emphasis on certain gender stereotypes (i.e. men must be strong, men can't talk about their feelings, men shouldn't be involved in childcare or housework, men should use fighting and warfare as a way of dealing with conflict, etc.), I can't quite believe that it is truly down to women that men feel, well, emasculated.

Let's point out - as if this actually needs to be pointed out! - that men are still overwhelmingly in charge. Look at corporations, university departments, governments, and other institutions - it tends to be men who have the more powerful positions and who are paid more. Check out who the decision-makers are. Consider who runs religions, or makes laws. And to use a few of O'Sullivan's own examples: who walks out on families? Who commits domestic violence and other crimes? Who consumes porn? Who harasses others in the workplace?

Right. For the most part: men.

Sure, you can find exceptions. And, okay, we can boast about the few women who fill what used to be male-only roles, such as being professors or government ministers. But it certainly isn't fifty-fifty in regard to gender, and it sure as hell isn't anything close to being female-dominated. So why, according to O'Sullivan, do men apparently feel oppressed?

O'Sullivan writes, "It is an environment in which male spokesmen for change are unlikely to be nurtured. When they do articulate their views or concerns, they are often ridiculed or ignored by women. Misandry can be as nasty as misogyny and is as widespread (just check the internet). Smart men play safe and stay out of it. We're so conditioned, we don't even talk to each other." In other words, O'Sullivan bemoans the fact that men don't talk to one another, and blames this on women.

Men, with all their power and with all the ways they continue to oppress women, feel unable to speak up? That's a hard one to figure out. And, let's remind O'Sullivan that he certainly feels able to talk, and to do so in a major national - even international - context. Something doesn't quite make sense, does it?

Whether individual men feel able to contribute to conversations and chores in their own homes is something I can't comment on - and unless O'Sullivan has carried out a research project, he can't either - but it seems highly unlikely that men generally feel oppressed by women, or that "misandry can be as nasty as misogyny and is as widespread". The facts of our society simply don't bear any of this out. Do men have trouble getting their views heard on TV or in newspapers? Are they rejected from jobs just for being men? Are they treated like sex objects? Are they talked down to? Are they told not to worry their pretty little heads about sexism?

So what is O'Sullivan actually doing with his article? It seems as though he is trying to shift blame and to excuse men for any inaction on their part in fighting sexism.

There is still a lot of progress to be made as we work towards truly equal rights and opportunities, and imagining an oppressive matriarchy that keeps men cowed when the reality is anything but simply doesn't help men or women.

Time to throw out that violin.

(With thanks to Professor Nicola Cooper from Swansea University for pointing me towards this article.)

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