Home Editor's Picks How Society Historically Privileged Women (And Still Does)

How Society Historically Privileged Women (And Still Does)

by Ryan
wealthy women in colonial america

One of the core, critical arguments taught to students in any introductory Women’s Studies or Gender Studies class is the concept that traditional western society historically privileged men, and for the most part kept women in an oppressed position in society.

This feminist position is based upon the central theory known as “patriarchy theory”, and contends that the patriarchial structure of families (where name and property was handed down from father to son) drove the rest of how society treated men and women – with women primarily considered just another form of property.

But it’s unfortunate that so few students who take a Gender Studies course in college also take a Western History course. And if they do, they unfortunately miss the glaring contradictions between the two courses.

In this article, you’re going to learn how the reality of traditional history doesn’t match the Gender Studies version of history. In fact, actual history debunks Patriarchy Theory entirely.

What Is Patriarchy Theory?

Before you can properly debunk a theory, you need to fully understand how the believers in that theory define it. And feminism is truly a movement of belief, rather than movement based on fact or evidence.

In fact, if you turn to the sources section of most Gender Studies 101 textbooks, you’ll find that the authors have primarily quoted books written by other feminist believers, who in turn have also cited past feminists as well. It’s a cycle that has gone on for decades, without anyone questioning it.

Let’s look at how feminists themselves define Patriarchy Theory. The following analysis is conducted on a standard Women’s Studies course (WGS 201) at Miami University. The same course book is used at Universities all throughout the United States Today.

On Page 6, the author writes:

“Through consciousness-raising groups and other situations where women came together to talk about their lives, women realized that they were not alone in their experiences. Problems they thought to be personal (like working outside the home all day and then coming home to work another full day doing the domestic tasks that are involved with being a wife and mother) were actually part of a much bigger picture of masculine privilege and female subordination.”

The next paragraph then elaborates, finally, on this new term coined for that social situation women were coming to recognize.

“A key term for women’s studies writers and activists is patriarchy, defined as a system where men dominate because power and authority are in the hands of adult men.”

What’s amazing is that this description of how the Patriarchy Theory belief system came about is 100% accurate. It involved only women (not men) coming together and talking about their experiences and how they felt they were considered subordinate in society. This is a critical point to remember as we work through the actual historical social situation compared to the theory of male domination/female subordination that these women developed during the 1960’s.

Actual Traditional Social Conditions

Had they included more men in those early conversations, the ultimate belief system of Gender Studies would have taken a much different shape. In fact, those who were interested in alleviating elements of society that were hurting women, would have learned very quickly that there were an equal number of social conditions that were hurting men.

Had the conversation involved both men and women, those women would have quickly tossed out their theory that society was actually structured to keep women subordinate. They instead would have come to an understanding about why their traditional society was set up the way it was, why gender roles were structured the way they were, and what changes could be made to alleviate barriers both men and women faced.

What barriers did men face, you may ask? Thank you for asking! Let’s explore the aspect of traditional society that early feminists disastrously ignored when they developed their “Patriarchy Theory”.

While women were complaining amongst themselves about not having equal access to the positions of power they saw men having in the corporate world and in government, they ignored the men below them who didn’t have access to the privilege they had. While women were looking upwards at the men in society above them in order to develop their “patriarchy theory”, they completely ignored the disadvantaged men below them.

For example, in traditional society, boys were taught that it was their responsibility to take on difficult and dangerous work so that society (especially women) could enjoy luxuries like electric lights, utilities, automobiles, and other industrial privileges.

Men repairing massive support cables at high altitude

In fact, throughout countless social situations, men often sacrificed their bodies and their health in order to provide women with the privilege of having their lives and health protected from harm.

This took shape in countless ways:

  • Women were removed from any crisis (like a sinking ship) before any men were allowed to leave.
  • Boys were taught that “gentlemen” provided women with their coats in cold temperatures or in rain.
  • Only men were included in the military draft, in the case of national crisis or war.
  • Boys were always taught to allow “ladies first” in countless social situations.
  • Boys were taught that in order to marry they prove themselves as “worthy” by amassing wealth, and proving this by offering women a very expensive financial token (diamond ring). They were to get down on their knee and essentially beg a woman for her “hand” in marriage.
  • In marriage, boys were taught that “real men” sacrifice for their families. They were to take on any job, however dangerous, to “support” the financial and physical well-being of their wives and children.

While women were gathered together, talking about their own social difficulties and hardships, and looking up at the small percentage of wealthy men in power – they completely ignored the privileges they enjoyed at the hands of the majority of men in society who were suffering and dying in order to provide those privileges.

Patriarchy In Name Only

In fact, feminists essentially coopted the word “patriarchy” to mean much more than it actually meant in society at that time. Essentially, the hand-off of family name and property to the eldest born son was the extent of it. There was no effort in society to subordinate women — in fact the primary effort of society was to protect both women and children at all costs.

The handoff to the eldest son was a way for a father to maintain his protection over his family even in his death. It allowed the eldest son to take on whatever dangerous or difficult work he was doing up until his death, in order to continue ensuring that his wife (the son’s mother) would continue to be supported and protected.

This isn’t to say that the desire to “protect” women didn’t keep them in a subordinate role similar to children. Without the ability to go out and earn your own income, to take on corporate or government roles that held social power and privilege, it is much more difficult to self-direct your own life. It required remaining dependant upon a man – whether that’s a husband or son – for your own well-being.

Gaining Privilege Without Responsibility

So efforts to remove barriers for women in the workplace, in government, and in other areas of society where this “protection” mindset has held them back is a good thing to do. Removing barriers caused by outdated traditional gender expectations is good for everyone.

It introduces a more diverse perspective in all of those social arenas, and that’s a good thing. However, the feminist focus on only traditional expectations of women and only on gaining social privileges for women has unfortunately created a lopsided social order. Instead of focusing on gender equality, it’s only resolved half of the gender inequalities that exist in society.

However it has left behind the traditional expectations of men to protect women. In fact, feminism only further bolsters the idea that society “owes” women additional protections in the name of “equality”. In this way, ironically, traditionalists and feminists align — both treat women like children who can’t handle social responsibility.

An excellent example of this is the Student Financial Aid application for college. Every year, thousands of students fill out the application, and are faced with the question of whether or not they’ve registered with selective service.

The FAFSA instructions state that males over 18 must register with selective service in order to qualify for federal financial aid.

Women who fill out this application every year completely ignore this question. In fact they don’t even consider the ramifications of it, because they’ve been taught by feminists that only women face disadvantages in society – this applies blinders to people when they see very real cases where males are disadvantaged.

If this question stated that women would be barred from receiving financial aid if they did not register with selective service, while men didn’t have to, there would be an uproar amongst all feminist groups to dismantle this outdated traditional rule. In fact, under most gender equality laws that exist today, this question is actually illegal. Yet feminists groups who claim to be in favor of fighting for “gender equality” have remained silent on this issue for decades.

Patriarchy Hurts Men Too!

The most hypocritical response to cases like this is to blame the patriarchy. Feminists will claim that these disadvantages that men face are caused by the patriarchy. Essentially, this argument says that a society set up to give privilege to one group and oppress another group can sometimes inadvertently disadvantage the oppressors themselves.

Of course, this is an ideal argument to dismiss any evidence that disproves Patriarchy theory itself. The reality is that there is no society on Earth where one group was set up as oppressed, where the oppressors themselves were disadvantaged.

Consider slavery in pre-civil war America. It would be inconceivable to anyone to suggest that slave owners would have ever:

  • Provided their own warm clothing to slaves to keep them warmer than the slave owners themselves
  • Gotten down on one knee to exchange an expensive ring in exchange for the slave’s companionship
  • Put the safety and security of the slave’s lives above their own
  • Do the hard work for the slave so that the slave doesn’t have to endure physical hardship

The conjecture that a community that practiced slave ownership in any way “inadvertently” harmed slave owners themselves is ludicrous to suggest. Yet, this is exactly what feminists would like people to believe.

A feminist would also likely look at the image above and point out that even slavery was a product of the “patriarchy”, run mainly to advantage men, particularly white men, above anyone else.

What this argument demands you to overlook is the fact that white women benefited greatly from slavery as well. In fact, white women regularly attended slave auctions and purchased slaves for themselves.

Many white women, in particular widowers, were land owners. They were known as a “baroness” in England, and this tradition continued in Colonial America.

While they would receive only half of the property and wealth of the husband, that property and wealth was fully theirs, including the slaves owned by the family. Many women treated their slaves just as harshly and inhumanely as any men of the time did. The idea that white women did not take part in those terrible practices is part of the inaccurate traditional belief in the old nursery rhyme still taught to children in modern America.

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of. Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.

Popular nursery rhyme dating from the early 19th century

The reality is that traditional roles and gender expectations harm men because society was not in fact set up to give men more privilege and keep women oppressed. They were set up to provide appropriate social roles that took advantage (in fact, exploited) the strengths of each person in that society.

For example, many gender studies textbooks will point out that women had no rights in court — in other words, they could not sue anyone, since conducting court business was the role of the man in the family.

At the same time, it also meant that women couldn’t be sued. If a woman committed a crime, it was actually her husband who was sued and who had to pay the penalty for her crime. Again, this is a testament to the idea that women were to be protected by their husbands — an idea that still remains in modern society.

The truth is that there was not a social order of things called a “patriarchy” that sought to oppress women. It sought to keep men and women in their particular social roles, and provided both advantages and disadvantages to both men and women alike.

How Modern Society Maintains Female Privilege

Throughout the last several decades, the feminist movement has worked hard to dissect long-health traditional gender roles for women and to eradicate any that disadvantaged women.

A few of these included:

  • Voting rights
  • Reproductive rights
  • Property ownership
  • Equal access to education
  • Marriage rights and protection from domestic violence

All of these are commendable efforts in any society that believes men and women should be treated as equal human citizens within society. Unfortunately, only harmful traditional roles for women were focused on, and harmful traditional roles for men were ignored.

This means that while traditional privileges for men and traditional disadvantages for women were eradicated, all of the traditional privileges women enjoyed, and traditional disadvantages for men, remain.

The main advantage is the idea that women need to be protected. The massive amount of empathy for women that existed in traditional American society still remains today – providing women with a massive amount of protection over their lives and their health.

This is reflected in how women are given much less severe sentences when convicted of exactly identical crimes as men.

Professor Sonja B. Starr at the University of Michigan School of Law conducted a study and wrote a paper revealing her discovery that those sentencing disparities are tremendous.

In her paper, Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases, she writes:

[This paper] finds large gender gaps favoring women throughout the sentence length distribution (averaging over 60%), conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables. Female arrestees are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted. Prior studies have reported much smaller sentence gaps because they have ignored the role of charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing fact-finding in producing sentences.

Numerous other studies have reported the same findings.

Other privileges that women enjoyed in traditional American society that they still enjoy today include:

  • Access to Federal Student Financial aid without the barrier of having to register with Selective Service
  • Significantly more funding applied to female cancers over male cancers, despite the fact that there are more male deaths due to those cancers
  • The application of a 1996 law banning female circumcision, while ignoring male circumcision
  • Greater access to more female-centered healthcare centers, despite earlier male mortality rates
  • A continued socialization of boys to “never hit a girl” despite girls being encouraged to express themselves more violently (through movies and media portraying more violent female characters)
  • A continued socialization of a “ladies first” society, such as restaurant wait staff taking the orders of women before those of men sitting around the same table
  • A focus of family courts to assure children remain with their mothers, even in cases where the mother may be a less suitable parent
  • The lack of legal requirements for women to register for the draft at 18 years old, despite the fact that women are now allowed to choose combat roles in the military

These are just a few of the many privileges women enjoy in American society, despite the fact that the feminist movement is alleged to be fighting for “gender equality”. Unfortunately, the only things they’ve fought for have been to remove traditional disadvantages for women, and to remove traditional privileges of men.

Anyone who is truly in favor of gender equality would celebrate the progress in removing traditional privileges men had over women in the past, but they should also be fighting for removing the traditional privileges of women as well.

A truly equal society would be one where all laws would be gender neutral, and would not provide extra protection of lives and health of one gender over another.

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