Masculinity, power and leadership

“In the beginning was the Mother; the World began a later age. The single universal covery primate and ungulate (hoofed) species, indeed all mammals and mucho other animal life as well, is that the core of society, the center of whatever kind of social group exists, is mother and child. Such a social organization is called matrifocal or matricentric. These terms are not the same as matriarchal, a word formed by analogy with patriarchal, which denotes leadership (from the Greek root arche, meaning chief, and archein, to be first, to rule). A matriarchy would thus be a society in which mothers rule in the same way fathers have ruled for the past few thousand years. There is no evidence that a matriarchy ever existed on earth. A society in which someone rules is factious, manufactured; a person or group decides that one person shall dominate and others obey. Matricentrics societies are spontaneous, organic; the mother cares for the baby until is able to move about easily by itself, find food, and protect itself without her. The mother ‘rules’ by greater experience, knowledge, and ability, but the intention of her ‘rule’ is to free the child, to make it independent.”

“The term dominance is extremely murky, however, for several reasons. First, although the words are sometimes used interchangeably, dominance is different from domination; the former refers to an inherent quality which may be natural (like personality, beauty, intellect) or acquired (like rank, office, the aura of wealth) but which is part of a person for a period of time and which influences the behaviors of others. Domination is the willful use of power for a period of time and which influences the behavior of others. Domination is the willful use of power (of whatever sort) to countervail or annul the will of others… that human form of domination known as authority – the power to control others reinforces by an assertion of a moral right to control – does not exist among primates or other animals.”

“It is impossible to know how men defined themselves, or even if they did define themselves as a sex – that is different from women – in matricentric culture. Perhaps all members of a group – a clan or a tribe – saw themselves simply as a people, as the translations of certain group names would indicate: Bantu means human being, for example. The first step in intentionally altering  matricentric culture was the creation of a new male identity, probably by leaders of the hunting cults.”

“Women’s early centrality and solidity was essentially familial, a connection of mother with daughters and granddaughters, sisters with each other and with nieces and grandnieces, and among cousins. Breaking this core is essential to asserting male superiority or supremacy. The first major step in this fragmenting is assertion of patrilineality and a shift to patrilocality.”

“Recent historians are discovering diaries, letters, and documents demonstrating the importance to women of past centuries of friendships with other women. This closeness among women has been falsified by philosophers like Schopenhauer and totally ignored by centuries of poets and writers of fiction, who depict women as jealous of each other and without resources except for important male figures.”

“Women continue to befriend each other, to help each other, and to work together. What they were unable to do was unify in such a way as to gain power for themselves in such a way as to gain power for themselves or to challenge unified male power. As women in our own time are slowly being admitted to the institutions that preserve male power, they are adapting to the fragmentation of individuals such institutions impose, and losing the old great gift of friendship.”

Manliness, as defined by patriarchy, means to be or appear to be in control at all times. But remaining in control prevents a person from ever achieving intimacy with another, from ever letting down his guard; it thus precludes easy friendship, fellowship, community. Men may have buddies, acquaintances with whom they can Exchange in the ritual competition of banter, sport, or game, but they rarely possess intimate friends.”

“And men have, through patriarchal forms, achieved power-in-the-world. Men own 99 percent of the world’s property and earn 90 percent of its wages while producing only 55 percent of the world’s food and performing only one-third of the world’s work. Men rather exclusively direct the course not just of states and corporations but of culture: religion, arts, education. Despite the assault of various waves of feminism, men have been able to retain their control over the people, creatures, plants, and even some of the elements of this planet. Many men wish to retain these Powers.”

“Yet psychological, sociological, and philosophical studies describe men as deeply unhappy… part of the reason why men are physically vulnerable is the stress they live with. And some of that stress is caused by attempting to live up to a definition of manliness that is unattainable for any human.”

“Sex-role behavior is learned. Whatever qualities we possess by nature, from our genes, sex role is not among them. If it were, men could not feel and act differently as they do from culture to culture, and especially from patriarchal societies that are not fully patriarchal. The range of behavior within one sex is as great as that between the two sexes; non-deterministic scientists point out that we have no substantive knowledge about the meaning of genetic and hormonal differences between the sexes.”

“If we come to understand the fragile nature of power, to see that power is unsubstantial, we will realise that one cannot say some people have power and some do not. We all have power – the capacity to influence, alter, affect the lives of those around us. And until a lot of us use our power in the public world, it will continue to be dominated by those who are driven to domination rather than by those who wish to use power as a means to uncontrolled well-being. We must actively forward the moral revolution, a revolution that can occur in one person but must include the entire globe.”

“The separation of goodness from power made goodness powerless and licensed power to be evil. Many of us, whatever our behavior in the world, think about goodness and power in this way, so that when we are Good we feel powerless and when we exercise power to be evil. Many of us, whatever our behavior in the world, think about goodness and power in this way, so that when we are good we feel powerless and when we exercise power we feel evil and defend ourselves against guilt by claiming that’s the way the world is, dog eat dog. But that is not the whole truth about the world, where we find nourishment and love as well as content; and the exercise of power is not intrinsically evil: it becomes an ill only when it has no end beyond itself, beyond the pursuit of greater power. Nor are acts normally considered good necessarily good; those who give and do not request or take harm those around them; those who identify goodness with powerlessness tend to inflict guilt on those around them.”

Marilyn French. Beyond power. On women, men & morals. 1986


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