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Male Dominance in Public Life

Can we prevent a rollback of women’s rights?

Totem pole in Nanaimo, B.C.
Source: Flickr/Rob

An article in The Atlantic magazine, "The Global Backlash Against Women," focuses on the increase in the number of authoritarian leaders throughout the world, along with the rollback of women’s rights. As brutally and mean-spirited as women may be treated, particularly those engaged in politics, male dominance in public life is seen as a carryover of male dominance in the home.

The exceptions are Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Norway, where 40 to 48 percent of parliamentarians are women. By contrast, in the U.S., women represent about 23 percent of members in Congress.

Male dominance in the home is evidenced by the amount of housework done by women compared to men. In Sweden, it is less than an hour a day, in the U.S. an hour and a half, and in Hungary, with only 10 percent of women in parliament, more than two hours a day.

The underlying reason cited for male dominance is the hierarchical structure of the family, which is seen as natural with its male head of the family and condoned by many women. Although this may have been true in Caesar’s day, and well before and after, I do not believe that makes it natural.

When we look back upon the ancient world, during the time of rivaling city-states, polytheism, with its conflicting male and female deities, could be considered natural. Yet, with the onset of centralized, one-man rule, a monotheistic male god, with a hierarchy of priests to peacefully enforce social control, the hierarchy can appear natural.

Both the authoritarian and religious hierarchies have long tried to control women’s power of giving birth. Whether it’s been to encourage more births for military combat, expand a religion, or as a form of birth control (as in China), giving birth is recognized as less a feat than a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat.

Accepting this hierarchy with its insatiable quest for male power as natural is unworkable, not so much because we’ll all end up killing one another through contaminating the atmosphere, chemical warfare, or cyberwarfare. It’s that the hierarchical paradigm offers no joie de vivre.

The hierarchical structure is based upon the higher-level person telling the next-lower person on the totem what to do. You have to do this, you’ve got to do that, or you must do the other. If you do it right, the credit goes to your boss or his boss. If wrong, you’re to blame for your stupidity or disobeying orders.

It’s entirely a no-win game unless you take out your anger on your next lower in line: your spouse, your child, or your damn cat. If the surrogates aren’t available, you can bury the anger inside, becoming stressed, anxious, and depressed.

The hierarchy provides two possible positions free from others telling us what to do—be the person at the very top, or for those at the very bottom of the totem who have no stake in the hierarchical enterprise, treasure a horizontal structure of equality with family and friends, awakening each day to enjoy life.

They say misery loves company. And we’re almost certain to find this, that, or any other mental illness by adhering to the league of those who freely choose to allow others to tell them what to do.

This blog was co-published with

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