This week I wrote a story titled “The Patriarchy is Dead.” (No, I didn’t write the headline. Yes, it simplifies the argument, but so do most headlines.) The angry responses boil down to a) you’re a rich white lady, so your life is easy, and b) women still have lots of problems. To both of those I say, yes, they are true, but they don’t really answer my argument, which is: Does it do us any good to keep blaming the patriarchy?
I am a rich white lady. So are the people responding to me. Rich white ladies are generally the ones who bother with feminist showdowns. We rich white ladies get very worked up about our own can-we-have-it-all concerns: how hard it is to make it to the top, how much harder it is to do that and raise a family. These are real problems that affect real power dynamics. But they are only urgent to a small percentage of people. And for the most part, they tend to blind us to the vast changes happening in the rest of the country. And the vast changes happening in the rest of the U.S. are what I was talking about in my piece.
How dare I, a rich white lady, speak about the “rest of the country”? We all report and write about people who are not living the same life as we are. It’s hard these days to be a working-class or poor white woman. It’s hard to be a poor man. It’s hard to be poor and getting harder, given the vast and growing income inequality. Who has it worse is a toss-up. Women are often underpaid, and poor white women are dying at younger ages. Men, on the other hand, are being pushed out of the economy altogether and losing their identity as fathers. All of those things are real problems, but, again, I’m not sure how blaming the patriarchy will help. The working-class patriarch is a hobbled breed these days.
Yes, women still have problems. Zillions of them. Some of them are ancient, and some are a new result of having so many opportunities. Women are unhappier now, for example, than they were in the '70s. The number of female CEOs isn’t budging. But with most of these problems, if we blame the Male Industrial Complex, we will entirely miss the point. This is what I wrote about the wage gap recently. If we just insist that this is just the fault of sexist bosses, we are blinding ourselves to the actual problems, which are complicated and cultural and include women’s conflicted feelings about their own desires.
In the real world it’s hard to find a young woman who spends her time scanning for sexist insults. But on the Web it’s a steady job. And you can, if you look hard enough, find some sexist bastard at a tech company or a hedge fund or a frat who says insulting things every day. But this doesn’t mean that the patriarchy is thriving. The satire response to my piece from the Cut, “The 39 Things We’ll Miss About the Patriarchy,” includes a handful of genuine, timeless horrors such as rape and honor killings but also dozens of minor ones such as juice cleansing and vibrators shaped like cupcakes. See what I mean? Look hard enough, and you’ll never run out of examples.