Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Patriarchy and development

I had to visit a few Federal Government agencies this morning. Doing the rounds, in most places, middle-age women stood around gossiping, or sleeping at their desks. The visible level of productivity is extremely low. No doubt in most places, some people are doing work, but for the most part, the civil service does seem the preserve of sub-professional women wasting energy on gist.

This prompted a thought about patriarchy and its relation to development. Having continued reading the university research reports I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered that female students report being undermined from all angles at university. Many end up cooking for their male counterparts in exchange for phone cards or little gifts, positioned as wives-to-be, and carriers of the domestic burden.

Taking together my musings on the survey and my experience this morning, I reached a conclusion that feminist thinkers reached a looong time ago – but you know how it is when a conclusion truly sparks inside your head for the first time. The conclusion: that patriarchy significantly contributes to social under-development. I would go so far as to say that patriarchy is the most significant cause of continued social under-development. You might ask why do I think this?

Well, first, in an obvious sense, patriarchy reduces the employment opportunities of women (apart from the hidden work of child rearing that is). Women are therefore given less chance to contribute to the economy. This is quite an obvious point so I won’t dwell on it.

Secondly, patriarchy tends to undermine women’s confidence. The microcosmic world of the Nigerian university is a case in point. The research shows that women across the country are almost continuously undermined in many different ways, by both their male and female lecturers, as well as by their male counterparts. Undermining a young person’s confidence is tantamount to physical abuse – given the effects it will have on the rest of their life. In most cases, it leads to a devastating internalisation of the values of patriarchy.

Thirdly, and this is the more unusual thought: in a patriarchal society the ‘mother-whore’ dichotomy is thrown into sharp contrast. A woman either functions as a potential mother, or as the whore or the twat. To the extent that patriarchal social systems increase the general vulnerability (economic and otherwise) of women, is the extent to which sex becomes transactional. The young female student body is a site of potential transaction (rather than intellectual potentiality), with male lecturers and male students in strict competition.

Now, when the female body is transactionalised in this way (positioned as the potential whore), I would argue that this has much more general affects on the society at large. The devaluation of women leads to the devaluation of value itself. If, as what a male commentor referred to as ‘student twat’ is cheaply available, this is a symbolic rape of womanhood more generally. And this symbolic rape cannot be contained solely within the sphere of gender relations – rather, it generates its own form of symbolic excess. Just as the woman’s symbolic power is weakened, so to is the apparent increase in symbolic power of the male mis-aligned. In simple terms, the male acquires a sense of entitlement that disrupts all other systems of value. This propagates a rent-seeking mentality, where leadership is reduced to ownership.

The question is: can patriarchal societies truly develop without questioning their own hierarchies of value? I doubt it.


daf,  3:52 pm  

Talking about women, I saw your 'wife' on an NTA programme ( Woman's world), trying to ecourage Nigerians to read. She could succeed with the males if she can publish books on Arsenal and Man u

Soul 4:06 pm  

with responsews like the above... of course not.

you got it spot on, the mother- whore phenomena..

In general in naija, women are ridiculed unless they throw down in the bedroom or throw down in the kitchen, there is a general lack of support or promotion of an equally gifted female in comparism to a gifted male.
There is always a struggle, to the point where, to be taken seriously, you find that you can't joke with your colleagues, you try not to socialise with your male colleagues because nothing needs to happen before those same colleagues will spread rumours in order to undermine you.

And because of the social engineering with regards to male/female relationships, girls are being brought up aligning themselves in specific gender roles.

the list is too long, and too tedious to get in to.
But suffice to say, my hopes for naija are fading more and more.

Shango,  5:51 pm  

I knew it wasn't going to take long before we butted opinions again, J.

I find it interesting that you start your post with the observation of a bunch of lazy middle-aged women wasting tax-payer money then turn around to blame it all on men. Yes, that's the logical conclusion to draw, Jeremy. NOT! Those women are the way they are because of many reasons, but most assuredly it's not because some man is forcing them to STOP WORKING! START GISTING! NOW!!

I fail to see how some silly besotted girl who decides to cook for her male counterpart (read boyfriend) is doing so because of a patriarchal force mejeur. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Dr. Freud. The logical end-point to reach, if I follow your thought-process, is that Bibi is so disenfranchised by your very presence that the only reason she takes care of you when you're ill is due to this same overarching patriarchy, she does it because she wants your phone card, or loves carrying your domestic burdens; she has absolutely no choice at all in the matter. All this while managing to achieve as much as she has, being a PhD. Suuure. Knowing Nigerian women as I do, I'm pretty sure that is most definitely not the case.

"The hidden work of child rearing"? That's a job a woman decides to take upon herself, it's not like she can't control what happens. Sure, if it's rape, that's a crime of violence but the pregnancy can be aborted and the perpetrator punished, just like any other crime of violence. That's the whole idea of the current Pro-Choice movement is it not? This is not the 15th century. In fact, there are entire villages in Italy which will become extinct because their child-bearing females have all decided to not have any children and have moved to the city. In fact, the administration of these towns are actually paying women to encourage childbirth. Europe as we know it is radically changing its population because the natives are simply not rearing children. Modern women are increasingly choosing not to have children, patriarchy or not. Your point is moot.

A woman functions either as a potential mother or a twat? Really? Well, blow it out your ass, boyo. Have you taken a look around you? Do you even see the gains women have even made? To reduce them to such trivial roles is ludicrous and, wait for it, patronising. There are more women graduating college than men, for starters.

Reducing all of society's ills to a simple case of "it's all men's fault" is simplistic and betrays either simplisme, malfeasance, or veritable idiocy. However, the main problem I have with your diatribe are the inflammatory words used for cheap effect. Honestly, rape? Physical abuse? What the fuck?!

I do agree that devaluing women is a thoroughly bad thing. But so is devaluing men. It's not a zero-sum game, societal ills are not the fault of the male of the species or some miasmic patriachy and women's gains should not come at the expense of male losses.

Anonymous,  6:00 pm  

utter rubbish. male privilege exists as does female privilege.
Fact is men and women are engineered to specific gender roles, wit benefits and ills to both groups. why no outcry at the fact that men die younger and are engaged ina a greater share of dangerous work. why are our men told that they must carry the burden of society or thier families or they are not truly men.

something i never hear blamed for the ills of society. when that happens, then we can have an honest discussion on patriarchy

Jeremy 6:12 pm  

Anonymous - in fact if you consult the statistics, life expectancy for women is lower than men in Nigeria (in the developed world, women do usually live longer than men).

Shango - the point is, patriarchy disempowers and deskills women - that is why there are so many non-professional women in the civil service at present.

Your other points circle largely around the misconception that a critique of patriarchy implies 'its all men's fault.' Patriarchy is a system of values which distorts equitable gender relationships. It has nothing to do with blaming individual men. The point is, that both men and women suffer under patriarchal systems. And both men and women have to fight together for another system of values that empowers both genders, rather than overpriviliging men and under-valuing women.

The argument that women have come along way in Nigeria is, to use your fav phrase, moot. Many would argue that things have gone a long way backwards!

But its time for the Nigerian sisters to speak out..

Shango,  6:32 pm  

I take your point. I agree, by definition patriarchy is, as you point out, a "deskilling" (I like this word), enervating influence. However, I'm a pragmatist and a realist. If someone starts talking about partriarchy, I start itching--the same way I do when lawyers are present--because I know they're pushing an ideology: men bad, women innocent/good.
For starters, no one ever talks of a matriarchy, even though as I can make a case for, this is the situation we live under today.

There are times I wish we hadn't given the vote to wimmin! :-) heheh... sorry girls, another blustering patriarch going off the deep end.

disenfranchised sister,  6:53 pm  

"sub-professional women"...are only professional women worthy of respect?
"undermined from all angles"...180 degrees...flat on their back?
"sparks for the first time"...too much male philosophy I guess blocking the obvious.
"less chance to contribute to the economy"...women have wider roles than this patriarchal line.
"the mother-whore dichotomy"...not the mother-virgin-whore-sibyl archetypal arrangement argued by Feminist Jungians, then...another male simplification of women.
Are these patriarchal questions about patriarchy from the DK Book of Feminism by any chance?

Jeremy 7:10 pm  

Dear disenfranchised sister - as its a blog that I write very quickly, I have no time to go into details or conceptual elaboration - which leads to some simplification I agree.

But why would you want to project disrespect into what I said about non-professional women? Its not in my text nor was it my intention. It is clearly a case of disempowerment via patriarchy.

If you think however that my views are DK-esque, you set yourself up for an insurmountable battle against more heterosexually normative male views towards discussions of patriarchy.

Men and women must struggle together against patriarchy. Of course, social constructions of gender id means that there will always be things lost in translation between the sexes.

But why would you want to denigrate anyone who supports the fight against patriarchal value systems in the way you do my post? I note that you do not actually take issue with the substance of my argument (in the penultimate para).

And what's wrong with DK anyway?

imnakoya 7:12 pm  

The simple question is would Nigeria be more productive if women have the same opportunity as men?

On a personal level, the question is straight forward, productivity will increase. However, on a national level, there are many confounding factors that must be controlled before a definitive answer could emerge.

If I must add, it is thoughts like this that will end up re-defining and re-shapening our society, and deserve more than casual remarks.

You started a good conversation Jeremy, and your hypothesis is worthy of further examination using sound social-science methodologies. An interesting topic for PhD dissertation, I must say.

Baba Alaye,  10:03 am  

I don't claim to be an egg head but
What do women really want?...

Anonymous,  3:13 pm  

patriarchy definitely under-develops a nation. Countries where women have no or few rights are definitly worse of for it and in awlful shape. These countries are suppressing the talents of half their population.

Anonymous,  12:15 am  

'daf' deserves a slap just for those inverted commas around wife.

Wale,  10:43 am  

Jeremy, you asked "The question is: can patriarchal societies truly develop without questioning their own hierarchies of value? I doubt it."

DO you know much about japan? that country is one of the most patriarchial in the world. Would you then consider Japan a developed country?

Ngozi,  8:51 pm  

bravo jeremy.

every time i speak my mind in front of nigerian men, you should see the look on their faces.

they are always trying to push women down, literally and emotionally and physically.

is it any wonder that prostitution is so RAMPANT in nigeria amongst nigerian women? on all levels. not just street prostitution.

and that we have filled the markets abroad selling sex to white men. i am ashamed of what nigerian women are doing in europe. and ashamed of the patriarchal society that put them there.

our country will not allow women to be more than their bodies and to use their minds!!!

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