Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Benevolent Patriarch

Rebecca Traister has written an excellent piece on what the recent teenagers-and-Plan-B debacle tells us about the president:
“As the father of two daughters,” Obama told reporters, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”
Traister then tells us why that statement is facile.

Obama comes across as a benevolent patriarch. In the context of minor children this will appeal to many voters who also don't want their young daughters to have sex. But when this attitude spreads to those oh-so-endearingly-silly wives?
In 2010, while appearing on “The View,” Obama made a creaky Take-My-Wife-Please joke about how he wanted to appear on “a show that Michelle actually watched” as opposed to the news shows she usually flips past. The joke being that his missus, the one he met when she mentored him at a high-powered law firm, just doesn’t have a head for news delivered by anyone other than Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Mmm. Read through Traister's whole article and it almost defines benevolent patriarchy of the 1950s style.

What is really sad is that this attitude still works. It works well in the Plan B case because it appeals to the parental desire for control, and it works in the implied silly-wife/henpecked husband jokes because those still permeate the popular culture and serve to create ties to other husbands. And it works so well because women don't demand anything better.

But mostly it works, because the alternative is not some kind of equality but malevolent patriarchy Republican style. Benevolent patriarchs are, by definition, to be preferred over malevolent patriarchs, because the former will deliver some good things. The latter will not.