Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Tucker Carlson: Patriarchy Is Gone

Tucker Carlson is my favorite Macho-Media-Man. He recently opined on the end of men in the United States:

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): The patriarchy is gone, women are winning, men are failing.

It's a zero-sum game, babes!  Or a seesaw.  If women are rising, then men must be falling.  It's not possible that a society could be fair to everyone, I guess.

Carlson's long speech (which you can watch here) on the plight of American men lists several problems which hit men harder (1) than they hit women:

Men are more likely to die from drug overdoses and leave the labor force due to addiction, men are more likely to kill themselves and men are more likely to commit felonies and go to prison.  Boys are more likely to fail at school and men are now less than 50% of college students.

I.  These are, indeed, severe problems, and many organizations have been created for the express purpose of combating illegal drug use (which leads to drug overdoses and to early departure from the labor force), of preventing suicides and of decreasing the incentives of people to commit crimes or to repeat those crimes.

There are even people and organizations studying the reasons why boys and men, globally (2), with only a few countries as exceptions, tend to enter tertiary education less often than girls and women and why they are less likely to graduate if they do enter.

But how are these particular problems linked to the supposed end of patriarchy?  Note that the usual definition of a patriarchy goes something like this:

A social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power

The United States hasn't been a patriarchy in the strictest definition of the term for some time, though there are sub-cultures within the US which, indeed, are  rigid patriarchies, such as many fundamentalist sects of all three Abrahamic religions. 

Men, in general (and white men in the US in particular)  do, however,  control much more political, financial and religious power than their population percentages would suggest.  This is true in most countries of the world, though some countries (such as Saudi Arabia) are far more extreme than others (such as, say, Denmark) in how power is distributed between men and women.

But such modified patriarchy (should we keep that term) doesn't actually mean that the masculine gender roles would provide benefits in all possible situations.

It's mostly the older men in actual power who unequivocally benefit from patriarchy, not all men, though in a rigid patriarchy all men can at least rank themselves higher than the women in their families.

Thus, the problems Tucker Carlson lists can all easily coexist with patriarchy and do.  For example, men commit more crimes (3) than women in all countries, whether strict patriarchies or not.  Likewise the male rate of suicide is higher than the female rate of suicide almost everywhere, and what evidence I could find suggests that men are more likely to use illegal drugs and to die from overdoses in other countries, too.

In short, it can be argued that the very serious problems Carlson lists are not a sign that the "patriarchy" has ended, because they thrive equally under patriarchies.  Rather, the two parts of his assertion are either unrelated, or it's even possible that the problems he lists are caused by patriarchy, or at least the kinds of beliefs about what it means to be a man that are the basis of patriarchy and the male gender roles those beliefs create.

II.  In other words, patriarchal arrangements of the past may still be constructing the meaning of masculinity.  Note that masculinity and femininity are at least partly socially constructed (and in my opinion there are toxic varieties of both).  But Tucker doesn't see it like that.  Here he talks about women's studies departments:

In many of them, the stated goal is to fight expressions of masculinity and disempower men. At Ohio State, a course is underway this spring called, "Be a Man: Masculinities, Race, and Nation." The syllabus for that course explains that masculinity is used to,  quote, "justify certain kinds of violence by men."
I doubt that women's studies departments try to disempower men.  But never mind.  What matters here is that Tucker equates masculinity with being a man, even though the course he mentions clearly notes that there are several different meanings of masculinity.

And one traditional definition of masculinity, indeed, defines what it means to be a man by using characteristics which, in their negative aspect,  could correlate positively with various acts of violence, either against others (such as in violent crime rates) or against self (as in suicide).  Those would be the emphasis on independence (not seeking social support), being stoic (refusing help for depression or alcoholism), the belief that one is to react physically to perceived threats or insults and the tendency to take risks.

Indeed, I see Carlson defending the very concept of traditional masculinity which might cause (or at least contribute to) the problems he lists.

III.  Tucker Carlson's arguments are taken directly from such MRA (Men's Rights Activist) sites which believe that men are the truly oppressed sex.  But even though all the problems in Tucker's list are important to address, they are not signs of oppression in the general way those MRAs believe that they are (4).

To see why, compare the reasons for the scarcity of men among college students in the US today to the reasons for the scarcity of women among college students which prevailed in the US in the more distant past.

At least two external barriers have historically kept women from getting college degrees.

First, initially very few colleges admitted women at all.  Women were banned, excluded.

Second,  when that barrier weakened over time another remained:  The impact of traditional (white middle-class) gender roles on the likelihood that the parents of young women would finance their college education.

Those gender roles assumed that women would marry and then stay at home to care for their families and that men would marry and then become the sole breadwinners of their families.  Under those conditions funding a daughter's college education would be much less important than funding a son's college education.  After all, the son would  increase his later earning power by going to college, whereas the daughter's college education would yield no financial return.  If money was tight, families rationally chose to prioritize their sons over their daughters.  But this meant that women, on average, found financing college harder than men.

The same traditional gender roles also affected women's own plans about college and the discrimination path-breaking women faced.  An example of the latter from Hillary Clinton's latest book applies to law school but similar arguments would also apply to undergraduate education during that era:

Getting into law school was also made harder by sexism, Clinton wrote, recalling how men taking the Law School Admissions Test with her in 1968 harassed her and her female friend, telling them, "You don't need to be here" and "Why don't you go home and get married?"
Another told Clinton, "If you take my spot at law school, I'll get drafted, and I'll go to Vietnam, and I'll die."
To understand why the women's studies departments Tucker so detests were created it's important to understand that history:  It wasn't just that women weren't going to college in large numbers that provoked their creation, but the fact that there were real obstacles preventing women from attending college.

The history of the current scarcity of men among college students is different.  Men have never been formally excluded from colleges and neither has their college attendance been negatively affected by traditional gender roles (5). 

And because those lower rates are essentially global and because even such countries as Saudi Arabia (today) and Iran (before it banned women from certain college majors) have or have had female numerical dominance among college students, the reason (6) for those lower male attendance rates cannot be in the terrible rule of feminists.

The actual reasons are likely to be multiple.  Boys may need more support in reading during kindergarten and elementary school, schools should let all students have adequate breaks for play and physical exercise, and more research is needed into the reasons why boys belonging to ethnic and racial minorities in the US are particularly unlikely to go to college and particularly likely to drop out of school altogether.

Then there are the economic motives:  It may simply be the case that going to college is more necessary for young women than for young men if the goal is to ultimately earn a good annual salary.

That is because young men with only a high school diploma have more well-paying job options than young women with only a high school diploma, and vocational training courses can be a valid short-cut to a well-paying job for young men (plumbers, electricians), but less so for young women:

Men may also feel they have more alternatives to college than girls do. “For a lot of my [male] high school friends, it was just too much time,” said Smith, the orientation leader at Carlow. “They were ready to get out. As opposed to a four-year college, they could go to an 18-month [vocational-education] program and make just as much money.”
The ultimate reason for that difference is, of course, in occupational segregation by sex and the fact that traditionally female jobs which don't require a college degree pay poorly. 

Finally  boys' and men's own sub-cultures and the general popular culture matter in this context, too, as one interviewee in this article states:

Even popular culture tended to discourage him. “It jumps back to influence,” said Santiago. “What are you feeding your mind and who are you looking up to? If you’re looking up to these rappers or social-media influencers, you’re going to want to do what they’re doing,” and that doesn’t necessarily include going to college.

IV.   The point of this long and rambling post (7) is to explain why Tucker Carlson's argument about the end of patriarchy is illogical:

-  The ails he lists are also common in clearly patriarchal societies.  This means that we cannot use their existence as proof that patriarchy in the US is dead and buried.
-  Some of the listed problems may, in fact, be caused by particular traditional interpretations of masculinity.  Yet Carlson doesn't want those interpretations questioned.
-  It's always good to analyze the causes of particular problems that affect men and women differently, both so that we can differentiate between, say, biological sex differences and societal influences, and so that we can construct better solutions.  Carlson doesn't carry out any analyses of those kinds, probably because he is more interested in attacking feminism than in actual solutions.


(1)  The problems in his list don't "hit" anyone in the sense of a lightning from a blue sky.

If I decide to rob a bank, then that's what I have decided to do.

My decision is affected by my economic situation (such as poverty,  having children to feed), the stress I am feeling,  the cultural norms I respect or reject, my willingness to accept risks, my ethics and what my other alternatives for getting money might be.

In other words, the problems involve some amount of agency and some constraints.  It isn't necessarily the case that a person who decides to rob a bank is more desperate or suffers more than some other person in the same circumstances but who decides against bank robbery.

It's also well worth looking at the problems he lists in greater detail.  For example,  note that the US suicide statistics reveal more about the rates than a mere gender difference:  A very large racial and ethnic difference:

In overall numbers, it is white men who commit the majority of suicides.  Note, also, that women have more suicidal thoughts than men and make more suicide attempts, but men are more likely to complete suicides, largely due to the selection of methods such as the use of firearms, where the chance of second thoughts or someone interfering are very small.  Women, on the other hand, use poisons (including overdoses) more often than men,  and those leave scope for someone else to intervene or the person taking them to change her mind and seek help.

These details matter if we want to understand how to prevent suicide.  They also matter in demonstrating that not all men from all racial and ethnic groups face the same risk of suicide.

Finally, Carlson could have created a more balanced list than the one he offers us to support his arguments.  For example, the World Health Organization notes that women are the largest global group suffering from PTSD,  that unipolar depression, say, is twice as common in women than in men, and that sexual violence is a major concern for women everywhere.  Women are a higher percentage of the poor in the US, and globally the majority of those trafficked.  And so on.

But compiling such lists is not directly about the life or death of patriarchy.  For that we need to analyze the causes of the problems we discuss and gauge the effect (if any) that social power ladders have on them or on their treatment.

(2)  To quote one enlightening example, in 2015 women were 52% of college students in Saudi Arabia, a country which is not exactly ruled by feminists.

(3)  These homicide statistics are one global example:

Polarization not only exists in terms of where homicide occurs, but also in the sex of its victims and perpetrators. In the context of family and intimate partner relationships, women are considerably more at risk than men, yet 79 per cent of all homicide victims globally are male. Moreover, some 95 per cent of homicide perpetrators at the global level are also male; a share that is consistent across countries and regions, irrespective of the homicide typology or weapon used.

(4)  They could, however, be a consequence of the masculine gender roles patriarchy requires.  But the MRA sites I mention in the text fight against gender equality and feminism,  not against patriarchy.

(5)  Though one study carried out in Europe did find that the boys who are today most alienated from school were the ones who had the strongest beliefs in traditional gender roles ("boys should lead girls").  In short their alienation may be a partial response to girls doing well at school, because in the traditional subtractive definition of masculinity ("men are what women are not") girls's school success would label school as something feminine, not for real men.

(6)  Note that if I were analyzing this question the way anti-feminists  (Damore, say) analyze women's scarcity in the STEM fields I would suggest that we should seek for that reason in innate biological differences between the sexes.  Maybe women are just inherently better at the kinds of skills colleges require?

After all, the anti-feminists (Jordan Peterson) use the fact that even in such feminist paradises as the Nordic countries women are more likely to be nurses and men more likely to be engineers as proof that the differences are biological.  Well, even in the Nordic countries women are the majority of college students.

But I'm not suggesting that.  Just wanted you to see how it is done.

(7)  "If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter post."