Numbers Don’t Lie: Patriarchy is Alive and Kicking


Hannah Rosin shocked the Internet earlier this month when she proclaimed in Slate that patriarchy was dead. She unites with Christina Hoff Sommers and others who have joined this parade armed with a terrible understanding of feminism and straw-man arguments. Joining them in this seductive non-reasoning is Reason contributing editor Cathy Young, who wrote last week criticizing many of Rosin’s naysayers but never really engaging with any of them.

It’s easy to see why Young, Rosin, and their ilk stick to such ways of addressing their topic: Any real analysis into the issue would tear the tissue paper arguments apart. Make no mistake, my friends, despite the great strides for women’s progress in the last 50 years, patriarchy hasn’t gone anywhere, and the numbers clearly show that.

Define: Patriarchy

In my various readings on this subject, I have yet to see an article that uses the actual definition of patriarchy before they start talking, preferring to pick on so-called feminist double standards and peripheral arguments to make their point. But patriarchy is not that hard to understand. It is, quite simply, a social system where men are the primary authority figures in the central societal roles of (a) political leadership, (b) moral authority, and (c) control of property. In short, a system where men primarily hold power and influence.

Seems easy enough. Let’s see how women stack up under this definition and the three metrics it has provided us:

Political Leadership

In Rosin’s original Slate article, she stated that one-third of U.S. Congressional seats are currently held by women. There’s a nice note at the bottom now—that number is actually 18.3%. A dismal figure at best, but it is surpassed by the fact that a measly 13 of them hold leadership positions—just 27.7%. I don’t need to tell anyone that there hasn’t been a female president ever, and only 4.6% of the Supreme Court justices have been women.

When one considers that half of the U.S. population is female, it’s clear which gender really holds the governmental power.

But political change doesn’t come just through government but also by entities that influence that government and society as well. Women don’t show up very much in leadership positions there, either. As of 2012, they currently hold only 4.2% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies. They are underrepresented uniformly in union leadership, even after you consider that women only make up 44% of union memberships.

In the institutions that matter for political authority, women simply are not calling the shots. I think it’s fair to say that we should leave this marker un-checked.

Moral Authority

Moral authority is most easily defined as “the capacity to convince others how the world should be” (as opposed to how it is).

The first and easiest place to turn for moral authority in the United States is churches. Women make up an unsurprisingly low 10% of leadership, pastoral, or ministerial positions in protestant places of worship around the country. In many religious sects, they are barred from leadership positions altogether.

If you’re looking for a more secular approach, women also earn the fewest philosophy PhDs, below everything except for physics, and they comprise only 21.9% of tenured or tenure-track faculty in philosophy.

In the non-profit world, which includes charitable organizations, political activists, and educational institutions, they only hold 21% of the leadership positions, despite the fact that women make up 75% of non-profit workers.

I’m not really seeing a whole lot of moral authority on behalf of women here, either. Sorry, you lose this round too.

Control of Property

Reason’s Cathy Young presented in her piece an interesting statistic that made my eyes pop: Women supposedly control 60% of the wealth in the United States. Surely, if this were true, it’d be a great step for women’s progress! Unfortunately, the cited article is a Forbes piece that does not link to the original report, and the original has eluded me.

Here’s what I did find, though. Women comprise somewhere between 39% and 43% of our nation’s top wealth holders, which isn’t bad, but still not equal. Worse yet, 32% of households with women at the head live in poverty, versus 16.1% of those headed by men. Women outside of families were also living in poverty at much higher rates than men, and, whether it’s by 3% or 33%, women still earn less than men over their lifetimes.

So, I’ll show an act of good faith and give half a check mark on this one.  I hope it’s true that women “control” 60% of wealth in the U.S.—whatever that means. But they still lose out in so many other economic factors that I can’t give the full mark here.

Patriarchy Hurts Everyone—It Just Hurts Women More

Young, Rosin, and other writers are right to point out that men are subjected to gender biases that also lead to some systemic disadvantages. But they are wrong in suggesting that this is evidence that patriarchy is dead. These problems are a product of patriarchy, and feminists are well aware of this. It’s just that these issues do not hold men back from attaining power, whereas women have been systemically kept out of power for generations. Women are poorer, less influential, and less powerful than our male counterparts—by a long shot. Men hold the power in our society. The way to fix everyone’s gender problems is by fixing patriarchy, not by pretending it doesn’t exist.

EDIT: This column originally referred to the authors of the articles as anti-feminists. Thanks to Andrea Castillo for pointing out that this is an inaccurate and unfair characterization.