Logic and Fallacies about Patriarchy

by Steven Goldberg

I have spent much of my career attempting to discover, and explain, differences between males and females that are universal. By "universal" is meant that not one of the thousands of societies that have ever existed have failed to recognize these differences and to incorporate them into the system of expectations, values, and institutions.

"Universality" does not imply that there are not, in every society, individual exceptions. The height of men and women is the model to keep in mind. There are many individual "exceptions", many women who are taller than many men, but the best basketball teams are everywhere comprised of only males. Indeed, any discussion of sex differences that is not founded on an understanding of the statistical, rather than absolute, nature of individual's sex differences is doomed to incoherence. (Indeed, a good filter through which to assess any argument denying the importance of sexual physiological differences is this question: is the point made by the argument also be true of height; if so, then the argument obviously fails as refutation?)

It is only on the societal level that a population's observation of statistical behavioral sex differences and a "social law of large numbers" renders the differences absolute. The reification that makes the statistical absolute is, of course, a function of cultural factors that ratify, and often increase, the differences between male and female behavior. But the basic statistical differences that set limits on, and give direction to, expectation is rooted in hereditary physiological differentiation of the sexes. For example, the statistical reality that male dominance tendencies are more easily elicited than are those of females becomes, on the societal level, the absolute, "men are aggressive; women are passive". This might all seem too obvious to mention. But it is astonishing how many contemporary arguments ignore this fact and proceed as if the exceptional individual refutes the societal rule.

There are three universal institutions that concern us here:

1. (Patriarchy) The upper positions of the hierarchies of every society are overwhelmingly filled by men (patriarchy). A Queen Victoria or a Golda Meir is always an exception and is always surrounded by a government of men.

2. (Male Status Attainment) The highest-status (non-maternal) roles are male. The high-status roles are male not primarily because they are male (ditch-digging is male), but because they have high status. This high status elicits from males, more strongly than from females, the behavior required to attain the status. Which roles are given high status and which behavior is required to attain these roles is socially determined, but the greater impulse to attain whatever--socially-determined--roles are given high status is a function of male physiology.

3. (Male Dominance) Both men and women feel that the male is dominant and that the woman must "get around" the male to attain power. Even when male dominance is absent from law (as in the United States) or formal custom (as in "chivalrous" societies), the expectation is still one of male dominance. This is attested to in the U.S. by, for example, the feminist's detestation of male dominance and her incorrect attempt to explain it in purely social terms. My purpose here is not to provide the anthropological evidence of universality or the physiological evidence supporting an explanation of universality in terms of the differing neuro-endocrinological development of males and females. I have done so in many publications and in my book Why Men Rule (Open Court). Here my purpose is merely to provide a compendium of the commonly invoked fallacious arguments that attempt to deny the primary importance of male-female hereditary psychophysiological differences. These fallacies are everpresent at a time when discussions of sex differences invariably assume that the differences are caused primarily by what "society tells us". (While these discussions occasionally give lip-service acknowledgement that physiological differentiation "might play some role", such acknowledgement is meaningless in an analysis that implicitly assumes the causal primacy of the social. )

1. "Socialization explains our expectations of males and females and the male-female differences in behavior (cognition, emotion, and action)". There are two fatal problems with this claim: (A) It does not explain anything, but merely forces us to ask another question: why does socialization of men and women always work in the same direction? Just as the male's greater physical strength is not caused primarily by our telling little girls that the men are stronger than women, so too is the male's more readily elicited dominance behavior not caused primarily by the socialization. (It is this sex difference, not the difference in physical strength, that mediates the physiological and the universals.). Socialization may often increase sex differences, but it can never be the primary cause of them. This point does not, of course, demonstrate that the socialization relevant to dominance behavior reflects physiological factors, but that is not its purpose. The point is made merely to make clear that socialization is always a mediator, whether the primary causes be physiological, economic, or whatever, so that the presence of socialization in no way conflicts with the claim of the primary importance of inherent sex differences. The evidence for this is the anthropological universality and direct neuropsychological knowledge. In other words, the question is: why has the socialization of every society that has ever existed associated dominance behavior with males? (I.e., the socialization does not create the sex difference, but specifies the behavior in which it is manifested in a given society; physiology does not tell one how to fire a rifle or change a diaper, but it associates aggressive behavior more strongly with males and nurturance behavior more strongly with females.).

(B) The second problem with the explanation in terms of socialization is its implicit assumption that the social environment of expectations, customs, norms, institutions, and the like is an independent variable capable of acting as counterpoise to the physiological constituents that make us male and female.

If the association of sex and behavioral characteristic were a variable independent of a population's observation of physiological reality then, at least in principle, socialization could act as counterpoise to hereditary sex differences. For example, a society could, by having women lift weights throughout life and men remaining sedentary, balance the male's inherent strength advantage.

But in real life this can't happen because the social environment is a dependent variable whose limits are set by our psychophysiological construction and a population's observation of the behavior related to it. In real life a population's observation of the relative physical strength of men and women precludes the possibility that expectation, socialization and practice will balance the male's greater inherent strength and will result in institutions rendering women as physically strong as men. Likewise, in real life a population observes the male's dominance tendency and develops expectations and socialization concordant with this.

2. "The physiological theory of limits is "reductionist." The problem with this criticism, perhaps the most-commonly heard, is that a scientific explanation is supposed to be reductionist, if by that we mean "capable of explaining the most empirical reality with the fewest hypotheses". "Reductionism" is impotent as criticism unless the criticized analysis attempts to explain more than its explanatory mechanism is capable of explaining. "Reductionism" would be a legitimate charge if, for example, it were claimed that physiology explains the difference between women's roles in the United States and Saudi Arabia. But the theory of constraints on social possibility is a theory of limits; it makes no claim of explaining any of the variation within the limits (i.e., any variation found from one actual society to another). A criticism of "reductionism" here is akin to one denying the physiological basis of the human need to eat (and the universality of institutions satisfying this) on the grounds that the explanation does not tell us why the French eat French food and the Chinese eat Chinese food, why societies have different numbers of meals per day, or why some societies associate food with religion far more than do others. The physiological explanation does not claim to explain this variation nor does it imply that it explains it. In short, the criticism of "reductionism" is analogous to an accusation of "sophistry" that fails to specify any logical fallacy. It is mere name-calling.

3. "We define patriarchy' and/or dominance' differently from the way you do." In various anthropological writings, even those predating the ideologically-infused works of the past two decades, one can find at least twenty varying definitions of "patriarchy". The one I use is both that which is most often used and the common denominator of most of the other definitions. But a far more important point--one lost on those who believe that a disagreement over my use of the word somehow refutes the theory I present--is this: It is the empirical reality--not the word one uses to represent it--that is crucial. As long as one uses consistently the word he has chosen, the specific word chosen is unimportant. If you wish to call those gigantic gray animals with long trunks and skinny tails "toasters", you can. But you can't then claim that these "toasters" are good for making English Muffins. Likewise: the empirical reality is that the hierarchies of every society without exception are filled primarily by males (and that, in the very few tiny societies with relatively little hierarchy, the informal male dominance found in all societies plays a similar role). If you object to my terming this "patriarchy"--fine. Choose any word you like, say. "toaster". You must then explain why every society has "toaster". You can't make an empirical reality disappear by redefining your words. All of this can be said of the "redefinition of dominance'" found in numerous feminist writings.

4. "The explanation fails to understand the "complexity of social life" and "the tremendous variation among societies." The "complexity" and "variation" invoked here are irrelevant. No society is "so complex" that it lacks the universal institutions. There is not so much variation that any society fails to meet the constraints of the limits discussed here. The explanation of universality is a sufficient explanation of the limits within which social variation and complexity take place. The issue of "complexity" is simply another version of the "Chinese food" attempt to obfuscate with irrelevant empirical realities that the theory presented here does not attempt to explain. (Similarly, many authors devote a great deal of space to arguing against the importance of neuroendocrinological factors other than those that alone are sufficient to explain the universality; such arguments are irrelevant.)

5. "We have patriarchy for economic reasons." This is a confusion of cause and function. The realities I discuss no doubt play an economic role. But to ascribe patriarchy to economic factors is akin to ascribing the human need to eat to McDonald's need to make a profit. At least with reference to sex differences, economies primarily exploit our natures, not cause them. That is why every economic system--communal, slave, feudal, capitalist, socialist, etc.--works within the limits of patriarchy.

6. "Patriarchy is a result of the requirements of a hunting culture, or Christianity, or capitalism, etc" If it is to be at all persuasive, an explanation of universality must invoke the same causal factor to explain the universality, the explanation must be parsimonious. Just as the explanation in terms of capitalism fails to explain patriarchy in the many non-capitalist societies, so do explanations in terms of any single factor other than the physiological fail to explain the host of societies for which that factor does not apply. Non-hunting, non-Christian, non-capitalist, etc. societies are all patriarchal.

7. "Societies are patriarchal because women are tied down with giving birth and raising children and men are bigger than women." We can ignore the fact that physiology accounts for the fact that women bare and raise children, because there are many societies in which women work harder and longer outside the home--doing objectively more important economic work--than do men, (though, as we have seen, however objectively unimportant the roles played by men, the highest-status non-maternal roles will be played by men). However, whatever the roles played by women, these never include primary responsibility for hierarchical position. Similarly, while males are everywhere bigger and stronger, all evidence from both human beings and experimental animals imply that it is the CNS difference relevant to dominance behavior, not physical size, that is primarily responsible. A one-generation, experimentally-created society stocked with infant daughters of large parents and infant sons of small parents would develop into a patriarchy of small men and large women.

8. "We have patriarchy because we have patriarchal values'." All societies are patriarchal and all have patriarchal values, just as all societies associate the ability to give birth with women and have values reflecting this. Just as a population's observation of women's physiologically-rooted maternal behavior explains why maternal values and expectations are associated with women, so does observation of male's physiologically-rooted dominance behavior explain why dominance values and expectations are associated with men. Those who "explain" patriarchy in terms of "patriarchal values" must, without invoking physiological differentiation, explain why every society has patriarchal values.

9. "Attitudes have changed tremendously." Yes, at least those people are willing to acknowledge, they have. But the very point is that, with reference to the behaviors relevant here, attitudes are not much more causally important than they are to the sex difference in height. For much behavior, of course, attitude is crucial. The decline of the sanction against premarital sexual activity has resulted in a lot more premarital sexual activity. But, while attitude is dramatically important in how people claim to feel about the sex differences of which we speak, there is no evidence whatever that they make significantly more likely a society lacking the universals we discuss.

10. "Modernization and Technology Render Physiology Irrelevant". There is not a scintilla of evidence that modernization renders likely the demise of the universals. To be sure, no modern society could preclude women's playing any suprafamilial role as some non-modern societies did. But it is also true that no modern society is likely to give women the high status some other non-modern societies gave the woman's maternal roles. In any case, even the Scandinavian societies often claimed to be "non-patriarchal" (despite the fact that they feel the need of cabinet departments to deal with the "inequality of women") are, in fact, overwhelmingly patriarchal.

11. "Slavery was universal." No it wasn't. Many societies never had slavery and only one society lacking slavery is necessary to demonstrate that physiology does not render slavery inevitable. Had slavery been universal, this would not demonstrate slavery to be inevitable, but it would certainly increase the likelihood that this were the case.

12. "We won't know whether there could be a non-patriarchal society until we have one "(a fallacy first invoked by John Stuart Mill). We won't have one if there could not be one. Must we refrain from saying that in any society composed of men and women it will be the latter who give birth until we have a society in which this is not the case?

13. "Gender identity--our sense of our own maleness or femaleness--is purely determined by familial factors and socialization.". No it's not, but let us assume that it is. Sex-associated behavior is not. Whether the hormonally feminized chromosomal male sees him/herself as an "aggressive" female or as an "unaggressive" male is irrelevant; it is the behavior that is relevant here. For nearly all people, of course, there is a concordance of chromosomal, hormonal, and social development and gender identity.

14. "Sociobiological and evolutionary theories are highly speculative and the ethological study of other primates encounters problems of anthropomorphism". For argument's sake, let us accept all this. I offer no explanation why human male and female physiologies evolved the way they did, but take these as given. (However, it would be a strange evolution indeed that associated aggression with females. The loss of ninety percent of the males would be unimportant; the remaining lucky few would guarantee continuation of the population. Every lost female is a disaster.) Likewise, the theory presented does not invoke any ethological evidence--though such evidence strongly supports the theory.

15. "Boys and girls have equal levels of the male hormone, but boys are more aggressive. This shows that the behavior is a function of socialization". No it doesn't. The real, but less interesting, explanation for this is that it is simplistic to speak only of hormone levels; it is the fetal sensitization of the male CNS to the relevant properties of testosterone that is relevant. But, even were this not the case, the implication would be that the socialization of boys and girls anticipates the adult physiological reality (when the male testosterone level is much higher). The reason men can grow moustaches is not that we tell little girls that facial hair is unfeminine. (And there is also the inevitable question: if the testosterone levels of boys and girls are equal in every society, why, in every society, is it the boys who are "more aggressive"?)

16. "Hormones are suggestible' and can have their behavioral effects determined by socialization." Again, a tremendous oversimplification, but let that go. The more serious question is why every society without exception suggests male aggression. Once one requires a parsimonious answer to this question, the suggestibility issue evaporates. A similar question is raised by the claim that environment can affect hormone levels (though not to anywhere near the extent that it equalizes the male-female levels or overcomes the male's greater CNS sensitivity to the hormones); why is it always male aggression that is suggested?

17. "You claim patriarchy is inevitable. Science never dismisses a possibility". Of course it does, and should. Every hypothesis should specify things that won't happen. It is only by doing this that we have any way of telling whether the hypothesis is likely to be correct. What science does not ever dismiss is an empirical reality that actually exists. Should a non-patriarchal society be found to have existed, presently exist, or come to exist, I will be the first to jettison the theory I present. But the hope that this will happen does not qualify. A similar criticism claims that I argue that "patriarchy is inevitable because it is universal. No. Universality leaves open the possibility of inevitability and forces us to assess the likelihood of inevitability on the basis of the cause of the universality. In a world of thousands of societies with unimaginable variation, universality demands that we consider the possibility that the universal is rooted in the biological nature of human beings or in the very nature of society, any society. When universality is complemented by an enormous amount of physiological evidence capable of explaining the universality, denial is inevitably a function of ideology, not science.

18. "There are studies that show that there is no difference in dominance behavior between men and women." There is a common misconception that a study or experiment that finds something is refuted by one using a different methodology that doesn't. This is roughly analogous to the argument that You have five witnesses who saw my client commit the crime, but I have six who didn't.' If I measure the height of men and women with a yardstick that measures only to the closest yard, and you do so with a yardstick that measures to the closest inch, my conclusion that men and women are of equal height does not refute your conclusion that men are taller or your explanation that sees this as a result of heredity..

19. "Differences within-group (i.e., among males or among females) are greater than between-group (i.e., between males and females) and there are lots of exceptions (members of one sex that more strongly exhibit behavior associated with the other sex than do some members of the other sex)." This is, of course, true; the range within either of two groups is almost always greater than the difference in means of the two groups. Likewise, there are virtually always exceptions (i.e., the very tall woman or the woman with very easily elicited dominance behavior). But so what? Even a tiny difference in means often accompanies a huge difference at the extremes. This is true of height. The difference between the average heights of men and women is but a few percent, but how many seven-foot women do you see and how many women are their on the world's best basketball teams? And it is on the general statistical observation that expectations are based. Another important statistical-empirical point is worth making here: for virtually every characteristic, variation among males is far greater than among females. Whatever the characteristic, males exhibit the most and the least of that characteristic. Thus, even when a characteristic is, on average, more associated with females, those most exhibiting the characteristic tend to be males, and even when a characteristic is, on average, more associated with males, those least exhibiting the characteristic also tend to be males. Why there is this greater male variation is unclear, but is probably related to the fact that masculinization requires a fetal endocrinological stage that feminization does not.. Socially, there is an asymmetry here: while the most and the least will be exhibited by males, a population notices only the former. Thus, for example, while women, on average, probably have verbal a superior verbal aptitude, and certainly have greater psychological insight, than do men, a disproportionate number of the great novelists and psychologists have been male. The fact that a disproportionate number of the least literate people are male tends to go unnoticed, or at least is considered unimportant. (On the other hand, the male superiority at mathematics, chess, and composing music--hardly a macho role that boys are encouraged to pursue--is probably owing less to the variation discussed here than to a huge male superiority at the upper end in the aptitude for spatial relations, mathematics, and logic.

20. "Female behavior X is increasing at a much faster rate than is Male Behavior X." Tendentious discussions of sex differences often compare increases when these are unimportant for the purposes for which they are invoked. Tiny numbers will always increase much faster than will huge numbers. For example, one often reads about the "tremendous" increase in violent female crime". This is legitimate if one's interest is only in violent female crime. But the increase is often invoked in an attempt to cast doubt on the male-female difference in crime or the relevance of inherent importance of physiological differences to these. This use is illegitimate; the proportion of violent crime committed by females makes a drop-in-the-bucket seem like an ocean.

21. "The author is a sexist and the effects of his work will be politically bad". The inadequacy of the ad hominem and ad consequentium arguments has been known for millennia. Even if these charges were true, they would be irrelevant.

A Note on Discrimination: If even such clearly hereditary properties as height permit many individual exceptions, we would expect--and find--even more such exceptions when characteristic in question can be caused also by, for example, an unusual familial psychological environment. But such factors are always exceptional and never sufficient to overcome the general statistical reality. (If they were, the societal institutions would not be universal.)

However, it is important to acknowledge that the individual exceptions often do encounter discrimination and that society's making the statistical absolute can generate greater sex differences than would heredity alone (e.g., men lifting weights increases the sex difference in physical strength). But the point relevant here is that the discrimination is possible precisely because the exception is an exception and the exception is an exception precisely because physiology associates the expected characteristic with the non-exception. It is the very tall woman (or very short man) who encounters discrimination where the equally tall man (or short woman) does not; the reason for this is that, for hereditary reasons, men are usually the very tall ones.

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