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The three pillars of alpha male social dominance

3 pillars of social dominance

The battle rages on between feminists over whether a “women-only” or “liberal women-only” strategy is the best path to upending the current patriarchal system.  This system is one that deprives the female gender of appropriate representation in the power structures of our nation.  I believe this is *the* question of our generation for women who witnessed the simultaneously positive and negative experience of the election of 2008.  Two strong female candidates, each from supposedly diametrically opposed ideologies, became political lightening rods; both were revered and ravaged at the same time.  Many of us saw the awesome potential of finally cracking that political glass ceiling and it excited us.  When the dust settled in the ashes of the political aftermath, a smoldering question remained — who should crack that ceiling? or more accurately, who deserves our support?

But, to my intended point here – are we focusing too narrowly on politics in our pursuit of social equality?  I’ve previously discussed the theory of social dominance as the fundamental explanation for women’s barriers to this social equality.  (It may be helpful to read the following posts here, here, and here, which provide the foundation for what follows.)  The basic premise of social dominance theory is that a socially dominant group establishes through its power, institutions that perpetuate their dominance.  This is accomplished through the the promulgation of legitimizing myths. (legitimizing myths = beliefs, norms, doctrines, ideologies, dogma, memes, etc.)  The socially dominant therefore use their power over institutions to promote legitimizing myths that are used to persuade the non-dominant group to accept their subservience. The only effective antidote to specific areas of social dominance is to mount a successful counter-movement for the purpose of gaining access to the power structures of the institution and to erode the legitimizing myths.

So how does this relate to women’s struggle?  To break it down, you have to identify,

1) who is the socially dominant group?

2) what are the institutions that have been established to promote this dominance?

3) what are the legitimizing myths that are promulgated by these institutions to perpetuate this dominance and persuade the non-dominant group to accept their subservience?

4) what successful counter-movements exist and what counter-movements are yet to be established?

The answer to question number 1, is Alpha Males.  The distinction between alpha males and non-alpha males is important.  While non-alpha males benefit from the social dominance of alpha males, they are not the enemy and represent an important ally in women’s struggle for equality.  But more on that later.

The answer to question 2 is where we begin to find direction towards strategic resolution of our quest.  I believe there are three main institutional pillars of social dominance: Government (politics), Religion, and Corporations/Capitalism.  These are the institutions of power and control that direct our societal views on gender issues.  What I would like to emphasize here is represented in the illustration above, that is religion is the central pillar of alpha male social dominance. Every struggle, every obstacle, every stereotype, every public action aimed at keeping women second to males in our society, can be directly traced back to religious doctrines.  Go ahead, try to find any social obstacles to our equality that are not related directly or indirectly to some religious belief.  For this reason I will focus primarily on the religious pillar of our social inequality; but first, let’s discuss our progress in countering the political and corporate pillars.

Government & Politics

The feminist firestorm over who deserves our support in the ultimate quest of cracking the political glass-ceiling continues without resolution.  In one camp there are those that tie their efforts to political or religious ideologies claiming no common ground exists between the two groups on abortion and no common ground can ever be found. (Hmmm…there’s that religious pillar getting in the way.  Coincidence?  I think not.) The other side of the debate argues that all women, any woman, should be supported in their efforts to secure political office.  These two groups remain at impasse as the stalemate stalls our progress toward gender equality in government.   Until we get there, what can we do?

Dispelling the negative stereotypes (legitimizing myths) about women in leadership positions is one important component of any strategy.  I’ve said this before and it certainly bears repeating: Hillary Clinton is the most important woman of our generation and her impact in dispelling negative stereotypes of women in leadership is unmatched. She is the epitome of transformational leadership: strong, intelligent, compassionate, firm, decisive, and fair; and she exudes femininity.  We must continue to promote women leaders and demonstrate the benefits of women in leadership and gender equality in the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches of our government.


They are a significant agent of social dominance in our society.  So, how do women fare in this arena?  Not so good.  Catalyst.org is an excellent organization that focuses its research on the progress of women in government and corporate America.  Their website is a cornucopia of information, research, and statistics on women’s progress toward social equality. Perusing the various statistics you will see that despite a trend of improvement, a severe deficit of female representation in both CEO and board positions in prominant organizations still exists.  I recommend spending some time on this site reviewing the wealth of information it offers about women in politics and corporate governance.

What then are some of the factors that stand in the way of women’s progress in the boardrooms of American industry?  This topic certainly deserves more attention than these few paragraphs to do it proper justice; however, some major cultural beliefs can be readily identified such as: a women’s role in the family ; women being seen as the ‘weaker’ sex; women’s role as sexual objects and the property of their husbands; and leadership paradigms about the “feminine.” These ideas are all directly derived from gender stereotypes promoted by religion.  The woman=weak, man=strong meme in conjunction with a woman’s role as the family caregiver underlie the ideologies that perpetuate these inequalities.


Before I begin this section I will state that I am not interested in promoting or dismissing any one religion.  I have my own religious beliefs and struggle with the inconsistencies. Therefore, I am noting up front that I want to avoid a debate over the pros and cons of any religious belief system, so please save that for another day.  Offensive comments regarding anyone’s religious beliefs will be moderated.

Women for the most part have always been relegated to subordinate status within organized religion.  The major deities of the monotheistic religions are men, and until recently, ministerial positions have been reserved for men.  Their dominance of organized religion is well-documented.  Yet, women are making inroads into ministerial positions in many of the major religions through increased focus on gender equality.  In a report on women’s progress in this area, Women’s Path Into Ministry: Six Major Studies, author E. C. Lehman notes: E.C.

“While those groups did not have to ordain women for fear of legal sanctions, it seems safe to assert that the moral pressure placed on them by the institutionalization of gender equality in secular society played a part in the shifts in their ordination policies (1).”

So while this is good news, it still doesn’t address the overarching view of women’s subordinate place in society.  It is not the path that will change the status quo established under the pillar of religion.  Several major denominations still forbid the ordination of women; and in those which do embrace this idea, women still suffer from discrimination in areas such as mentoring, promotion to positions of authority, and stereotypes about pastoral styles.  In light of this, we still need to identify the true source of the problem. I believe that the true source of the problem lies in the religious doctrines of organized religion (i.e., the legitimizing myths).

To understand this in terms of social dominance theory, let’s look at the history of African Americans and the dominant group’s use of religion to support their oppressive actions.  I’ve previously said that the African American community should be a model for our approach as women.  They have created strong social bonds among their demographic members by successfully mounting counter-movements to their subordination.  They have a sense of common cause that women lack.  As victims of a most egregious form of social dominance, slavery, African Americans established their own church (among many other counter-institutions) to dispel the legitimizing myths being promoted among their community by the socially dominant.  Whites used religion to support and promote slavery.  They attempted to integrate African Americans into these myth-producing institutions by forcing them into the pews of churches where pastors preached that slavery was not only endorsed by God, it was a virtuous aspiration for the enslaved who benefited from their subjugation to their “paternal” masters.  Yet this oppressed group fought back and created a system of religion and community that ensured that they, as a group, understood that a loving God would never endorse the bondage they experienced; and in fact, God supported their efforts to secure freedom and equality.  History reveals that central to the progress of African Americans was the religious counter-movement they launched to unify their community.

When reviewing women’s religious history, our efforts to establish an effective counter movement have been limited, slow, and to date, relatively ineffective. So, this leads me to the first question: How do we as women establish an effective counter-movement to religious doctrines that promote our subservience in society?

I believe an important component to this is that we have to meet the spiritual needs of women and respect monotheistic beliefs where they exist.   Spirituality is a critical component of our humanity and expecting to erase milleniums of belief is improbable.  If the African American community was able to figure out this conundrum, then so can we.  I believe one possible idea is to establish womens’ interfaith spiritual discussion and advocacy groups.

Women, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation, share many areas of common ground spiritually.  Spirituality does not require belief in a deity.  It is the belief system that founds our ideas about life, the purpose (or lack of purpose) for our existence, and death.  A first order of business would be to establish those areas and create a mission statement around them.   I do not know how we can accomplish such a significant goal if we remain unwilling to reach out to those who disagree with us politically and ideologically.  Once that initial mission statement is established, objectives can then be developed relative to creating a common consciousness among women.

Men are not the enemy


Some feminists see our struggle as one we must  take up alone without the help of “the patriarchy” defined by these same women as the male gender.  Since the 2008 primaries, discussion over the topics of feminism and the patriarchy abound throughout the blogosphere. What is feminism? Who is the patriarchy?

One idea that unfortunately has grown some legs is that the patriarchy is the whole of the male gender and that women must take up the cause apart from them. I’m one that does not buy into that meme and I also believe that there are men who desire to further the interests of equality for women. I also believe in order to succeed in that quest, we need their help.

I have previously written about how alpha males established their dominance by virtue of physical strength and then established the institutions of religion, government, and corporatism as a means of sustaining their dominance. Notice I have not identified the dominance as applying to all males. There are non-alpha males who are merely bystanders and benefactors of male dominance. If they had their druthers, women and men would be on equal footing in religious, political, and business organizations. They are the ones who realize that gender equality benefits them too – with higher wages for the family, and a decidedly more egalitarian and diplomatic world policy. In an excellent article about gender bias in workplaces and organizations, Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know, it was noted that:

Regrettably, in their exclusive focus on women, rather than engaging men, many companies have unwittingly alienated them, inadvertently jeopardizing the success of their gender initiatives.

Without the avid support of men, who are arguably the most powerful stakeholder group in most large corporations, significant progress toward ending gender disparities is unlikely.

Because of this, I believe that to paint all men with the broad brush of the “patriarchy” is wrong. The patriarchy is an exclusive club of socially dominant alpha males who have sustained their dominance through the creation of the institutions I’ve identified herein.  This is why we continually scratch our head at the sheer math of 51% women in the electorate and less than 17% representation in the highest levels of our government. Alpha males have successfully designed the cultural institutions and messages so that a majority of men AND women fall prey to the call for conformity. This cultural brainwashing is what propels women to disparage other women, to make the public humiliation of women an accepted sport, to engage in campaigns of misinformation to keep women from gaining the representation they deserve in the major institutions of our society.

Taking this view, it becomes apparent that one other action must be undertaken to successfully erode alpha male social dominance: We must promote the engagement of non-alpha males in our society to assist us in our cause. Engaging men in the fight against sexism and gender bias can be furthered through two approaches: encouraging and demonstrating approval for defiance of cultural norms concerning what a “real” man is and does, and increasing awareness of gender bias.

In our society, these non-alpha males are subjected to legitimizing myths that come in the form of “gender norms.” These gender norms include the idea that engaging in the rituals of gender bias and sexism validates their masculinity. Men are expected to “conquer” and “possess.”  Women are one of their conquests and possessions.  There is also the myth that raising the status of women equates to reducing the status of men.  This macho stereotype and zero-sum mentality are myths that many non-alpha males already recognize as false and detrimental to their own social and economic security.

Changing this ingrained cultural perspective is critical if we are to gain alliance with these men in our battle for equality. We must actively seek out men who are willing to be champions of women’s equality and to act as role models who encourage other men to overcome their apathy, fear, and ignorance.  One of the greatest male champions of women’s equality has been Bill Clinton. (for those who want to inject a discussion of his liaisons as a way of diminishing his pro-women activities, please save it for another thread) Bill has demonstrated a keen sense of the positives associated with women’s equality and has led the way for other men in promoting such. His adamant refusal to engage in the orgy of misogyny and sexism against Sarah Palin is a perfect example of what such a champion looks like. There are many more champions out there; not necessarily in such positions of prominence, but in our everyday life. We need to engage them so that other men can also be engaged. Continuing to reject their help will only put them on the defensive and lead to more “alpha male” behaviors and beliefs. Cultural conditioning is not irreversible, but it is strongly ingrained.


To make progress as women I believe we need to have a strategic plan to address the central pillar of alpha male social dominance – religion.  My suggestions are to:

1. Establish women’s interfaith discussion and advocacy groups as counter-movements

2. Identify our common ground as women

3. identifying, analyzing, and dispelling the legitimizing myths promoted through religious doctrines.

4. Engaging males to act as champions of women and role models for other males.

I invite you to disagree with me on any of these points if you choose; but in doing so, I challenge you to offer practical solutions that have a chance of changing the status quo.

88 Responses

  1. Gosh SOD, you’re on fire! Great post!!!

    • Thanks. 🙂 Any thoughts?

      • yes, I’ve always seen the Abrahamic religions as a tool of dominance and control. One being developed specifically to control slaves and conquests and at least two of them to keep women and children in their place. I’ve finally come to the point to believe that the traditional doctrines have to be dropped completely and that dialogue may not be fruitful in all cases but I would like to thing that I was wrong …

        • I was just thinking about this yesterday — it seems to me that one of the major goals of the main world religions is to control women. Yet it is women who score the highest on Intrinsic Religiosity tests. In other words women are “true believers” and guys mostly wear their religion so that they can toss it aside.

          There is a lot of religiosity research — probably done mostly by escapees of right wing religious cults. (Just joking — I think).

          • Yet it is women who score the highest on Intrinsic Religiosity tests.

            One taboo subject is the role of women in enabling the Patriarchy.

            The politically correct version is that when women enable the Patriarchy they are “brainwashed, ” but when men do it they are evil.

          • Yes, women who enable the patriarchy (i.e., those who are conditioned by the legitimizing myths) are a huge obstacle to our progress.
            It’s like the “Who Moved My Cheese Parable.”
            We have to find a new cheese that meets their needs and our objectives at the same time.

        • The original Abrahamic religions were the institutions created following the establishment of settled states. Women were needed to increase the population of children to tend the fields and mind the herds. Thus the “need” for men to control women. Women = commodities. The texts then represented the rules for farmers and herders so to speak.

          • you’ve got people thinking that texts that were modified and reworked and edited in the 3rd century considered infallible in this country. Plus, an entire huge patriarchal church that cut out what appeared to be the early christianic texts and reworked and wrote their own with full scale acceptance by entire populaces … how do you deal with that kind of emotional and mental bloc?

          • I guess if we can try to reach agreement that it is the cause, we can use that as the basis for our discussion about solutions.

          • The other key piece is you have to start with women who believe in social equality on its face. Any woman who holds a sincere belief that they are subordinate to men will not play a productive role in any initial discussions.

            The first point of agreement is equaity
            The second point of agreement yet to be reached, is cause
            The third point is to consider solutions.

          • There is a misconception that the first Abrahamic faith, Judaism, developed among a rustic population of nomadic herders, all of whom bore a strong resemblance to characters in Christmas pageants and John Huston films. What archaeology and textual analysis shows is that the nomadic herders of what is now Israel followed a religion very like that of their urban Canaanite relatives, one in which a female deity (Astarte, Ishtar, Inana, or the Hebrew Asherah, originally Yahweh’s spouse) either dominated or ruled alongside the male divinity. Judaism as it is presented in the Hebrew Scriptures is a product of the reforms of the seventh-century King Josiah, who ruled over a fully-formed state with an entrenched bureaucracy and regularized priesthood. This Temple-and urban-based religion became an arm of the state, and both state and Temple did their not-very-successful utmost to drive out the indigenous polytheism, which included explicit goddess worship. Even the books of Kings and Chronicles, in which there is a portion of what appears to be an official court history, list king after king who “did evil in the sight of the Lord,” i.e., allowed the worship of the Goddess Asherah and/or the serpent goddess Nehushtan, even incorporating it into Temple rituals.
            What we now see as normative Judaism–rabbinical Judaism–grew up after the destruction of Jerusalem in the Jewish diaspora. And like many other peoples attempting to hold onto their identity in a hostile environment, they adopted a constellation of rules designed to set them apart from the surrounding population. One of those rules was a strict, and strictly masculine, monotheism, something they had not been able to impose uniformly in Palestine/Judea itself. And again, we’re looking at an urban environment, not a rural or pastoral setting.

            Christianity likewise developed in urban Greece and Rome,and Islam first took root among the merchant classes of Arabia to which Muhammad himself belonged. Not surprisingly, each relgion took on the flavor of its environment. The subordination of women in Christianity does not come from Judaism. Jewish Christianity, like Temple Judaism itself, was lost in the Roman’s destruction of Jerusalem. Christian oppression of women comes instead from Greek and Roman law, which did indeed see women as the possessions of men, to the point that a father or husband was free to murder a wife or daughter who overstepped the lines of sexual morality.

            Likewise, customs which subordinated women existed in Arabia long before Muhammad. Head to toe veiling of women appears in reliefs dating to several hundred years BCE.

            In short, it wasn’t the rustic and the ignorant who
            introduced the subordination of women. It was the urban and the wealthy, who had far more to gain from bartering their female children through marriages than from their labor on the land or with the herds.

          • The modern versions of the Abrahamic religions are very distorted from what they originally looked like.

          • Absolutely, myiq.

          • I’m so impressed with the discussions here. You guys rule.

          • Even though the texts were developed as such, the underlying premise of the “rules” sprung from the desire to control women and children as a resource. Wealth was measured in what they could produce. More production required more hands. Women were the labor-producing machines, thus they had to develop rules to control that resource. I’m speaking solely in terms of social dominance since the theory is that the socially dominant develop their institutions and rules for the purpose of controlling resources.

          • I’m not so sure the “rules” sprang from a desire to control women and children as a resource so much as a desire to limit the ability of women to challenge men for political and economic power. The two things are related, but not the same.

            The Hebrew scriptures include several horror stories about what happens when women refuse to obey “the rules.” The fates of Jezebel and Athaliah are intended as exemplars not only of the dire consequences of female rule but of the terrible fate of women who step out of bounds. Yet these stories are about political/religious power, not about whether the queens are behaving properly as economic resources.
            They are in fact direct attacks on the more ancient Canaanite religion, in which women held at least an equal place with men and which persisted stubbornly alongside and within Temple-based Judaism.

            We’re also talking here about cultures which viewed a large segment of the male population as economic resources. Every ancient urban culture, and many non-urban ones, embraced the institution of slavery, of men as “labor producing machines.” The Roman economic system was in many ways eerily similar to our own corporate capitalism in that it saw the beginning of agribusiness, with absentee landowners of large estates requiring proportionally large low-maintenace labor forces. It also saw the beginnings of centralization of production, so that large factories tended to put local artisans out of business not only in Italy but in the Roman colonies. (Think of it as a the invasion of Wallus-martus, or mabe NAFTUS, and you won’t be too far off.) This had the effect of impoverishing great numbers of rural agricultural and goods-producing workers and driving them either into urban labor markets or into peonage/slavery on the large estates.

            What I’m getting to rather circuitously here is that yes, the Abrahamic religions in their recent or current forms include strong elements aimed at the control of women for the benefit of men. But there are economic systems that precede those religions that have acted to control not only women and children but a large segment of the male population as resources. for the benefit of a relatively small, socially dominant group comprised of both men and women. This is your third pillar, but I would argue that it, rather than religion, is in fact the one that bears most of the weight of past and current systems of social dominance.

          • But there are economic systems that precede those religions that have acted to control not only women and children but a large segment of the male population as resources.

            No argument with your there; however, that refers to a different form of social dominance, i.e., arbitrary dominance. My essay was strictly about gender dominance. There are three categories of dominance: gender, age, and arbitrary (the catch-all)

            Arbitrary dominance is a pretty broad brush to capture everything else as long as the purpose for dominance is control of resources. Even our use of animals for companionship, recreation, food, and clothing is a form of arbitrary dominance. (not to mention supported by the institution of religion).

            It’s a broad theory; however, the social issues arise when the dominance involves capricious exploitation and not just for meeting basic survival needs. This is where issues like gender equality, slavery, child labor, laissez fare capitalism, etc become discussion points.

          • BTW — thanks for a great discussion on this.

        • traditional doctrines have to be dropped completely and that dialogue may not be fruitful in all cases but I would like to thing that I was wrong

          If this were possible, we could certainly consider it; but, if it’s not possible, what are our options? It can’t just be to accept our fate — can it?

          • how can overcome the patriarchy with some expressing faith in what are tenets written to sustain a patriarchy?

          • You’d have to start not from a point of attacking their specific beliefs, but from that point of agreement– such as the need for equality. If they don’t agree with that basic premise, then we wouldn’t be able to work with that specific person. But there are plenty of women from all beliefs and persuasions who would agree on the principles of gender equality.

            Once we agree on that, the question is: What are the causes and obstacles? How do we not arrive at the conclusion that religious beliefs at least play a part?

            There has to be an inroad. Otherwise, what? how?

  2. “Men are not the enemy”

    exactly. we can make progress if we realise that the dominant elite benefit from non-elites’ divisiveness. it’s an age old ploy.

    N.B. there are women aligned with dominant aplha males and who consequently perpetuate and reward gender “norms” .

    Robert Fuller is doing some great work regarding this issue of social dominance and rankism.

  3. You’ve covered all the bases — finding common ground is vital toward the goal of equality of humans.

    Which is why I defend Palin — she is more on our side then her enemies are. Her most outspoken enemies generally have no respect or regard for any woman. Their goal is to maintain the status quo.

  4. I see AA religions as very male dominated and the AA church a very strong pillar of male dominance in AA communities. When I was reading through your post, I tried to think of the AA religious leaders who have public presence and command—all I could think of were male names. That may be about my exposure but it did strike me who popped up in my mind.

    Would you consider WJC an alpha male? I see him as an ally for women which I am sure some would argue.

    Totally agree with your final word. While reproductive rights are central, they lead into all the other avenues of what divides women. In some ways we need to find the common ground between Sarah Palin/ Ingraham and Hillary Clinton, SOD and Dakinikat. If that real estate could be discovered and agreed upon we might be free to be.

    • I agree with your analysis of AA religion being male dominated, but understand I was using it as an example of how their community overcame, or at least fought back, the social dominance over their group.

      The use of religion as a whole is definitely patriarchal. I ask you to look at it in those different contexts.

      I don’t see WJC so much as an alpha male as an affiliative male. His charisma and yes, his sex appeal, contribute to alpha male behaviors, but he is still a champion of women.

  5. “Men are not the enemy”

    If I said that this post would get bombarded with angry screeds from my many fans and ex-wives.

    • There are many champions here at TC. Perfect histories not a required qualification. If that were the case, we’d have to discount Big Dawg — and you know how I’d feel about that.

      • Unlike moi, the Big Dawg is good-looking and likeable.

      • There’s hope. Dennis Kucinich — not so much a looker, but a champion of women.

        • Really? Wasn’t he against women’s control over their own bodies and always voted with the wing nut crowd on this issue? He still has a way to go before I consider him a champion of women. I hold on to grudges and mistrusts for a very long time — his sudden change was purely political.

          • I give him cred for realizing the error of his ways; but his approach and reasoning indicate he is a champion.

    • I’ve never understood the gleeful abuse that gets heaped upon you, myiq. But then again, I don’t actually know you. 😉

      Some men are not the enemy AND some women are. And, frankly, most folks (male and female) are simply pleasantly oblivious to the extent of sexism and misogyny that our patriarchal cultures are steeped in.

    • Give us a heads up if the ex-wives show up so we can all run for the hills. Uh oh, I don’t think that was politically correct. I meant it in the best way though. 🙂

  6. I agree that women could gain from adapting the Black Pride/Power/is Beautiful movements to build solidarity. Women’s role as major purchase deciders would give us powerful leverage to discourage female-unfriendly corporate and media policies, should we ever trust each other enough to combine forces.

    And I absolutely applaud making common cause with supportive men and women across the political spectrum, particularly by not immediately pouncing on every non-PC utterance that even the most informed and committed feminist may occasionally fall victim to. We need the purity police to stand down.

    I found myself wincing, though, at the idea that resolving the abortion question and reconfiguring religion are prerequisites to progress. First, because they weren’t barriers to the progress women have made so far, even in eras when opinion on those subjects was far less varied. It’s easy to overemphasize the importance of religious affiliation or choice/life position, because media hype around them is intentionally polarizing and relentless. But I’m not convinced that, for instance, your average voter is as fixated on rigidly applying their religious views in the ballot box as pundits would like us to believe. Plus, the long-term trend is on our side. The fastest growing religious affiliation in the country is “none.” At least in this country, strict attachment to religious dogma is dying out, and along with it, the various dusty old book pronouncements on women’s place.


    • Yes but don’t you think that it is used as I said, as a “sword of Damocles” to bind women to one political party or another?

      If we can’t extricate that issue from religion and politics as a discussion point first, the same divisions will be promoted to the benefit of the social dominants.

      Our progress is undeniable, but we have definitely hit an impasse that keeps us split. Where is that split? and what causes it? I can’t find any answer that makes sense except reproductive rights, and by extension religious beliefs.

      What other issue(s) divide us in any meaningful way that is equal to or more intractable than that? — thoughts?

      • Well, sure, the powers that be would like us to fear the sword and they certainly encourage entrenched ideas about abortion as a wedge. I just don’t believe it works that way in real life. Maybe it’s a benefit of being 51 and no longer having a personal stake in the issue, but I don’t see abortion as that powerful a dividing line. Most women I speak with are far more shades-of-gray on the topic than opinion surveys can capture. Both the genius and the flaw in the Pro-Life campaign is that it overestimates that actual number of women on their side.

        My own late mother, for example, was a devout and uncompromising Catholic. My sisters and I had many a frustrating debate with her over her old fashioned adherence to papal orthodoxy. (oh, god, the Terri Schiavo madness!) But she was also a Democrat all her life. When one of the several vile parental notification bills that fortunately continue to lose in CA came up, I treaded lightly in educating her on the issue, but assumed she’d still vote for it. But no — she told me that in the end she decided to take the party’s and my recommendation.

        People are not automatons. These types of situational ethics take place all the time. It’s only zealots on both sides that insist on perfect consistency.


        • I don’t know that your situation is a reflection of the norm; but then again maybe it is because you indicate that the political decision of your sister was based on party affiliation/recommendations.
          My belief is that we cannot achieve representation levels commensurate with our ratio of the population without resolving that issue.

          Resolution doesn’t have to mean agreement on all issues. But if we as women cannot even engage in that discussion and hear each other — instead opting to vote for the “D” or the “R” because of ideology, I think we remain in this hole.

          Sure, we may gain a percentage or two every couple of years in political office and the boardrooms, but is that good enough? Not for me.

  7. Thanks so much for this post SOD. I think you’ve truly nailed the necessary topic of discussion for moving beyond the tactics of distraction and diversion that stymie societal advancement.

    I think a core precept upon which to look for basic agreement is the universal right each person must assert to autonomy and dominion over his/her own body and soul. I think the imposition of beliefs, not the beliefs themselves, is a major problem.

    Were we to establish, as a cultural norm, that we respect each other’s right to live according to his/her own beliefs, and receive the same respect in return, we could go a long way to establishing a foundation for a truly equitable, gender equal society.

    Practically speaking that means that I uphold your right to carry a pregnancy to term, and you uphold my right to not do that. I uphold your right to every last breath your body is able to draw, and you uphold my right to end my life at a time of my choosing.

    Since no belief is universal, what needs protection is the right of each of us to live according to our own.

  8. That was a pleasure to read SoD. Would like to take more time with it. Some quick thoughts.

    Been pro-choice my entire life, and that will not change. It’s obviously a complex issue. Closely linked in my view is the question of parenthood. Until both men and women are able to accept the role of parenthood as not specific to a particular gender or sexual orientation, the debate will remain divisive. Abortion ought not be an issue of women’s empowerment because parenting is seen as a limiting responsibility, but in part it is. The religious patriarchy makes its case against abortion on ethical grounds, but the parenting element is an important subtext. That and of course subordinating the freedom of women to make their own choices about their bodies. But men have to change their attitude and participation on parenting for lasting change to be possible. Simply rejecting men as any part of a movement to empower women will work for individuals but not necessarily for the larger society. Just wanted to add that piece to the usual gargantuan debate on choice.

    Also, in order for feminism of any kind to have lasting traction in my view, a majority of men have to view sexism as something that is as much a shameful affront in today’s society as racism. Racism still exists, even deeply, but it is something that establishments in education, the media, public and private organizations position or least posture against. Sexism on the other hand is out in the open, too easily encouraged, even celebrated. The behavior is deeply indoctrinated and as you say institutionalized religion plays a big part. I believe in the power of shaming, and peer environments like schools, workplace, and the media can and should be rejecting the traditional notions of gender roles pressed by our religions. That has been happening to some extent in Western Europe.

    Forward thinking companies can also set examples. In an industry I’m familiar with, there is one large company that has either had women or gay men as CEOs for the last 20 years, and they have consistently pushed traditionalist men out the door. That company today is arguably the most successful and innovative company in their field, and their example is helping transform the culture of their industry. So there are always examples to find encouraging.

  9. Also, in order for feminism of any kind to have lasting traction in my view, a majority of men have to view sexism as something that is as much a shameful affront in today’s society as racism.

    Yes, this would be a great step forward.

    • ITA and I think this is one of the biggest hurdles we face. I can’t figure out if these men cling to this tunnel vision out of fear or ignorance. I tend to think it’s fear.

      It baffles me that a man (my co-worker) will send me links to news stories about “ignorant” racists but never once seek and/or find an example of sexism to share his indignation with me. I’ve considered asking him, point blank. It might be helpful to know why these men turn a blind eye to sexism. Seriously, I really want an answer from these supposedly “liberal” men WTF is up with their sexist attitude. And, Michael Moore, I’m talking about men like YOU.

      • A professor who taught religion and was very interested in matriarchal influences in religion once noted that where women are concerned, “men are scared to death of them.” There are lots of reasons for this, and, of course, it doesn’t apply to all men.

        I remember a sincere male friend asking me why I was so actively engaged in promoting women’s rights as opposed to race issues. I didn’t have the presence to ask him if he would ever ask that question in reverse to a person of color. Of course, I am committed to combating racism too. It’s not an either or situation.

  10. I think one of our obstacles is thye human default to interpret “resolve” as compromise. In true problem solving parties collaborate lea ing possibilities endless. If we get stuck in this or that, we miss all of the “what ifs”

    So, when I say resolve the abortion issue, try not to assume that concession is what I mean. Dak will understand when I suggest “practice not knowing” the solution. It has yet to be conceived.

  11. Most people arguing that feminists don’t want to involve men and are “man-haters” are fundie males, IMO. Of course men aren’t the enemy. I think women spend too much time fighting against this empty accusation.

    Also, Christianity does not hold unvarying views on pregnancy termination. See Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born which discusses that early Christian texts did not ban abortions until some time into the pregnancy. Can’t recall the exact # of days into the pregnancy the woman had to abort, but I recall that it was longer for a female fetus than for a male fetus. Females less valuable I suppose. Must go dig up a copy of that book. (Tho how you could know exact length of pregnancy let alone gender before hand beats me.)

    Perhaps an angle for agreement is to MYOB, support privacy rights, and keep the government out of clinic exam rooms.

    • That’s definitely an option. While I’m a “Christian” I don’t agree with their rigid views on abortion, nor do I believe I have the right to impose my religious views on other women. However, I also don’t agree with pro-choice all or nothing views. This is a discussion women mus have IMHO. And I’m not so naive as to think zealots can be a productive part of the conversation. However there are plenty of like minded women out there who don’t realize the impact they can have in this discussion. And a new perspective is needed. A “women’s perspective”

    • Abortion was allowed until the child “quickened”– i.e., the mother could feel it moving in her womb.

      I’m puzzled by your reference to it’s being a different cut off for male and female fetuses, though, given that until a few decades ago, no one knew the gender of a fetus until it was outside the womb.

  12. Most excellent post. I agree, and wow, that’s a tough nut to crack.

  13. One slight disagreement. I’m pretty alpha if I do say so myself. So where I differ from the “bad guys” and see the obviousness of equal rights as very basic human rights and not a threat is because, well, how do I put this delicately, I have a functioning brain. So I would qualify the above bad group as alpha males who have their power from brawn alone and, well, are rather stupid in the mostly speak grunt department. Yea, my peeps aren’t the brightest I’m sad to say.

  14. Interesting post SOD,

    Is the abortion debate resolvable? What is that elusive “common ground”? Finding common ground usually means pro choice supporters must accomodate the anti choice elements because the anti choice side is intransigent.

    The abortion debate is also always freighted with more complex issues such as contraception, women’s roles as domestics and helpmeets to prosperous men in a happy capitalistic society, eg. Phyllis Schlafley. So there are definite class elements to the so called “abortion” debate. Hidden class elements fuel the debate more than one may believe.

    I think AAs were a relatively cohesive unit because they experienced the same type of discrimination and the discrimination was all pervasive. Nobody could get ahead or survive without the help of others, it wasn’t just a philosophical unanimity. As the bonds of Jim Crow have loosened, that cohesiveness threatens to pull apart..

  15. SoD, excellent, excellent post. The ideas you are discussing have occupied my thoughts for a while now. I’ve been reading A Mind of Her Own and I was struck at how we (women) seem to be forced to make the same advances over and over. And I think it’s because we are constantly disappeared by history.

    Consider how many people have heard of Sigmund Freud. Then consider how many have heard of Karen Horney. Amazing women have done amazing things throughout history and their stories have either been disappeared or reshaped to fit the patriarchal narrative. Just like our great great great grandmothers whose names have been lost to history while we still carry our great great great grandfathers’ names or our husbands’ great great great grandfathers’ names to pass on, namelessly, to our children. We are constantly erased. It’s hard to accomplish much when we have to keep starting from scratch decade after decade, generation after generation, century after century.

    I think one simple thing we can do is to stop allowing women and women’s accomplishments to be devalued, erased or appropriated. We need to put an end to the disappearing.

    • Amen! It’s one of the reasons why I get so mad at people who attack Sarah Palin as “stupid,” “inexperienced,” “dopey” etc., all the while diminishing her accomplishments.

      Whether you agree with her on every issue or not (and quite frankly ignoring what she says and evaluating only what she’s done I find little to disagree with) she is an accomplished woman. All women should celebrate her. But of course, they follow the patriarchal lead and attack from every sexist and misogynistic angle they can muster, while using the abortion issue as the reason to disparage her. (there’s that pesky issue again.)

      Goddammit! She has accomplished so much for her age and with a family, not to mention no political ties. I don’t have to agree with her but I can still be proud of her.

      • And if only she and Hillary could detach themselves from political party loyalty and work to unite women….now THAT would be great.

      • I really think the reason people call her stupid or inexperienced is because it’s the “it thing to do” It used to be cool to convert to an Obama supporter now you make a joke about Sarah Palin and suddenly people love you and you’re in the club.

      • Exactly! Very public disappearing campaigns were waged against Palin and Clinton. They were both reduced to negative stereotypes that had nothing to do with their talent, experience and political savvy. AND, these campaigns are still being waged. Even the so-called “positive” stereotypes that Michelle Obama has been painted into are a very real part of the problem.

        We need to counter these tactics by embracing the true talent and accomplishments of these women. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Truth rules the airwaves with a seemingly inexhaustible airbrush.

        • Yes, they were busy bashing Palin again today on MSNBC. I was thinking “what the hell?” She scares the beejeebus out them. Otherwise they would ignore this now private citizen. Those who continue to attack her are merely exhibiting their “fight” as opposed to “flight” reaction — they feel threatened somehow.

          • She’s really got them running scared. And I have to admit, I love it. Give ’em hell Sarah!

  16. One idea that unfortunately has grown some legs is that the patriarchy is the whole of the male gender and that women must take up the cause apart from them…

    …I believe that to paint all men with the broad brush of the “patriarchy” is wrong. The patriarchy is an exclusive club of socially dominant alpha males who have sustained their dominance through the creation of the institutions I’ve identified herein.

    Just an fyi: you’re using a highly idiosyncratic definition of patriarchy. in feminist parlance, patriarchy is a social system. It’s not men or individual men at all. It’s a system, like capitalism or socialism or democracy.

    As a feminist blogger, one of my constant annoyances is commenters showing up to argue over whether “patriarchy” constitutes all men or some men or whatever. And I always have to say, no, it’s a system.

    • I agree. But there are some who try to argue that it merely refers to men.

      So, I am not endorsing that definition, I am merely pointing out that some hold it — and wrongly IMHO

      • And I certainly agree that the “patriarchy” is in fact a system — or institution, established under the umbrella of social dominance.

  17. This is not progress:

    Click to access 549.pdf

    Take note of the data on belief in common ground.

    • The poll finds that four-in-ten Americans are unaware of Obama’s position on the abortion issue. Conservative Republicans, however, are more likely than any other group to know Obama’s position, with 75% correctly identifying him as “pro-choice” rather than “prolife.”

      Obama pro-choice? One wouldn’t have guessed that from his healthcare speech.

      [The Pew poll] also finds that fewer
      people say abortion is a critical issue today (15%)
      compared with 2006, when 28% described abortion
      as a critical issue facing the country.

      Bottom line, the abortion issue is losing steam. It doesn’t matter if people are more polarized (when polled), unless they act on it.


      • poll finds that four-in-ten Americans are unaware of Obama’s position on the abortion issue
        Turns out that 40% are right in that Obama doesn’t really have a position on the issue. Remember, he said it was above his pay grade.

        Perhaps the question should have been, do you think Obama has a position on the abortion issue? With the correct answer being no.

        Come to think of it, do you think Obama has a position on any issue other than how great Obama is? would be the best question. /snark

      • The sad part is that the poll indicates how the issue is used for political division. We could change that.

  18. I fully agree that institutionalized religion is the central pillar for the “alpha male dominance” that persists in spreading the “phallic syndrome.”

    The following is for your consideration:

    PW Journal of Sustainable Development ~ October 2009

    This is Part 7 of the series on education for sustainable development, and includes four excellent invited papers. The focus is on gender equality and integral human development.


    Section 1. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
    Section 2. Combined Analysis of ESD Surveys V0 to V1.7
    Section 3. Phases of Integral Human Development (IHD)
    Section 4. The Nuptial-Family Context for IHD
    Section 5. The Socioeconomic Context for IHD
    Section 6. The Socioecological Context for IHD
    Section 7. The Sociopolitical Context for IHD
    Section 8. The Religious-Spiritual Context for IHD
    Section 9. Suggestions for Prayer, Study, and Action

    Critical feedback on this work is most appreciated.


    Luis T. Gutierrez, PhD
    Editor, PelicanWeb Journal of Sustainable Development
    http://www.pelicanweb.org ~ pelican@pelicanweb.org
    A monthly, free subscription, open access e-journal.

  19. Finding common ground usually means pro choice supporters must accommodate the anti choice elements because the anti choice side is intransigent

    That is the assumption that always gets in the way. What if we didn’t talk so much about what we wanted and more about what we cared about?
    We have common ground. We are just being distracted from sitting down and finding out what that is.

  20. How could I get permission to reprint this article in my journal?

    Please let me know.


    Luis T. Gutierrez, PhD
    Editor, PelicanWeb Journal of Sustainable Development
    http://www.pelicanweb.org ~ pelican@pelicanweb.org
    A monthly, free subscription, open access e-journal.

  21. The PBS program on Ardicipithecus (Ardi) infers that she lived in a matriarchy. Ardi chose males with small canines (beta males in our jargon) as they were the ones who carried the food and helped with the offspring, etc.

    • I think Little Iris is considering doing a post on that topic– or at least matriarchal societies. I’d love to see it.

      • So would I. An alpha male would be too busy fighting with other alpha males to be of any use in establishing a community, even if that community lived on trees……so many millions of years ago.

  22. I will never never understand how so many women who call themselves feminists campaigned and voted against Hillary.

    • You and me both my friend…you and me both. She was the one WE were waiting for.

      • I agree wholeheartedly. My devotion to Hillary had a circuitous development as she was my senator here in New York. The2008 Democratic primary was an epiphany for me, to see Hillary take on all her enemies, knowing all along she was betrayed by her own party. There were multiple judases around Hillary, even from inside her campaign.That moment in history will live in infamy forever.

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