Social Norms: Patriarchy's Newest Weapon Against Women
The most fashionable way to oppress females these days is the imposition of "social norms," a phrase that is merely a euphemism for patriarchal values. Since it is not "normal" in patriarchal societies for females to be emancipated, any female seeking equality will inevitably violate the social norm of female subjugation. Every step towards equality has been a struggle against social norms. Suffrage was seen as an outrageous demand when the norm was for only males to have the vote. Education was viewed as a potential health hazard to females when the norm was for only males to have access to universities. Forty years ago females were not permitted to enter public places like schools or restaurants wearing slacks because the social norm was for only males to wear pants. And in places today where female genital mutilation is the social norm, females who attempt to resist are viewed as social deviates. Not too long ago there was a discussion on Slate, the online magazine, between Susan Faludi and a female psychologist. The psychologist was angry about legislation forcing employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with mental illness because this could prevent health care professionals from enforcing social norms. Unmentioned was the fact that a healthy attempt to attain equality, self-respect, the respect of others, and the rights guaranteed to all persons by our Constitution can easily be labeled mental illness or deviance from social norms. There is urgent need for enforcement of current legislation barring the imposition of stereotypical behavior by government and large employers so that the practice of using the medical profession to oppress females can be stopped.
An example of social norming can be seen in the recent Demi Moore movie, G.I. Jane, when the female title character decides that having a shaved head like the other (male) people in SEALs training is necessary in order to avoid looking different and not fitting in. This is exactly what was done by some of the young women who recently entered previously all-male military academies. If the social norm for a particular group is a shaved head, anyone who wishes to conform to the social norms of that group must shave their head. But those who don’t want females to be able to fit into certain previously all-male groups insist that females must conform, not to the social norms of the given group, but to the social norms for females in the patriarchal society at large, even if by doing so they are prevented from conforming to the social norms of the group in which they wish to participate as an equal. In this way an employer can say that all employees must make a neat, clean appearance at a worksite where most workers are male, and then penalize a female employee for conforming to that social norm and therefore failing to make a sexually attractive appearance such as is expected of females in the patriarchal society at large. The female employee can then come under suspicion of being homosexual or of having mental disabilities, and thus be prevented from conforming to the social norms of that particular workplace. Since an employer may be prevented by law from imposing stereotypical behavior, such as insisting that a female mechanic dress like the female receptionists at a workplace while permitting male mechanics to dress appropriately to their job, the employer simply calls on (often female) health care professionals to counsel the female employee about conforming to social norms. Those who submit then have the additional unpaid job duties of coping with the attention that their attractive appearance attracts, along with the harassment and discrimination that anyone who tries to fit into a group of workers without conforming to the social norms of that particular group usually must endure. Those who refuse to submit can be labeled disruptive, mentally ill, unable to get along with coworkers, etc., and fired. In a patriarchal society males have many groups, such as doctors, lawyers, football players, blue collar workers, etc., and each group has its own social norms, but females have only one group: females, and the social norms for females never seen to permit conformance with the social norms for any group that includes males.
Social norms in a patriarchal society like our own can be very strange indeed. Bernard Lefkowitz’s recent book Our Guys, (Univ. of California Press, 1977) uses the careful study of the people in a town where a sexual assault made headlines, to dissect and expose some of our social norms. The book makes it clear that violence and pornography are social norms for young males, and that it is a social norm for young females to be the objects of male violence and sexual assault. The normalization of rape goes back to early matriarchal societies which respected life and lacked the death penalty. In those days the world was not overpopulated because we were a viable species capable of controlling our reproduction in accordance with the resources available. But some males resented the fact that females had the power to decide when and with whom to have sex. Males who raped violated the social norms of matriarchal societies because in showing disrespect for females they showed disrespect for their mothers and for life itself as females are the bearers of life. But without a death penalty the early matriarchies could do no more than exile social deviants and it was inevitable that males with testosterone poisoning and no respect for life would band together to form the earliest patriarchal societies. It was easy for these exiled criminals to attack small, peaceful villages and kill the inhabitants except for a few young women they could easily dominate. Of course within a few generations these new villages overpopulated and had to usurp the resources of other villages. But what could be easier for bands of murderers than to massacre pacifists who relied on reason rather than on force to solve social problems?
Patriarchal societies cannot and must not be called civilizations. The rule of force, militarism, might makes right, survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, etc., are the laws of the jungle, not the laws of civilized peoples. There is no such thing as a warlike civilization. The prohibition on taking life that was part of early matriarchal societies failed to take into account that it is sometimes necessary to take life in order to save life. We kill viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells, when possible, in order to save the human or animal lives they are attacking. Malignant and aggressive diseases are also examples of patriarchies because their primary purpose is to reproduce without limit, even when doing so is suicidal in the end. Only matriarchal societies, that is, those in which those who do the reproducing have control over reproduction, are viable in the ecological sense that they do not overpopulate and need not resort to Malthusian means of population control. Reproduction is a miracle in moderation and a fatal disease when uncontrolled.
The patriarchal antipathy towards abortion is also interesting because there has never been and will never be a female who wanted an abortion. Can you imagine a female learning that some uncomfortable and potentially dangerous procedure existed to terminate pregnancy, saying, "Oh, wow, that sounds great! I want one of those! I’m going to go out and get pregnant so I can get one!" Not likely, is it? Women only begin to resent children when children are forced on them or when they lack the resources to care for them properly.
The history of patriarchy has long lists of so-called great men who were in reality no more than genocidal maniacs. When a society is led by such people things like the Holocaust can become a social norm. Now, only 50 years later, we have reached another overpopulation peak and are beginning the die-off phase. Where the norm after WWII was for people to pray that such mass slaughter would never occur again, the norm today, in a world whose population has more than doubled, is to give genocides a brief mention in the evening news and ignore them. Life in a patriarchy becomes cheap with monotonous regularity as we overpopulate, die off, overpopulate, die off, and appear to lack the intelligence of some 1-celled brainless creatures to end the cycles of violent insanity by empowering females.
Forced, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are only normal in patriarchal societies. In egalitarian societies females would only strive to make a sexually attractive appearance when they were seeking sex, and then only with particular individual partners rather than the male population at large. So long as patriarchy makes sexual objectification a social norm for females but not for males, equality is impossible. The employer who wants a female employee to make a sexually attractive, rather than simply a neat and clean appearance, should have to prove that it is a bona fide and work-related requirement, list it in the job description as such, and pay the prevailing rates for sex workers on top of the usual salary. Any employer who sends a female for psychological counseling for failure to act in a sufficiently feminine manner should be deemed guilty of sexual harassment and discrimination. When employees are treated equitably, without regard to sex, there is no need to enforce social norms. After all, many females in mostly-male worksites, no matter how feminine their personna, are already men, at least according to a well-known definition give by Rudyard Kipling: "If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…."