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The Varieties of Power


(Image by JDHancock, used under Creative Commons License).

Nota bene:  I’ll be shortly publishing a follow-on by Escoffier about the topic in this post.  While that follow-on is being edited for publication, I’m posting this, which is a kind of organic response to a discussion that has been taking place across a few blogs recently.

There has been some interesting discussion recently on a few blogs regarding certain aspects of power distribution between men and women.

First, let me say as a preliminary matter that while I understand the argument that viewing such things in terms of power distribution effectively buys into, or gives too much credit to, arguments, paradigms, world-views and metaphysics which are all basically wrong, nevertheless I personally find it useful to address the perspectives within their own paradigms, if only for the purpose of understanding them more fully.

Essentially, the discussion has been about power, in relative terms, between men and women over different historical eras.

Donalgraeme’s post, which contained a number of helpful diagrams, argued that, due to a biologically-based tendency in virtually all human societies to protect the female sex and enhance resource transfer to women, the “baseline” setting in any society will slope in favor of the females.   The biological basis for this is the reality that from the reproductive point of view, women are the “scarcer resource” due to the constraining limits of womb space/time resulting from gestational periods as compared with the much more readily available sperm, which is not subject to such constraints.  A more crass way of describing this is that if, in extremis, a society had 100 women and 1 man, it could survive well enough, whereas a society with 100 men and 1 woman would face substantial difficulties.  Therefore, the “natural baseline” is to protect and provide for women more than men, because they are the more precious reproductive resource required to grow a healthy tribe, etc., and men are very expendable by comparison.

It follows from this baseline that, because there is a natural disequilibrium between the value of the sexes from the reproductive point of view, societies will generally tilt towards protecting the female members in many ways.   Because of that tilt, in order to maintain any kind of parity between the sexes, even one of a complementarian nature, certain safeguards must be socially/artificially inserted into the system in favor of the male members of the society to offset the natural disequilibrium/tilt that the society will have in favor of protecting and providing for the female members as the scarcer resource.  That is, the status of the male members of the society must be elevated in some way which is not strictly biological in order to have a stable order which somewhat balances the sexes in the society and, crucially, in order to get the male participation in the society in toto which is required for it to thrive — that is, in order to avoid a Hobbesian war of all males against all other males, even within the tribe, to monopolize womb access — a situation which is highly unstable and invites invasion and takeover by other, more stable and well-ordered, tribes.

Free Northerner has objected to this analysis on the basis that because men enjoy the “hard” power in any society (they are the soldiers, the legislators, the wielders of public power), the idea that any society has a tilt towards female power, as a default setting, is nonsensical.  In this view, any power women have is simply given to them by men as an indugence, or exercised by men by proxy.  In the end, it’s the men who are in power, full stop.

In my view, that perspective, while not completely untrue as far as it goes in terms of the public aspects of power expression historically, is substantially misguided because it understands power among humans in a far too narrow way.

In other words, while that perspective is more or less accurate in the realm of direct/public/physical power, it overlooks the realm of indirect/private/influence power.  Humans are not just physical warriors, we are a social and familial species, and therefore power for us is not, and never has been, purely/only about physical power.

Under the old scheme, prior to the implementation of equality in terms of public forms of power, women had a large amount of soft power in the family/private realm, and thereby exercised not only the lion’s share of power in certain realms, but also a substantial degree of power in terms of influence over the direct realm, by means of influencing the men around them, especially in the context of families (extended, not nuclear — nuclear family is a very contemporary phenomenon). For background on this, Chinweizu Ibekwe’s book “Anatomy of Female Power” is instructive.  A PDF copy of the book is available here:  While I do not agree with everything Chinweizu argues in his book, nevertheless the discussion on pages 9-12 in the Introduction is a useful, and provocative, read for anyone interested in these kinds of issues.

The fact that many men have tended historically to overlook this real power by focusing instead on their own direct, “public” power has only served to augment the indirect power that women have (by providing no recognized counter) and, ultimately, led to men supporting feminism out of “fairness”.  In other words, if the only real power is the direct kind of power men generally have and express, it is only fair for this direct, public power to be shared with women, because to do otherwise would perpetuate a very unfair distribution of total power between the sexes.  It is precisely the mindset that “direct power is the only real power that matters” that has led to widespread support among men for feminism on fairness grounds.

Feminism, despite its stated goals, has not actually resulted in equality for various, and widely-disputed, reasons, but a main one is precisely because the realm of female power, which pre-existed feminism and which continues to exist today, has been overlooked or considered unimportant in the entire analysis about power between the sexes.  I would argue (although this is not the subject of this post — perhaps something to address in greater detail in a subsequent post) that this, in turn, happened because the predominant worldview in the West switched to a huge degree towards emphasizing the individual and such individual’s public self-expression, or self-actualization — a development which devalued most of the existing female spheres of power, which were more hidden, private, and influence-based, while elevating the existing male spheres of power, which were more public expressions of the self, in perceived importance.  That this would eventually necessitate a balancing of power within that specifically emphasized realm, given the concurrent devaluing of the other realm in relative terms, seems unsurprising.

So, what happened with feminism is that women were invited to share equally, more or less, in the bases of male power in the context of a society which is no longer based on raw, brute strength, but advanced technology, money and so on.  However, women retained 100% of their own pre-existing power base: sex/family/influence/culture.  The result was the disempowerment of most men vis-a-vis most women, not in the public sphere, but in the sense of total power, taking into consideration both public and private power.  The old system, which is now for the most part pejoratively dubbed “patriarchy” (again, not surprising in the context of a culture which was moving towards a one-sided emphasis on individual self-actualization and power) actually was quite equitable when viewed from the perspective of total power, because it granted men power in the sphere that made more sense for the physically stronger sex and the one with more testosterone and drive, and the only sphere in which they could actually exercise power, for biological reasons, while granting women power in the sphere that made the most sense for that sex, being the one that bears children, and in spheres where biology dictates that women will virtually always enjoy a primacy of power.  In addition, by granting men power in the public sphere, the general tilt toward favoring women as the more precious reproductive resource was offset to some extent.  However, if you allow one sex to share in the power of the other, and not vice-versa (or even admit that there IS a vice-versa to begin with), you end up with what we have today: women having a share in what was previously the male power space, but at the same time retaining virtually all of the power over the female power area, which means, in effect, on average more total power, taking into account both realms, than all but the most powerful men.

The typical feminist objection to that analysis is that they are more than happy to have men share in the female power space if men would but show sufficient interest in doing so.  Even if that were true (which it isn’t for most women in practice, leaving aside statements made largely for the sake of maintaining an argument), there really isn’t any way to “fix” that, because the female power areas largely arise due to biology, as outlined above.  The male area does as well, of course, but in a highly advanced technological society with the rule of law and so on, the natural base of that power is well circumscribed, and mostly for the good (no-one in his right mind should really want a world of Mad Max).  These changes are why women have been invited to share in the male power space to begin with:  they can now do so without the heavy lifting required in previous eras, because that has been relegated now to certain spheres in which most men themselves no longer participate en masse.  The Men’s Rights guys efforts would blunt some of the worst abuses here, but only slightly so — they can never really “make things equal”, because the female base of power is more or less completely off the table for biological reasons and, in many ways (sex/influence/culture) not subject to being manipulated through legal changes anyway.  Most men, due to the biological differences involved, simply can’t partake in the female power space, period, even if most women were willing to grant them this (which they most certainly are not).

In summary, from my perspective, to overlook the very real female power base, its enduring strength, and its continued presence up to this very day essentially plays into the mindset of the people who support(ed) feminism, because it sees only the male base of power as meaningful and significant, and therefore something which it is “unfair” for one sex to hoard.  It’s tempting for men to view it this way, because when we do, we emphasize our own power base — that’s understandable.  But it’s incorrect, and it’s also a flaw in thinking that actually enhances the female power base, precisely because it overlooks it and underestimates it, thereby permitting it to grow and retrench its power essentially without check.  It’s a mistaken approach for that reason.  In my view, when a holistic approach to power analysis is taken, a rather different picture emerges, and one which presents clearer opportunities, as well as clearer obstacles, rather than a perspective which argues that “men need to take back their power and take away the power of women”.  That isn’t going to happen in the context of human society, because of how the power bases work.  What could happen, if articulated properly, is a greater realization of the importance of total power, taking all elements into account in a holistic way, but this would require leaving behind the loyalties of many, including many in this space of the internet, towards individualism as a kind of prime directive.  It is that which has largely been our undoing here, and it is that which will need to be addressed in order to move past the current difficulties.


15 Responses

  1. Donal Graeme

    Bravo. You’ve addressed much of what I was going to say in response to FN, and took it a good bit further as well. Guess I will need to respond to both of your posts now.

    1. veritaslounge

      Thanks! Let’s keep the discussion going. Clarity on these issues is important, I think.

  2. The Unreal Woman

    Women don’t retain that sphere of power. It’s super weird that FN and to some extent you are reinventing half of a radical feminist power analysis without any of the historical context they would at least try to throw in.

    It can reasonably be argued that a majority of feminists worked hard to remove soft power from women. Curiously, the radical feminist contingent is a place where some feminists both acknowledge this soft power and want to preserve it. The, uh, intersection of interests here between a certain kind of radical feminist and a certain kind of traditional conservative non-feminist woman is real and rather fascinating.

    But the idea that women still have all their power and some of what men have is observably false.

  3. Donal Graeme

    No time for a long comment, but there has been -som-e diminishment of traditional female power. Not that it is all gone, mind you. As Novaseeker points out it has increased in some respects. But one area where women have lost power (at least most women) is in rearing their children- the present education system is one that replaces what women traditionally did with something else entirely. Also, the culture is such that it reduces the overall impact that a parent, especially a mother, has in terms of influencing their child’s development.

    Of course, these influences are felt most powerfully in the lowest SES. Once a women is in a high enough SES family then she is usually able to retain this power to some degree, assuming she wants to, of course.

    1. Höllenhund

      Plus a mother can decide to homeschool her children.

  4. Höllenhund

    Feminist will also be happy to inform us that women didn’t actually have soft power at all because, well, you know, the past was a horrid time because husbands could legally rape their wives and shit.

  5. Höllenhund

    I think this quote from an earlier post of yours helps clear your argument up a bit:

    “the things that feminism did seek that were not consonant with the female-variant of the super-norm (i.e., that involved radical lesbian separatism, the avoidance of having children, the avoidance of monogamous relationships with men, the avoidance of marriage, and so on) were precisely those aspects of feminism that did not “stick”, that got very little cultural traction, and were quite unceremoniously dropped as what had been a radical social movement was eventually co-opted into becoming the social, cultural and political face of the rising feminine super-norm, and which itself became the new face of the mainstream”

  6. Donal Graeme

    One thing that I forgot to mention that plays a role in the FI is “in-group preference.” Women have it to a degree far greater than men. In many ways men lack it- we compete as part of our natural behavior set, whereas women cooperate (not do say women don’t compete, but that they don’t in the way that men do).

  7. Feminine But Not Feminist

    Great post Novaseeker! I just linked to it in the comments of a post I put up last night that touches just a smidge on male/female power, though I was talking about it in a different context.

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