Patriarchal essentialism and the reproductive "estates"

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In a recent post, I took up the serious and imminent issue of the movements of young men who seem to be a key provider of energy if not votes for the current expansion of far-right political phenomena. In that post, I rather tendentiously took up the apparent core complaint of these young men at their word: they do not have access to female attention in the form they think generations of men before them were afforded, they recognize that the world has been rearranged to give women choices that heighten the chance of their involuntary exclusion from such interaction, and they believe that left-wing and socially progressive movements subvert common moral discourses to deny them advocacy for what they see as a real source of suffering for themselves. They then reject analysis of their dissatisfaction in terms of their own patriarchal malprogramming — they know what they feel and what, and honestly, you can’t really ask someone to pretend to themselves to not want what they really want. If one takes them — and many of the attempts at analyzing them as a phenomenon — at their word, what they are really arguing is that they as men cannot help but make a demand upon women that the state must satisfy, or that they will work as a group to cause the state to satisfy, of course necessarily by restricting women’s choices once again. It would therefore be either the case that reproductive maleness qua maleness contains an inherent and irremediable moral defect, or that they’re wrong about their subjective psychological state, something by its very nature impossible to verify.

Some of the comments to that post raised the objection that I was setting forth a peculiar sort of biological determinism by doing so. Which, by taking these young men at their word, I was.

But of course biological determinism, at least as most usually conceived, is a crock. Biological determinism is typically used in the following manner: observed differences and inequalities are not the rest of discrimination or mutable social processes, but rather, the outcome of genetic difference (genetics being misconceived as a program that writes out all biology, when the reality is more complex). The implication is that dealing with inequality is impossible.

There’s lots of reason why this is problematic, including on the matter of biological sex. When as many social variables are controlled for as possible, most biological behavioural differences in both intelligence and inclination turn out to be relatively small — at least not of the sizes required to account for economic inequality, underrepresentation, and so on. And there is a deeper problem: it turns out that even at a genetic level, how genotypes are transformed into phenotypes turns out to be extremely complex and not at all amenable to straightforward explanation, particularly in the matter of “abstract” cognitive characteristics at a far developmental remove from Mendelian inheritance. What differences appear still to be explainable as “genetic biology” weaken as more difficult confounds are obtained.

So let me lay my cards on the table on the biology front: yes, it is very unlikely that biological determinism of this kind explains anything of patriarchy, and indeed, these young men are not playing out some kind of genetic programme to demand that the modern state “encourage” women to sleep with them. However, it is also unlikely that human reproductive biology has no social consequences. The problem is that we do have, for lack of a better word, reproductive “estates” inside the human race that come from the social interactions of sexually-reproducing species. There are at least three such “reproductive estates”: the estate of those assumed capable of pregnancy and birth (call this the CPB estate), the estate of those assumed capable of instigating pregancy (call this the CIP estate), and a third estate of those who for various reasons are assumed neither to have the pregnancy power nor the impregnation power in a way that has social relevance (the “neither” estate), that may actually be composed of an archipelago of smaller estates.

Biological reproduction is a part of social reproduction, and social reproduction necessarily has implications for class interest and class conflict. Separated from claims about genetics, what Kekistani young men are perceiving is an inability to participate in their estate and to obtain the power of the patriarch to influence the terms of social reproduction. And while it may not be the case that the pressure for patriarchy is inherently a result of the physical mechanics of membership in the “CIP estate”, the potential for certain kinds of conflicts among these estates remains, and the ultimate dismantlement of the virtual fascist nation of Kekistan depends, I think, in part on identifying the class dynamics among these estates. And that is why I titled the previous post, “The essential patriarch”, and not “The essential male”.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on October 14, 2017 11:59 AM.

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