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Guest blog: what do men think about patriarchy?

Meet Dave Pickering. If you don’t already follow him on Twitter (and you should – he’s @goosefat101), you may not have heard of the #ManSurvey yet. A while ago he posted a few tweets with a link to a list of questions on surveymonkey designed to find out what men think about patriarchy. Questions like ‘does patriarchy exist?’ ‘does misandry exist?’ and ‘how has patriarchy hurt you?’ yielded a whole range of answers: some sarcastic, some touching, some sad, some insightful.

In total, over 1000 people filled out the survey, and I invited Dave to write a guest blog to give you an overview of the results. So, ever wondered what men think about patriarchy? Let’s have a look…

Defining masculinity

Like many men, I have a complicated relationship with being a man and with the concept of masculinity. In the last 5 years or so, I’ve started to revaluate myself and my past through talking to people I know on my podcast and getting involved with true storytelling. I’ve started to see childhood very differently. Those 5 years coincided with me joining Twitter and starting to read more feminist and marginalised voices, which offered me new ways to understand what I was learning about myself. I decided to put them all together in a show called What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity.

While writing it, I got stuck on how to define masculinity. It isn’t really something I feel able to define, more something that’s existence seems to define me. I wondered how other men would define masculinity, so I decided to ask them. And I thought the best way to get honest answers would be to ask in the form of an anonymous online survey.

One of the starting points for both my show and the survey was this quote from The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love, by bell hooks:

“Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation. Yet most men do not use the word ‘patriarchy’ in everyday life. Most men never think about patriarchy – what it means, how it is created and sustained.”

Once I started sharing the survey and its responses via social media, it took on a life of its own. It grew into something much more important to me and my show than I’d anticipated. It captured the interest and imagination of people of all genders, and developed into a survey of 1000 men

What do men think about patriarchy?

There really is a lot of variety to the responses. 10 trans men filled it in and those 10 men have had very different experiences and views of patriarchy to each other. Race, class, sexuality and other oppressive systems come up frequently. There were even three surveys filled in by women. Some men express hatred for men. Some men express hatred for women.

Even when the men skip questions, it tells us things. For example, the most frequently skipped question was How have you hurt people in a way influenced by patriarchy?” Many responses deny being hurt or hurting people through patriarchy and then go on to undermine these claims within the rest of their answers. Many talk candidly and honesty about experiences of bullying, abuse and shame. At one point a man confesses to raping his girlfriend “because [he] did not know what rape was.”

A lot of men weren’t keen on the survey; specifically they weren’t keen on the man they imagined made it. One man answered the question, “How would you define masculinity?” with, “The opposite of whoever made this survey, you male apologist beta cuckold.” Another said, “This survey was clearly written by a cuckolded beta liberal [homophobic slur] who needs to start lifting and stop being a disgrace to his gender, you pussy.” One man decided to tweet this interesting assessment of my motivation: “Enjoy being an emasculated lapdog. Does that get you much feminist pussy? LOL”.

Who filled out the man survey?

Most of the less personal criticisms of the survey boil down to it being biased. The survey was not designed to be rational or scientific. The survey was designed to be experiential and discursive. It was designed to make my own positions clear, but also to give people room to challenge them. I don’t really believe things can be unbiased; the best we can hope for is transparency about our bias.

I didn’t ask for demographics, although many responses reveal demographic details. The other big thing missing is a question asking if patriarchy is good or bad. Some respondents think the problem is there’s not enough patriarchy! 

For example, there were a few hundred in a row where the survey was mostly being filled in by Men’s Rights Activists. I guess the link had found its way to a strange sub-reddit somewhere and a backlash was launched. That was when reading and sharing the responses became gruelling: wading through page after page of hate and fear. But even those responses told us something about men and patriarchy. After a while, the attack died down.

I don’t think the responses are representative of all men. To a certain extent, it’s a survey of feminist-leaning men: they’re the majority. The initial respondents came generally from that POV, and as the survey grew, it was mostly shared by feminists. That said, it does represent many other viewpoints. If the survey isn’t representative, I don’t really think that’s a bad thing. I feel like we hear a lot from men who don’t believe in patriarchy. I was interested in hearing from the men whose point of view we hear less frequently and I feel like the survey achieved that.

The man survey is a thing in its own right and has a lot more applications than as the research for my show. I’ve shared all the responses on a website as an open source resource. If you have any interest in reading or analysing 1000 anonymous men’s thoughts on patriarchy, it’s the site for you!

When I made the survey, I thought it would just give me a couple of quotes for an already finished show, but it’s changed the show completely. For me personally, it has been quite the emotional rollercoaster ride. At first it was incredibly heartening. Hearing about men who, like me, have been harmed by patriarchy and men who, like me, have harmed others through patriarchy and are trying to change their behaviour was really liberating. Hearing about men grappling with manhood, worrying about their impact in the world, questioning and hating their privilege made me feel less alone. It was also heartbreaking to read the pain many of the men had experienced and inflicted.

I want to develop the discussions and respond to these responses. If 1000 men talking about patriarchy might be useful to you, please make use of the website. I don’t have a statistical or analytical background, but people who do are welcome to apply theirs to these results. I’ve been approached by someone who wanted to use it as a teaching resource, and I’d really encourage this. I’ve set up a blog on the site; I welcome guest posts and will link from there to any developments people do elsewhere.

The hashtag I’m using to discuss the survey and the show on Twitter is #ManSurvey, and you’ll find me there as @goosefat101.

I’ll leave the last word to a man who commented over on the site about his experience with the #ManSurvey:

“ManSurvey came at a critical point in my thinking about gender. I was going through a tough time emotionally after my mother died after ten years of dementia. The grief reaction was much more dramatic than I expected and triggered a flood of feelings about my dad who died more than thirty years ago and most significantly his relationship with my mum. Patriarchy has never been a word I have used to navigate my relationship with my parents but the ManSurvey questions really created a eureka moment. The idea that patriarchy can hurt everyone, including boys and men, was a huge relief. My own struggle makes more sense and though I cannot go back and undo all the damage and pain I have caused, I do at least have a handle on the dynamics at work. I hope this website can flourish as a beacon to help other troubled souls!”

16 Comments

  • RB says:

    This is great, I’ll have to look into it further when I’m not at work. And it’s sadly inevitable that there’s a dogpile of MRAs on one of these at some point…

  • RB says:

    P.S. Currently scrolling through the full list of responses and I’m slightly in love with respondent #998.

    • Girl on the net says:

      There are some seriously interesting ones in there. I like the phrase ‘I dick swing.’ =)

  • Agitator says:

    Nope. I checked out of the article after I saw the numerous methodological failures and the name of the website. Specifically because ‘mansplaining masculinity’ is the single most asinine phrase ever written, implying that someone (a man) is talking down to someone else (usually a woman) who knows more about the subject than the explainer does. So in this case implying that women (or this author) understand masculinity, understand the concept of masculinity than the average Joe.

    Plus I hate that word ‘mansplaining’.

    Next up is the terrible questionnaire. ‘Does patriarchy exist’, it doesn’t seem to define patriarchy as a concept anywhere, nor does it give a time frame, just does it exist. Well sure, it was pretty common going back a few hundred years when by the dictionary definition there tended toward male heads of household with familial ties and titles traced through the man. But i’m guessing the person behind the paper was going for one of the dozen or so different feminist definitions of patriarchy – but didn’t provide a definition.

    So what you’ve got is a question that is as broad and ambiguous as “Do you think there is an afterlife”. No specifics, just a ‘feels’.

    How has patriarchy hurt you and how have you hurt others with… Well lets see, if the average Joe answers this question and this person has in any way been alive and kicking recently, i’m sure that they got their dose of third wave feminist ‘guilt trip’ “all men oppress all women” dose of vitamin whine. I mean what with the Emma Watson speech, Anita Sarkeesian, etc. It’s hard to avoid the victim complex peddlers.

    So no, just no. So tedious. I’m going to be going back to supporting feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers (an equity feminist) and anyone in the choice feminism camp. None of this whiny third wave nonsense.

    • Girl on the net says:

      It’s a shame you didn’t get as far as this paragraph of the blog post:

      “The survey was not designed to be rational or scientific. The survey was designed to be experiential and discursive. It was designed to make my own positions clear, but also to give people room to challenge them. I don’t really believe things can be unbiased; the best we can hope for is transparency about our bias.”

      • Agitator says:

        It should have gone without saying that the survey was an exercise in confirmation bias. That’s my point, if you create a survey that is structurally unsound then any results you get are meaningless.

        Literally meaningless, as in why is this even getting coverage? Nothing from it holds any value.

        I’m not here to impress I’m just here to point out that the value of this survey is void and that people shouldn’t try to read anything into it. Next time he should consult some social science majors and decide whether he is going down the qualitative or quantitative road.

        • Girl on the net says:

          That’s not how these things work. Sure, if you wanted to use the survey to draw conclusions about what the entire population think of something, you’d need to ensure that it was a representative sample, etc. But if you want to start a discussion about something, and solicit people’s opinions in order to inform a debate? Then this is a perfectly valid way of soliciting those opinions. If you genuinely think that anything with opinion-related bias is useless in a discussion context, then why on earth would you be reading a blog?

    • RB says:

      Uh oh, a member of the Fedora Squad has turned up.

    • Dave says:

      The second question in the survey asks men to define patriarchy. I don’t offer a definition but I do ask for one. All those definitions of patriarchy and quite a few others are included in responses, as are discussions of different waves of feminism and the criticism of the survey you put forward (plus lots more.)

      Also the title is meant to be tongue in cheek. In the context of the survey doesn’t refer to me but to the 1000 diverse voices of the men who filled out the survey’s. In the case of my show it does mean me but is meant to be self-deprecating. But I acknowledge it may put people off.

  • Scrubber says:

    > How have you hurt people in a way influenced by patriarchy?

    As a pubescent child, I had access to a large stash of my dad’s pornography (long before any sort of sex education, not that any of it covered anything other than the biological). Being a nerdy child, I spent as much time reading the “reader’s letters” as looking at the pictures. Being rather credulous, I learnt that women are all barely restrained wanton pleasure seekers and all that is required to unleash their sexuality is to be sufficiently forceful (looking back, it’s remarkable how uniform the attitude was in that writing).

    Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go so well. Unfortunately, I interpreted this as not trying hard enough. I was never quite brave enough to rape somebody but several women suffered abuse at my hands. It took years before I understood the full horror of what I inflicted on them.

  • Fiddy says:

    Honestly, I dislike both feminists and meninists (That’s the word right?), and believe everyone should push for egalitarianism. Everybody is treated the same, end of story. Sure, this means privileges probably won’t be because they’d be given to both genders, but I can’t think of any reason to complain about fathers getting as many days off as their wife when they have a baby. It just makes sense.

    Which is why both sides of the gender movements make me uncomfortable since they both tend to want to gain something at the expense of the other.

    • Girl on the net says:

      “they both tend to want to gain something at the expense of the other.”
      Strongly disagree on this. Feminism isn’t about ‘gaining’ something at the expense of men – it’s about raising women up so that we achieve the same rights and opportunities as men and – in situations where our society has treated men in dodgy ways because of their gender – doing the same for them too. I honestly struggle to understand the argument that says feminism is about *reducing* men in some way.

      • Orathaic says:

        Feminism is about equality, so to me it is also about providing positive male role-models. Helping men learn how to interact with the women in their lives in a positive manner.

        Where some feminists fail to teach this, i am not criticising, it is my place to advocate for this by doing it myself, not by telling other feminists what they should be concerned with.

    • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

      Egalitarianism *is* what most feminists have traditionally argued for. (Although it’s not possible for ‘everyone to be treated the same’ in every respect, because of certain biological differences – generally speaking, men don’t get periods or need abortions, for instance. But in most respects. You might be surprised to learn that increasing paternal leave is a policy many feminists have campaigned for.)

      The problems arise when people use the principle of ‘treating people equally’ to justify ignoring existing inequalities, e.g. the overrepresentation of men in many groups and positions of power. You can pretend that you ‘don’t see gender’ all you like, but widespread social sexism exists whether you recognise it or not. For that reason, pro-female policies like boardroom quotas are really a means of increasing egalitarianism, not opposing it.

  • Misogyny cost me a possible spouse. The sex was amazing, but his attitude to living relationships was disastrous. He was adorable, but I hated him for being a MCP.

    Both my partner and I are feminists. He gets furious about FGM and when he sees misogyny on television and films. Although we are sex bloggers, we’ve never dealt with misogyny as a subject.

    Peter says that as long as FGM and child marriage continues in the world he won’t rest. This is his article on FGM for anyone interested or who does not know about this dreadful practice which even occurs far too often in the USA and UK.

    The sooner men realise that whistling and shouting at girls who are just going about their day to day lives, is wrong, always, then we will be on the road to dealing with the problem. I fear it will be some time indeed.

  • SCOTT says:

    “Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.”

    My Father treated my Mother and Sister like shit all throughout my childhood. He was also incredibly judgmental of me as a male growing up because I was (and still am) introverted, shy, and wimpy. Everything he was not. He verbally abused everyone around him and was generally just an angry bully all throughout my life who just looked to stir up emotions every day because he was a miserable failure. I’m only 23 years old now and almost every day I feel like I’m walking around through life with multiple cinderblocks tied to me. I’m a great worker, graduated college, have musical talent…….but I feel completely empty and often sad. I have no real understanding of intimacy, relationships, or sex (porn is not sex). These things just confuse and infuriate me now to absolutely no end because I’ve avoided them completely all my life. I alternate between getting angry, anxious sad, and ‘very’ sad about that. I don’t know how to talk to women or do anything dating-wise, and the thought of doing so fills me with dread because I feel invisible and LESS-THAN compared to others who have had dating/sex experience. I feel like creeps like me are the ones considered the real misogynists today due to people like Eliot Rodger. I also already went down that ugly route the internet takes dejected, vulnerable young men like me, which is the disturbing world of misogyny and “blame it on the women” type sites and chat rooms. Sometimes I wish more of us guys had positive guidance to help us as men in this world, because society may be changing for women but too many men grew up through these patriarchal experiences making it all very confusing and overwhelming. Unfortunately I’ve never come across anything feminist to help men that feel this shitty. It’s interesting though that the survey creator got called names like “Beta Male”. That “Alpha Fucks Beta Bucks” thing was one of the things I used to read about on those websites, and the men who push that male-ranking ideology do a strong job of making men like me feel even more despondent and terrified of intimacy.

    Tell me more about how this is a SOCIAL DISEASE, because I think I’ve caught it!

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