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David Mejía

Patriarchy and the Wooden Plank

«I doubt that our gender sensitivity is ready for this new masculinity, but perhaps it is ready to wonder how many male victims have fallen to the famous patriarchy»

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Patriarchy and the Wooden Plank

20th Century Fox Studios

The generations of teenagers who have cried over Titanic have been asking themsleves the same question for twenty-three years: did Jack fit onto the wooden plank? And for twenty-three years they have looked past the real dilemma: why —if only one person fit—did it have to be Rose who was saved?

When Rose’s champions insist that Jack did not fit, I always think the same thing: “No, my friends: the one who did not fit was Rose.” I remind  them that he is the one who finds the board, when they are floundering among the remains of the shipwreck next to a thousand future cadavers. And after finding it, he hands it over to her, sacrificing his own life. And this is what everyone thinks is  very normal. Why? It’s simple: Jack is a man and Rose is a woman.

Patriarchal hegemony requires men to open doors, pay bills, and die of hypothermia. In a non-patriarchal world, Rose is the one who would have died. Jack, for his part, would have had a career in New York and, an old man by now —maybe with Paul Newman or Robert Redford cast in the role— would have told us about all his adventures on the Titanic. In a deep and velvety voice he would spin the tale of how he managed not to give in to the dictates of patriarchy and left the woman he loved to freeze to death.

I doubt that our gender sensitivity is ready for this new masculinity, but perhaps it is ready to wonder how many male victims have fallen to the famous patriarchy. I am aware that entering into this debate is about as pleasant as a plunge into the freezing waters of the north Atlantic, but lately there abound different kinds of worrying—even raving mad —discourse, having to do with masculine gender and it’s a good idea to bring some sanity to the matter.

The writer Pauline Harmange has recently published a short essay titled Moi les hommes, je les déteste (in sum, “I hate men”). Fortunately for her, misandry (an aversion to males) has better press than misogyny or racism; the book is flying off the shelves. For the rest, the author is married to a man, whom we don´t know if she hates or not.

In an interview in The Guardian, Harmange says that her apology for misandry is a reaction to misogyny, which is at the root of a systemic violence against women; that is why, she goes on to say, she defends women’s right  “not to like men”. And then there are the statistics: more than 90% of those sentenced for the use of violence are men. These data, like the one revealing that 85.8% of the victims who die at the hands of their partner or former partner are women murdered by men, are true. But the image that they project is not necessarily so: the chances of being attacked by a man are very low. Moreover, those who are are more likely to be victims of male violence are other men.  Whether we like it or not, there exist inherently male dramas which are often ignored.

Oriel FeldmanHall, now a professor at Brown University and previously a researcher at New York University, published a study in 2016 which concluded that we are more likely to sacrifice a man over a woman when it comes to saving the lives of others and pursuing our own interests.  «Our study,» FeldmanHall commented,  “suggests that we think that women’s welfare must be preserved over and above that of men.”  As Jack knows very well!

In a population grown hypersensitive to systemic violence, this moral bias explains our indifference to some statistics. In an article from 2015, titled “Four Puzzles On Gender Equality”, Prof. Philippe van Parijs shed light on the extent to which men were at a disadvantage with respect to women: they live for fewer years, in many countries they receive less education than women and they have a greater propensity to misbehave, which means that they constitute practically all of the population held in jails and prisons.  These disadvantages derive from «an unchosen feature shared by one category of human beings: being a male». Other statistics show that men account for 95% of the deaths through work-related accidents in Spain and 77% of the suicides in Europe. If we are trying to correct structural faults we should not sidestep these data. Why do men overwhelmingly hold down the dangerous jobs? Why are they more subject to disorders that lead them to try to take their own lives?

Nobody is questioning the fact that women have been subordinated to men throughout the centuries, but that does not mean that all men, simply because they are men, are violent or, much less, privileged. Masculinity has its own complications, often the result of  the same perverse system. Why do we accept so naturally that Jack should give up his place on the wooden plank?

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