Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Patriarchy, Risk and Reward

March 01st, 2016 by G.

Patriarchy is the theory that men should be the primary bearers of risks. Risk of death or injury, risk of bankruptcy and failure. In marriage the wife shares much of the risk, but even then the risk is disproportioned. If a man dies his family’s prospects will be badly damaged, but they will at least still be alive. If a man fails at business, his whole family shares his poverty, but only a part of his shame.

Basic economic reasoning means that incentivizing risk-taking requires rewards. So patriarchy entails that at least some men will have greater rewards, perhaps economic, perhaps in the form of legal privileges. (Basic economic reasoning also suggests that in more abundant times, the need for specialization in risk-taking will decrease and we may expect more feminism).  The standard reward is a woman.  That is the basic thing that men want.

Basic biological reasoning suggests that patriarchy is a maximally-efficient mechanism for giving groups an edge over their competition. These biological forces pushing men towards risk-taking and women away from it are powerful enough that evolution has gotten them written into our blood. More than that, nature herself takes more risks with men than with women: there are more extremely bright men than women, but there are also more extremely stupid men than women.

The gospel supports a version of patriarchy. For example, the Proclamation teaches that men are supposed to be the providers, which is to say the economic risk-takers.

Why? Perhaps its just a recognition of the brute biological facts. It would be consistent with the gospel to let heritage and history be major shapers of our being. But perhaps it has something to do with the divine method we see in Paul’s sermon on the Body of Christ, where God seems to prefer that we not all embody all good human traits equally but that they be heightened in one and lessened in another and made available to all through fellowship and fraternity. There is something good and divine both about taking risks and competition and about security and stability. Although men and women both know both these goods, possessing them in disproportion allows them to be more fully expressed than if they were balanced in each sex. Then, through marriage, the goods we know are shared with each other and disciplined to the whole: men have to curtail their risk-taking for the needs of the family and women have to take a chance on a man.


Originally published August 2013
Comments (10)
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March 01st, 2016 07:20:45

August 1, 2013

When you couple differential privilege with differential risk, there will always be folks who try to decouple them so that they can enjoy the greater privilege without suffering the greater risk. This produces the kinds of legitimate grievances that the feminists have beaten to death.

Too often, the result is that the disadvantaged group demands the greater privilege while rejecting the greater risk. The precedent has, after all, already been set.

It is important to recognize, as I think you do here, that the differential privilege is not an arbitrary social construct being justified post hoc by arbitrarily attaching a differential risk to it. It’s that both are necessary ab initio and, in the justice of God, they are adjusted to balance each other.

Michael Towns
August 1, 2013

“Why? Perhaps its just a recognition of the brute biological facts.”

My biggest gripe against feminism is their persistent denial of “brute biological facts” (particularly their constant refrain that men and women really “aren’t all that different”). I wrote an essay about this several months ago on my blog.

Talking about the social goods of patriarchy is taboo. I applaud your willingness to broach such an important topic.

There was a book written a while ago called “Why Men Rule” that offered up very cogent reasons why men seem to dominate. I heartily recommend it.

[Editor: the essay is here. Well worth your time.]

March 1, 2016

This is the most sensible reason I have been able to come up with that we don’t see more of Heavenly Mother. Earth is a dirty, dangerous place, and it is the Father’s role to get us through that.

Feel free to free to rebuke or refine that working theory.

John Mansfield
March 1, 2016

The risk that men should shoulder balances against the risk inherent in women’s reproductive role, which used to overall kill women off earlier than men. The risks from pregnancy and bearing are obvious, but even the potential for fertility brings with it the potential for death. For example, my mother’s ovaries killed her when she was 38.

T. Greer
March 1, 2016

This assumes a nuclear family. Most families weren’t.

So lets take, for example, a Chinese family that’s slightly better off than average, anytime from about 800 AD to 1900AD. Dad, two wives, four sons, three of whom have their own wives, along with two grandsons and a granddaughter, all living together (the daughters are living in their husband’s household). Let’s say Dad and Mom are in their 50’s. They are farmers. Who is bearing the risk here? At this point the big difference does not seem to be between man and woman, but between the younger and the older generations. The original mother went through the significant risk of giving birth seven times so that she might have four sons to reduce the risks she faces in her old age.

March 1, 2016

Greer, and how do those four sons provide for their mother in her old age? By getting wives of their own to bear another generation? No. By taking risks of their own to obtain resources and create wealth. You haven’t negated the argument, you’ve only given it a larger context and underscored the point.

Bruce Charlton
March 2, 2016

@T Greer – I don’t think your picture of pre-modern Chinese life is a correct description – at any rate, I personally assume that the following is more accurate:


In sum, there was a *very* high rate of failure to reproduce (and to raise children to sexually mature adulthood) – especially among the poor majority of men.

T. Greer
March 2, 2016

I *did* specify “slightly better off than average.”

Also, I simplified things by not including clans, where rich families members help protect and support poorer lineage members, which was fairly common in the south.

I have major objections to Unz’s arguments though. At some point I will have to write them all up, though I did list a great number in HBD comment threads back when I participated in their debates. He ignores a lot of interesting research and lineal networks and the transfer of wealth among lineage members. I don’t think downward pressure was nearly as severe as he states–especially in the South.

T. Greer
March 2, 2016

@Huston–but what risk are the mean bearing in this situation that the women aren’t? If they are in rice paddy land then they both work an equal amount, and indeed, the women might work more. The men will be in charge of selling what the entire family has produced, and he would also be the family representative leading negotiations with the local irrigation committee to ensure his rice had the water they needed. He would also likely be the guy in charge of petitioning rich lineage members for the protection and funds mentioned above.

If he was better off he would also be in charge of his children’s education.

But most Chinese were not better off. Even the “slightly better off than average” usually couldn’t afford to have their children sit in examinations unless they had support from a lineage fund.

So what risk exactly are the men bearing here that the women aren’t?

This critique could extend to all agricultural societies really–or at least the ones settled enough that there was a distinction between soldiers and subjects. Pluck someone out of ancient Rome, China, Egypt, wherever, and tell them that the man was supposed to be the breadwinner and they wouldn’t understand what you meant. Managing a farm was a family affair. One person could not do it. The death of a wife was just as disastrous in economic terms as the death of husband. Sentences like this:

” If a man dies his family’s prospects will be badly damaged, but they will at least still be alive”

read just as true if changed to read:

“If a woman dies her family’s prospects will be badly damaged, but they will at least still be alive.”

Risk was always a family affair. In societies where men were not expected to defend their families with the sword (i.e. any peaceful agrarian empire, home to most human beings that have existed in human history) it doesn’t make sense to talk about risk in terms of sex. The real divide was generational, and everything else paled in comparison.

March 2, 2016

“but what risk are the men bearing in this situation that the women aren’t?”

Random stuff like:could be drafted, etc. But let’s set that aside.

Consider the assumption that they are “slightly better off than average.” This is like saying “What risk is a lottery winner bearing that an heir isn’t?” Well, none, now. Does that mean we should take from the lottery winner and give to the heir?

Consider that Dad’s two wives are only there because the family is “slightly better off.” Consider that the three sons are only married because the family is slightly better off.

As Rick & Morty says:

“He’s not a hot girl. He can’t just bail on his life and set up shop in someone else’s.”

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