Monday, July 10, 2006

Patriarchy and the World of Lies

I've finally figured out how to explain to myself what I consider the most pernicious of patriarchy's many sins agaisnt society: it gives rise to a world of lies, where facades, conformity and self-deception reign and genuine expression is stifled.

I was thinking about economics the other day. Specifically, the concept of a "free market." Free markets work best because they give rise to what economist Tim Harford calls a "world of truth." People pay for what they want, based on what it's worth to them and what it costs to make. The optimal amount of everything is produced, everyone is working in the right job, because people are seek out what's best for them..

Plenty of factors can interfere with the free market, however. Externalities are a major one. An externality is the flaw in a market which results when one person's action has an effect on naother, either positive or negative. If negative, too much gets produced: I don't have to pay for the damage I inflict. If positive, too little: If I maintain my lawn, it will increase your property value--but I may not find it worthwhile unless you pay me.

Welfare Economics is the discipline of economics that tries to create perfectl efficient markets, maximizing the total benefit enjoyed by all memebrs of society. In my last post, I proposed a very similar decision-making system for individuals: subdivide yourself into several persons, each representing a given interest, and look at the tradeoffs involved in indulging one need by neglecting another.

This insight finally made clear to me what's wrong with the patriarchy, indeed with the mere existence of gender roles: it destroys the free market of the soul. just as taxes and subsidies cna skew incentives for economic choices, social approval or reproval can similarly skew personal choices.

For instance, a woman in summer considering wearing skimpy (that is, comfortable) clothign must consider not only her own physical comfort, how she personally wants ot look, and her budget, but also the likely reactions of outsiders. Often for anyone, but especially for women, the demands of society conflict with what is actually best.

A world in which a woman is cowed into wearing clothes that are too hot is senselessly inefficient. It is a world where people ar eless comfortable than they should be, for no added gain. It is a world where social disapproval (a "tax" on revealing attire) prevents people from wearing what they truly want to wear. If conservatives hate government control over business, they should realize that government control of people is just as bad, for just the same reason.

Women aren't the only ones who suffer. Every time a man refuses to take dance lessons because they "girly" or "gay," talent is being wasted. we are--all of us-- less productive, less well-rounded, less interesting people than we should be, because our options are artificially limited.

I've never felt pressure to conform to my gender role; quite the opposite in fact. I do many fo the thigns I do: wear long hair, act in plays, dance, write poetry, actually talk to girls, etc.) in part because I actively enjoy the surprise, disgust, or amusement I provoke.

In short, patriarchy controls my rebel life as much as anyone else. I like my long hiar--I think it looks good, and I don't have to cut it often. But I'll be honest with myself. If not for the attention my hiar brings me, i would have cut it logn ago. It's simply too impractical, too muhc work to care for, to keep out of my face, and so on. I have long hair precisely because boys aren't supposed to.

I wish the world didn't work this way. I wish men felt free to take ballet. I wish I could assume my friends' stay-at-home moms do so because they want to, not because they have to. I wish people understood that not all men like sports. I wish that one of my female friends wouldn't hide a second shirt in her backpack to chang einto once she gets out of her house.

I wish people could be honest about what they feel. I wish boys only kissed girls because they were in love. I wish rumor didn't attribute me four or five girlfriends, all because I actually *like* girls and treat them decently. I wish girls starting dating when they were ready, not when their friends expected it. I wish girls only kissed boys because they were in love.

I wish that people felt safe enough to be themselves.

Thanks a lot, patriarchy. Thanks for making vindictive self-hating manipulative liars of us all.

Patriarchy is nothing more than the fascism of the soul.
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