Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On Paterfamilias and Patriarchy, pt. 2 - Another hazard of an ebbing of any sort of patriarchal order is reflected in the lives of more than a few women. Despite the fact that this effect will not imperil the matriarchate outright, it has reduced the quality of life for millions of women. It is understood that females are able to exist exclusive of men; many if not most are able to live quite well without that special someone in their lives. However, perhaps the best unit of measure is not numerated in units of need, but rather of absolute benefit. The fact of the matter is that women function better when they are in community with men, just as men have greater contentment with everyday life when they are in community with women. (I deliberately use the word "community" as opposed to "relationship" due to the connotations associated with the latter.)

While women can live well enough by themselves or in community exclusively with other women, it is also clear that women benefit from an assertive male influence or perspective in their lives, even outside of a romantic relationship. This is due in large part to the well-known differences in brain architecture between males and females. In general, women are less aggressive and better able to exercise self-restraint; these singularly feminine characteristics being attributable to women having a larger prefrontal cortex, which controls the impulses of a woman’s smaller amygdala.

It is also well established that a larger hypothalamus affects a woman's responses to hormone fluctuations, with females being more prone to hormone-mediated mood swings. Similarly, it is understood that women have an outsized anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) compared to men. This part of the brain helps women to evaluate options in decision-making. But because the ACC functions as a stress axis in women’s brains, women are more prone to anxiety and obsessive behavior. A May 14, 2006 New York Times article describes women's increased use of "emotional support animals."

One 30-year-old woman, a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., said she does not see a psychotherapist but suffers from anxiety and abandonment issues and learned about emotional-needs dogs from a television show. She ordered a dog vest over the Internet with the words "service dog in training" for one of the several dogs she lives with, even though none are trained as service animals. "Having my dogs with me makes me feel less hostile," said the woman, who refused to give her name.
The Times article depicts situations where women utilize dogs to help them deal with settings that would typically be considered devoid of unmanageable stress, such as the workplace, airports and restaurants. The article quotes Carole Fudin, a clinical social worker, who suggests that emotional reliance on animals can be taken too far, going on to say "If a person can’t entertain the idea of going out without an animal, that would suggest an extreme anxiety level, and she should probably be on medication, in psychotherapy or both." The heartrending reality of these situations is that the women described in the article apparently do not have fathers, husbands or significant others, or male friends to support in a style that is distinctly masculine.

Beyond differences in brain structure and function, women tend to yield to a specific set of impulses and compulsions that are differentiated from typically masculine behaviors. Specifically, women are more prone to self-injurious behaviors (i.e.: self-biting, picking and burning, as well as injuries by insertion or ingestion) than men. Women are also much more prone to both bulimia and anorexia, and perfectionism, which can be defined as an obsession with meeting an idealized physical standard. And as discussed elsewhere, data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggest that female employees are likely "to suffer more anxiety, stress and neurotic disorders then men do."

All of the observed variances in typically male and female behaviors and attitudes speak to the fact that – at least until recently – masculinity was closely associated with maintaining control of one's emotions, while femininity has been and remains correlated with expressing (or even honoring) feelings. If we assume that women are more prone to yielding to their emotions, we can expect that women are also more likely to be subject to their dictates. These behavioral discrepancies also suggest strongly that a hyperfeminine culture would be just as problematic as one that is hypermasculine. Undeniably, the greatest strength of the patriarchy was that it did its work in concert with the matriarchy, with each complementing and offsetting the other.

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