Medical Tuesday Blog

Sexism largely manifests itself in people acting rationally

May 30

Written by: Del Meyer
05/30/2017 6:41 AM 

Why Patriarchy once made economic sense

By Cathy Reisenwitz


Patriarchy describes the way ideas around gender, specifically performance and expectations inhibit economic, educational, and personal growth. In other words, patriarchy is the word for systemic sexism.

Okay, but sexism works both ways. Actually, it works many ways. Men, women, and genderqueer individuals all experience sexism. Male oppression, such as higher instances of suicide, gender discrimination in child custody cases, and overrepresentation in dangerous jobs, are results of sexism, specifically from gendered expectations. So why gender a term for systemic sexism?

Because patriarchy describes a system wherein it’s assumed that the average man has more power than the average woman.

Power is a big term. But for my purposes, I’m going to talk about power in terms of choices. The more capital you have, the more choices you have. The same is true of rights and opportunities. Until about the 1970s, men held significantly more power than women on average. . .

Why Did Men Hold More Power?

One reason men held more power until fairly recently is that men were more valuable in the market economy. In the 1800s, 80% of the US labor force worked on farms. In the 1960s, a quarter of the US labor force worked in manufacturing. Trade, transportation, and utilities also made up a good fifth of the workforce. These are jobs that reward physical strength and endurance, something men have more of than women, on average.

The Big Misconception

The biggest myth about patriarchy is that it’s a conspiracy wherein men have banded together to exclude and hurt women. In reality, no conspiracy is necessary. It makes more sense to assume that banks didn’t give women credit cards because most women didn’t earn the money they’d need to pay off their debts than because they hated women. . .

In a market economy wherein demand for the man’s labor is higher than for the woman, the couple that wants to be wealthier will task the woman with the bulk of the domestic duties.

That’s not a conspiracy. It’s individuals maximizing their personal advantage in the system they happen to inhabit. But when that system favors men, the result is patriarchy. . .

What’s Next

The US is moving from an economy where most people work in agriculture and manufacturing, to one in which most of the jobs are in information and services.

Women are, in many ways, better suited to these jobs than men are. Women are socialized to sit still and listen, making them better at school than men on average. They are taught to defer to others and to show empathy, making them better in service roles. Women have the comparative advantages that are highly valued in the new economy.

That’s part of why women’s labor force participation has risen dramatically at the same time manufacturing and agriculture have declined.

And this increase has had a positive impact on the economy.

While patriarchy might have made sense in the previous economy, it simply doesn’t in the new one.

Most people still marry, and most couples prefer for one partner to take on the bulk of the domestic responsibilities, as opposed to outsourcing all of those tasks or splitting them evenly.

In a market economy wherein demand for the woman’s labor is higher than for the man, the couple that wants to be wealthier will task the man with the bulk of the domestic duties.

That day is coming soon. Today, childless women in cities out earn their male counterparts. In many parts of the country, there is no gender pay gap for childless women. It’s estimated that by 2025, the average woman will out earn the average man. . .

Cathy Reisenwitz is a D.C.-based writer. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. Read her other articles

Read the entire article in FEE, the Foundation for Economic Education . . .

Editor’s Comments:

We are seeing the same economic effect in the practice of medicine. Now that women make up about one-third of the medical school graduating classes we are seeing sexism in their choosing of their specialty. Because of their socializing skill, showing more empathy, they may seem to be better suited in some specialties than others. These graduates seem to gravitate to specialties where such are better rewarded such as family practice, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology. In some of these specialties women are already earning more than men.

When professional women marry nonskilled men, we may be seeing a matriarchy already. I have a female colleague whose husband does all of the domestic duties, chores, and manages the home. They have five children and he is also fulling the functions which sometimes are referred to as “husband” mom. He does the grocery shopping, makes most of the meals, sees the children off to school, takes them to their music lessons, to their soccer practice, and takes them to buy their school supplies and clothes. The wife works the usual professional 60 hour week including the occasional evenings or weekends “on call.”

On the other hand we may still see evidence of patriarchy in terms of physical demand and endurance. I personally know a young lady who wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and became an orthopedist. She completed the usual 4 years of college by age 22, 4 years of medical school by the usual age of 26, and then did her 6 years of orthopedics residency by age 32 working on call twice a week and every third weekend. She joined a very prestigious orthopedic group. The work did not become lighter. She took the same call as all the partners, every third night, and every third weekend. She was unable to vary or lighten the heavy work of the specialty and didn’t want favoritism shown to her because of her gender. She was essentially in a patriarchy.

She then observed that all of her girlfriends were having babies and becoming very involved in family life.  She began to wonder how this would fit in with her practice and not ask for special favors because she was a woman. She then explored specialties where she could have more defined hours. She noted that none of the medical specialties or the surgical specialties or subspecialties of medicine and surgery could be turned off at 6 PM or weekends. She considered allergy, dermatology, psychiatry, and anesthesiology. As an orthopedist she had worked with anesthesiologist in the operating rooms of the hospitals where she did her surgery. She opted to take a four year anesthesia residency.  She then joined an anesthesiology group. She now works three days a week and has a four day weekend to be a mother, manage her house and family. She felt this was more compatible with her desire to be a wife, mother, and raise a family and still be a doctor.

We are fortunate to be living in a time where we can utilize these comparative advantages that are highly valued in our new economy. It also appears that patriarchy or systemic sexism still exists. Since men and women are different, it will continue to exist—but in a more complementary fashion.

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