I used to think that “patriarchy hurts men too” was just a feminist stock phrase that certain people throw out whenever other people criticize them for disregarding half of humanity. As it turns out, though, it is the sort of hypothesis that can actually be tested and verified, given certain assumptions about human nature. The concept of patriarchy as a class struggle between the sexes does not really make any predictions about what happens to men when women are subjugated, but an evolutionary perspective provides more fertile soil for hypothesis generation, as was shown in a recently published paper entitled Patriarchy, Male Competition, and Excess Male Mortality by Kruger, Fisher, and Wright.
The crucial step is to recognize that patriarchal social systems do not necessarily benefit men as a class, but rather a few powerful men who accumulate disproportionate social power and thereby maximize their own reproductive fitness.
[A]n evolutionary perspective brings a novel insight to the properties of patriarchy. Patriarchy can be understood as the degree to which highly powerful men control both women and other men, in addition to nonhuman resources. In social-constructivist models, inequality among men and inequality between women and men could vary independently.
If patriarchy, thus understood, is likely to lead to more disposable males (an antifeminist stock phrase) then we should expect to see male mortality rates decrease (relative to women) as women become more socially empowered. This is indeed what the authors found.
Of course, their findings were much more complex than this, they studied five variables in all and created a path model with gender empowerment, Gini coefficient, and polygyny index as predictors of excess male mortality. I don’t want to spoil it here, just want to whet your appetite.
Naturally, I find myself wondering whether this excess male mortality is best explained via risk-taking and the so-called young male syndrome, or whether there is some other explanation in the offing. Having recently read Steven Pinker’s magnum opus on the decline of interpersonal violence over time, I’m inclined to wonder whether the causal arrow may be running both ways, and whether underlying technological and economic changes have driven the most highly-developed nations into the lower right corner of the graph.
At any rate, I commend the paper to your reading, assuming that you have the time and the means, and would love to hear your thoughts on it.