Since the “Men’s Liberation Movement” in the 1970s, we have known that patriarchy makes men feel bad by setting up unrealistic expectations of toughness and masculinity plus sending them to die in horrible wars.
But there are other ways that patriarchy is starting to hurt men. Generational, cultural, and economic shifts mean that male behavior that used to be allowed and rewarded is slowly being discouraged and punished.
Patriarchal perks that were features of a male-dominated world now seem more like bugs. This goes beyond the obvious rights to rape and pillage that have been called out under #MeToo.
Subtle everyday aspects of patriarchal culture are setting men up to fail and causing them grief.
The very things that used to make men feel happy, proud, and empowered are making them feel bad instead. The anticipation of patriarchal privilege can turn into bitter disappointment when things turn out the way men were raised to expect.
Don’t worry, it won’t be tomorrow or the next year that your Patriarchy Card expires. Women are not predicted to reach parity with men until the year 2322, according to a UN report. Increasingly, restrictive birth control and abortion laws, combined with a poor childcare infrastructure, are likely to delay that event horizon even further.
In the meantime, patriarchy is fueling discontent across the gender spectrum.
Here are 3 Patriarchal Privileges Making Men Miserable in Academia Today
1. Men Overrate their Intelligence and Contributions
Overconfidence has served men very well and helps account for some of the persistent advantages they have in the workplace and the home. Men believe they have higher IQs and think they do more housework than they really do. In the old days, overconfidence made men feel great about themselves. It was a little boost men gave themselves every day, against women and against each other.
But in a data-driven world, the fantasy of superiority gets some reality checks even in sexist academia. There are still plenty of soft metrics that are biased in favor of men. Performance reviews, for example, notoriously favor men partly because of the credit they take for themselves.
With more workplace accountability statistics being harvested though, it gets harder to fool yourself.
For the Boomer man who boasted that his study of Swinburne’s early poetry was the best in the field, who believes he created a new critical paradigm and thinks his observations are relevant to today’s problems it can feel … .just awful…to see the Amazon ratings on his unread monograph. As for the now-public enrollment numbers for his Victorian poetry seminar, it’s pretty crushing to have his colleagues know that no one is attending his class on Bird Imagery in Swinburne.
It doesn’t feel good to realize you are a bit of a fraud. Especially if the main person you’ve been fooling is yourself.
2. Men Expect to Be Listened To
Both women and men are more likely to listen to men than to women. Men are still treated with more respect and deference in workplace settings than females. Boomer academics probably grew up in a household where father was thought to know best and studies show men still don’t listen to their wives.
But as the culture slowly shifts, the prerogative Boomer men expect to enjoy as the privileged speakers at conferences and faculty meetings is eroding. The unconscious bias men feel for themselves means it is hurtful when they are not always treated with the level of deference they were trained to believe is their right.
Workplaces where men outnumber women are still the norm, and those workplaces help reinforce gender hierarchy. But women are beginning to outnumber men in some parts of academia, and it is inevitable that by 2322 not every man will enjoy a deferential moment of silent appreciation when he mansplains something to a female colleague who already made the same point.
If you are used to talking over women, interrupting them, and stealing their ideas, it can sting when you are called out for manologuing. You’ve heard the term, but didn’t think it applied to you. In fact, you see yourself as a victim of Bob’s endless manologues.
The hardest thing, though, is the withdrawal from the dopamine effect of conversational primacy. It can be a downer to attend a meeting where you have to wait to be heard, repeat your ideas to get them acknowledged, and wait out a lot of other entitled speakers. It was so much easier to be the Credit Hog (play The Group Game to see what we mean). That special shine around your comments and contributions isn’t as bright as it used to be, and it can dull your happiness.
Inserting yourself into the public conversation on social media also turns out to be…pretty hard. In the early days, the internet was dominated by men and had more male users. But in North America, that gap is closing. If you thought your Swinburne Festival would be a huge hit on The Platform Formerly Known as Twitter well…you were wrong and it hurts.
3. Men Expect To Have Their Genius Fetishized and Protected in Academia
Within academia, there is a type of intellectual privilege that has always been treated with special reverence and respect: the role of the brilliant Absent-Minded-Professor.
For the Absent-Minded-Professor, the failure to listen is a sign of genius. When the AMP tunes out what other people at the Swinburne Festival say (especially the women) it is understood that he is thinking about Bigger and Better Things than your petty question about travel reimbursement or getting credit for your talk on the panel.
The AMP can weaponize “strategic incompetence” and manipulate those around him (usually women) into serving his needs. This role has served generations of Swinburne scholars very well: while fawning (usually female) graduate students do his paperwork and an adoring wife manages his personal life, the AMP has enjoyed the luxury of his own superior thoughts unencumbered by boring reality.
Perhaps the AMP was raised by one of the toxic over-enmeshed “Boy Moms” who have been called out on TikTok for creating entitled little piggies. Perhaps the AMP is just the inevitable product of Primarily White Institutions that thrive on the myth of the irreplaceable white male.
The stock character role of the AMP is so ingrained in popular culture, that men may feel an obligation to play along with the head-in-the-clouds/above-it-all stereotype in order to qualify as an artistic/intellectual genius.
It goes wrong when a lack of engagement with the people around you leaves you isolated and alone.
Especially if your wife is not as willing to wait on you as she used to be since she published her own Swinburne essay, or your Swinburne Festival is not bringing in the graduate student drones like it used to.
The third time you “forget” your child’s soccer match or tune out his account of his Poetry Assembly, your son starts to discount you. Engaged listening is now seen as a desired commodity, and if your graduate students think you aren’t listening to their dissertation idea, they may look elsewhere for an advisor who can help them get a job in the dystopian job market.
The high-status air of detachment you carefully cultivated may start to seem arrogant or simply spectrumy. The final time you ask the junior faculty member to repeat when the meeting is may be the first time you are treated as a little demented. In an age-stratified academic workplace, retro genius signaling may start to work against you.
If you need to code-switch fast and start signaling engagement and connection instead of privilege and superiority, it might be time to begin working on that inner emptiness that underlies artificially inflated self-regard.
Here is a book for you called You Don’t Have to Shine.
You Don’t Have to Shine is addressed to the privileged inner child who was always told they had to (pretend to) be something more than just themselves.
Let’s start healing patriarchal wounds and investing in a better Swinburne Festival.
You might also want to read: The Problem of “Trophy Wives” in School Fundraising and What It Says About Late-Stage Patriarchy