What do mistresses have to do with patriarchy? Well, clearly the church is against mistresses (unless you count polygamy, wink* wink*), but elsewhere in patriarchy, mistresses are all the rage. This is the first of a series of posts on other patriarchal cultures. Since the Mormon church claims (unironically) to be a patriarchy, let’s see who’s on the pillow next to us, also claiming that term. Based on our low tolerance for mistresses, this is one area where I don’t think we are (currently) very patriarchal, certainly nowhere as sexist and demeaning to women as other patriarchal societies.
Let’s start by defining patriarchy. According to merriam-webster the term is used broadly to mean “control by men of a disproportionately large share of power.” Wikipedia adds: Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination. Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.
So, for purposes here, I will identify the link between patriarchy and the proliferation of mistresses in 4 sub-cultures: DSK and the French, road warriors (male business travelers), politicians, and China.
DSK and the French
Everyone has watched with a mix of revulsion and – no wait, just revulsion – the arrest of DSK, CEO of IMF who forced a housekeeper to provide oral sex as part of the turndown service (apparently turndowns are passe in France – yes, that was a double entendre). The alleged rapist claims that one-way oral sex with a complete stranger he was able to physically dominate was consensual (meaning perhaps that she said no, but he said yes enough for both of them). Apparently the incident is now available in an online game format for hours of family fun! Maybe the French are right, we Americans are too uptight about forcible sex with strangers. After all, even DSK’s (third and current) wife Anne Sinclaire was proud of her hot rabbit’s ability to seduce, although her comments read like Roberto Benigni’s oscar acceptance speech.
In France’s defense, one economist guy did speak up against DSK’s proclivities, sort of: “I fear that this man has a problem that, perhaps, made him unfit to lead an institution where women work under his command.” Uhm, ya think? Of course, nothing was done about his “problem” and DSK continued to be quite comfortable commanding women to do things in positions under him.
Is France a patriarchy? Maybe, maybe not. While there are women in positions of power, women have also been culturally conditioned to adopt a very male-friendly sexual culture (not that there’s anything wrong with being sex-positive), accepting affairs as the natural byproduct of marrying a successful man (or hot rabbit). France may talk all consensual about so-called mutual seduction, menages a trois, and so forth, but when push comes to shove, France was not only incapable of stopping DSK, but is still largely incapable of seeing that what he did was a problem (the economist who pointed it out was ignored). The tendency is still to shout down the repressed American prudes, not to defend women from the sexual advances of powerful men.
Is France DSK’s second victim? You betcha. And I’m pretty sure that turns him on.
Aside from the loathesome DSK, a very non-descript survey was done indicating that some business men think of having affairs when they travel on business (14%) , and some extremely self-confident if totally immoral and misguided individuals call for room service and wait naked on the bed, hoping someone will throw them one. Ew. (I hasten to add, these are not politicians. We already know they have the morals of hyenas. These are people more or less like you and me, expecting sexual favors along with their reuben & fries).
The real message of these incidents is that apparently to some business travelers, “hotel worker” is synonymous with “free prostitute.” As a woman who travels frequently on business, I’m skeptical that many men traveling on business are this horn doggity, but I have certainly observed a few aspiring DSKs. They tend to be in their 50s or 60s and they order too many drinks in first class; generally, they are the only ones who don’t notice that they are creepy old men. What they do when they finally get to their hotel rooms is anyone’s guess. I shudder to think.
Speaking of politicians . . . Arnold’s love child also made the news recently, another case of a man in a position of power having sex with a woman subordinate to him. Clearly this is not uncommon in politicians, although it’s always more unsavory when they preach family values (Newt Gingrich, cough, cough), have a wife who is dying of cancer (even if they are boyishly handsome), have difficulty recalling the meaning of the word “is,” leave pubic hairs on soda cans (worst pickup line ever!), or send lewd pictures of themselves out via Twitter then claim they didn’t (“Tee hee. I really DID. Oh wait, now I’ll pretend to be sad I lied.”) Why do politicians think this is a perk of the job? I have to think it’s the inflated sense of ego associated with being voted into office combined with ready access to subordinate females (such as interns) who are idealistic and star-struck by their political heroes. Gag.
So, the prudish Americans should apparently not break our arms patting ourselves on the back in the DSK scandal.
Is politics a patriarchy? The percentages show it is male-dominated at the most powerful levels, and clearly many men are enjoying the privileges of rank. Just for kicks I googled female political sex scandals, and guess what? They are about as rare as hen’s teeth. To add insult to injury, here are some of the pet theories why: power makes women less attractive but men more attractive (guys, is that true? because I think I’m pretty attractive . . .), there are more men than women in politics so they are disproportionately represented in scandals (fair enough, but I think the percentages are still off), it’s harder for women to successfully juggle both a career and an affair (cuz these men are doing such a fabulous job multi-tasking), women are too emotional for affairs (not so in France!), and women are better at not getting caught (obviously impossible to prove).
I’ve been saving the best for last. Apparently, in China it’s such a status symbol for a successful man to have a mistress (to show people he can afford multiple women, silly) that a cottage industry has emerged in Chinese universities. Female college students are advertising their annual salary as a mistress: from $3,000 for a low end ernai (which literally means “second breast“) up to $26,000 for an ernai from a high class University. China’s solution? Educate the women. (Perhaps China missed the fact that these are college girls – imagine how much an ernai with a PhD might fetch!). However, the attitude among Chinese girls is: “”I’d rather cry in the back seat of a BMW than smile on a back of a bike.” A horrifying sentiment that sounds like something you might overhear in a battered women’s shelter. This wave of mistresses signals a return to China’s patriarchal values (and compares to its polygamous past).
So what makes powerful men think they can do whatever they want to women who are clearly lacking in power? Uhm, power. Duh. When male power is unchecked (usual definition of patriarchy), men behave badly and women become mistresses. Author Erica Jong pointed out why women usually don’t get caught in these scandals:
The assumption that these men make is that their power will protect them. Women know they won’t be protected and that they’ll be exposed. And it has to do with how much power men have in society and how little women have. So they don’t take these risks, which to men like DSK don’t even seem like risks. They feel they will be protected by the establishment because they sit atop the establishment.
Which brings us back to Mormons. Are Mormons really patriarchal? Maybe we are patriarchal in the way we are Christian. We claim it (I don’t personally claim it, but the church does), but the word means something different to us than to others who use it (however, in this case, I think the others have it right, but with Christianity I’d switch that around). Male dominated? Check. Females essentially have no voice in decision-making power? Double check. But, male tendencies are very much in check when compared to other patriarchies, thanks to the gospel, monogamous fidelity, and positive peer pressure. Do Mormon men (and women) ever cheat? Sure. They are only human. But cheating is neither rewarded nor condoned by the church.
What do you think? Is the church becoming significantly less patriarchal over time? Are mistresses a byproduct of patriarchy (a perk of being a man in power)? Do you view early Mormon polygamy as our equivalent? Discuss.