wanting it both ways


As early as page 3 of The Sexual Contract, Pateman writes the sentence which feels a bit like a punch today (if perhaps only a pinch during its 1988 publication): “Patriarchy ceased to be paternal long ago.” Do we glorify fathers less and less, or more—just in other forms? I’ve voiced my hesitations about #nodads here a few times now, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to convince those who use (and maybe even abuse, if possible?) the phrase online, but Pateman has helped me feel more firm in my conviction that #nodads is generally unproductive, and often a red herring. 

To emphasize society as problematically paternal makes us forget that we’re more urgently caught up in society-as-patriarchal—it takes focus away from the dominance men have foremost over women (before they are ever dads), and places the weight on fathers and husbands. The focus on families doesn’t just play up the importance and necessity of motherhood, but downplays the always present female submission implied in conjugal relations.

Others have written that #nodads can really be whatever you want it to be (of course this is a directive given to us from some one—a man, a straight white man—but beside the point), but that sort of looseness (of which, again, I am suspicious) is still contained within the emblem of “nodads.” Why not “nomen”? I understand that most people behind #nodads don’t see it as a way toward apocalypse or nihilism — that they want the possibility of reproduction without the burden of daddies, but #nomen still seems more appropriate to me. Isn’t it possible to have a no-male (or at least no-man) society too? Is it because most of the people shooting the #nodads tags aren’t (yet) dads? Is it a just-enough-distanced point from which to speak in the name of feminism,  of anti-patriarchy? Is the hashtag, then, explicitly anti-paternal enough, especially with said looseness.

Okay, so Pateman’s book is full of riches, but here’s a paragraph that packs a lot. She’s arguing that contractarians are the most consistent opponents of paternalism because the logic of the civil contract needs paternalism to push against. “Anti-paternalism can thus appear to be the final round in the battle between contract and patriarchy”—as a way of separating old-school father-based societies from modern political civilized order. Except, 

Such a view of the relation between paternalism, contract, patriarchy and status once again depends on a patriarchal interpretation of patriarchy as paternal power, as an aspect of the old world of status intruding into and distorting the new world of contract. This view also depends on continued repression of the story of the sexual contract. The simultaneous seizure by the sons of both dimensions of the defeated father’s political right, his sex-right as well as his paternal right, is not mentioned. The anti-paternalism of contractarians can therefore appear to be anti-patriarchal. Furthermore, to treat patriarchy as paternalism (or to see the state as like a father) also neatly glosses over the great difference between parent-child relations and patriarchal relations between adult men and women. I shall say more about the difference in the next chapter; here, the pertinent point is that paternalism is controversial precisely because the legally prohibited or controlled acts are between ‘consenting adults.’ The label ‘paternalism’ directs attention to familial relations and helps ensure that critical questions about contractual relations between men and women are then deflected. (1988, 33, my emphasis)