Neoliberalism: The New Patriarchy

An Ethnographic Literature Review

Barbara Oldale

Barbara Oldale’s multiple academic pursuits — BA in English, Registered Nursing education, and Theological Studies — gave shape to an early career in nursing and ministry, and primed an interest in Athabasca University’s Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS). The MAIS program, from which Oldale graduated in 2019, offered the opportunity to research and combine various disciplines. Oldale’s major focus areas were Equity Studies (Indigenous issues and Feminism), and Global Studies (Politics, Economics, Sociology, and Psychology).


The following paper describes how neoliberalism, in collusion with the historical system of patriarchy, dominates global systems and deters developmental progress and worldwide equality. It examines literature written by political economists, feminists, and psychologists, while using an archetypal framework to describe a higher norm derived from an Eastern philosophy. This norm can potentially balance the systems of dominance which are destroying the possibility of global stability.

Keywords: development, equality, feminism, neoliberalism, shadow, patriarchy, yin-yang.

Auto-ethnographic Background

My disciplinary interests arise from a family history of traditional male dominance and female subjugation which, in early adulthood, forged my feminist perspectives. I struggled with economic inequalities and paternalism within the Canadian healthcare system as a registered nurse as well as throughout my marriage to a physician. As a minister, I clashed with those exhibiting patriarchal modes of thought. Today, while focusing on Equity Studies and Global Change within Athabasca University’s Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies program, I supply my church’s Peace and Justice Committee with information upon which to create substantive policies and perspectives, which can be incorporated within the Canadian church context. The decisions made by the Peace and Justice Committee have ramifications for how charity is given and how congregations become socially active. The decisions made within the committee call people to question the status quo and work for progressive change within their individual communities and nations. This literature review is of great interest and concern to me and ends with somewhat offbeat conclusions.

While researching the rise and effects of neoliberalism, several allusions to the idea that patriarchy and neoliberalism were historically and foundationally related and problematic caught my attention. It led me to ask the question of whether there is a relationship between patriarchy and neoliberal policies as systems of domination. If so, what is their relationship and what effects are they exerting upon people? Do neoliberal policies and patriarchy promote human welfare and development, or do they sanction inequality and injustice? Can it be said that neoliberalism is simply the outcome of previous economic-political failures, or is it a deliberate attempt to manipulate capitalism to benefit a few? After reviewing relevant literature, I concluded that neoliberalism is a recent extension of capitalism and injurious forms of patriarchy because it has aggressively overpowered capitalism and used the free market system to promote special interests while undermining the welfare of global populations and democracy.

Capitalism itself has been previously described as conceptually predicated on patriarchy, which grounding could be described as the exploitation of specific segments of society. Capitalism’s strategy has advantaged entrepreneurs as they accumulated capital but also furthered the oppression of women due to the marginalized and secondary status which they have historically occupied (Burris, 1982). If patriarchy exploited women and their labour, capitalism has depended upon and reinforced the privatization of domestic labour within the patriarchal household which has generated dual roles for women and precipitated a crisis within the family. It has also attempted to stratify the labour force to increase productivity and to exert control. The current state of neoliberal capitalism further sanctions powerful elites in their usurpation of economic benefits at the expense of those who are vulnerable and marginalized. If patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold power and from which women are largely excluded, it’s an easy step to conclude that capitalism and, most recently, neoliberalism, have evolved from it.

Using terms taken from depth psychology and archetypes, I liken neoliberalism to shadow patriarchy. In psychological terminology, the “shadow” refers to the dark, feared, or unwanted side of human personality, and often it is that which has been repressed for the sake of the ego ideal (Sanford, 1994). Shadow patriarchy emerges when caring guidance and protection turns into dictatorial control or abuse of authority (Myss, 2001). In the case of neoliberalism, it is a malevolent system characterized by the extreme of male aggression and disregard for others which, having become commonplace, is difficult to identify and counteract. As an economic system it now imposes inequality upon not only women and slaves but upon the entire world. The market now dictates to politics, people, and processes who and what matters and how world events will unfold. No longer is it largely women and minorities who suffer from inequality, but global populations and planetary ecosystems which endure the deleterious effects of free markets catering to the rich.

Many factors involving deregulation and privatization are driving the world toward destructive and oppressive socio-political environments. The economic system in place today promotes poorer living conditions overall, fewer opportunities for upward mobility and life fulfilment, and negates the possibility of sustainable development while politically abetting global unrest and chaos. Large segments of the population are disappointed in government’s ability to provide for its peoples’ economic well-being, to uphold human and environmental rights, and appreciate and respect the balance in attitudes, norms, and perspectives between genders, which enable all people to participate in a harmonious sense of human well-being. Through auto-ethnographic literature review, this paper explores psycho-social-philosophical factors which could promote greater harmony between the sexes and forsake the traditional domination and devaluation of the feminine which simultaneously promotes normative masculine qualities. The following literature review attempts to name the problematic nature of unbridled systems of domination. This includes negative aspects of patriarchy whose characteristics have become enfolded into the capitalistic free market system. It characterizes institutionalized neoliberalism as individual or corporate selfishness which cares nothing for the welfare of others.

The term development, in its more expansive definition, refers to “going beyond economic growth and into the realm of human development, which includes aspects such as governance, human rights, gender equality, infrastructure, education, and the environment. In both the narrow and the broad sense, developmental processes and policies influence patterns of poverty, inequality, health, education, job opportunities, and long-term sustainability around the world” (Athabasca University, 2018). Although the broader aspects of development are important for the promotion of progress and equality, the focus on economic development is foundational in this paper, although a multilayered approach is imperative if the problem of neoliberal and patriarchal domination is to be overcome.

Literature Review

This literature review has been primarily derived from three disciplines within the social sciences: political economy, feminism, and psychology. Many of the articles reviewed were required reading for the Athabasca University course “GLST 695: Political Economy of Development,” some were recommended as further readings, and some were obtained while doing a library search for specific information pertaining to the topic, in all cases referenced as material provided by Athabasca University. Chief among the political-economic authors reviewed were Brodie and DeGagne (2014), Chang (2002), Desai (2009), Milanovic (2016), Piketty (2014), Reinert (2012), Six (2009), as well as the OECD (2011) report, “Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising.” Feminists, too, critique neoliberal theories and offer solutions which challenge both forms of power. Under the rubric of feminism are articles and books by Cornwall and Rivas (2015), Fraser (2013), MacKinnon (2015), and Ortner (2014) amongst brief ideas presented by early feminists. Two film documentaries informed my thinking. These are: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Gibney, 2005) which depicts the 2001 Enron fiasco and Saving Capitalism (Reich, 2016), based on Robert Reich’s book of the same name. Psychology and philosophy offer a peek into gender differences which may heighten inequality and create unrest and chaos or offer solutions which create a better balance between the two.

Desai (2009) outlines the rise of neoliberalism as a response to the acute debt crisis of the 1980s and the failure of dependency and modernization theories in the 1970s. Because governmental regulation was deemed to interfere with the normal competition and fluctuations of global free markets and an obstacle to development, US President Reagan in the 1980s promoted privatization, liberalization of international trade and investment, restriction of labour rights, deregulation, and cuts to public spending. Conflictingly, neoliberalism, while anti-statist, entailed a “comprehensive state intervention to re-engineer whole economies in favour of private capital—foreign more than domestic, financial more than productive” (p. 61). When regulation disappeared, so also did two golden decades of development. Importantly, even the Bretton Woods system which was designed to govern global commerce and to oversee two leading financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), were created, in part, to assist in the development of poorer countries (International Monetary Fund, 2018; Desai, p. 51). They began acting as instruments of US and Western power, freely loaning and saddling developing southern countries with unfair debts through structural adjustment programs. Meanwhile, wealthy countries adversely experienced “unprecedented rates of employment, poverty, inequality, and deindustrialization” (p. 61).

Brodie and DeGagne (2014) call neoliberalism a radical experiment in market governance which reformulates itself, chameleon-like, to cope with problems of its own making. These authors quote Brenner et al., (2010, p.184): “neo-liberalism has been particularly promiscuous, allying with different world views to appeal to voters…changing its colours as situations demand.” As an example of the failure of neoliberalism in practice, Brodie and DeGagne cite the need for state intervention and public money which was required to bail out big banks, insurers, and manufacturing corporations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. They critique the impact of neoliberal policy by saying that it facilitates the transfer of income and wealth to the rich while promoting inequality within and between nations, and it conceals and justifies vast disparities through the manipulation of public opinion and the media. The impacts are felt not only in developing countries but in the US as well.

Similarly, Chang (2002) critiques the modus operandi by which neoliberalism envisages the market, the state, institutions, and their interrelationships. Neoliberals believe markets should flourish or fail autonomously because politicians and bureaucrats cannot be trusted to act without self-interest, hence it is better to live without state intervention into the economy. But depoliticization of the economy, Chang claims, undermines democracy by discrediting politicians as untrustworthy. He denies that politicians are self-serving or that self-interest is a predominant human motivation but agrees that politicians both shape and are shaped by institutions. His main point is that it is impossible to have an economy entirely free of governmental or institutional policy and norms. He challenges neoliberal assumptions that the economy must be depoliticized and privatized by asserting that government regulation has always been necessary and existed prior to capitalism, production, and social conventions. Importantly, he believes that regulations protect the greater public good and that politics is vital because it is the process through which people with differing perspectives discuss and determine rights and obligations. Debate is preferable to allowing interest groups to unduly influence free markets to their personal advantage.

Milanovic (2016) focuses upon the effects of neoliberalism and solutions to the problem of inequality. Cogent to the discourse regarding patriarchal systems and inequality, he discusses why it is wrong to focus exclusively on horizontal inequality. There is no doubt about the need for equality between the sexes and for legislation which creates formal legal equalities between genders, races, skin colours, sexual identities, and other axes of diversity. These measures are important and have been successful, but they inadequately address the root causes of inequality. The basic problem is a lack of an existential equality in which economic power is equally shared. The renowned psychologist Maslow (1943), would likely agree that economic security is foundational to human well-being, as depicted in his famous hierarchy of needs. From this perspective it seems that economic equality is a crucial starting point in the creation of development goals and gender equality. Milanovic asserts that men and business corporations protect their interests and refuse to cede their core advantage. Informatively, he describes how those who make more money can afford to have their needs and desires met, while the poor must subject themselves to the wealthy. He illustrates his claim with the power imbalance of prostitution: men traditionally have higher incomes than women and can pay to have their sexual needs met by hiring prostitutes. Young women, on the other hand, generally have poor job prospects and little money, which prevents them from having the option of paying for sexual services. This gender economic imbalance allows for profiteering by the advantaged and promotes global sex tourism, which enslaves and degrades many young women. Formal legal equality does not correct existential inequalities. Only decent and equitable wages allow genuine equality to flourish. While formal equalities grant legal authority by allowing all to pursue a career of choice, the reality is that some are financially equipped for success, while others are practically guaranteed failure. Milanovic offers an analogy: while the starting line is the same for everyone, some begin the (economic) race with Ferraris and others begin on bicycles (Milanovic, p. 230).

In a second illustration, Milanovic asserts that the movement of the wage-profit ratio to favour labour creates strong political opposition from business. Self-interest, he asserts, lies at the heart of business and corporate negotiations. Concern for employee vacation time, shorter work weeks for all, longer parental leaves, better working conditions, and an increase in minimum wage rationally conflict with the need for ever-increasing business profits.

The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development’s (2011) report, “Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising,” offers pertinent information regarding the fact that inequality is rising in most OECD countries due to globalization, foreign direct investment, technical progress, and policy choices. Driving earnings and income disparities are: a rise in trade-financial markets and technical progress which require highly skilled workers; a rise in imports from low income countries; regulatory changes such as anti-competitive product market requirements, loosened employment protection, a decrease in minimum wages, and cuts to unemployment benefits. Increasingly, women participate in the labour market but often work part-time and suffer from a wage gap as compared to their male counterparts. As well, the number of single-head households has increased, and the assumption is that these household heads are largely women. Higher income inequality generates economic, social, and political challenges while stifling upward social mobility. Inequality of opportunity impacts economic performance, breeds social resentment, and generates political instability.

Piketty’s (2014) analysis focuses upon ways in which social norms can accelerate or delay progress. One pertinent point is that “social norms reflect beliefs about contributions individuals make and that it is difficult to go against the prevailing norms in which (society) operates” (p. 334). One of those norms is the acceptance of meritocracies. He refers to the fact that inequalities exist because hyper-meritocracies are acceptable norms wherein “supermanagers” (p. 382), executives within the corporate sector who demand huge incomes, set their own salaries based upon their personal sense of entitlement (p. 315-334). Inversely, he refers to the value of slave markets as human capital. As slaves, individuals are treated as chattel without rights, and yet collectively they have historically had greater value than land capital. Revealingly, he discusses the significant over-representation of women in the bottom half of wage earners, often working within the service sector as waitresses or shop clerks. How much traditionally female work could be constituted as a type of slave labour? Piketty claims that inequality in the U.S. has exploded since the 1980s due to patrimonialism, hyper-meritocracies, unequal education, disparate technical skills, and low minimum wages. Inequality causes financial instability and stagnation of purchasing power in the lower and middle classes. Convulsive social changes, political, military, and cultural phenomena are factors and forces which inextricably combine to create economic conditions and inequalities. Piketty’s research exposes the shamefulness of a vast national wealth which is so unequally distributed. He appeals to the least well-off to pay serious attention to their money, because the wealthy will protect their financial interests at the expense of everyone else (p. 577).

Reinert (2012) asserts that neoclassical and neoliberal economic policies have destroyed real wages and wealth. He calls welfare destruction a failure of theory, not market failure. He faults forty years of WB and IMF policies for the destruction of production-based rents and the tilting of markets toward financial rents. The result has been heightened inequality and stalled development. Severe deindustrialization and the refusal to adjust exchange rates has destroyed production but saved the banks. The Washington Consensus policy, coined in 1989, was a package of ten policies which determined how to deal with economic issues in Latin America and later became the basis for neoliberal policies (Williamson, 2009, p. 7). Reinert claims that the Washington Consensus generated regressive wages as the percentage of the GDP decreased and while finance, insurance, and real estate profits soared, and he asserts that the financial sector has acted parasitically, hijacking the economy while allowing money to lie idle while people and countries suffer from its lack (Reinert, p. 15, 17). He advocates government regulation based on input and regulation from three stakeholder bodies: business, government, and labour.

Six (2009) reinforced the idea that societal norms can promote global inequities. Normative traditions of European-Western colonizers have historically shaped, and continue to shape, the economic goals and principles of underdeveloped nations around the globe. As such, his focus is upon changing norms to correct deep economic inequalities. One major point is that alternative histories have been written and can be rewritten today. He claims that the rising financial forces of countries like China and India can wipe out colonial principles, because these Eastern nations do not have the same interpretation of colonization or of development paradigms as the West. Six insists that “the West must drop their hidden agenda for hegemony” (p. 1109) and embrace a fairer global perspective.

To summarize the political economy position of these authors: they agree that neoliberalism has failed to promote development or equality in practice and in theory. They concur about how shameful and dangerous the inequities have become: the rich have become richer while the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class and democracies are being eroded. Gender economic equality is a necessity but is not improving substantially. And while everyone agrees that government regulation of the market is essential, the problem of how influential and monopolizing corporations have become begs for solutions. As long ago as the 1950s, US President Eisenhower, as he left office, warned that the industrial-military-Congressional complex may dominate governmental agendas and threaten democracy and economic development (Jareki, 2005). While Reinert (2012) advocates a tripartite government, a three part government, consisting of big business, big labor, and big government, he does not address the power that business currently holds over both government and labour. The fact that half of US congressional representatives become lobbyists after retiring from Congress is startling (Reich, 2016). Yet Chang (2002) denies that politicians are self-serving and implies that they are altruistic to the people they serve. Alternatively, he states that politicians shape and are shaped by institutions. If institutions are corrupt, following his hypothesis, politicians will be corrupt as well. There is no mention of why businesspeople would be more susceptible to unethical behaviors or greed while politicians would not be.

A brief recap of feminism illustrates concerns women have historically voiced concerning male power and dominance and provides background to current feminist perspectives. Ferguson (1997) reflects upon American colonial beliefs that economically dependent wives were considered parasitic, in spite of the fact that wealth and inheritances were vested in sons, not daughters. Gilman (1898) was one of the first to claim that women should be entitled to a wage dependent upon their household activities. The attitude that nature is for men to dominate and control was called into question during the 1980s (Nye, 2004). Meanwhile, sociologists thought that patriarchy, visible or invisible, pervaded every institutional arena, and they proclaimed gender-neutral social processes to be assumptions based on men’s experiences which reflected male and capitalistic perspectives (Acker, 1989). Young (1997) asserted that men control women’s lives because they have the means to enforce their will while women do not have reciprocal control and that men benefit from women’s labour more than women benefit from men’s. MacKinnon (1997) defined woman as a sex object constructed and used for men’s purpose and power. Ferguson (1997) claimed that capitalism factors as the most important manifestation of male domination throughout history. MacKinnon (2015) says capitalism has precipitated women’s poverty, material desperation, and violence against them. Mitchell (1966) called patriarchy the result of the politics of ego when she said that men establish ‘manhood’ in direct proportion to their egos’ ability to override women’s, and derive strength, power, and self-esteem through this process. Modern feminists are actively involved in addressing power and economic inequalities.

Cornwall and Rivas’s (2015) article is a particularly useful look at social norms and solutions to the problem of gender inequality in the context of governmental apparatuses’ aim to promote gender economic equality. They contend that because gender was constructed socially, culturally, and historically, it could be reconstructed in more egalitarian forms. They critique the formulation of the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations) begun in 2002 which were designed to address women’s empowerment issues by saying: they fail to address male privilege, supremacy, sexism, the fact that women work for development rather than development working for them, the problem of women’s unpaid work, and they neglect to identify the structural factors and global processes of power that create gender inequality. Cornwall and Rivas assert a salient point: if the mainstream international development agenda is about getting more women into corrupt and low paying jobs in poor conditions, it offers little prospect of transforming the deep structures of inequality which are still in force. They emphasize the importance of women’s access to and control over material resources, which has unfortunately been limited to resources which provide micro loans to enterprising women. Giving women sewing machines and microcredit is not enough according to the authors (p. 405). What women need to experience is an enabling environment which consists of the right to work, to property, safety, a voice, and sexual choice. They question whether business success will overcome all barriers to equality and advocate new forms of consciousness which will arise from analytical skills, organizational strength, and solidarity. Empowerment is about changing power relations, collective self-confidence, and the ability to make strategic life choices. It is a process in which women must empower themselves. There are no quick-fix solutions. While economic gender parity may indeed be foundational to freedom from domination, to accomplish it Cornwall and Rivas advocate for new words and frames, new models of political discourse, and for alliance building with others concerned with social justice issues. They support a return to higher normative principles, to recognize the effects of neoliberalism and patriarchy on all people such that men and women experience a shared humanity, freedom, tolerance, and an evenly distributed sense of responsibility for development and equality.

Philosopher-feminist Fraser (2013) believes that both neoliberalism and patriarchy have created the world crisis which the world faces today. She describes the way in which, historically, “second wave feminism…unwittingly supplied a key ingredient of the new spirit of capitalism” (Fraser, 2013, p. 14)) by describing how feminists were drawn into identity politics focused on difference just as a politics of redistribution occurred and just as rising neoliberalism declared war on social equality (p. 210). She details how at the very moment life was breathed into free market ideologies, feminists had the ground “cut out” from under their feet (p. 4). She postulates that today’s feminists must revive the economic concerns of first wave feminism, end their liaison with marketization, forge a new alliance with social protectionism, focus on an emancipation which overcomes forms of domination rooted in both society and the economy, and join with other emancipatory forces which are aiming to subject runaway markets to democratic control. She theorizes that capitalism represents a crisis of social reproduction in which the underpinnings of social life are destroyed and where livelihoods, communities, and habitats are under threat. The underpinnings of social life and social relations were destroyed through classical liberalism, and the neoliberal solution was to reimagine the world without entrenched and necessary social connections, to imagine we are all self-realizing individuals who have access to and the ability to achieve our economic liberation. Fraser, using a conception of social theory presented by Habermas, wants to reject the internal colonization of the lifeworld systems (which systematizes the common experiences of humanity) and join with other anti-capitalist forces to expose and reject the force of illegitimate power (p. 6, 41, 45). Emancipation from social and economic dominance is her goal.

Another contemporary feminist, Ortner (2014), describes various patriarchal-neoliberal inequities by reviewing three documentary films which portray patriarchy in its shadow form of dictatorial control and abuse of authority. Ortner avows that malignant patriarchy is prevalent and active in society today, that it is a power which shapes major institutions such as industrial productions sites, the military, and corporations. In the first film, North Country, men bind themselves together as brothers against a lone woman as she resists the decision-making of a coal mine CEO. In the second, The Invisible War, men in the military perpetrate sexual violence against women. And in the third, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, the huge energy and commodities corporation, Enron, extorted millions of dollars from unsuspecting Californians. Ortner illustrates how shadow patriarchy is competitive, how it protects its boundaries, and how it works to keep “pollutants” (p. 535)—in this case women—out. She calls the intertwining of power and dominance a macroversion of Crenshaw’s (1991) concept of intersectionality where various forms of power cross-cut, cross fertilize, and amplify one another.

Feminist perspectives avow that shadow patriarchy and violence against women persist, that deep structural inequalities and power imbalances must be addressed, and that changes in redistributive practices and social norms are imperative. Economic gender inequality cannot be rectified by incorporating women into corrupt and imbalanced capitalistic systems. Dominance and power can only be realigned by building alliances with others concerned with social justice issues and by returning to higher normative principles.


How Neoliberalism Reflects Patriarchy

This section discusses how neoliberalism has taken on the characteristics of patriarchy which now dominate and disadvantage all humans. As it stands now, corruption and greed flourish in a fashion similar to the way patriarchy has prospered throughout much of human history. Within this reflection several suggestions are offered to ameliorate the negative aspects of both neoliberalism and patriarchy.

To envision the predicament in which feminists are now enfolded, imagine the circle of patriarchy in which women’s lives for centuries have been constricted. Then picture a concentric orb surrounding the patriarchy sphere. This one is a neoliberal stricture which circumscribes and dominates not only women but also men and earth’s systems. Feminists are called to persist in the battle for gender equality as well as the nurturance and sustenance of all life forms, and global populations are urged to address neoliberal domination. These are no longer segregated battles but include all those concerned with social justice issues, so that life is preserved and protected, and that human welfare and development are renewed.

Two archetypes spring to mind which depict the psycho-spiritual imbalance in which humans are globally manipulated and which threatens the continuance of planetary life as we have known it. They characterize extremes and maladjusted male-female roles and conceptions. Myss (2001) describes the patriarch as one with “a talent for overseeing others, with characteristics of courage and protectiveness, one who guides and shields those under his care, sacrificing his own desires when that is appropriate” (p. 385). Real (2017) further describes traditionally positive masculine traits such as courage, loyalty, and good character. But today we’re witnessing masculinity’s most harmful side, its shadow aspects of dictatorial control, abuse of authority, aggression, narcissism, sexual assaultive-ness, grandiosity, and contempt for feminine qualities (Real, 2017, p. 35-36). Real says that the word patriarchy conjures images of male privilege and dominance as sexism or the oppression of women at the hands of men. While masculine qualities are exalted, the feminine is devalued, considered inferior, and held in contempt. Certain hate groups, white supremacists and jihadists, were found to hold traditional views of masculinity, whereby the more rigid the vision of masculinity and the more fervently held those rigid beliefs were, the more vulnerable and susceptible the man became to extremist politics and violence (Real, 2017, p. 42).

Dictatorial control and abuse of power can be found in some CEOs who could be described as callous, impulsive, and as pathological liars. Such traits often predisposes individuals to engage in antisocial behavior and law-breaking (Balsis et al., 2017). In a study of business students Watson, Teaque, and Papamarcos (2017) found that over half of a business student sample agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Success is based on survival of the fittest; I am not concerned about the losers,” and nearly half agreed or strongly agreed with the assertion, “Making a lot of money is my primary goal” (p. 468). Two-thirds of the sample agreed or strongly agreed with the profession, “I tell other people what they want to hear so that they will do what I want them to do” (p. 468). To recognize that neoliberalism contains critical elements of shadow patriarchy may be an important first step in correcting the dysfunctional pathway the world has taken.

The second archetype is the matriarch who is “the life-giver, the source of nurturing and nourishment, unconditional fountain of love, patience, devotion, caring, and unselfish acts” (Myss, 2001, p. 401). Shadow matriarchs are devouring, abusive, abandoning, and working mothers who struggle to balance childcare and career (p. 401). Extreme passivity or even collusion with patriarchy may be an element of shadow matriarchy (Real, 2017). But by challenging traditional patriarchy, have feminists actually driven socio-cultural and politico-economic norms into the shadow side of patriarchy where these increasingly inflict control and abuse upon people and global systems? Have factors which demand that mothers choose between the nurturance and primacy of children, as opposed to the need for economic survival, placed life systems within the forces of patriarchal and market domination? When systems become and remain dysfunctionally imbalanced, chaos and destruction ensue.

How Neoliberalism Masks Patriarchy

The fraud perpetrated by Enron in 2001 is a classic example of shadow patriarchy enacted at the corporate level. Kenneth Lay and Jeffery Skilling were two of Enron’s CEOs in the 1990s and early 2000s. One held a Ph.D. in economy and the other was a Harvard business executive. They cared only about dictatorial control, making money, and behaved unethically when it came to generating the company’s wealth. The story of Enron’s rise and fall is documented in the film, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Gibney, 2005). The men running this company, in concert with many others such as five large US banks and trading agencies, accountants, lawyers, and politicians, abused their authority and profited enormously by using unethical and criminal business practices to enrich themselves and to swindle the public. As the corporate visionary, Skilling was an ideas man, and proclaimed himself to be “…fucking smart” (Gibney, 2005). He determined ways to transfer energy into stocks that could be traded using methods that were later described as financial fantasy. Enron’s accounting methods were creative, and hypothetical future value accounting was an endorsed procedure. Using this accounting fantasy meant that the company drew on expected future profits to conduct business in the present. When Skilling’s methods were called into question, he became enraged and abusively bullied the inquirer, a Fortune magazine reporter.

The business culture at Enron was described as “macho wild men, intellectuals, gamblers and risk-takers, adventurers”, while those at the top were characterized as “proud, arrogant, intolerant, and greedy” (Gibney, 2005). While failure in this corporation was not an option, their creative accounting skills gained them the trust of corporate America. They won prestigious awards such as Most Innovative Company in America and were ranked seventh largest business in the world worth over $70 billion. Enron was increasingly victorious in the market while raking in steady high profits by illegitimate means. Shadow patriarchy manifested as criminal behaviour as Enron used offshore accounts, diverted money, created fake companies which would absorb losses while allowing the company to display soaring profits despite its actual losses, manipulated trading, and gambled away its reserves.

Earnings were always prioritized over scruples. Lay, as Enron CEO, contributed to the G. W. Bush presidential campaign. And, in years to come, with the backing of President Bush, Lay was able to successfully deregulate California’s electrical system, which enabled Enron to profiteer and stay afloat at a time when it looked as though the company was doomed to bankruptcy. Meanwhile, its accounting fraud and trading schemes provided profits to the tune of $2 billion while huge gains accrued to its CEOs and financial officers. The Smartest Guys claims the company stole $30 billion from the people of California. When power plants were ordered by Enron to shut down, electricity was exported from the state which then forced artificial rolling blackouts throughout the state. Residents and businesses suffered from inadequate heat, light, which affected their ability to provide services. California officials knew that there was no need for blackouts because energy supply had previously been excellent. When electricity prices soared due to energy scarcity, it was brought back into the state at prices inflated by 300 to 400%. While the people of California begged for re-regulation of their power supply, federal energy regulators and President Bush refused them. No one in the federal government questioned the neoliberal ethics of deregulation, and Enron exhibited no concern for Californians’ well-being. When, in 2000, Enron’s practices were finally probed in greater detail, the company’s bankruptcy quickly followed, but the wreckage was enormous. Over fifteen people were charged with crimes, some were convicted, one accountant committed suicide, employees who had invested heavily in Enron lost pensions and savings, and some 30,000 employees lost their jobs.

In this corporation, survival of the fittest became their corporate operational ethic. Enron managers displayed contempt for all values except money making. Employees were rated by managers, and the most aggressive and selfish were given bonuses whereby patriarchal benign guidance reverted to manipulation and control. Managers exhibited behaviors such as grandiosity, lack of empathy, risk-taking, lying, manipulations, and failure to take responsibility for their actions. Is neoliberalism a shadow patriarchy which dominates the planet? It seems so. Do economic elites and business groups seek the common good? Gilens and Page (2014) say they do not, yet they influence government regulation processes unduly.

How to Move Beyond Neoliberalism and Patriarchy

Above all, concepts about the need for balance between the sexes are important to the discussion about excessive use of force, selfishness, and abuse of authority. Whereas beneficent patriarchy is about establishing order, hierarchy, and process in a maximizing ecosystem, matriarchy is about nurturing, safeguarding, and caring in a sustaining ecosystem. Patriarchy may need only a counteracting force to prevent its perversion. In keeping with the economic rise of China and India and with Six’s (2009) urging the West to drop its hegemony paradigm, largely a male creation, and construct a new one, I suggest a shift to an Eastern philosophy. In China today, yin and yang are placed in an equal or quasi-equal status which squares with the contemporary notion of gender equality and democracy (Yu-Ming, 2008). Joudry and Pressmen (1993) make clear that men have possessed the power in this world from the beginning of human history. They call unevolved man “fully yang, aggressive, and self-assertive” (p.22) and contend that “that which is more primitive is selfish and cruel, more divisive and secretive, and more separate and destructive” (p. 24). And “undeveloped woman is his total opposite, all yin, entirely passive, lacking strength” (p.22); and while woman was passive long ago… in the grip of her shadow she can be wholly passive still” (p.26). As principles which rule the universe, “Yang is the initiating impulse, which divides and delineates; yin is the responsive impulse, which nurtures and reunites. Without yang nothing would come into being; without yin all that comes into being would die…yang does, yin is. Yang in his givingness bestows the gifts; yin in her being receives, preserves, enhances, and redistributes them…one without the other is neither, and together they are joy” (Joudry & Pressman, 1993, p 26-27).

With the rise of feminism in the world, particularly in the last century, female collective and individual power is being awakened, and society is being called to a balance between these forces. The two energies, masculine and feminine, do not become homogenous or completely black or white, but they partake of and flow into one another. There is a need in our world to appreciate the strengths and value of stereotypical male and female characteristics. While women have begun to assume more masculine characteristics, feminine qualities also need to be valued equally. Nurturance, care, receptivity, and sensitivity are qualities needed to sustain and harmonize life on our planet. A matriarchal economic approach would place greater value on capital investment, nurturing, and caring-focused production. This is not ‘production’ in the traditional Capitalist-Marxist sense, because it is about maintaining systems and nurturing people that already exists rather than producing anew. Child care, nursing, senior care, specialized care, and even education are areas which are neglected in a production-focused and patriarchal economy. Feminine qualities must be monetarily esteemed in the same way that masculine skills have traditionally been valued so that all people are given the opportunity to prosper economically.

Governmental regulation at its best could be compared to the yin element: it preserves, cares, is sensitive and wise, and redistributes. It is vital for equitable human development and the protection of the environment. Stiglitz (2002) argues that governments must intervene in markets by claiming that markets have never been free. He believes that the IMF and the WB have failed in their responsibilities to create global equality and development because they refused to regulate global externalities and provide for the public good on the issues of poverty, growth, and unemployment. Reich (2016) furthers the point by clarifying that governments continue to regulate, but they regulate in favour of corporations and political elites so that the focus upon development and democracy has been increasingly lost.

As an illustration of the shadow passivity of feminine-yin, Domosh (2015) demonstrated how blacks and women in the Southern US were exploited in the 1940s for their unpaid labour and production power. This demonstration of biopolitical power which shaped women into both producers and consumers was successfully exported to other parts of the world. Women remain unpaid sources of tasks and toil, slave-like, and undervalued, while men have yet to appreciate the satisfactions which may accrue from participation in historically female roles.

Collectively and individually, women face the choice to either accept exploitation or to discover ways of empowering themselves. As an example, Patel (2015), while asserting the importance of reinventing what it means to be a man, describes a situation in Malawi where women addressed an inequality issue with their men. Malawi women were over-worked causing the cooking and feeding duties of their families to be neglected which culminated in infant malnutrition and frequent neonatal hospital visits. Because men refused to participate in “women’s work,” the village women began to organize for gender equality whereby they encouraged men to participate in household cooking tasks by making a game of recipe days. Women taught men to cook while benignly challenging patriarchal power. Consequently, men were called upon to reinvent what it meant to be a man, and as men assumed traditional female roles, babies became healthier as testified to by fewer neonatal hospitalizations. The process was empowering for women in that community.

Author Milanovic and, separately, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) program, Cross Country Checkup (2017) in which individuals voiced their opinions, advocated for paid maternity and paternity leaves for parents by saying that paternity leaves encourage men to be involved in childcare and help them bond with their infants. In places where paternity leaves exist, such as Scandinavian countries and in many Canadian provinces, the norm is that fathers will take time off from work and participate in childcare.

Real (2017) suggests that men, when feeling pressured by women, ask themselves, “What would a generous gentleman do at this moment?” (p. 41). Answering this question for himself would enable a man to respond with compassion as opposed to self-centeredness, and to evaluate his feelings and those of others opposing his customary logical approach. It also offers men the opportunity to learn how to be more relational, more giving, more empathetic, more vulnerable, and a more thoughtful, connected person.

Answers to the dilemma of neoliberalism and patriarchy domination are numerous and will require a multilayered approach. Many of the suggested solutions offered throughout the readings to address the problem of male and neoliberal dominance can be found in the Appendix. It will take perseverance, insight, and wisdom to overcome and dismantle dominance systems which have flourished, in the case of patriarchy, for millennia. The time has come to re-engage the global development and equality agenda.


This literature review explored aspects of free market ideologies and neoliberal history and theory, and analyzed their effects from political-economic, feminist, and psychological perspectives. It touched briefly on how societal norms may influence developmental and economic policy and raises the need to critically assess them. And it points to some solutions to the current global economic crisis. Neoliberalism is the move of governments toward a market ruled by private capital which promotes the removal of governmental regulation because of the perception that politicians and bureaucrats cannot be trusted to allow market competition and fluctuations to guide the economy. Each political-economy and feminist literature reviewed declared neoliberalism to be unsuccessful: a failure of theory or a radical and costly experiment. Each insisted that government regulation is impossible to avoid but implied that regulation which favours special interests is detrimental to development processes. Feminist literature conflates patriarchy and neoliberal systems, particularly when male domination and corporate interests collude to control power.

The negative effects of neoliberalism are numerous. They include the fact that inequality is increasing, development is stalled, and the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. The welfare economy as well as real wages and wealth have been destroyed, the financial sector profits, and women are economically not much better off, given that they still represent the majority in the bottom fifty percent of wages (OECD, 2011; Piketty, 2014). Injurious factors caused by free markets generate social resentment, political instability, the undermining of democracy, the internal colonization of lifeworld systems, and the inability to address power imbalances. Traditional social norms allow for inequality and the stalling of developmental progress; therefore, to further the cause of equality and continue the progress of development, these norms must be overhauled based around upon new paradigms and ideals. Norms which allow patriarchy to dominate women, which allow corporations to unduly profit, and which allow Western hegemonic ideologies to continue unchecked must be re-examined. To aid economic progress many authors call for higher norms, the recognition of the importance of human webs of association and connections, for the elimination of hyper-meritocratic practices, and the stereotyping of women.

In discussing an example of corporate corruption, the Enron scandal, which is characterized as shadow patriarchy at the business level, this paper presents ideas and examples which are analogous to the archetypes of shadow patriarchy and matriarchy. It also proposes a higher norm of viewing humanity through yin-yang philosophy which could promote a more balanced picture of how the sexes might interact to benefit humanity and the environment. Future research is necessary which would explore mechanisms for changing traditional social norms or the creation of solidarity between individuals and groups concerned with social justice. All of the authors represented by this literature review present compelling reminders that norms are socially constructed and that they can and should be reconstructed. Prominent among overall solutions to the neoliberal problem: recognition that existential economic concerns should take priority when economic equality is the aim and that regulation is vital for development and equality. Regulation must include business, government, and labour. Men must begin to take responsibility for the shadow aspects of their personalities and become “generous gentlemen” (Real, 2017, p. 40), and women themselves must effect a change in power relations and join forces with others who are concerned with equality and justice.


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  • Appendix

    Solutions which address the problem of free-market and patriarchal domination

    Discipline Solutions to Development Issues which promote greater Equality Author and page number
    Political Economy

    Support sustainable development goals which address poverty, hunger, health, education, sustainability and gender equality. It also challenges inequality within and among nations.

    Brodie (2014)
    Political Economy

    Develop an institutionalist political economy which:

  • Incorporates legal and state regulations (formal institutions).
  • Professional and producer associations (private sector institutions).
  • Social conventions (informal institutions).
  • This would include analysis of both the state and the market as well as politics which is the process by which people discuss and determine rights and obligations.

    Chang (2002)p. 555
    Political Economy
  • Reform tax benefit policies to redistribute wealth.
  • Increase employment by creating more and better jobs.
  • Facilitate and encourage access to employment especially for youth, older workers, women and migrants.
  • Invest in human capital by upgrading education and upskilling.
  • To decrease the rich-poor divide:
    • Increase intensive capital investment.
    • Promote inclusive employment.
    • Create well-designed tax-transfer redistributive policies.
    OECD (2011)
    Political Economy
  • Focus on creating income inequality, not existential formal equality.
  • Move the wage-profit ratio in favour of labour by creating a shorter work week, creating better work conditions for all parents, and requiring a minimum wage for all.
  • Focus on benign forces that decrease inequality:
    • Political changes that promote progressive taxation.
    • Dissipate rents.
    • Create income convergence at global levels.
    • Promote technologies which increase the productivity of unskilled workers and equip them with better skills.
  • Focus on social programs which provide free healthcare and education.
  • Milanovic (2016) p. 229

    pp. 113-116

    Political Economy
  • Create a progressive annual tax on individual wealth and on the net value of assets each person controls.
  • Enforce monetary transparency by:
    • Automatic transmission of banking information.
    • Imposition of sanctions on banks and countries that refuse to require financial institutions to provide required information.
  • Balance advanced research to make rapid progress in developing renewable energy sources and to limit hydrocarbon consumption.
  • Piketty (2014)
    Political Economy

    Develop an institutionalist political economy which:

  • Incorporates legal and state regulations (formal institutions).
  • Professional and producer associations (private sector institutions).
  • Social conventions (informal institutions).
  • This would include analysis of both the state and the market as well as politics which is the process by which people discuss and determine rights and obligations.

    Chang (2002)p. 555
    Political Economy

    Develop an institutionalist political economy which:

  • Incorporates legal and state regulations (formal institutions).
  • Professional and producer associations (private sector institutions).
  • Social conventions (informal institutions).
  • This would include analysis of both the state and the market as well as politics which is the process by which people discuss and determine rights and obligations.

    Piketty (2014)

    p. 516

    p. 521

    p. 523

    p. 569

    Political Economy

    The financial sector needs to serve and not be master of capitalistic development.

    Government regulation must include business, government, and labour.

    Reinert (2012)
    Political Economy

    The West must drop its hidden agenda for hegemony and allow the global political agenda to be shaped by Asian influences and norms.

    Six (2009)

    Enhance maternity and paternity leave benefits:

  • Paternity leave becomes a norm in places where it is implemented (Quebec and Scandinavian countries e.g.).
  • Leaves promote bonding with the infant.
  • Men assume and become comfortable in female roles.
  • CBC Cross-Country Check-up Nov. 12, 2017

    Focus on women’s empowerment which favours:

  • Women’s rights.
  • Social justice.
  • The transformation of economic, social, and political structures.
  • Focus on women’s self-understanding and capacity for self-expression and access and control over material resources.Transform deep structures of inequality.

  • Microloans won’t accomplish this although they may enable, clear obstacles, and provide sustenance.
  • Create an enabling environment for women:
    • The right to work, right to property, safety, having a voice, sexuality.
  • Change power relations by increasing women’s collective self-confidence and their ability to make strategic life choices.
  • Women must empower themselves, the work cannot be done by someone else.
  • There is a need for new words, frames, and models of political discourse.
  • Create new possibilities for alliance building with others who are concerned for social justice.
  • Hold authorities to account: patriarchy, the privileged, and the powerful.
  • Prohibit discrimination:
    • Treat everyone with respect and dignity.
    • Examine assumptions, myths, stereotypes, and limiting beliefs.
  • Return to higher normative principles:
    • Recognize the effects of neoliberalism and patriarchy upon all people.
    • Seek solidarity, collectivity, and global justice.
    • The idea of inter-est can bind people to the cause of global justice.

    pp. 407-408

    pp. 408-410


    Join with emancipatory (anti-capitalistic) forces which aim to subject runaway markets to democratic control. Emancipation aims to overcome forms of domination rooted in society as well as those based in the economy. Emancipatory forces include feminists, peasants, serfs, slaves, and the racialized, colonized, and indigenous peoples of the world.

  • Critique capitalism’s androcentrism
  • Systematically analyze male domination.
  • Be gender sensitive in capitalisms revisions of democracy and justice.
  • Forge a principled new alliance between feminism and the market as concerned with both emancipation and social protection.
  • Create caregiver parity by:

  • Providing caregiver allowances (this makes difference costless but might bind to the “mommy track”).
  • Follow a universal caregiver approach by inducing men to become more like women are now.
  • Justice must become three-dimensional:

  • Gender quotas should be implemented to equalize political representation.
  • Address economic distribution.
  • Recognize the cultural need for gender differences.
  • p. 9

    Resist through demonstration (as people of colour dealt with Civil Rights issues in the 1960s.

    MacKinnon (1997)

    Speak truth to power: as an eye witness of injustice or as one of many telling the same story. This can be done through artistic means, particularly through film documentary.

    Ortner (2014) Chapter 8

    Humans exist within a subjective reality, a totalizing framework. Can we see beyond this reality and create something new? Or does reality work within humans to create something new?

    Kisner (n.d.) on Heidegger

    Women and men contain aspects of one another, the flow of yin and yang, and experience balance when living in harmony with male-female energies. (Eastern Philosophy)

    Joudry & Pressman (1995)

    Identity is important especially when experiencing the normalization of inequality and loss (gender, class, racial, ethnic) because it provides an inner site of resistance.

    Eng (2000)

    Declare traditional masculinity a health hazard, not just to men, but to the families who live with them. Continue to develop techniques for openly challenging toxic patriarchal notions like the one that says harsh inner critics are good for us, or the one that says vulnerability is a sign of weakness. We need to invite each gender to reclaim and explore its wholeness, as sexy, smart, competent women, as well as bighearted, strong, vulnerable men. We must check our own biases so as not to sell men short as intrinsically less emotional, for example, or to sell women short by not explicitly helping them find a voice in their relationships that’s simultaneously assertive.

    Real (2017) p. 58

    Using patriarchal deprogramming men move beyond self-centeredness into compassion and bigheartedness, beyond sheer logic to his and others’ feelings; he calls this “becoming a generous gentleman.”

    OReal (2017) p. 40

    …victims (the “feminine”) tend to have hyper-empathy for the perpetrator (the “masculine”) and hypo-empathy for themselves. I call this empathic reversal, and it’s our job as clinicians to reverse that reversal and set things right, so that the perpetrator is held accountable and the victim is met with compassion, especially self-compassion.

    Real (2017) p. 38

    First Nations peoples pursue land claims and protect their homeland patiently through legal channels. They become educated about the issues, know their rights, create solidarity with other tribes and steadfastly achieve their goals.

    Dobb (2015)

    Reinvent what it means to be a man:

  • Create ‘recipe days’ when men cook. This experiment began as a game and successfully reduced neonatal malnutrition.
  • Patel (2015)

    Social norms can be changed: they reflect beliefs about the contributions individuals make to society. If supermanagers make decisions about their salaries based on their perceived self-merit, the implication is that women can change social norms by reflecting a greater sense of worth for their responsibilities and perhaps demanding pay for household tasks.

    Piketty (2014) pp. 333-334

    Men value independence while women value intimacy. There needs to be friendship between the sexes and acceptance and valuing of these differences.

    Crossin (1997) p. 50