Four Dimensions Of Cultural Gynocentrism

*The following excerpt is from Gynocentrism As A Narcissistic Pathology – Part 2New Male Studies 12, no. 1 (2023).


Based on observations above, the following model is proposed for the origins and ongoing maintenance of cultural gynocentrism. The model is comprised of four interlocking factors; 1. A rise of unique gendered customs occurs within aristocratic circles of France and Germany and is subsequently diffused throughout Europe and onto much of the new world, 2. Female pedestalisation is promoted as an integral feature of the gendered customs, 3. An accompanying set of cognitive biases are generated to compliment the gendered customs, and 4. the codification of these gendered principles occurred, and continues to occur, in social institutions, policies, and in law.

1. A revolution in gendered customs

Cultural gynocentrism germinated in medieval Europe during a period of increased cross-cultural influences. During the twelfth century, French society experienced the increasing popularity of the Marian cult and its influence on women’s status, the arrival of Arabic poetry celebrating and venerating women, aristocratic courting trends emphasising women’s esteem, dignity and worth, and more importantly the imperial promotion of gynocentrism by Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie De Champagne who, via the arts, crafted the traditional notion of chivalry into one more focused on serving aristocratic ladies—a practice referred to today as courtly and romantic love. The aristocratic classes who crafted the gynocentric themes and customs did not exist in a vacuum; the courtly love themes they celebrated would certainly have captured the imaginations of the lower classes through public displays of pomp and pageantry, troubadours and tournaments, minstrels and playwrights, the telling of romantic stories, and of course the gossip flowing everywhere which would have exerted a powerful effect on the peasant imagination. (Wright, 2014).

The gynocentric expectations of the sexual relations contract, as encoded in courtly love fiction, made their way by degrees from the aristocratic classes down to the middle classes, and finally to the lower classes – or rather they broke class structure altogether in the sense that all Western peoples became inheritors of the sexual relations contract regardless of their social station. (Wright, 2017). This evolution was hastened by the medium of stories which illustrated its principles: medieval romances of Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere; the weaving and telling of European fairy tales; Shakespeare; Victorian women’s novels; up to and including modern Disney Princess movies and the ubiquitous romance novel which continues to out-gross all other genres of literature today. Today the romantic novel remains the biggest grossing genre of literature worldwide, with its themes saturating popular culture and its gendered assumptions informing politics and legislation globally. (Wright, 2017)

C.S. Lewis characterised the above development as a ‘feudalisation of love,’ because noblewomen had adopted the feudal contract between Lord and vassal and repurposed it as a model to govern sexual relations—a model that would intentionally cast noblewomen in the role of Lord (French midons), and her man as vassal which continues to be symbolised in the iconic display of a man going down on one knee to propose marriage. Lewis states that in comparison to the gender revolution launched by the feudalisation of love, the Renaissance amounts to a mere ripple on the surface of literature (Lewis, 2013). The resultant sexual relations contract forms the internal rationale of post-industrial societies, including the subsequent waves of feminist ideology which embraced this idea with greater fervour, applying the gendered principles ever more aggressively with each iteration of the movement.

2. Encouragement of female narcissism

The proverbial ‘pedestalisation’ of women fostered by romantic tropes is one that encourages narcissistic self-identification in women (Wright, 2020). An unbroken line featuring noblewomen and the men who love them appears in each iteration of literature; from the medieval romances, through to modern Disney princesses. As a dominant source of role modelling, studies have surveyed the impact of such imagery on women’s identity formation and their choices of romantic partners, finding for example that “women are influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, by what they saw in Disney princess films while choosing mates, setting standards and establishing expectations for their lovers.” (Minor, 2014). Parents may not fully appreciate the impact of exposing daughters to aristocratic role models, nor see the harms that can arise from such an identification for later adult relationships. In their book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in The Age of Entitlement (2009), Twenge and Campbell underline the dangers of princess role models which encourage daughters to become narcissistic:

Parents do not consciously think, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to raise a narcissistic child?” Instead, they want to make their children happy and raise their self-esteem but often take things too far. Good intentions and parental pride have opened the door to cultural narcissism in parenting, and many parents express their love for their children in the most modern of ways: declaring their children’s greatness. A remarkable percentage of clothing for baby girls has “Princess” or “Little Princess” written on it, which is wishful thinking unless you are the long-lost heir to a throne. And if your daughter is a princess, does this mean that you are the queen or king? No—it means you are the loyal subject, and you must do what the princess says. (Twenge & Campbell, 2009)

In fairytale models the female gender role becomes the locus of a narcissistic script, as detailed by Green and colleagues (2019) who suggest an unfavourable outcome whereby, “female narcissists may assert their femininity and receive affirmation from society to attain their goals, and at the same time deflect accountability and externalise blame.” (Green, et al., 2019).

3. Activation of gamma bias

A key mechanism involved in the maintenance of gynocentrism is referred to as gamma bias, a cognitive gender bias theory developed by Seager & Barry (2019). Gamma bias refers to the operation of two concurrent biases: alpha bias (exaggerating or magnifying gender differences) and beta bias (ignoring or minimizing gender differences). Gamma bias occurs when one gender difference is minimized while simultaneously another is magnified, resulting in a doubling of cognitive distortion. (Seager & Barry, 2022)

According to Seager & Barry, gamma bias works by magnifying women’s issues and achievements and minimizing men’s issues and achievements. Alternatively, the dynamic is reversed and employed to minimize negative female traits and behaviors, while magnifying or exaggerating negative male traits or behaviors.

Figure 1. Examples of gamma bias

One hypothesis regarding the historical growth of gamma bias and the disfavouring of males is evolutionary pressures for males to protect and provide for women which involve a reluctance to view men as vulnerable (Seager & Barry, 2019). A more detailed sociological hypothesis presented in this paper posits the emergence of gamma bias in medieval Europe when feudal class distinctions were repurposed as a model for gender relations—the development which led C.S. Lewis to propose that European society had drifted from a social feudalism to a sexual feudalism. Gamma bias may arise from class distinctions and “class cognition” that were part of the original feudal template, which have carried forward as an unfortunate hangover in the gendered context. A notable result of this development is a gender empathy gap (Collins, 2021).

The operation of gamma bias can be observed in accounts of men in relationships with high narcissistic female partners. Green, et al (2019) state that female narcissists treat feminine gender ideals as a resource to justify self-enriching thought and actions, and conversely they obtain power and control by emphasising traditional male obligations to women. Based on interviews with male partners the authors provide the following conclusions:

[F]emale narcissists were perceived to attack their masculinity and inertia as a means to maintain power and control. In fact, throughout their relationships, participants reported that they experienced sustained and prolonged abuse from their narcissistic partners, including psychological, verbal, and physical violence. Although the physical violence reported was severe (at times so severe that it warranted medical attention), the majority of participants considered that the psychological abuse was more damaging, whereby a combination of experiencing violent threats, cruel reprimands intended to invalidate their reality, and coercive control all resulted in what was perceived as a cynically engineered and slow erosion of their sense of self. These accounts highlight, evidenced by the data extracts above, the significance of femininity and the violation of stereotypical gender norms in the exertion of power for female narcissism. (Green, et al., 2019)

Male participants in the study perceived their abuse by female partners as being overlooked by society because of deeply ingrained gendered scripts that assume violence perpetration is linked to masculine traits, and victimisation is associated with feminine traits. The authors conclude that gendered stereotypes and endorsement of ‘male dominance’ and ‘female submissiveness’ “appear to be reinforced and manipulated in their favour by female narcissists in their prerogative for power and exploitation.” (Green, et al., 2019). The experiences of these men illustrates the operation of gamma bias and reinforces the added distress the bias causes for men:

The reinforcement of gendered stereotypes conveyed feelings of distress and frustration on the part of the participants [men], as they felt their partners, presumed to embody these ‘feminine’ characteristics, were given the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and were able to deny that they were perpetrators. Notably, the participants’ narratives of victimisation were not only trivialised and challenged by society, but acted as a barrier to seek help as a result of stereotypical perceptions of masculinity and internalised patriarchal values. (Green, et al., 2019)

4. Institutionalisation of gynocentrism

Codification of gynocentric mores in workplace guidelines, social institutions and in legal codes is beyond the scope of this essay. However there have been numerous investigations of this topic starting with the publication of The Legal Subjection of Men (Bax, 1896), up to the more recent publication of The Empathy Gap: Male Disadvantages and the Mechanisms of Their Neglect by William Collins (2021), which looks at the gynocentric advantaging of women and disadvantaging of men across many domains including in education, healthcare, genital integrity, criminal justice, domestic abuse, working hours, taxation, pensions, paternity, homelessness, suicide, sexual offences, and access to their own children after parental separation. The codification of gynocentrism across these domains works to mutually reinforce the three elements named above; gendered customs, female narcissism and gamma bias.

Figure 2.

The four-dimensional model above provides a hypothesis on how cultural gynocentrism is maintained, along with the narcissism it helps to en-gender in an increasingly narcissistic era (Twenge, 2009).

The model is not aimed to reduce narcissism to an all-female problem or pathology, but to demonstrate the ways in which female narcissism may lean toward gynocentric modes of expression, much as males demonstrate narcissism in typically gendered ways.

The graphic (figure 2) shows elements of a self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop which works to exacerbate the effects of the original stimulus—chivalry and courtly love (feudalised love). The effects of the initial stimulus on the whole feedback system include an eventual increase in the magnitude of the originating stimulus: A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A in an ever-increasing spiral of influence. This mechanism accounts for the centuries-long evolution and the longevity of cultural gynocentrism.


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