Words and Worlds

Real Men on Top

Patriarchy doesn’t put men on top, argues Robin Dembroff. Instead, it elevates those who most approximate cultural ideals of manhood.

Robin Dembroff (Yale)

The word ‘patriarchy’ is attached to a big promise: the promise of a unified explanation for gender injustice across places and times. But the received view – that patriarchy is a system that privileges men over women – fails us. It distorts or erases the reality that many groups of men (such as gay men and Black men), as well as androgynous people, also experience systemic forms of gender disadvantage. Patriarchy doesn’t put men on top. Instead, it elevates those who most closely approximate cultural ideals of manhood – ideals that say what men are and should be. Or, put simply, patriarchy puts real men on top.


  • Speaker

    Robin Dembroff is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. They work on feminist and LGBTQ philosophy, with a focus on what gender is and how it shapes social outcomes, experiences, and ways of knowing. Dembroff's current book project, Real Men on Top: How Patriarchy Weaponizes Gender, is under contract with Oxford University Press, with a planned release in 2024. Their work has been published in professional journals spanning three disciplines, and appears in popular venues including Scientific American, The Boston Review, TIME, The Guardian, and The New York Review of Books. In 2019, Dembroff co-authored an amicus brief in support of gay and transgender employees, which was submitted to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of over seventy philosophy professors. They have given over a dozen keynotes and named lectures, and will be a panelist for the 2023 Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan. In 2022, Britannica named Dembroff one of twenty “shapers of the future” under 40 in academia and ideas.