Safety as a Patriarchal Activity

Safety as a Patriarchal Activity

One of the concerns of the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) is with Patriarchy. Patriarchy is about more than just men exorcising power. It is about the organizing of power according to masculinist discourse. Discourse is about the way power is embedded in language and the trajectory of such language. Patriarchy and matriarchy are not about being male or female. Females can be patriarchal and males can be matriarchal regardless of branding or spin. One can use gender for power to manipulate and dominate others of any sex. The issue of power is how it is enacted and what it does to others. If power is used to objectify others as ‘i-it’ (Buber), then it is dehumanizing power.

I saw a great interview this week on One Plus One with Clementine Ford which was so balanced and sensible and wondered what she would think of the culture of safety? ( ) What can one make of an industry that prides itself and makes its global language the intolerance and anti-fallibility of zero harm ideology? ( How could one be a feminist and speak/advocate the discourse of zero. Zero is patriarchal discourse.

Feminism is about: equality, reflectiveness, community, acceptance, tolerance, respect, equality, sociality, conversation and mutuality and how discourse privileges masculinist power. I have written about feminism in risk before ( We also produced a video about a feminist perspective on risk (

The discipline of the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) has its roots in the Semiotics and Feminism, this is mapped in Figure One. The Emergence of The Social Psychology of Risk. SPoR is concerned with fundamental issues of: equality, power, culture, human dignity, social ecology, community, humanizing society, objectivisation and vulnerability in the way people tackle risk.

One of the symbols of patriarchy in safety is the myth of the ‘brothers keeper’. The idea of being my brother’s keeper comes from the Old Testament story about Cain and Abel. The myth of Cain and Abel is about power, jealousy, corruption, manipulation, lying and distrust and results in God asking Cain where his brother was, knowing that Cain had killed him (Genesis 4: 1-18). In the story Cain is seduced by rage to kill his brother by objectifying him. The objectifying of others is the germination of extinguishment. In the story to ‘keep’ means to watch over. The idea of ‘watching over’ comes from process of shepherdering and infers the restraint of animals.

There is a hidden patriarchy embedded in the notion of ‘watching over’ others. Cain’s smartarse response to God’s question ‘am I my brother’s keeper’ was really Cain’s excuse for his patriarchy. Interestingly, was God watching over Abel?

The expression ‘my brother’s keeper’ has now been adopted by a host of organisations that profess to ‘watch over’ others. The infamous ‘Bra Boys’ ( tatoo the words ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ across their chests as an excuse to justify violence, corruption and power. You can buy My Brother’s Keeper clothing at and unfortunately the expression has come to symbolize masculinst power ( ).

The idea of being ‘my brother’s keeper’ is fostered in patriarchal safety (;;—how; and often infers a patriarchal sense of superiority over others. After all, everyone is stupid except Safety. ‘Accidents happen because people lack common sense’. After all ‘safety is a choice you make’. This is the discourse of patriarchy. Everyone is incompetent in safety except me!

The nuances of this discourse are most important. If one ‘cares’ and ‘helps’ then ‘keeping’ another is not the appropriate language. The language of patriarchy is often used in safety to rough ride others, and delights in power OVER others. Safety should be about ‘helping’ not ‘keeping’.

When one adopts a disposition of ‘helping’ one doesn’t need to be another’s ‘keeper’. Your safety is not my responsibility if it means overriding your freedom and will. It is my responsibility to discuss, converse, help, motivate, listen and question but I won’t do up your boot laces for you (

Unfortunately, patriarchal safety has become addicted to bureaucratic systems that mean it doesn’t have to converse, help, listen or motivate. Patriarchal safety just has to police the system and wield all power necessary to get compliance. Compliance enjoys the justification of working OVER people not WITH people. Compliance is about blind obedience rather than questioning, reflecting, learning and discovery.

The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy but humanizing. Matriarchy has its own dynamics of dominance. Humanising is about mutuality, relationship and focusing on the higher-order goals of trust, care and helping, not the lower –order goals of counting, metrics and objects. Lower-order goals are patriarchal goals ( The only way to shift from patriarchy to humanizing is to focus on higher-order goals and to put lower-order goals in their rightful place.

Figure One. The Emergence of The Social Psychology of Risk.


Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

2 Replies to “Safety as a Patriarchal Activity”

  1. Dear Rob,

    Discussions with several colleagues, CFMEU representatives and a review of several presentations at conferences suggest that females allocated to senior roles such as site senior executives in the mining sector are merely seduced by identity with adversarial legislation and masculinist methods and values, which exacerbates conflict. This aligns with the reflections of Margaret Mead…..I do not believe in using women in combat because females are too fierce.

    There is also a fabulous review from Amanda Stoker covering a book by Giles Auty entitled ” The Snowflake Chronicles – Post Modernist Australia, How to Create an Unholy Mess” in this week’s edition of The Spectator Australia:

    Amanda Stoker replaced George Brandis in the Senate and was a participating member of the federal parliamentary inquiry into industrial deaths in Australia:

    This blog sends me into so many different rabbit warrens and respectfully debates ideas with thought provoking topics rather than incalculably narcissistic Twitter bait and shallow click democracy.

  2. Bernard, thanks for the link an interesting read.

    The taboo subject in safety discourse is the discussion of power. Regardless of sex, the gendered discourse is the same. Sometimes it’s the envy of power too that drives much safety discourse. This is evidenced in the iconography of power and the love of objects in the industry. All deified in the ideology of zero, that absolute that justifies the power to lord it over others in the name of good.

    The territory mongering, fortress building and factionalising in the politics of safety driven by this love of zero intolerance and the ideology of compliance. This is the global mantra for the fallibility deniers.

    Such is safety – Pater familias

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