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For other uses, see Patriarch (disambiguation).

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Patriarchy is a social system in which males are the primary authority figures central to social organization, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage. The female equivalent is matriarchy.

Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures.[1]

Definition and usage

Patriarchy literally means "the rule of the father"[2][3] and comes from the Greek πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), "father of a race" or "chief of a race, patriarch",[4][5] which is a compound of πατριά (patria), " lineage, descent"[6] (from πατήρ - patēr, "father") and ἄρχω (arxō), "I rule".[7]

Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.[8][9][10][11]


Anthropological evidence suggests that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were relatively egalitarian, and that patriarchal social structures did not develop until many years after the end of the Pleistocene era, following social and technological innovations such as agriculture and domestication.[12][13][14] According to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event".[15] Some scholars point to about six thousand years ago (4000 BCE), when the concept of fatherhood took root, as the beginning of the spread of patriarchy.[16][17]

However James DeMeo argues that a specific initiating event does exist: the geographical record shows that climate change around 4000 BCE led to famines in the Sahara, Arabian peninsula and what are now the Central Asian deserts which then resulted in the adoption of warlike, patriarchal structures in order to secure food sources:

"Famine, starvation and mass-migrations related to land-abandonment severely traumatised the originally peaceful and sex-positive inhabitants of those lands, inducing a distinct turning away from original matrism towards patristic forms of behaviour."[18]

Domination by men of women is found in the Ancient Near East as far back as 3100 BCE, as are restrictions on a woman's reproductive capacity and exclusion from "the process of representing or the construction of history".[15] With the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant".[15][19]

A prominent Greek general Meno, in the Platonic dialogue of the same name, sums up the prevailing sentiment in Classical Greece about the respective virtues of men and women. He says:

Let us take first the virtue of a man—he should know how to administer the state, and in the administration of it to benefit his friends and harm his enemies; and he must also be careful not to suffer harm himself. A woman's virtue, if you wish to know about that, may also be easily described: her duty is to order her house, and keep what is indoors, and obey her husband."[20]

The works of Aristotle portrayed women as morally, intellectually, and physically inferior to men; saw women as the property of men; claimed that women's role in society was to reproduce and serve men in the household; and saw male domination of women as natural and virtuous.[21][22][23]

In The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, she states that Aristotle believed that women had colder blood than men, which made women not evolve into men, the sex that Aristotle believed to be perfect and superior. Maryanne Cline Horowotz stated that Aristotle believed that "soul contributes the form and model of creation." This implies that any imperfection that is caused in the world must be caused by a woman because one cannot acquire an imperfection from perfection (which was perceived as male). Aristotle had a hierarchical ruling structure in his theories. Just as he believed that the Greeks were greater than the barbarians, he also duly believed that men were greater than women.[24]

Gerda Lerner claims that through this patriarchy that has been passed down generation to generation, people have been conditioned to believe that men are superior to women. These symbols are benchmarks which children learn about when they grow up, and the cycle of patriarchy continues much past the Greeks.[24]

Egypt left no philosophical record, but Herodotus left a record of his shock at the contrast between the roles of Egyptian women and the women of Athens. He observed that Egyptian women attended market and were employed in trade. In ancient Egypt a middle-class woman might sit on a local tribunal, engage in real estate transactions, and inherit or bequeath property. Women also secured loans, and witnessed legal documents.[25]

Greek influence spread, however, with the conquests of Alexander the Great, who was educated by Aristotle.[26]

In medieval Europe, patriarchy was not absolute, as female Empresses (such as Theodora) and Matriarchs (such as Helena, the mother of Constantine) enjoyed privilege, political rule, and societal honor.[27]

From the time of Martin Luther, Protestantism regularly used the commandment in Exodus 20:12 to justify the duties owed to all superiors. ‘Honor thy father,’ was taken to apply not only to fathers, but elders, and the king.

Although many 16th and 17th Century theorists agreed with Aristotle’s views concerning the place of women in society, none of them tried to prove political obligation on the basis of the patriarchal family until sometime after 1680. The patriarchal political theory is closely associated with Sir Robert Filmer. Sometime before 1653, Filmer completed a work entitled Patriarcha. However, it was not published until after his death. In it, he defended the divine right of kings as having title inherited from Adam, the first man of the human race, according to Judeo-Christian tradition.[28]

In the 19th Century, various women began to question the commonly accepted patriarchal interpretation of Christian scripture. One of the foremost of these was Sarah Grimké, who voiced skepticism about the ability of men to translate and interpret passages relating to the roles of the sexes without bias. She proposed alternative translations and interpretations of passages relating to women, and she applied historical and cultural criticism to a number of verses, arguing that their admonitions applied to specific historical situations, and were not to be viewed as universal commands.[29] Elizabeth Cady Stanton used Grimké’s criticism of biblical sources to establish a basis for feminist thought. She published The Woman's Bible, which proposed a feminist reading of the Old and New Testament. This tendency was enlarged by feminist theory, which denounced the patriarchal Judeo-Christian tradition.[30]

Feminist theory

Feminism defines patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women. As feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman writes, "The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection."[31] In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.[32]

Modern Jungian theory

From the perspective of Jungian psychology, patriarchy may be seen as an expression of a stunted, immature form of masculinity and thus as an attack on masculinity in its fullness as well as on femininity in its fullness.[33]

Biological vs. social theories

Most sociologists reject predominantly biological explanations of patriarchy and contend that social and cultural conditioning is primarily responsible for establishing male and female gender roles.[34][35] According to standard sociological theory, patriarchy is the result of sociological constructions that are passed down from generation to generation.[34] These constructions are most pronounced in societies with traditional cultures and less economic development.[36] Even in modern developed societies, however, gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions largely favor males having a dominant status.[35]

Biologist Richard Lewontin asserts that patriarchy persists through social and political reasons rather than purely scientific reasons. In The Determined Patriarchy, Lewontin reflects feminist concerns for the future of patriarchy and how to rid society of it by uprooting the source. Some opponents of feminism have argued that patriarchy has its origin in biological reasons. This is called biological determinism, which looks at humanity from a strictly biological point of view. The male testosterone hormone is, for instance, known to greatly enhance risk taking behaviour; which can generate increased status in groups if successful (balanced with an equal increase in number of failures, with potential losses of status or death as result). The potential magnitude, frequency and longevity of the increased status from a hormonally driven risk-taking success depends on opportunities, which increases rapidly with societal complexity. A hypothetical patriarchal culture based primarily on a hormonally driven increased rate of male successes, thus require a certain critical level of societal evolution before it could evolve. Other proponents of this theory also posit that because of a woman's biology, she is more fit to do roles such anonymous child-rearing at home rather than high profile decision making roles such as leaders in battles. However, Lewontin and others argue that such biological determinism unjustly limits women. In his study, he states women behave a certain way not because they are biologically inclined to, but rather because they are judged by "how well they conform to the stereotypical local image of femininity" (Lewontin 137). Feminists believe that people have gendered biases since others around them have set apart a social standard for people to follow. For instance, an American doctor said that women cannot make rational decisions during their menopausal periods. This claim may cloak the fact that men also have periods of time where they can be aggressive and irrational. Women's biological traits, such as their ability to get pregnant, are often used against them as an attribute of weakness. However, even as biology is used against women, it is often that the perceived biological bias towards them is not correct. For example, it has been asserted for over a century that women are not as intellectually competent as men because they have slightly smaller brains on average.[37] However, no substantiated significant difference in average intelligence has been found between the sexes.[38] Furthermore, no discrepancy in intelligence is assumed between men of different heights, even though on average taller men have been found to have slightly larger brains.[37] Feminists assert that although women may excel in certain areas and men in others, women are just as competent as men.[39]

Sociologist Sylvia Walby has composed six overlapping structures that define patriarchy and that take different forms in different cultures and different times:[40]

  1. The state: women are unlikely to have formal power and representation
  2. The household: women are more likely to do the housework and raise the children.
  3. Violence: women are more prone to being abused
  4. Paid work: women are likely to be paid less
  5. Sexuality: Women's sexuality is more likely to be treated negatively
  6. Culture: women are more misrepresented in media and popular culture

Some sociobiologists, such as Steven Goldberg, argue that social behavior is primarily determined by genetics, and thus that patriarchy arises more as a result of inherent biology than social conditioning. Goldberg also contends that patriarchy is a universal feature of human culture. In 1973, Goldberg wrote, "The ethnographic studies of every society that has ever been observed explicitly state that these feelings were present, there is literally no variation at all."[41] Goldberg has critics among anthropologists. Concerning Goldberg's claims about the "feelings of both men and women", Eleanor Leacock countered in 1974 that the data on women's attitudes are "sparse and contradictory", and that the data on male attitudes about male-female relations are "ambiguous". Also, the effects of colonialism on the cultures represented in the studies were not considered.[42]

The idea that patriarchy is natural has however come under attack from many sociologists, explaining that patriarchy evolved due to historical, rather than biological, conditions. In technologically simple societies, men's greater physical strength and women's common experience of pregnancy combined together to sustain patriarchy. Gradually, technological advances, especially industrial machinery, diminished the primacy of physical strength in everyday life. Similarly, contraception has given women control over their reproductive cycle.

There is considerable variation in the role that gender plays in human societies. Although there are no known human examples of strictly matriarchal cultures,[43] there exist societies which have been shown to be matrilinear or matrilocal, primarily among indigenous tribal groups.[44] Some hunter-gatherer groups have been characterized as largely egalitarian.[14]

The area of evolutionary psychology offers an explanation for the origin of patriarchy which starts with the view that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males, and therefore in most species females are a limiting factor over which males will compete. This is sometimes referred to as Bateman's principle. It suggests females place the most important preference on males who control more resources which can help her and her offspring, which in turn causes an evolutionary pressure on males to be competitive with each other in order to succeed in gaining resources and power.[45]

Psychoanalytic theories

The term patriarchy is used loosely to stand for "male domination", while the more rigorous definition lies with the literal interpretation: "the rule of the father".[46] So patriarchy does not refer to a simple binary pattern of male power over women, but power exerted more complexly by age as well as gender, and by older men over women, children, and younger men. Some of these younger men may inherit and therefore have a stake in patriarchy's continuing conventions. Others may rebel.[47][48] This psychoanalytic model is based upon revisions of Freud's description of the normally neurotic family using the analogy of the story of Oedipus.[49][50] Those who fall outside the Oedipal triad of mother/father/child are less subject to patriarchal authority.[51] This has been taken as a position of symbolic power for queer identities. The operations of power in patriarchy are usually enacted unconsciously. All are subject, even fathers are bound by its strictures.[52] It is represented in unspoken traditions and conventions performed in everyday behaviors, customs, and habits.[53] The patriarchal triangular relationship of a father, a mother and an inheriting eldest son frequently form the dynamic and emotional narratives of popular culture and are enacted performatively in rituals of courtship and marriage.[54] They provide conceptual models for organising power relations in spheres that have nothing to do with the family, for example, politics and business.[55]

See also

Patriarchal models


Related notions

Comparable social models


Further reading

  • Adeline, Helen B. Fascinating Womanhood. New York: Random House, 2007.
  • Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2003.
  • Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953. (first USA edition, in translation)
  • Bornemann, Ernest. Das Patriarchat - Ursprung und Zukunft unseres Gesellschaftssystems, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1991 (Original German edition 1975), ISBN 3-596-23416-6
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. Masculine Domination. Translated by Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.
  • Brizendine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006.
  • Brown, Donald E. Human Universals. New York: McGraw Hill, 1991.
  • de Santillana, Giorgio & Hertha von Dechend. Hamlet's Mill: an essay investigating the origins of human knowledge and its transmission through myth. David R. Godine, publisher, Jaffrey, New Hampshire, 1977. The effects of evolutionary theory on the study of culture, pp. 68–72.
  • Eisler, Riane. ' 'The Chalice and the Blade' '. Harper Collins, 1987.
  • Gimbutas, Marija. The civilization of the goddess: the world of Old Europe. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1991.
  • Jay, Jennifer W. Journal of the American Oriental Society 116 (1996): 220-229.
  • Endnotes
  • Lepowsky, Maria. Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • Mead, Margaret. 'Do We Undervalue Full-Time Wives'. Redbook 122 (1963).
  • Mies, Maria. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour. Palgrave MacMillan, 1999.
  • Moir, Anne and David Jessel. Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women.
  • Ortner, Sherry Beth. 'Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?'. In MZ Rosaldo and L Lamphere (eds). Woman, Culture and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974, pp. 67–87.
  • Ortner, Sherry Beth. 'So, Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?'. In S Ortner. Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996, pp. 173–180.
  • Pilcher, Jane and Imelda Wheelan. 50 Key Concepts in Gender Studies. London: Sage Publications, 2004.
  • Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: A Modern Denial of Human Nature. London: Penguin Books, 2002.
  • Wood, Wendy and Alice H. Eagly. A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin. 128(5) (Sep. 2002):699-727.
  • Gender, Democratic Citizenship vrs Patriarchy" Fordham Law Review 2004.

External links

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  • "New Scientist (2003).
  • Women’s Status and War in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Reconsideration
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