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Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.
Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, religious and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Even if not explicitly defined to be by their own constitutions and laws, virtually all societies today are, in practice, patriarchal.
Etymology and usage
Patriarchy literally means "the rule of the father" and comes from the Greek πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), "father of a race" or "chief of a race, patriarch", which is a compound of πατριά (patria), "lineage, descent" (from πατήρ patēr, "father") and ἄρχω (arkhō), "I rule".
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. One example definition of patriarchy by Sylvia Walby is "a system of interrelated social structures which allow men to exploit women. According to April A. Gordon, Walby's definition allows for the variability and changes in women's roles and in the order of their priority under different patriarchal systems. It also recognizes that it is the institutionalized subordination and exploitation of women by men that is the crux of patriarchy; this can take many forms. It is even theoretically possible that patriarchy could express itself through a deemphasis on motherhood in favor of women as wage earners or some other role.
Terms with similar etymology are also used in various social sciences and humanities to describe patriarchal or patriological aspects of social, cultural and political processes. Adjective patriological is derived from the noun patriology that comes from two Greek words: πατέρας (pateras, father) and λογος (logos, teaching about). The term patriology originated in theological studies as a designation for particular theological discipline that studies the person and works of God the Father (see: Patriology (Christianity)). In modern times, the term was borrowed by social sciences and humanities and its meaning was widened in order to describe and define particular male-dominated and male-centered aspects of cultural and social life.
The female alternative for patriology is matriology.
History and origin of the modern patriarchy
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 developments such as agriculture and domestication. According to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event". 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.
The archaeologist Marija Gimbutas found that the early agricultural cultures of Old Europe in the Aegean, Balkans and southern Italy gender relations were remarkably egalitarian. She suggests that it was the result of waves of kurgan building invaders from the Ukrainian steppes that changed these gender relationships and instituted male hierarchies that led to the rise of patriarchy. Steven Taylor demonstrates that the rise of patriarchal domination was associated with the appearance of socially stratified hierarchical polities, institutionalised violence and the separated individuated ego associated with a period of climatic stress. 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". According to some researchers, with the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant".
First of all, if you take the virtue of a man, it is easily stated that a man's virtue is this—that he be competent to manage the affairs of his city, and to manage them so as to benefit his friends and harm his enemies, and to take care to avoid suffering harm himself. Or take a woman's virtue: there is no difficulty in describing it as the duty of ordering the house well, looking after the property indoors, and obeying her husband.
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.
In The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, the author 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 Horowitz 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 he perceived as male). Aristotle had a hierarchical ruling structure in his theories. Lerner claims that through this patriarchal belief system, 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.
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.
Greek influence spread, however, with the conquests of Alexander the Great, who was educated by Aristotle.
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. In the religious sphere, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches restricted the priesthood to males, yet viewed the church itself as a mother.
From the time of Martin Luther, Protestantism regularly used the commandment in Exodus 20:12 to justify the duties owed to all superiors. The commandment honour 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 species, according to Judeo-Christian tradition. However, in the latter half of the 18th century, clerical sentiments of patriarchy were meeting challenges from intellectual authorities – Diderot's Encyclopedia denies inheritance of paternal authority stating, "...reason shows us that mothers have rights and authority equal to those of fathers; for the obligations imposed on children originate equally from the mother and the father, as both are equally responsible for bringing them into the world. Thus the positive laws of God that relate to the obedience of children join the father and the mother without any differentiation; both possess a kind of ascendancy and jurisdiction over their children..."
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. 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.
Feminist theory defines patriarchy as an unjust social system that enforces gender roles and is oppressive to both men and women. It often includes any social, political, or economic mechanism that evokes male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.
Many feminists (especially scholars and activists) have called for culture repositioning as a method for deconstructing patriarchy. Culture repositioning relates to culture change. It involves the reconstruction of the cultural concept of a society. Prior to the widespread use of "patriarchy", feminists used the terms "male chauvinism" and "sexism" to refer roughly to the same phenomenon. Author bell hooks argues that the new term identifies the ideological system itself (that men are inherently dominant or superior to women) that can be believed and acted upon by either men or women, whereas the earlier terms imply only men act as oppressors of women.
Use of symbols
In Chapter 10 of The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner states that Man (male) found a way of dealing with the existential dilemma by assigning symbol-making power to himself and life-death-nature finiteness to woman. Lerner argues that class society began with the dominance of men over women and developed into the dominance of some men over other men and over all women. Thus the very process of class formation incorporated an already pre-existing condition of male dominance over women and particularly marginalized women in the formation of symbol systems. The symbol system established the ruling elite of men in power.
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.
Biological versus social theories
As a common standard of differentiation between sexes, advocates for a patriarchal society like to focus on the influences that hormones have over biological systems. Hormones have been declared as the "key to the sexual universe" because they are present in all animals and are the driving force in two critical developmental stages: sex-determinism in the fetus, and puberty in the teenage individual. Playing a critical role in the development of the brain and behavior, testosterone and estrogen have been labeled the "male-hormone" and "female-hormone" respectively as a result of the impact they have when masculinizing or feminizing an individual.
Most sociologists reject predominantly biological explanations of patriarchy and contend that social and cultural conditioning are primarily responsible for establishing male and female gender roles. According to standard sociological theory, patriarchy is the result of sociological constructions that are passed down from generation to generation. These constructions are most pronounced in societies with traditional cultures and less economic development. Even in modern, developed societies, however, gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions largely favor males having a dominant status.
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 factors. This is called biological determinism, which looks at humanity from a strictly biological point of view. Thus, the evolution of science in a patriarchal society's focus begins with man and woman. 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 posit that because of a woman's biology, she is more fit to perform roles such as anonymous child-rearing at home, rather than high-profile decision-making roles, such as leaders in battles. Through this simple basis, "the existence of a sexual division of labor in primitive societies is a starting point as much for purely social accounts of the origins of patriarchy as for biological".:157 Hence, the rise of patriarchy is recognized through this apparent "sexual division." Although patriarchy exists within the scientific atmosphere, "the period over which women would have been at a physiological disadvantage in participation in hunting through being at a late stage pregnancy or early stage of child-rearing would have been small",:157 during the time of the nomads, patriarchy still grew with power. 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".:137 Feminists believe that people have gendered biases, which are perpetuated and enforced across generations by those who benefit from them. For instance, it has historically been claimed that women cannot make rational decisions during their menstrual periods. This claim cloaks the fact that men also have periods of time where they can be aggressive and irrational; furthermore, unrelated effects of aging and similar medical problems are often blamed on menopause, amplifying its reputation. These biological traits and others specific to women, such as their ability to get pregnant, are often used against them as an attribute of weakness.
A growing body of research has found key points of the biological argument to be groundless. For example, it was asserted for over a century that women were not as intellectually competent as men because they have slightly smaller brains on average. However, no substantiated significant difference in average intelligence has been found between the sexes. However men have a greater variability in intelligence and except in tests of reading comprehension, perceptual speed, and associative memory, males typically outnumber females substantially among high-scoring individuals. 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. Feminists assert that although women may excel in certain areas and men in others, women are just as competent as men. Therefore, through the growing power of the patriarchal system, a gender bias is created in the work force, leading to a situation in which "men are more likely to be cabinet ministers or parliamentarians, business executives or tycoons, Nobel Prize-winning scientists or fellows of academies, doctors or airline pilots. [As for] [w]omen [they] are more likely to be secretaries, laboratory technicians, office cleaners, nurses, airline stewardesses, primary school teachers, or social workers".:132 Within the structure of a patriarchal society, patriarchal biases and values are more likely to be promoted in the educational system. Particularly in mathematical and scientific fields, boys are presumed to have more keen spatial abilities than girls, whereas girls are supposed to assume better linguistic skills. These stereotypical manifestations within educational institutions contract with the notions of differently gendered brains and a "relationship between intelligence and brain size".:143 However, there is "no correlation between skull capacity and hence brain weight and 'intellectual power'",:143 yet there is still a constant struggle of gender bias in science.
Sociologist Sylvia Walby has composed six overlapping structures that define patriarchy and that take different forms in different cultures and different times:
- The state: women are unlikely to have formal power and representation
- The household: women are more likely to do the housework and raise the children.
- Violence: women are more prone to being abused
- Paid work: women are likely to be paid less
- Sexuality: women's sexuality is more likely to be treated negatively
- 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." 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.
An early theory in evolutionary psychology offered 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 that can help her and her offspring, which in turn causes an evolutionary pressureon males to be competitive with each other in order to succeed in gaining resources and power. While this account continues to be popular with the laymen and the media, an alternative evolutionary theory has superseded it in scholarly circles. Attachment Fertility Theory, based on attachment theory, observes that human infants are born with a level of helplessness unknown elsewhere in the animal kingdom and that father involvement is critical to human infant survival. Because the investment in offspring required by human males and females is nearly equal, they are proposed to have evolved sex-similar mating preferences (Mutual Mate Choice), that is, both men and women prefer caring, attractive, and successful partners.
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 examples of strictly matriarchal cultures, there exist societies which have been shown to be matrilinear or matrilocal, primarily among indigenous tribal groups. Some hunter-gatherer groups have been characterized as largely egalitarian. Others have argued that patriarchy is a cultural universal.
The term patriarchy is often misused loosely to stand for "male domination", while the more rigorous definition lies with the literal interpretation: "the rule of the father". So some people believe 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 continuing these conventions. Others may rebel.
This psychoanalytic model is based upon revisions of Freud's description of the normally neurotic family using the analogy of the story of Oedipus. Those who fall outside the Oedipal triad of mother/father/child are less subject to male authority. This has been taken as a position of symbolic power for queer identities.
The operations of power in such cases are usually enacted unconsciously. All are subject, even fathers are bound by its strictures. It is represented in unspoken traditions and conventions performed in everyday behaviors, customs, and habits. The 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. They provide conceptual models for organising power relations in spheres that have nothing to do with the family, for example, politics and business.
Marx was on to something more profound than he knew when he observed that the family contained within itself in embryo all the antagonisms that later develop on a wide scale within the society and the state. For unless revolution uproots the basic social organisation, the biological family – the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled – the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated.
- Correspondence principle (sociology)
- Family economics
- Gender role
- Hegemonic masculinity
- Nature versus nurture
- Sociology of fatherhood
- Tree of patriarchy
Comparable social models
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Today, as in the past, men generally hold political, economic, and religious power in most societies.
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