Difference between revisions of "Patriarchy"

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[[Category:Basic concepts]]

Latest revision as of 12:28, 15 November 2014

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Patriarchy (from Greek patriarch: πατριάρχης; "father" + "rule"[1][2]) is a social system in which men have privilege to the detriment of women and non-binary genders.

Originally it referred to the father as the head of the household, owner of property, and the descent of ownership and title through the male line, then evolved to a concept of government and society ruled by men, and now refers to a government and society dominated by men de facto (the United States and the West in general), if not de jure (theocratic governments, the Catholic Church).

Patriarchy is the system of rules (social, political, ethical, etc.) within a society that maintain a system of disparity that favors men and oppresses women. The gender hiring gap and the gender wage gap are simultaneously results and causes of patriarchy. Patriarchy keeps those problems in place while denying they exist, and the increased difficulty women face as a result of decreased opportunities and wages throughout their lives limits their ability to fight against it.

Patriarchy is a subsystem of the larger kyriarchy, which is the complex of *-archies that privilege the ruling group/class over the various oppressed peoples living under them. For example, in the United States, the kyriarchy favors heterosexual, wealthy, able, white, Christian cis-men between the ages of 30 and 70, so long as they look and act "proper" (suit and tie, rather than jeans and a t-shirt, for example). Failing to meet any of those criteria places you at a disadvantage, and the fewer criteria you meet, the greater your disadvantage, at every level of society. Patriarchy as a subset of kyriarchy focuses on the disparity in gender and feminism as a movement seeks to end the patriarchy.

Historical development

This concept appears to have been the result of the switch to agriculture as a form of livelihood as a response to social pressure regarding ownership of land and property and the transfer of such from parent to child.[3] However, this explanation is as yet incomplete, as it doesn't explain why the uncertainty of patrilineal descent was preferred to the greater certainty of matrilineal descent. The greater average size of men and the prevalence of violence fills in the gap.

In Marxist, and thus Marxist Feminist, terms, the creation of private property ([the beginnings of capitalism]) created the incentive structure that led to the domination of women by men. By contrast, Radical Feminism, to name just one example, the separate status of the genders may be related to or buttressed by capitalism, but can exist wholly independent of it (the relationship between Radical Feminism and Marxism is complex).[4]

In sociological terms, there is a divide between those who believe patriarchy arises from biological differences (such as Steven Goldberg, in [The Inevitability of Patriarchy]) and those who believe that gender roles are the result of cultural conditioning, with the majority of sociologists siding with the latter position.[5]

Patriarchy need not have arisen all at once,[6] rather, all that was necessary was the social need (a mechanism for transmitting property), a solution, however flawed (patrilineal inheritance), and the human gift for rationalization. Once a structure was in place and rationalization created for it, logical elaborations could be made on top of both the system and the rationalization, allowing the development of a complex and coherent system of oppression and its justification.

Effects of Patriarchy

Patriarchy reaches across social, political, and economic fields, and hurts everyone within them. However, it is far more detrimental to those who don't fit within the narrow limits of acceptably masculine behavior.


There are a number of ways in which women are harmed economically by the patriarchy. The gender wage gap refers to the fact that, all else being equal, women earn 77% of what men earn for the same work,[7] while the gender hiring gap refers to the fact that a man is far more likely to make it through every step of the hiring process than an equally qualified woman. This also takes into account the fact that women are more likely to receive lower paying jobs. What this means is that a man and a woman in the same job, with the same experience and qualifications, will not receive equal pay.

Those who deny the wage gap exists focus on the fact that women seek lower paying jobs, ignoring the fact that traditionally feminine jobs pay less than traditionally masculine jobs and that even in those jobs women still earn less than men.[8] They also point out that women are less likely to ask for a raise[9] while leaving aside the fact that women are judged more harshly for the same behavior as men.[10] Not only are they factually incorrect, but this is an example of victim blaming.

Further examples of patriarchy at work in economic settings include glass ceilings and glass cliffs.

Rape culture

See the main article on this topic: Rape culture

Rape culture is the feminist theory regarding the normalization of rape as a common occurrence in a society. Some facets of rape culture are:

  • Victim blaming - in which excuses or rationalizations are sought in the victim's behavior or life in order to shift the blame away from the rapist and onto the victim. Examples, which have appeared in newspaper and television reports and in the courtroom, have included the way the victim was dressed, whether xe had consumed alcohol, whether xe had had sex before, whether xe had any social contact with the rapist prior to the rape, etc.
  • Defending the Rapist - in addition to attacking the victim, the local community frequently gathers in defense of the rapist, focusing on xir good qualities (goes to church, plays football...) and denying the possibility that xe would ever do such a thing.
  • Denying Rape - Blaming the victim and defending the rapist are two tools used by a culture of rape to deny that rape even occurs. Rape denial also claims that false reports are incredibly common[11], when the truth is that false accusations are incredibly rare. On top of all this, the police are disinclined to investigate rapes and engage in victim blaming themselves, and prosecutors are further disinclined to pursue them for political reasons.
  • Normalizing rape - at the same time that rape culture denies rape occurs, it also makes rape common. Because victims receive harsh social penalties for speaking out, rapists are defended against accusations, sex and sexuality are considered shameful and issues of consent are largely unknown to the general population, rape and sexual assault are distressingly frequent, and usually come from an unexpected source.

Rape culture is, again, a result of patriarchy (viewing women as objects, viewing women as sex objects) and a tool (using rape and the threat of rape to control women and limit their options). Further, rape culture doesn't solely target women. As a tool of patriarchy, it is used to control anyone who falls outside gender norms. For example, transgender and queer people face a very high risk of rape.[12] While much less prevalent than rape of women or other genders, rape of men is often feminized and mocked/minimized, even when the most common male rape victims are queer, underage, incarcerated, or any combination thereof.[13][14]

Slut shaming

See the main article on this topic: Slut shaming

Slut shaming is the act of attacking a woman for expressing her sexuality.[15] Or for not expressing her sexuality.[16] Or appearing to express her sexuality.[17] Or for displaying something that someone perceives as sexual.[18] Women are in a no-win situation with slut shaming, because absolutely anything can be sexualized or fetishized, particularly when it's made taboo. This is another element of rape culture as well, as it plays into victim blaming, since the victim is guilty of breaking a sexual taboo regardless of xir behavior.

Patriarchy hurts men, too

A simple truth is that patriarchy is damaging to everyone. It forces everyone into rigid gender roles, regardless of their preferences, with toxic consequences for those involved. Men are confined to a toxic role that limits their emotional expression, and are pushed toward violent, criminal behavior through the use of "boys will be boys" and "men can't control themselves". However, although men are confined and abused by patriarchy, they are confined at a higher level than women.

It should also be noted that this is frequently a silencing tactic.[19] It is absolutely true that, for example, men are also the victims of rape and that they are even more shamed in reporting it for violating their gender role, or that the male prison population greatly outnumbers the female. However, these points are usually brought up in feminist spaces in order to derail conversations away from the systemic injustice women face.[20]

See also