What is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy is a very popular term within feminist discourse, and you’ve probably heard the term used a few times in real life. The term itself takes on different meanings depending on the theoretical perspective, some journalists argue that the term is overused but what would be the point of changing the word sunny during summer because the prevalence of the word increases. Patriarchy is here to stay and this article seeks to introduce the reader to some of its various forms.
What is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy takes on different degrees and forms. It can be understood as systems which are organised around male authority. Degrees of patriarchy refers to the intensity of oppression on a specific dimension, for instance, the size of the wage gap between men and women. Forms of patriarchy refer to the overall type of patriarchy, as defined by the specific relations between the different patriarchal counter-attack, often on new rather than the same issues (Walby, 1990, p. 174).
Walby (1990) argues that whilst women have won liberal rights which may have eradicated some features of patriarchy and in other cases created new forms of patriarchy.
Where does Patriarchy come from?
Patriarchy goes hand in hand with gender roles. Historically biological explanations of gender roles were popular, filling the ‘natural order’ position. This led to sociobiology, using genetics to explain social life (Cochise College, 2016). Goldberg, a sociobiologist published The Inevitability of Patriarchy, in 1973 arguing male dominance is universal.
Social constructionists counter these arguments by emphasising how gender roles are manufactured within cultures (Cochise College, 2016). Foot binding, though extreme, has lost popularity.
Sociobiologists are of the position that human biology, genetics, and nature lead to the conditions which produce male control.
Social constructionists argue that through socialisation individuals are taught their gender. Over time, individuals begin to act out their gender conforming.
Sociology: Key Concepts and Perspectives
Private & Public Patriarchy
Private Patriarchy: based upon household production, with a patriarch controlling women individually and directly in the relatively private sphere of the home (Walby, 1990, p. 178). Typically, in regards to private patriarchy, it’s the man or father who is the oppressor and beneficiary of female subordination.
Public Patriarchy: based on structures other than the household, rather institutions conventionally regarded as part of the public domain (Walby, 1990, p. 178).
It was initially believed that female subordination in society was tied to women being confined to the home (the private sphere) (Rosaldo, 1974). Rosaldo (1974) argued men’s work outside of the house was valued more than women’s work outside of the home. This ignored the reality that in numerous cultures around the world women were expected to work outside of the home. It was believed, once women grouped together this private subordination would end.
Historical forms of Patriarchy
Different theorists have argued that patriarchy can be experienced in different forms and modes.
Dworking (1983) argues women can experience different kinds of patriarchal control. Within what she terms ‘the Farming Mode’ a woman will experience oppression by being ‘kept’ for life. Under ‘the Brothel Mode’ a woman experiences more freedom but as they lose sexual prowess will lose the support and attention they’ve gained from men. A major strength of Dworkins (1981)’s theory is her emphasis on the sexual element of exploitation experienced by women.
Brown (1981) provides an account of patriarchy which is based on labour, largely arguing domestic work is a key source of female subordination.
Hernes (1984) argues that whilst women have reduced their dependency on their husbands (private patriarchy) through increased participation in the workforce they have increased their dependency on welfare and employers (public patriarchy).
Walby (1990) found Dworkin’s, Browns, and Hernes to be restrictive arguing ‘different forms of patriarchy are depended upon the interaction of six key patriarchal structures. These are the patriarchal mode of production; patriarchy; relations in paid work; patriarchal relations n the state; male violence; patriarchal relations in sexuality; and patriarchal relations in cultural institutions including religions, media, education’ (Walby, 1990, p. 177).
These are not the only theorists who have disputed on the topic of Patriarchy, but it does go to show the range of perspectives and the power behind them such as Brown (1981) arguing domestic work is the key source of female subordination. Quite a grand statement.
How is Patriarchy maintained?
Society still often perpetuates patriarchal ideas. The belief that men are biologically programmed to perform a certain way, expressed through colloquial sayings such as ‘Boys will be boys’. The celebration of macho and alpha men, seen advertised throughout media and at the forefront of many male blockbusters such as ‘James Bond’, ‘Superman’, ‘Captain America’. and so on.
Following on from the macho image the media is focused on promoting gender binaries often at the expense of the LGBTQI community. Women’s programmes largely focus on discussion, relationships, and appearance, whilst male programmes largely focus on male gadgets and cars.
The contemporary forms of Patriarchy experienced by women are of a more public form, one way is the exclusion of women from public spheres (Walby, 1990) This was historically done at pubs, and gentlemen bars some which continue till today, the British army is an institution which has been forced to remove its gender barriers to certain roles.
Patriarchy can also change and adapt depending on where it is. Whereas women in Britain are only now gaining the rights to hold certain positions in the army, in Isreal women are conscripted. Walby (1990) puts forward the example of how British patriarchy is different to patriarchy in Eastern Europe. In the United Kingdom, most women will experience paid work, whilst being more susceptible to poverty (Oxfam, 2017). So much for economic freedom.
Capitalism & Patriarchy
There is often tension between Capitalism & Patriarchy, Capitalists want to exploit female labour which is cheaper than male labour, whereas Patriarchs prefer to exploit female labour within the home. In Britain, the Industrial Revolution saw women move into factory occupations before patriarchal resistance (men barring women from certain occupations) evened the field (Walby, 1990).
But Capitalism alone couldn’t bring about a big change in patriarchy, the first wave feminist movement also helped. Women had won access to higher education and claims to the rights and privileges of citizenship. They could no longer be legally subsumed to their husbands or fathers (Walby, 1990, p. 191). They were now free to be exploited by their employers.
Patriarchy can take on a number of different forms, it can be public and it can be private. It is best not to view patriarchy as static (Walby, 1990). Social change can have the intention of eradication patriarchy through empowering women but can end up only forcing patriarchy to change its manifestation. Women were free to work, but until they have legally obtained the right to equal pay, they would be paid less than men. Even if they have to pay the same rent, and the same amount for groceries, travel, and food. The gender difference still remains. Patriarchy is inevitably quite a vast topic, covered by sociologists, sociobiologists, psychologists, and feminists alike it would take a literature review to give the topic even the smallest amount of justice.
By Shaneka Knight
Facebook: Shaneka Knight
Brown, C. (1981). Women and Revolution: the Unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism. London: Pluto Press.
Cochise College. (2016). The Origins of Patriarchy. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/cochise-sociology-os/chapter/the-origins-of-patriarchy/ [Accessed 2 December 2018].
Dworkin, A. (1981). Pornography: men possessing women. London: Women’s Press.
Hernes, M. H. (1984). Patriarchy in a Welfare Society. Oslo: Universitetsfrlaget.
Oxfam. (2017). Why the majority of the world’s poor are women. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfam.org/en/even-it/why-majority-worlds-poor-are-women [Accessed 17 November 2018].
Rosaldo, L. M. (1974). Women, Culture and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Walby, S. (1990). Theorizing Patriarchy. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford.