Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. 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.
Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Patriarchy also has a strong influence on modern civilization, although many cultures have moved towards a more egalitarian social system over the past century.
Definition and usage
Patriarchy literally means "rule of fathers", from πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), "father" or "chief of a race, patriarch". 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.
Anthropological and historical evidence indicates that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were generally 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. However, according to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event" of the origin of patriarchy. 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.
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". With the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant". However, see Jesus and women.
The works of Aristotle viewed 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.
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.
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,’ became a euphemism for the duty to obey the king. But it was primarily as a secular doctrine that Aristotle’s appeal took on political meaning. 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 associated primarily 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.[unreliable source?]
In the 19th Century, various women began to question to 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.
Most forms of feminism characterize 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." 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.
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. 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.
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.
There is considerable variation in the role that gender plays in human societies. Although there are no known examples of strictly matriarchal cultures, there are a number of societies that have been shown to be matrilinear or matrilocal and gynocentric, especially among indigenous tribal groups. Some hunter-gatherer groups have been characterized as largely egalitarian.
One evolutionary psychology explanation for the origin of patriarchy 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 resource over which males will compete. This is sometimes referred to as Bateman's principle. One important female preference will be for males who control more resources which can help her and her children. This in turn has caused a selection pressure on men to be competitive and succeed in gaining resources and power in competition with other men. There has not been a similarly strong selection pressure on females.
Although the term patriarchy is loosely used to stand for 'male domination', as has been pointed out above, it more crucially means - as others have stated here: "The rule of The Father". 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.  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 patriarchal authority. 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. It is represented in unspoken traditions and 'harmless' conventions performed in everyday behaviours, customs and habits. The patriarchal triangular relationship of a father, a mother and an inheriting eldest son 'naturally' form the dynamic and emotional narratives of popular culture and are enacted performatively in rituals of courtship and marriage. They provide 'natural' conceptual models for the organising power relations in spheres that have nothing to do with the family: ie politics and business.
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