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.[1]


Definition and usage

Patriarchy literally means "rule of fathers",[2][3] from πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), "father" or "chief of a race, patriarch".[4][5] 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.[6][7][8][9]


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.[10][11] However, according to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event" of the origin of patriarchy.[12] 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.[13][14]

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".[12] With the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant".[12][15] 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.[16][17][18]

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.[19]

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.[20][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.[21] 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.[22]

Feminist theory

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."[23] 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.[24]

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.[25][26] According to standard sociological theory, patriarchy is the result of sociological constructions that are passed down from generation to generation.[25] These constructions are most pronounced in societies with traditional cultures and less economic development.[27] Even in modern developed societies, however, gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions largely favor males having a dominant status.[26]

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."[28] 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.[29]

There is considerable variation in the role that gender plays in human societies. Although there are no known examples of strictly matriarchal cultures,[30] there are a number of societies that have been shown to be matrilinear or matrilocal and gynocentric, especially among indigenous tribal groups.[31] Some hunter-gatherer groups have been characterized as largely egalitarian.[32]

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.[33]

Psychoanalytic theories

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".[34] 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. [35][36] This psychoanalytic model is based upon revisions of Freud's description of the normally neurotic family using the analogy of the story of Oedipus.[37] [38]Those who fall outside the Oedipal triad of mother/father/child are less subject to patriarchal authority.[39] 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.[40] It is represented in unspoken traditions and 'harmless' conventions performed in everyday behaviours, customs and habits.[41] 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.[42] They provide 'natural' conceptual models for the organising power relations in spheres that have nothing to do with the family: ie politics and business.[43]

See also

Patriarchal models

Related notions

Comparable social models


  1. ^ Malti-Douglas, Fedwa (2007). Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Detroit: Macmillan. ISBN 0028659600. 
  2. ^ Ferguson, Kathy E. (1999). "Patriarchy". In Tierney, Helen. Women's studies encyclopedia, Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing. p. 1048. ISBN 9780313310720. 
  3. ^ Green, Fiona Joy (2010). "Patriarchal Ideology of Motherhood". In O'Reilly, Andrea. Encyclopedia of Motherhood, Volume 1. SAGE. p. 969. ISBN 9781412968461. 
  4. ^ πατριάρχης, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ patriarchy, on Oxford Dictionaries
  6. ^ Meagher, Michelle (2011). "patriarchy". In Ritzer, George & Ryan, J. Michael. The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 441–442. ISBN 9781405183536. 
  7. ^ Giddens, Anthony & Griffiths, Simon (2006). Sociology (5th ed.). Polity. p. 473. ISBN 9780745633794. 
  8. ^ Gordon, April A. (1996). Transforming capitalism and patriarchy: gender and development in Africa. Lynne Reiner. p. 18. ISBN 9781555876296. 
  9. ^ Boynton, Victoria & Malin, Jo, ed (2005). "Patriarchy". Encyclopedia of Women's Autobiography: K-Z. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 453. ISBN 9780313327391. 
  10. ^ Hughes, Sarah Shaver & Hughes Brady (2001). "Women in Ancient Civilizations". In Adas, Michael. Agricultural and pastoral societies in ancient and classical history. Temple University Press. pp. 118–119. ISBN 9781566398329. 
  11. ^ Eagly, Alice H. & Wood, Wendy (June 1999). "The Origins of Sex Differences in Human Behavior: Evolved Dispositions Versus Social Roles". American Psychologist 54 (6): 408–423. 
  12. ^ a b c Strozier, Robert M. (2002) Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity: : Historical Constructions of Subject and Self p.46
  13. ^ Kraemer, Sebastian (1991). "The Origins of Fatherhood: An Ancient Family Process". Family Process 30 (4): 377–392. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1991.00377.x. PMID 1790784. 
  14. ^ Ehrenberg, 1989; Harris, M. (1993) The Evolution of Human Gender Hierarchies; Leibowitz, 1983; Lerner, 1986; Sanday, 1981
  15. ^ Lerner, Gerda (1986) The Creation of Patriarchy 8-11
  16. ^ Fishbein, Harold D. (2002). Peer prejudice and discrimination: the origins of prejudice (2nd ed.). Psychology Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780805837728. 
  17. ^ Dubber, Markus Dirk (2005). The police power: patriarchy and the foundations of American government. Columbia University Press. pp. 5–7. ISBN 9780231132077. 
  18. ^ Bar On, Bat-Ami (1994). Engendering origins: critical feminist readings in Plato and Aristotle. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780791416433. 
  19. ^ Bristow, John Temple. What Paul Really Said About Women: an Apostle's liberating views on equality in marriage, leadership, and love, HarperCollins, New York, 1991.
  20. ^[unreliable source?]
  21. ^ Durso, Pamela R. (2003). The Power of Woman: The Life and writings of Sarah Moore Grimké (1st ed. ed.). Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press. pp. 130–138. ISBN 978-0865548763. 
  22. ^ Castro, Ginette (1990). American Feminism: a contemporary history. NYU Press.  --[page needed]
  23. ^ Pateman, Carole (1988). The Sexual Contract, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 207.
  24. ^ Tickner, Ann J. (2001). "Patriarchy". Routledge Encyclopedia of International Political Economy: Entries P-Z. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1197–1198. ISBN 9780415243520. 
  25. ^ a b Sanderson, Stephen K. (2001). The Evolution of Human Sociality. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 198. ISBN 0847695352. 
  26. ^ a b Henslin, James M. (2001). Essentials of Sociology. Taylor & Francis. pp. 65–67, 240. ISBN 0536941858. 
  27. ^ Macionis, John J. (2000). Sociology: A Global Introduction. Prentice Hall. p. 347. ISBN 0130407372. 
  28. ^ Goldberg, Steven (1973). The inevitability of Patriarchy, William Morrow, New York.
  29. ^ "Review of The inevitability of patriarchy by Steven Goldberg", American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 76, No. 2 (Jun., 1974), pp. 363-365, Blackwell publishing.
  30. ^ "Matriarchy". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. "The view of matriarchy as constituting a stage of cultural development is now generally discredited. Furthermore, the consensus among modern anthropologists and sociologists is that a strictly matriarchal society never existed." 
  31. ^ Schlegel, Alice (1972). Male dominance and female autonomy: domestic authority in matrilineal societies. HRAF Press. 
  32. ^ Erdal, D. & Whiten, A. (1996) "Egalitarianism and Machiavellian Intelligence in Human Evolution" in Mellars, P. & Gibson, K. (eds) Modelling the Early Human Mind. Cambridge Macdonald Monograph Series.
  33. ^ Buss, D. M.; Schmitt, D. P. (2011). "Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism". Sex Roles 64 (9–10): 768. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9987-3.  edit
  34. ^ Juliet Mitchell (1974) Psychoanalysis and Feminism. London: Penguin. p. 409.
  35. ^ Barbara Eherenreich. 'Life without father', in L. McDowell and R. Pringle (1992) Defining Women. London: Polity/Open University
  36. ^ Cynthia Cockburn (1993) Brothers: Male Dominance and Technological Change. London: Pluto.
  37. ^ Jaques Lacan (1949) 'The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience', in (1977) Ecrits: A Selection trans. A. Sheridan. London: Tavistock.
  38. ^ Laura Mulvey (1989) 'The Oedipus Myth: Beyond the Riddles of the Sphinx', in Visual and Other Pleasures. Macmillan.
  39. ^ Judith Butler (2000) Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death.
  40. ^ Pen Dalton. (2008) 'Complex family relations' in "Family and Other Relations: A thesis examining the extent to which family relationships shape the relations of art. "
  41. ^ Mitchell op cit p. 409.
  42. ^ Dalton, P. 2000. 'Patriarchy as discourse' in The Gendering of Art Education
  43. ^ Geert Hofstede (1994) Cultures and Organizations. London: Harper Collins. M. Tierney. 'Negotiating a software career: informal work practices and 'the lads' in a software installation', in K. Grint and R. Gill (eds) (1995)The Gender Technology Relation. London: Taylor and Francis. M. Roper (1989) Masculinity and British Organizational Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Patriarchy — Pa tri*arch y, n. [Gr. patriarchi a.] 1. The jurisdiction of a patriarch; patriarchship. Brerewood. [1913 Webster] 2. Government by a patriarch; patriarchism. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • patriarchy — (n.) 1560s, in ecclesiastical sense, from Gk. patriarchia, from patriarches (see PATRIARCH (Cf. patriarch)). Meaning system of society or government by fathers or elder males of the community first recorded 1630s …   Etymology dictionary

  • patriarchy — ► NOUN (pl. patriarchies) 1) a form of social organization in which the father or eldest male is the head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line. 2) a system of society in which men hold most or all of the power …   English terms dictionary

  • patriarchy — [pā′trēär΄kē] n. pl. patriarchies [Gr patriarchia: see PATRIARCH] 1. a form of social organization in which the father or the eldest male is recognized as the head of the family or tribe, descent and kinship being traced through the male line 2.… …   English World dictionary

  • patriarchy — [[t]pe͟ɪtriɑː(r)ki[/t]] patriarchies 1) N UNCOUNT Patriarchy is a system in which men have all or most of the power and importance in a society or group. The main cause of women s and children s oppression is patriarchy. 2) N COUNT A patriarchy… …   English dictionary

  • patriarchy — /pay tree ahr kee/, n., pl. patriarchies. 1. a form of social organization in which the father is the supreme authority in the family, clan, or tribe and descent is reckoned in the male line, with the children belonging to the father s clan or… …   Universalium

  • patriarchy — UK [ˈpeɪtrɪˌɑː(r)kɪ] / US [ˈpeɪtrɪˌɑrkɪ] noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms patriarchy : singular patriarchy plural patriarchies 1) a society, system, or organization in which men have all or most of the power and influence See: matriarchy… …   English dictionary

  • patriarchy — noun (plural chies) Date: 1632 1. social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly control by men… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Patriarchy (anthropology) — Patriarchy (from Greek: patria meaning father and arché meaning rule) is the anthropological term used to define the condition where male members of a society tend to predominate in positions of power; with the more powerful the position, the… …   Wikipedia

  • Patriarchy in feminism — Patriarchy is an important concept in feminism. Although the narrowest definition of patriarchy is father rule , this leaves out the far reaching social consequences of the way of thinking that underlies this social practice. Patriarchy is most… …   Wikipedia

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