Patriarchy (17TH AND 20TH CENTURIES)

Rule or domination by kings, fathers, or men in general.

Either the argument that authority is derived by kings and aristocrats from God, whose fatherhood of all they represent on earth; or the view that power is divided along lines of gender and in favor of men.

The original theory of patriarchy was employed in the 17th century to justify the rule of monarchs. Twentieth-century feminism has used the term to describe a division of power and advantage along lines of gender. The term thus means rule by men and – in the general absence of kings but the continuing presence of men – this is now its more common usage.

G J Schochet, Patriarchalism in Political Thought (Oxford, 1975);
Maggie Humm, The Dictionary of Feminist Theory (London, 1989)

Etymology and usage

Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father”[4][5] and comes from the Greek πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs),[6] “father or chief of a race”,[7] which is a compound of πατριά (patria), “lineage, descent”[8] (from πατήρ patēr, “father”[9]) and ἀρχή (arkhē), “domination, authority, sovereignty”.[10]

Historically, the term patriarchy has been used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family; however, since the late 20th century it has also been used to refer to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men,[11][12][13] particularly by writers associated with second-wave feminism such as Kate Millett; these writers sought to use an understanding of patriarchal social relations to liberate women from male domination.[14][15] This concept of patriarchy was developed to explain male dominance as a social, rather than biological, phenomenon.[12]

History and scope

The sociologist Sylvia Walby defines patriarchy as “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women”.[16][17] Social stratification along gender lines, in which power is predominantly held by men, has been observed in most societies.[12][13]


Anthropological, archaeological and evolutionary psychological evidence suggests that most prehistoric 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.[18][19][20] According to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific “initiating event”.[21] Gerda Lerner asserts that there was no single event, and documents that patriarchy as a social system arose in different parts of the world at different times.[22] 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.[23][24]

Marxist theory, as articulated mainly by Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, assigns the origin of patriarchy to the emergence of private property, which has traditionally been controlled by men. In this view, men directed household production and sought to control women in order to ensure the passing of family property to their own (male) offspring, while women were limited to household labor and producing children.[11][14][25] Lerner disputes this idea, arguing that patriarchy emerged before the development of class-based society and the concept of private property.[26][page needed]

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”.[21] According to some researchers, with the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also “the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant”.[21][22]

The archaeologist Marija Gimbutas argues that waves of kurgan-building invaders from the Ukrainian steppes into the early agricultural cultures of Old Europe in the Aegean, the Balkans and southern Italy instituted male hierarchies that led to the rise of patriarchy in Western society.[27] Steven Taylor argues 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.[28]

Ancient history

A prominent Greek general Meno, in the Platonic dialogue of the same name, sums up the prevailing sentiment in Classical Greece about the respective virtues of men and women. He says:[29]

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.

— Meno, Plato in Twelve Volumes

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 to serve men in the household; and saw male domination of women as natural and virtuous.[30][31][32]

Gerda Lerner, author of The Creation of Patriarchy, 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.[33]

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, middle-class women were eligible to sit on a local tribunal, engage in real estate transactions, and inherit or bequeath property. Women also secured loans, and witnessed legal documents. Athenian women were denied such rights.[34]

Greek influence spread, however, with the conquests of Alexander the Great, who was educated by Aristotle.[35]

During this time period in China, gender roles and patriarchy remained shaped by Confucianism. Adopted as the official religion in the Han dynasty, Confucianism has strong dictates regarding the behavior of women, declaring a woman’s place in society, as well as outlining virtuous behavior.[36] Three Obediences and Four Virtues, a Confucian text, places a woman’s value on her loyalty and obedience. It explains that an obedient woman is to obey their father before her marriage, her husband after marriage, and her first son if widowed, and that a virtuous woman must practice sexual propriety, proper speech, modest appearance, and hard work.[37] Ban Zhao, a Confucian disciple, writes in her book Precepts for Women, that a woman’s primary concern is to subordinate themselves before patriarchal figures such as a husband or father, and that they need not concern themselves with intelligence or talent.[38] Ban Zhao is considered by some historians as an early champion for women’s education in China, however her extensive writing on the value of a woman’s mediocrity and servile behavior leaves others feeling that this narrative is the result of a misplaced desire to cast her in a contemporary feminist light.[39] Similarly to Three Obediences and Four VirtuesPrecepts for Women was meant as a moral guide for proper feminine behavior, and was widely accepted as such for centuries

3 thoughts on “Patriarchy (17TH AND 20TH CENTURIES)

  1. john week says:

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