Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.
Patriarchy is associated with a set of ideas, a patriarchal ideology that acts to explain and justify this dominance and attributes it to inherent natural differences between men and women. Sociologists hold varied opinions on whether patriarchy is a social product or an outcome of innate differences between the sexes. Sociobiologists have argued that the roots of inequality were set in humanity’s earliest period and are primarily due to genetic and reproductive differences between men and women. Aligned closely with evolutionary psychology, this theory posits that gender inequity is an inherent part of human social structures.
Justifying the oppression of women
Social constructionists contest this argument, arguing that gender roles and gender inequity are instruments of power and have become social norms to maintain control over women. Constructionists would contend that sociobiological arguments serve to justify the oppression of women.
Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, religious, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Most contemporary societies are, in practice, patriarchal.
Etymology and usage
Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father” and comes from the Greek πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), “father or chief of a race”, which is a compound of πατριά (patria), “lineage, descent, family, fatherland” (from πατήρ patēr, “father”) and ἀρχή (arkhē), “domination, authority, sovereignty”.
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. The term was particularly used 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. This concept of patriarchy was developed to explain male dominance as a social, rather than biological, phenomenon.
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”. Social stratification along gender lines, in which power is predominantly held by men, has been observed in most societies.
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 epoch, following social and technological developments such as agriculture and domestication. According to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific “initiating event”“. 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. 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.
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. Lerner disputes this idea, arguing that patriarchy emerged before the development of class-based society and the concept of private property.
How men came to rule 12,000 years ago
Human societies weren’t always male-dominated. The switch came when we became farmers – and that suggests ways to roll back towards a more equal system