Women in a Patriarchal Culture
Updated: Feb 1
Patriarchy, rooted in the etymology of the word meaning "rule of the father," represents a pervasive and pernicious system of oppression that grants men authority and dominance over women in all facets of social and individual interactions. The patriarchal culture, for centuries now, has subjected women to a culture of disempowerment, control, subservience, and a belief in their own inferiority, perpetuated through male-dominated societal norms and traditions. The influence of this patriarchal system has had a profound and negative impact on women, shaping the way they are treated in a multitude of contexts, including the workplace, the home, religious communities, healthcare settings, legal and justice systems, and recovery communities.
The effects of patriarchy are far-reaching and cannot be overstated - it is the most widespread and damaging cultural force in human history, impeding the progress and development of half of the world's population. Despite this, there are still those who dismiss the term "patriarchy" as radical or obsolete, but to do so would be to ignore the root causes of contemporary social problems and the systemic nature of oppression. Naming and critiquing these systems is crucial if we are to work towards dismantling them and fostering a more equitable and just world (Hooks, 2004).
The long and intricate history of patriarchal oppression against women is marked by a legacy of violence and exploitation. From ancient Rome, where men held the power of life and death over their wives, to 18th century England where a man had the legal right to punish his wife and children with a weapon no wider than his thumb, women have suffered under a system that enshrines male domination (Collins, 1986). The "rule of thumb" continued to be practiced in England and America until the late 19th century. Even today, popular media continues to portray violence against women as normal and even erotic (Higgins, 2021). The recent overturning of Roe vs Wade by a predominantly white male Supreme Court serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for women's rights and sovereignty.
The fight against patriarchy has its roots in the feminist movement, beginning with the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention. First wave feminism, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focused on women’s suffrage and the attainment of equal rights and voting rights for women (A Brief History, n.d.). Second wave feminism of the 1960s and 70s expanded this focus to include a woman’s right to education, work, and equal pay (Feminism: The First Wave, 2021). Third wave feminism of the 1990s broadened the movement's reach to include working-class women, women of color, and the issues faced by non-feminine women (Shroff, 2022).
Fourth wave feminism is a call to action, a radical shift in the status quo that prioritizes the empowerment of women and a more intersectional approach to feminism (Higgins, 2021). It demands a collective effort to acknowledge and rectify the influence of the patriarchal structure, an institutionalized pattern of male dominance that seeks to entrench a dynamic of domination and subordination (Hooks, 2004). The few matriarchal cultures that exist in the world are far outweighed by patriarchal cultures, and even fewer are truly gender-equitable (Madaus, 2019). The patriarchal system is not an evil conspiracy of men, but rather a manifestation of unentitled male privilege that is deeply entrenched in most modern communities (Hooks, 2004).
The Traditionalist Theory, with its baseless claims of male superiority and the notion that women's biology makes them inherently inferior and in need of control, has been thoroughly discredited by scholars, feminist writers, anthropologists, and sociologists. This theory asserts that patriarchal societies have always existed and that they are a natural expression of male dominance over women. However, this idea has been debunked by evidence showing that early human societies were not patriarchal and that male supremacy is not a biological fact but rather a cultural construct that has been perpetuated for centuries by those who hold power. In the words of Guardian writer Higgins (2021), "The notion that male supremacy was 'natural' was self-fulfilling, as those who wrote the laws, the poems, the religious books, the philosophy, the history, the medical treatises, and the scientific texts were, very largely, men writing for the benefit of men." The pernicious influence of the Traditionalist Theory perpetuates the systemic oppression of women and reinforces patriarchal structures that keep half of humanity subjugated and disempowered.
Patriarchal loyalty is a modern manifestation of patriarchalism, a system that perpetuates male domination and perpetuates the notion of men being in authority over women in various aspects of society. This insidious form of patriarchy is not just practiced by men, but can also be upheld by women who internalize patriarchal values. This concept transcends gender and is a humanistic issue that is deeply rooted in systemic intersectionality. The impact of patriarchal gender politics is far-reaching and demands to be challenged and dismantled. Patriarchy not only perpetuates male supremacy, but also reinforces a culture of oppression and reinforces inequality. As bell hooks posits, it is imperative that we acknowledge and challenge the malevolent effects of patriarchal structures, and work towards a more equitable and just society for all.