Updated: Sep 2, 2022
What is a Patriarchal Culture?
A word, literally meaning "rule of the father" from ancient Greek, patriarchy is a broad-spectrum structure in which men have power over women. A patriarchal society is where power was assumed by men and passed down through male generational lines (Shroff, 2022). Patriarchal culture is described as a system where men are given authority over women in all aspects of organized society and individual relationships. Patriarchal cultures and traditions can have a huge and often damaging influence on how women are viewed and treated at work, at home, in spiritual communities, healthcare settings, legal and justice settings, and recovery communities (Collins, 1986).
Effectively oppressing and marginalizing half of the world’s population, it can be said, the patriarchal culture is the most widespread culture with the largest damaging impact over any culture in the history of humanity. For the last 4,000 years and not until the last 150, women were born into a common culture of disempowerment, control, subordination, and unworthiness to that of their male counterparts (Collins, 1986). The patriarchy is still today directly wounding 50% of the population, yet in all reality impedes the development of the entire world. Many will say that the term “patriarchy” is too radical or irrelevant today. I beg to differ as we can’t address current social problems if we can’t name and critique the systems from which they developed (Hooks, 2004).
History of the Patriarchy
The historical crimes against women are bizarre and expansive. Women have continued to be victimized in every major pendulum swing and every major evolutionary shift in society. Over 2,000 years ago, under Roman law, man had the power of life and death over his wife. English common law in the 18th century gave a man consent to punish his wife and children with a blunt object no wider than his thumb. This "rule of thumb" reigned in England and America until the late 19th century (Collins, 1986). In popular media violence against women is portrayed as normal and even erotic (Higgins, 2021). Today women’s rights are being affected by the overturning of Roe vs Wade and has direct implications on a women’s sovereignty. A vote that was passed by a Supreme Court that is made up of predominantly white men.
Feminism and the Patriarchy
Many feminists claim violence against women is the result of a profoundly entrenched patriarchal culture that encourages and prizes male domination. The history of fighting the patriarchy began with the beginning of the feminist movement marked by the Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 (A Brief History, n.d.). Other notable points in the movement include what is considered first wave feminism beginning in the late 19th early 20th century which focused on women’s suffrage and securing voting and equal rights for women (Feminism: The First Wave, 2021).
It wasn’t for another fifty years in the 1960’s and 70’s that second wave feminism begins challenging the traditional roles of women. It was in the second wave that a focus was placed on a women’s right to education, work, and equal pay. Third wave feminism began in the 1990’s and challenged the white-middle class orientation integrating and broadening the agendas to include working class women, women of color, and non-feminine women’s issues (Shroff, 2022).
Fourth wave feminism is about a collective embrace to a radical shift in the status quo and doing it with a dispassionate grace. Accepting the implications of the how it shaped the current world we live in and preserving the responsibility to act in ultimate positive regard as the paradigm shifts. It focuses on the intersectional approaches to feminism, the empowerment of women, and the use and impact of media (Higgins, 2021).
The patriarchal structure has widespread intersectional influence and is pervasive in most communities of modern times. It is an institutionalized pattern of male dominance in society, an inception of unentitled male privilege, not an evil conspiracy of men (Hooks, 2004). It is the dominant system of oppression that tries to enfranchise a domination/subordination dynamic (Higgins, 2021). There are very few of the world’s diverse cultures that are matriarchal cultures and even fewer that are truly gender equitable cultures (Madaus, 2019).
However, according to many scholars, feminist writers, anthropologists, and sociologists the first human societies where not likely to be patriarchal. This debunks the traditionalist theory that science confirms that men are better than women. This theory believes that women have biological inferiority to men and therefore aren’t as generally capable and therefore need to be controlled by the superior species, men (Higgins, 2021). According to Guardian writer (Higgins, 2021), “The notion that male supremacy was “natural” was self-fulfilling, since 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.”
Patriarchal loyalty is the new more covert way that men and women disguise their patriarchalism. Patriarchalists, a word I created, are then people who practice or are loyal to systems that perpetuate or employ this traditional and oppressive view - that describes a system where men are given authority over women in all or any aspects of society. You do not need to be a man to be a patriarchalist, you may be a man who challenges the patriarchy, and it is not genderism. This is not a feminist theory this is a humanistic theory, and it is systemically intersectional. The malevolent effects of patriarchal gender politics can, and should, be challenged.