From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Patriarchy describes the structuring of society on the basis of family units, in which fathers have primary responsibility and rulership for the welfare of these units. In some cultures slaves were included as part of such households. The concept of patriarchy is often used, by extension, to refer to the expectation that men take primary responsibility for the welfare of the community as a whole, acting as representatives via public office (in anthropology and feminism, for example).
Western civilization is predominately patriarchal, and has only recently gravitated towards a more egalitarian form under the influence of the Women's rights movement. The major non-Western civilizations in the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia remain pronouncedly patriarchal.
The feminine form of patriarchy is matriarchy, but there are no known examples of matriarchies from any point in history.
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. However, according to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event" of the origin of patriarchy. 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.
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". With the appearance of the Hebrew cult, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant". The hegemonic spread of patriarchy is linked with the Kurgan hypothesis, by now widely accepted among scholars.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. According to standard sociological theory, patriarchy is the result of sociological constructions that are passed down from generation to generation Even in modern developed societies, however, gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions largely favor males having a dominant status.
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 (feelings of both men and women that the male’s will dominates the female’s) were present, there is literally no variation at all." Goldberg has critics among anthropologists. Concerning Goldberg's claims about the "feelings of both men and women" Eleanor Leacock countered 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.
There is considerable variation in the role that gender plays in human societies. Although there are no known examples of strictly matriarchal cultures, there are a number of societies that have been shown to be matrilinear or matrilocal and gynocentric, especially among indigenous tribal groups. Some hunter-gatherer groups have been characterized as largely egalitarian.
- Gender role
- Male dominance
- Nature versus nurture
- Sociology of fatherhood