Patriarchy – Definitions and Divisions

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When the only tool you have is feminism, every problem looks like patriarchy.

Finally got a friend to talk all the way through their understanding of ‘patriarchy’ with me and worked out where the sharp divide is between my concept of what constitutes a patriarchy and theirs. It doesn’t change my position on the issue (we don’t live in a patriarchy) but it does pinpoint the divide. I regard patriarchy (like oligarchy, democracy, kleptocracy) etc in terms of being an institution, while others rate social factors over – and even above – political and structural ones.

Scruton’s ‘Dictionary of Political Thought’ (a pretty standard text) defines patriarchy thus:

Literally, the rule by fathers. Used to denote:

1. Forms of kinship relations in which the father is the bearer of authority, respect, property and hereditary privileges.
2. In political writings, especially those of a feminist persuasion, the dominance of social and political institutions by man, and the consolidation of male hegemony throughout public and private life by means of law, especially family law. Since not all men are fathers, the term ‘phallocracy’ has been coined to replace this usage, generating the added implication that the dominion of men is also a form of irrational worship of the phallus.
3. The doctrine that political authority is inherited in the male line (perhaps from Adam), used as a justification for a particular kind of monarchy (divine right).

Using the UK as an example with which I am most familiar:

1. No longer applies. Men do not get automatic authority, respect, property right or hereditary privileges any more. This is all equal (and as far as I know this even extends to the right of succession in the monarchy).

2. This gets a bit more complex. Men are no longer favoured in law and haven’t been for some time. Particular reference is made to family law, but here men are at a marked disadvantage and women are favoured. There is no position from the lowliest parish councillor, to MP, to Minister to Queen that is not available to both genders. There’s nothing mandated that it can only be a man, save, perhaps, some purely ceremonial positions (I’d have to look into that). In practical terms though, there’s nothing a man can do in politics that a woman can’t.

However, the first part of the definition is not related to laws and restrictions, but only ‘dominance’ of social and political institutions. That is, even if in law etc everyone is even, if the elected officials are chiefly male, they would consider that a patriarchy. By that rationale if the majority were female, it would be a matriarchy and in my opinion that erodes the meaning of the word and isn’t representative.

3. See one.

Provided the law is even, provided there’s nothing excluding women – by law – and nothing favouring men, similarly. I do not see the claim of patriarchy as having validity. Especially as it is currently used where anything bad for women is patriarchy and anything bad for men is also, somehow, patriarchy. Anything and everything is twisted to fit the definition in the same way 9/11 truthers will twist anything to match their pre-existing idea that it was a false flag operation.

It lacks any rigour or any useful definition when used in that way.

The system cannot properly be called patriarchy, even if men tend to get elected or chosen from the available pool, put themselves forward more or succeed more. If women aren’t choosing to go into these arenas and aren’t doing so well when they do there can be many reasons for this divide, not all of them good for men, not all of them bad for women. A full analysis is required – but it’s still not patriarchy.

Kyriarchy is, perhaps, a better term since it acknowledges that society is a heady brew of different arenas in which different people have different advantages and disadvantages – even white, middle class, middle aged men. We live in a complex, interwoven tapestry of advantages and disadvantages in different areas and the analysis of ‘patriarchy’ is shallow and facile.

At least I know where the comprehension gap is now though.


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