Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Patriarchy also has a strong influence on modern civilization, although many cultures have moved towards a more egalitarian social system over the past century.

Definition and usage

Patriarchy literally means "rule of fathers", from πατριάρχης (patriarkhēs), "father" or "chief of a race, patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

". Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.


Anthropological and historical evidence indicates that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer
A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

 societies were generally relatively egalitarian, and that patriarchal social structures did not develop until many years after the end of the Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 era, following social and technological innovations such as agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 and domestication
Domestication or taming is the process whereby a population of animals or plants, through a process of selection, becomes accustomed to human provision and control. In the Convention on Biological Diversity a domesticated species is defined as a 'species in which the evolutionary process has been...

. However, according to Robert M. Strozier
Robert M. Strozier
Robert M. Strozier was president of Florida State University, between 1957 and 1960. The main library on the Tallahassee campus of Florida State University bears his name....

, 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 father
A father, Pop, Dad, or Papa, is defined as a male parent of any type of offspring. The adjective "paternal" refers to father, parallel to "maternal" for mother...

hood took root, as the beginning of the spread of patriarchy.

Domination by men of women is found in the Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia , ancient Egypt, ancient Iran The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia...

 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 Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant". However, see Jesus and women.

The works of Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 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 , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 left no philosophical record, but Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 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
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...

. In ancient Egypt a middle-class woman might sit on a local tribunal
A tribunal in the general sense is any person or institution with the authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes—whether or not it is called a tribunal in its title....

, engage in real estate
Real estate
In general use, esp. North American, 'real estate' is taken to mean "Property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resources such as crops, minerals, or water; immovable property of this nature; an interest vested in this; an item of real property; buildings or...

 transactions, and inherit or bequeath property
Property is any physical or intangible entity that is owned by a person or jointly by a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation...

. 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
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 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
Robert Filmer
thumbnail|150px|right|Robert Filmer Sir Robert Filmer was an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings...

. 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
Adam is a figure in the Book of Genesis. According to the creation myth of Abrahamic religions, he is the first human. In the Genesis creation narratives, he was created by Yahweh-Elohim , and the first woman, Eve was formed from his rib...

, the first man of the human race, according to Judeo-Christian
Judeo-Christian is a term used in the United States since the 1940s to refer to standards of ethics said to be held in common by Judaism and Christianity, for example the Ten Commandments...


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
Sarah Grimké
Sarah Moore Grimké was an American abolitionist, writer, and suffragist.-Early life:Sarah Grimké was born in South Carolina. She was sixth of fourteen children and the second daughter of Mary and John Faucheraud Grimké, a rich plantation owner who was also an attorney and a judge in South Carolina...

, 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
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an American social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early woman's movement...

 used Grimké’s criticism of biblical sources to establish a basis for feminist thought. She published The Woman's Bible
The Woman's Bible
The Woman's Bible is a two-part book, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a committee of 26 women, and published in 1895 and 1898 to challenge the traditional position of religious orthodoxy that woman should be subservient to man. By producing the book, Stanton wished to promote a radical...

, 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.

Feminist theory

Most forms of feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 characterize patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive
Oppression is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. It can also be defined as an act or instance of oppressing, the state of being oppressed, and the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, and...

 to women. As feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman
Carole Pateman
Carole Pateman is a British feminist and political theorist. She earned a DPhil at the University of Oxford. Since 1990, Professor Pateman has taught in the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Los Angeles . In 2007, she was named a Fellow of the British Academy...

 writes, "The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection." In feminist theory
Feminist theory
Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, or philosophical discourse, it aims to understand the nature of gender inequality...

 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. These constructions are most pronounced in societies with traditional cultures and less economic development. 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
Steven Goldberg
Steven Goldberg is a native of New York City and was president of the sociology department at City College of New York from 1988 until his retirement...

, argue that social behavior is primarily determined by genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

, 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 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
Eleanor Leacock
Eleanor "Happy" Leacock was a theorist of anthropology, focusing on the issue of gender during the feminist movement.Leacock was born in 1922 in New Jersey. Her mother Lily was a mathematician and her father was world-famous literary critic, philosopher, and writer Kenneth Burke...

 countered in 1974 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
A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

 groups have been characterized as largely egalitarian
Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality of some sort among moral agents, whether persons or animals. Emphasis is placed upon the fact that equality contains the idea of equity of quality...


One evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional...

 explanation for the origin of patriarchy starts with the view that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males, and therefore in most species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 females are a limiting resource over which males will compete. This is sometimes referred to as Bateman's principle
Bateman's principle
In biology, Bateman's principle is the theory that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males invest, and therefore in most species females are a limiting resource over which the other sex will compete...

. One important female preference will be for males who control more resources which can help her and her children. This in turn has caused a selection pressure on men to be competitive and succeed in gaining resources and power in competition with other men. There has not been a similarly strong selection pressure on females.

Psychoanalytic theories

Although the term patriarchy is loosely used to stand for 'male domination', as has been pointed out above, it more crucially means - as others have stated here: "The rule of The Father". So patriarchy does not refer to a simple binary pattern of male power over women, but power exerted more complexly by age as well as gender, and by older men over women, children, and younger men. Some of these younger men may inherit and therefore have a stake in patriarchy's continuing conventions. Others may rebel. This psychoanalytic model is based upon revisions of Freud's description of the normally neurotic family using the analogy of the story of Oedipus. Those who fall outside the Oedipal triad of mother/father/child are less subject to patriarchal authority. This has been taken as a position of symbolic power for queer identities. The operations of power in patriarchy are usually enacted unconsciously. All are subject, even fathers are bound by its strictures. It is represented in unspoken traditions and 'harmless' conventions performed in everyday behaviours, customs and habits. The patriarchal triangular relationship of a father, a mother and an inheriting eldest son 'naturally' form the dynamic and emotional narratives of popular culture and are enacted performatively in rituals of courtship and marriage. They provide 'natural' conceptual models for the organising power relations in spheres that have nothing to do with the family: ie politics and business.

Patriarchal models

  • Biblical patriarchy
    Biblical patriarchy
    Biblical patriarchy is a set of beliefs in evangelical Christianity concerning marriage, the family, and the home. It sees the father as the head of the home, and responsible for the conduct of his family. Notable adherents of biblical patriarchy include Douglas Wilson, R. C. Sproul, Jr. and...

  • Chinese patriarchy
    Chinese patriarchy
    Chinese patriarchy refers to the history and prevalence of male dominance in Chinese society and culture.Mencius outlined the three subordinations. A woman was to be subordinate to her father in youth, her husband in maturity, and her son in old age....

  • Patriarch
    Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

  • Paterfamilias

Related notions

  • Feminism
    Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

  • Gender role
    Gender role
    Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex in the context of a specific culture, which differ widely between cultures and over time...

  • Homemaker
    Homemaking is a mainly American term for the management of a home, otherwise known as housework, housekeeping or household management...

  • Masculinity
    Masculinity is possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to a man. The term can be used to describe any human, animal or object that has the quality of being masculine...

  • Nature versus nurture
    Nature versus nurture
    The nature versus nurture debate concerns the relative importance of an individual's innate qualities versus personal experiences The nature versus nurture debate concerns the relative importance of an individual's innate qualities ("nature," i.e. nativism, or innatism) versus personal experiences...

  • Sociology of fatherhood

Further reading

  • Adeline, Helen B. Fascinating Womanhood. New York: Random House, 2007.
  • Baron-Cohen, Simon
    Simon Baron-Cohen
    Simon Baron-Cohen FBA is professor of Developmental Psychopathology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre, and a Fellow of Trinity College...

    . The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2003.
  • Beauvoir, Simone de
    Simone de Beauvoir
    Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir, often shortened to Simone de Beauvoir , was a French existentialist philosopher, public intellectual, and social theorist. She wrote novels, essays, biographies, an autobiography in several volumes, and monographs on philosophy, politics, and...

    . The Second Sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
    Alfred A. Knopf
    Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. is a New York publishing house, founded by Alfred A. Knopf, Sr. in 1915. It was acquired by Random House in 1960 and is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group at Random House. The publishing house is known for its borzoi trademark , which was designed by co-founder...

    , 1953. (first USA edition, in translation)
  • Bornemann, Ernest
    Ernest Borneman
    Ernst Wilhelm Julius Bornemann was a German crime writer, filmmaker, anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, jazz musician, jazz critic, psychoanalyst, sexologist, and committed socialist. All these diverse interests, he claimed, had a common root in his lifelong insatiable curiosity...

    . Das Patriarchat - Ursprung und Zukunft unseres Gesellschaftssystems, Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1991 (Original German edition 1975), ISBN 3-596-23416-6
  • Bourdieu, Pierre
    Pierre Bourdieu
    Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.Starting from the role of economic capital for social positioning, Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location,...

    . Masculine Domination. Translated by Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press
    Stanford University Press
    The Stanford University Press is the publishing house of Stanford University. In 1892, an independent publishing company was established at the university. The first use of the name "Stanford University Press" in a book's imprinting occurred in 1895...

    , 2001.
  • Brizendine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006.
  • Brown, Donald E. Human Universals
    Human Universals
    Human Universals is a book by Donald Brown, an American professor of anthropology who worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was published by McGraw Hill in 1991...

    . New York: McGraw Hill, 1991.
  • de Santillana, Giorgio
    Giorgio de Santillana
    Giorgio Diaz de Santillana was an Italian-American philosopher of science and historian of science, and professor at MIT....

     & Hertha von Dechend. Hamlet's Mill: an essay investigating the origins of human knowledge and its transmission through myth. David R. Godine, publisher, Jaffrey, New Hampshire, 1977. The effects of evolutionary theory on the study of culture, pp. 68–72.
  • Eisler, Riane. ' 'The Chalice and the Blade' '. Harper Collins, 1987.
  • Gimbutas, Marija
    Marija Gimbutas
    Marija Gimbutas , was a Lithuanian-American archeologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of "Old Europe", a term she introduced. Her works published between 1946 and 1971 introduced new views by combining traditional spadework with linguistics and mythological...

    . The civilization of the goddess: the world of Old Europe. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1991.
  • Jay, Jennifer W. 'Imagining Matriarchy: "Kingdoms of Women" in Tang China'. Journal of the American Oriental Society 116 (1996): 220-229.
  • Konner, Melvin
    Melvin Konner
    Melvin Konner, MD, PhD, is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at Emory University. He studied at Brooklyn College , CUNY , where he met Marjorie Shostak, whom he later married and with whom he had three children. He earned his PhD...

    . The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit. 2nd edition, revised and updated. (Owl Books
    Henry Holt
    Henry Holt , was a book publisher and author.Henry Holt was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 3, 1840.He graduated from Yale in 1862....

    , 2003). 560p. ISBN 0805072799 [first published 1982, Endnotes
  • Lepowsky, Maria. Fruit of the Motherland: Gender in an Egalitarian Society. New York: Columbia University Press
    Columbia University Press
    Columbia University Press is a university press based in New York City, and affiliated with Columbia University. It is currently directed by James D. Jordan and publishes titles in the humanities and sciences, including the fields of literary and cultural studies, history, social work, sociology,...

    , 1993.
  • Mead, Margaret
    Margaret Mead
    Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s....

    . 'Do We Undervalue Full-Time Wives'. Redbook
    Redbook is an American women's magazine published by the Hearst Corporation. It is one of the "Seven Sisters", a group of women's service magazines.-History:...

     122 (1963).
  • Mies, Maria. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour. Palgrave MacMillan
    Palgrave Macmillan
    Palgrave Macmillan is an international academic and trade publishing company, headquartered in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom and with offices in New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, Delhi, Johannesburg. It was created in 2000 when St...

    , 1999.
  • Moir, Anne and David Jessel. Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women.
  • Ortner, Sherry Beth
    Sherry Ortner
    Sherry Beth Ortner is an American cultural anthropologist and has been Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at UCLA since 2004.-Biography:...

    . 'Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?'. In MZ Rosaldo and L Lamphere (eds). Woman, Culture and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974, pp. 67–87.
  • Ortner, Sherry Beth
    Sherry Ortner
    Sherry Beth Ortner is an American cultural anthropologist and has been Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at UCLA since 2004.-Biography:...

    . 'So, Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?'. In S Ortner. Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996, pp. 173–180.
  • Pilcher, Jane and Imelda Wheelan. 50 Key Concepts in Gender Studies. London: Sage Publications, 2004.
  • Pinker, Steven
    Steven Pinker
    Steven Arthur Pinker is a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author...

    . The Blank Slate: A Modern Denial of Human Nature. London: Penguin Books
    Penguin Books
    Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...

    , 2002.
  • Wood, Wendy
    Wendy Wood
    Wendy Wood was a well-known campaigner for Scottish independence and founder of the Scottish Patriots...

     and Alice H. Eagly. A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex differences. Psychological Bulletin. 128(5) (Sep. 2002):699-727.

External links

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