FAQ: Isn’t "the Patriarchy" just some conspiracy theory that blames all men, even decent men, for women’s woes?

Last Updated: 2012-09-28

Patriarchy: one of the most misunderstood critical-theory concepts ever, often wilfully misunderstood. Patriarchy is one form of social stratification via a power/dominance hierarchy – an ancient and ongoing social system based on traditions of elitism (a ranking of inferiorities) and its privileges. Societies can be (and usually are) patriarchal, oligarchal and plutocratic all at the same time, complicated by current and/or legacy features of sectarianism, imperialism and colonialism, so the gender hierarchy is only one source of social disparity. Because of the limited capacity of the word “patriarchy” to describe the full operation of intersecting oppressions, some now prefer to use the word “kyriarchy” instead, but it is not yet in common use.

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms. The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).

– Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books New York 2001

Historically, patriarchy operates through the disproportionate (sometimes exclusive) conferring of leadership status (and formal titles indicating that status) on men, a tradition characterised by casting all women as naturally unsuited to lead men, no matter what talents and expertise they might possess (unless there are exceptional circumstances resulting from intersections with other social hierarchies conferring high status that gives rare women political authority e.g. the royal lineage of Elizabeth I, or the divine claim to authority of Joan of Arc). This view of women normalises the restriction of women’s opportunities and choices throughout the whole of society via strict gender expectations which constrain individualist expressions.

Some societies are more patriarchal than others, but patriarchal social traditions are universal in human societies, taking the physical strength disparity between the sexes as signs of a general female inferiority, a “natural order” that indicates women are meant to be subordinate.

Not all men are Patriarchs. A Patriarch is a man who has special power and influence over not just his family but also in society, due to privileges gathered through intersections of age, wealth, achievement, lineage, patronage and the exploitation of others as these attributes add to his place in the elite social hierarchy.

Non-elite men do not generally actively conspire with Patriarchs (although they may aspire to become one): the patriarchal pattern however means that subordinate men are ranked above subordinate women in the traditional socioeconomic hierarchy from which Patriarchs skim the cream, meaning that men (as a group) benefit more from the injustices of Patriarchy than women do (as a group). This does not mean that superordinate women (by virtue of lineage/wealth) do not have concrete advantages and social privileges compared to subordinate men – this is where the intersecting rankings and dominations of the kyriarchy come in.

In some pre-industrial or autocratic societies rigid patriarchal organisation has survival benefits for women and children, at a price: subjugation and often misogynistic abuse. Polygamy for the plutarchs and categorising surplus subordinate men as disposable pawns often goes hand in hand with the sequestration of women in these cultures. Societies (generally) have advanced a long way from the days of the ancient ruthless patriarchs who held the power of life and death over their extended families/clans, and survival is (generally) no longer dependant on formal subjugation to a Patriarch, either for men or women.

However, despite other circles of superordination, society is still structured along patriarchal lines of subordination in nearly all forms of organisations, to the great benefit of those at the top. The male elites, the magnates (currently white, but who knows what the next century will bring?), continue to wield disproportionate influence and power over the situations of other men and especially women.

“So, there is no one Patriarch, leastaways not outside of Constantinople. There’s no single dude in a nifty hat (or not) at the top of the power structure, surrounded by scantily clad women whom he feeds to tigers for his kicks and giggles. If it were only that simple, we could off the old wanker, free the women and give them some trousers, find loving homes for the tigers, and have a great party around the bonfire of his palace (after salvaging all the good art, books, and chocolate). Alas, because the patriarchy is instead a very very old system that has warped everyone’s thinking right down to the sub-rational, axiomatic, non-verbal ideological level, it’s much more difficult to overthrow. (We’ve seen how well wars against ideas work.)”

[jennie (zingerella): Who Are The Patriarchs, Anyway?]

Extra-Credit Reading (not a feminist primer):

“patriarchy is a violently tyrannical but nearly invisible social order based on an oppressive paradigm of class and status fetishizing dominance and submission. Patriarchy’s benefits are accrued according to a rigid hierarchy at the top of which are rich honky males and at the bottom of which are poor women of color.”

[Twisty Faster (I Blame the Patriarchy): Patriarchy-Blaming the Twisty Way]

Even in modern-rule-of-law countries with full legal sexual equality, there are still many patriarchal remnants in the way that men (as a group) seek to discourage women (as a group) from social independence and independent financial security. These remnant patriarchal traditions do more harm to women, on balance, than good.

The continuing subjugation and abuse of women in more traditional societies, along with the continued inequity even in rule-of-law societies, is why feminism seeks to dismantle patriarchy. Which is why some of those who are privileged under Patriarchy are so antagonistic towards feminism:

Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

[Pat Robertson, multi-millionaire televangelist and former presidential candidate, 1992]

Related Reading:


Clarifying Concepts:

  • Patriarchy and sexism intersect and buttress each other:

    “It’s using a male default as the standard and then because (well, duh) women are different from that standard, we are found lacking.”

  • High Status Women defending the Patriarchy [emphasis added]:This phenomenon doesn’t mean that Patriarchy isn’t unjust, it only means that such women like the benefits they derive from high status and wish to keep them.

    “student, it seems to many of us that the people you mention are actually anti-feminists in feminist clothing. essentially they say they care about equality in the workplace, and that we’ve already gotten there; and that all the other stuff is not important because the sex-differences there are meant to be. frequently they dismiss feminist concerns about sexual harrassment, about women being forced out of their careers and back into the home, or about date-rape, saying that these things are not about equality and are oppressive to MEN. it’s frustrating for these women to call themselves feminists because it seems like they’re just trying to dismantle what many of us think are legitimate equality-related concerns “from the inside”.”

    [roula (in comments here) responding to questions about Wendy McElroy, Cathy Young et al]

As usual, please feel free to add your favourite links to articles about the subject to the comments thread.


About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

66 comments on “FAQ: Isn’t "the Patriarchy" just some conspiracy theory that blames all men, even decent men, for women’s woes?

  1. […] Isn’t “the Patriarchy” just some conspiracy theory? […]

  2. I see you defining The Patriarchy as a lot of things, and asserting that various injustices have been committed in its name, but that’s all I see.

    Your article would be much stronger if you posted some links to studies that have been done on the subject, or historical references to prove your points. Just saying “women have been and continue to be oppressed by men” just isn’t enough.

    Admittedly, I’m an MRA. But I have an open mind. If you can provide me with some facts, I’d be happy to rethink my position.

  3. Kelly, did you actually read the original post?

  4. Yes I did. Did I miss a reference somewhere?

  5. KellyMac, can you clarify: are you looking for evidence that patriarchy exists at all, or that it is damaging to the majority of people?

    I’m presuming it’s not that you require evidence for the inherent unjustness of patriarchy as a system, as any system that privileges one group over another due to a random assignment of birth characteristics (in this case, maleness) is unjust by definition. But arguments have been made for the possibility of benevolent unjustness, so perhaps you are looking for evidence of its malevolence?

  6. No, I require evidence that there is such a system at work here. Further, I would like to see evidence that it is males who have the advantage.

    Will you post this one, tigtog?

  7. KellyMac – sorry I didn’t see your earlier comment on the other thread until I got the email notification for this one – that notification went into my spamfilter (I’ve had a busy weekend and haven’t checked the spamfilter until now).

    And now it’s Monday morning here and I’ve got a day full of meetings, so I won’t be fishing comments out of the mod queue or spam filter for another 8 hours or so. I do plan to honour the 3-comments a day for anti-feminist commenters who argue without abuse, so if a comment of yours doesn’t appear and you think it should have, do feel free to let me know in email, and copy your comment to a text editor (in case the spam filter eats it, so it can be reposted).

  8. Yes I did. Did I miss a reference somewhere?

    You claimed that just saying ‘women have been and continue to be oppressed by men’ isn’t enough. The original post did not say “Women have been and continue to be oppressed by men.”

  9. @ Tigtog: Ah, ok then. Sorry if I over-reacted. My guard is up.

  10. I understand, KellyMac, and so is ours. This could be an interesting dialogue if we all let the hackles down a bit, even if we’re unlikely to change each others’ minds.

  11. No sane person would deny that society is male-dominated. What you don’t understand though, or maybe just choose to ignore, is that it’s only 10-15% of men, the “Alpha Males,” that do the dominating. For the rest of us guys, life ain’t that hot.

    The idea that “men simply have a place above women in the traditional socioeconomic hierarchy” is laughable. The truth is, most women have it better than most men, it’s only the “alpha men” (or patriarchs, I guess you’d call them), that have it better than everyone else. I can say this with some confidence, because I’ve been an unattractive, awkward beta male-loser my entire life.

    If you’re female, you’re at least valued for your beauty and reproductive abilities. With that alone you’ll be able to attract plenty of mates, many who’d even be willing to marry you and support you for life. Beta male losers like myself aren’t worth shit. We can’t attract mates (or can, but only through great difficulty), and are just generally seen as being worthless. This is why men go off and die in wars, or die doing dangerous jobs like coal mining, or end up taking their own lives, or just die lonely old virgins; in every society, beta males are expendable, replaceable cogs with no inherent value.

    What it comes down to is women generally only want alpha men, and there just aren’t enough of them to go around. So they’ll do whatever it takes to attract and keep one, even enduring mistreatment like abuse and adultery. This doesn’t mean that women “like jerks” as some suggest; it means they want alpha males badly, even if those alpha males don’t treat them well. You see a similar pattern of behavior in other animals like chimps, lions and dogs: a small minority of males (usually the strongest, most aggressive) assert dominance over the pack. They mate with all the females while the other males largely have to do without.

    I think part of the reason women find something like patriarchy theory so appealing is that they spend so much time around alpha men that they don’t even realize men like me exist. They have no real concept of what life is like for us. Add to that the fact that loser men are often reluctant to acknowledge how pathetic they are (you’re already unattractive, why add lack of self-confidence on top of it?), and it’s not hard to see why women think the world must be one big amusement park for us menz. But I assure it is not.

    Please understand, I’m not faulting women for being attracted to certain men and not others. They can’t help it any more than anyone else can; it’s programmed into their genes. Also, I’m not complaining about my lot in life; I’m just being honest and realistic. After all, it’s the internet; I could lie and say I’m some tall, handsome stud that the ladies can’t get enough, but why bother?

    That’s just the way it is. Little can be done to help it.

  12. What you don’t understand though, or maybe just choose to ignore

    Robert, this was addressed very specifically in the original post. I’m not sure why you chose to use that as a launching-point for a rant about “those bitches don’t want me, well I guess they can’t help it, but they’ll get the alpha jerk they deserve.”

  13. If you’re female, you’re at least valued for your beauty and reproductive abilities. With that alone you’ll be able to attract plenty of mates, many who’d even be willing to marry you and support you for life.

    Women are only valued for their beauty if they’re beautiful. What YOU don’t seem to understand is that unattractive women exist. When most men think of “women” they picture the hot model-types. The rest of us are invisible.

    You’re telling a group of feminists that our looks will land us men who’ll gladly support us for the rest of our lives, as though that’s the sort of thing we’re looking for!
    Those narrow gender roles are exactly the sort of thing we OPPOSE. I don’t want a mate who’s willing to financially support me because I’m attractive on the outide.
    I want a mate who wants to be my companion, lover, friend and partner because he’s genuinely attracted to my internal and external qualities. Luckily, I have one. He’s no alpha male, I’ll tell you that.

  14. No sane person would deny that society is male-dominated. What you don’t understand though, or maybe just choose to ignore, is that it’s only 10-15% of men, the “Alpha Males,” that do the dominating. For the rest of us guys, life ain’t that hot.

    Robert, it’s totally obvious you have done completely ZERO research into the Feminist concepts, if you felt the need to lecture us about how ‘Patriarchy Hurts Men Too!” Yeah… we know that already. It’s a coercive hierarchy that hurts everyone, and that’s why Feminism is against it.

  15. Mythago, I wasn’t lashing out at women, just giving an honest assessment of the world as I see and live it.

    As I said before, I’m not complaining about any of this. Humans are, after all, animals. Complaining about this is like complaining about lions killing and eating gazelles, or dogs chasing cats, or birds chirping during the spring morning. It’s biological. It’s just the way it is.

  16. Robert, will you please do me the courtesy of supplying a valid email address? Yahoo or gmail or whatever is fine, but the fake email you’re currently providing is contrary to common blogging practise.

    You’re making a lot of contrarian assertions, and that in combination with no valid email starts to ring alarm bells.

  17. Robert, humans have complex brains and are capable of reason, logic, compassion and empathy. “It’s biological” is no excuse for bad behavior.

  18. Robert, may I gently suggest that the passive-aggressive entitled attitude has a lot more to do with your lack of romantic success than any kind of female biological hardwiring.

  19. Robert seems to have disappeared since I asked for a valid email addy. This sort of noncompliance with basic etiquette issues and polite requests for consideration might also account for his lack of social success with women.

  20. I don’t think any progress will be made by making personal attacks at “Robert.” Like others who have posted here, I have been searching for an introduction to the Patriarchy hypothesis, and still have not found it.

    I figured with the name (feminism 101) I might find some supporting evidence. I haven’t. I saw someone else asked this same question, and they were labeled:

    “I do plan to honour the 3-comments a day for anti-feminist commenters who argue without abuse”

    There is nothing anti-feminist about asking for proof. Asking Carl Sagan for evidence of the big bang isn’t anti-science. This is how non-credulous people attempt to learn, by carefully filtering out conjecture without supporting evidence.

    I’ve searched all over the web and I still haven’t found an elementary introduction to Patriarchy with supporting evidence. I’m not trying to say “You don’t have any.” No, I just want to see it so I can judge it for myself with an open mind.

  21. Michael, KellyMac wasn’t labelled as an antifeminist just because she asked questions about the concept of Patriarchy, she was labelled as an antifeminist because the link if you point to her name with your mouse is for her blog which is called “A Woman Against Feminism”: she wasn’t hiding the fact that she is antifeminist and she didn’t object to being characterised as such, because she is honest that antifeminism is her stance.

    I’m not sure what you are asking for in terms of “evidence” of Patriarchy. It is an undeniable fact that political systems the world over are dominated by men far in excess of anything approaching a 50/50 or even a 60/40 ratio. In the private sphere men nearly always have more power over family finances and thus decision-making. That’s certainly neither an egalitarian nor a matriarchal way of organising society, is it?

    Patriarchy is a social system which has accumulated over time and which relies upon intersecting inequities, not just sexist inequities, but the gender imbalance is staring us all in the face when it comes to social power structures.

  22. Patriarchy isn’t a literal physical body of individual people.
    It’s like racism; you can’t ask for proof and expect someone to point out a physical entity called “racism.”

  23. Thank you for your well-thought out responces. I didn’t see her blog, and I’m glad I was wrong about labeling. Thank you again for the civility and maturity of this discussion.

    What I’m seeing is a collection of outcomes. I don’t think there are a lot of black athletes because of black-supremacy. I don’t think there are a lot of asian scientists because of a racist organization of society. I don’t think there are a lot of rich Jews because of the protocols of the elders of Zion.

    What I’m asking for is to go beyond results and show the proof that people have unequal oppurtunity, not just unequal outcomes. Are there some hard comparisons of women and men that show where discrimination starts to come in, and how severe it is?

    I’m asking to be convinced that there aren’t other factors being overlooked, in a nutshell.

  24. Michael, it’s taken me a while to address your question because frankly, it gobsmacks me.

    What “other factors” that demonstrate how women are so lacking in capacity that the current imbalance is equitable might you be wishing to ensure have not been overlooked?

  25. This graphic demonstrates minor average differences between males and females in hearing capacity. In virtually every human ability that can be measured, the sex distribution is pretty much like this graph, with sometimes men scoring slightly higher on average, and sometimes women scoring slightly higher on average, depending on what is being measured.

    The percentage of overlap between the genders is typically 90-98%. This means that if capacity were all that influenced outcomes, then the gender difference in outcomes would range typically between 2-10%, and no more.

    That simply is not what we see.

  26. You’re not understanding me. I never said anything about women lacking capacity, I’m asking if there are other decision-making factors at play.

    People’s salary, for example, isn’t a measure of their worth as a human, or their intelligence or competence.

    I just want some nice, clean stats from a neautral source.

  27. Since women’s and men’s capacities are so similiar, obviously other decision-making factors are at play in determining the imbalance in outcomes. Those other factors appear to be mostly assumptions based on prejudices.

    If two people are doing the same job and one is earning significantly less than the other, then surely someone else has decided that one of those employees doing exactly the same job is worth more than the other one. It’s hard not to take a situation like that as a reflection on one’s worth as a human, or one’s intelligence or competence.

  28. People’s salary, for example, isn’t a measure of their worth as a human, or their intelligence or competence.

    Yes! It’s a measure of how much their work is valued by society. And what access they have had to various life opportunities, such as education, that provide gateways to more highly valued work.

    Sounds like you get it exactly.

  29. It’s a measure of how much their work is valued by society.

    With this clarification/refinment: where “society” = “the people who currently have most of the money and assets”.

  30. Answering the people coming to this thread with questions seems much like trying to prove to a fish that it’s in water, but here goes, and I’m sorry this is longer than I would like it to be, but I can’t find a more concise way to tackle the scale of the issue.

    To see the patriarchy at work, compare attitudes you see around you to men and to women, not omitting to consider which attitudes come from the greatest sources of power (this is crucial). A solid first example: if someone asks for political asylum or U.N. intervention on the grounds that, in his country, he is barred from voting/driving/owning property/obtaining a passport/travelling or working unrestricted because he is black/Jewish/ethnic Albanian and so on, the world (meaning other governments, the press, international legal bodies) does not hesitate to come down on his side, because these things are a violation of his human rights. But if you aren’t allowed to vote/drive/sign a contract/work/travel because you are a woman, well… how are those sanctions against Saudi Arabia coming along? If human rights don’t apply to you, doesn’t that mean, by definition, you’re not really considered human? To continue the project, I suggest you consider two strands: the historic and the educational, though the two are, of course, interrelated:

    Historic: It is presumably beyond argument that a patriarchy is in operation in situations where women don’t have legal parity with men. There are plenty of countries where they still don’t, but let’s consider those where they do, because equality before the law should be a measure that gives a certain clarity to the discussion. It is less than a hundred years since women in the majority of nominally democratic nations have been allowed to vote. It is only around a hundred years ago that universities began admitting women to degrees. It is historically very recent that women have begun to have a legal existence other than as property. That’s not a figurative designation, they were literally property. Rape was, until late in the 19th century a crime against property, like vandalism or arson, rather than a crime against a person. In fact, it is only around the 17th century that the word rape began to have any relationship to the consent of the woman in question. Before that rape meant having sex with a woman without the permission of the man who owned her, i.e. if a girl’s father said you could have sex with her it would not be called rape, whereas if you eloped with your girlfriend against her father’s will, it was. When the laws were changed in these areas it was not a matter of some people saying “hey, it doesn’t make sense that men can vote and women can’t, can we fix that?”, the changes were fought every step of the way. Now, honestly ask yourself, do you think that attitudes to these things changed the moment the law did? Do you think that, when this system had been in operation for thousands of years, that less than a hundred would be enough to eliminate it from people’s consciousness? Do you think a man who knew that legally his wife was his property one day stopped thinking of her that way the day the law made her an independent party? And what do you think he taught his son and daughter?

    Which brings me to the educational: From the day we are born we are taught stuff. By our parents and then teachers, but also by our interactions with those our own age, and by books, movies, pictures and the other interpretations of the world we are shown, and we respond to all these influences. You can see the evidence all around you of men being taught to think of themselves as active protagonists at the centre of their story, and women being taught primarily to think of themselves as support crew/servants to the people the story is really about. This post contains a beautifully illustrative anecdote, showing how early it begins:
    Just try and find an animation film to show your daughter where there are as many female characters as male. You’re pretty much down to “Chicken Run”. Girls are being taught that the world is not *about* them, and that they exist *for* men. Now think about the number of people in the world who are in some way influenced by religion during their upbringing, and think about how many of the largest religions expressly direct women to ‘submit’ to male authority, and that that authority is based solely on the fact of ‘maleness’. Think about all the implications of the word submission, and think the size and scope of the influence these religions have had on the shaping of the structures and patterns in operation in broader society. Are you prepared to argue that none of this has an effect on outcomes, or the relative value placed on people in our world?

  31. What I’m asking for is to go beyond results and show the proof that people have unequal oppurtunity, not just unequal outcomes.

    So, again: what evidence would you consider dispositive?

  32. […] FAQ: Isn’t “the Patriarchy” just some conspiracy theory that blames all men, even dece… […]

  33. […] Comments FAQ: Isn’t th… on FAQ: Why do you feminists hate…FAQ: Why do you femi… on FAQ: Isn’t the Patriarc…FAQ: […]

  34. LMAO at Tigtog: Why is there a need for robert to post his email? He gave an account of his lifestory and how women relate to the patriarchy as though all men are in it.

    I dont see why he must post his real email on this site. Is there a need to bash him for it? “Maybe thats why he sucked with the ladies”.. God.

    Maybe this entire site is also based on your unhappy experience with one man? Ridiculous isnt it? The same goes with your claim.

  35. […] us with sexist messages from the day we are born to the day that we die (see FAQ entries on the patriarchy, privilege, and why feminism is still needed for more information on this topic). The way that […]

  36. I dont see why he must post his real email on this site. Is there a need to bash him for it? “Maybe thats why he sucked with the ladies”.. God.

    I was rather more polite than that, MansVoice. Robert told us of his lack of female companionship himself, so it’s not like we were assuming something out of thin air, unlike your assumptions about me.

    Asking for posters to use valid email addresses is standard practice. Hotmail like yours, or yahoo or gmail with a pseudonym are all fine, just so long as they are actual valid addresses where mail can be delivered.

    Standard netiquette, that’s all.

  37. Just a note, MansVoice, if you’re going to object to someone being bashed on this site, it doesn’t help your case to contribute to the bashing. Ridiculing Tigtog by laughing at her suggestion of a valid e-mail address is not good form.

    As for why she said what she did, the first reason is that using valid e-mail addresses is a fundamental part of netiquette. She also specifically made the connection between his “contrarian assertions” and the lack of a valid e-mail address, because many trolls use fake e-mail addresses in order to avoid taking responsibility for their words. Thus she was politely asking for him to respect the space she has put up by, at the very least, taking responsibility for his arguments by providing a valid e-mail address.

  38. […] Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog (in particular, the pages on “What is sexism?” and “Isn’t ‘Patriarchy’ just some conspiracy theory?” may be helpful in seeing where my starting point is), rather than disputing these premises here, […]

  39. […] live in a patriarchy. (<— link) This is a cultural construct in which men dominate. Under patriarchy things […]

  40. So in this view of patriarchy, is there any difference on how power is acquired and exercised?

    As it stands I fail to see how this argument distinguishes itself from a black and white pronouncement that any man who has power must have acquired it unjustly. The idea that there is a plot subconsciously or consciously held that intentionally works against women is a claim which requires support.

    Is it because there are male leaders? Is the act of leadership unjust in itself, or is maleness unjust in itself, or when mixed do they then produce this evil patriarchy?

    If this is in fact case, I offer an example, the Canadian Military, it is assuredly male dominated, filled with men who have power. If we apply the theory of the patriarchy as it is explained here, it should be working to keep women out, and keep women from being promoted.

    Yet the reality seems the exact opposite, the military specifically encourages women to join, has lower physical requirements for women, allows them to serve in any capacity with the current exception of submarines*. Further women are openly preferred for promotion by the military.

    Now all of this seems in direct contradiction to the patriarchy hypothesis. Why, under the patriarchy hypothesis, would a group which is predominantly, white, male, and anglophone, which is the paragon of hierarchies be so intent on attracting and promoting the exact people who are not representative of the institution? Wouldn’t this be the antithesis of the hypothesis?

    I have to ask, it is a wonderfully complex, and seemingly completely unexplained theory, but in to borrow Karl Popper’s theory of science, where is the falsifiability? How precisely would one need to go about disproving the patriarchy. The fact that something cannot be falsified does not make it more credible it makes it more akin to theology.

    I could spend hours chipping away at various claims and we could probably get down into the weeds of which statistical analysis is most appropriate for a given study, but if this is not actually falsifiable, to be perfectly honest its not worth the time.

    *This is due to the submarines not having been constructed to accommodate co-ed facilities, and a lack of women precludes designating one of them as having an all female tour.

  41. TD, couldn’t we just note all the obvious social forces (from girlhood on) that might discourage females from joining the military? I mean, that stuff isn’t exactly subtle, is it? I take it it’s things like that that make up the patriarchy, often enough anyway, rather than some explicit exclusionary rules. Or am I missing your point?

  42. As far as the example of the Canadian Forces I’m looking at specifically why the Canadian Forces operates the way it does. If the gist of the theory is that men who have power are patriarchs, and patriarchs oppress other people. Then why is it that the Canadian Forces is so strongly interested in recruiting and promoting the Women/Francophones/Visible Minorities/Native Peoples?

    Looking at the entire world is too broad and the point is not why women in general don’t join the military. The point is that this is a hierarchical institution which apparently acts in direct contravention to this theory. So I offer it an example that might appear to falsify the theory of the patriarchy*.

    The second part of my question is if this does not falsify the theory , then what test would potentially prove this theory wrong. Now this is not a request for actual falsification, but a concept of what would it would take for the supporters to view it as wrong, at least in part.

    For example, rational actor theory has been falsified by tests which showed that peoples preferences can change based on how a question is asked, which led to the concept of ‘bounded rationality’. Or alternatively democratic peace theory would be falsified should two democracies go to war with each other.

    *Now I’m not claiming that it necessarily falsifies the entire thing, that would require significantly more effort, but it appears to falsify it in part

  43. “Then why is it that the Canadian Forces is so strongly interested in recruiting and promoting the Women/Francophones/Visible Minorities/Native Peoples?”

    Perhaps the answer to your question lies with another question:

    Why hasn’t there always been a strong presence of women, Francophones and other minorities in the Canadian Forces starting from the time of its inception?

    In historical terms, targeted recruitment of certain groups is usually not indicative of a changed system; it is usually an imperfect but often necessary solution to a problem, which otherwise takes a very long time to solve.

    Other example: In India some preferences are given to lower castes for university spots. To paraphrase you, this apparently acts in direct contravention to the hierarchical institution of the Hindu caste system. Yet, the last time I checked this institution is still very much in place.

  44. “Why hasn’t there always been a strong presence of women, Francophones and other minorities in the Canadian Forces starting from the time of its inception?”

    But that question doesn’t get to the merits of mine. I’m asking the predictive value of this concept. If men with power in hierarchical situations seek to promote those like them, why would they do the exact opposite? Now there might be numerous reasons why a woman isn’t particularly interested in the military. For the sake of debate lets say that all the external factors are the result of sexism, discrimination, etc. But I’m interested at looking at the institution as it stands.

    According to the theory, the armed forces leadership should not be attempting to solve it. They shouldn’t be leading the push to get more women in uniform, they shouldn’t be promoting them faster, and they shouldn’t be lowering the physical requirements in order to get more women even when legally they do not have to.

    Yet they are, they’re trying to convince women that not only can they serve in the forces but its a good career or at least a good launching platform for a career.

    Why would Forces Leaders, the ‘Patriarchs’ go so strongly against this theory of human behavior?

    And of course I must repeat, I would like to hear the grounds of falsifiability for this theory (if the above is not accepted). Because as it stands it sounds too much like Marx’s “all struggles are class struggles” an interesting narrative but in so many cases untestable and as a result discredited. I’m sorry for being repetitive, but this is a fairly crucial issue in my opinion.

  45. TD, it seems to me you are having big trouble understating the concept of institutionalized privilege and the power of classes.

    Economical and political power are related with social power, but aren’t the same thing. Or will you claim that racism doesn’t exist because white powerful people ‘promote’ position of power to racial minorities?

    You see, Patriarchy is about social interaction, is about paradigms and deep-roted believes our cultures have. Of course that discrimination isn’t politically correct, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So trying to ‘prove’ that patriarchy doesn’t exist by ONLY trying to analyze the “public stand” of the authorities is… ingenuous as its best.

    Women are ‘allowed,’ as you said (HAH), to power position, but they will get taunted as leaders, they will be underestimated and probably sexual harassed in military, they will face a lot more of obstacles that have to do with their gender at work than their male counterparts will do. Because the Patriarchy is social power, is about having PRIVILEGES that make the men raise more easily over the women. It’s a social hierarchy, it doesn’t work as ‘political leaders trying the best for their people’.

    So women aren’t in positions of power as men are because… women don’t like them? Huh.

    I feel kind of silly explaining all this, I mean… try to see the social interaction in whatever society you live. How women dress? How men dress? What is gender? Why does these differences exist? How has history affected society? Who was always in power in the past? How that beneficed them? Or, you know, read the blog.

  46. What I meant was… if you see there is a difference of power in society, wondering why that difference exist in first place is good. Now, of course the privilege and powerful people will tell you they are like that because all is just, but…

    Try to listen to the least-beneficed end, at least if you want to KNOW the true facts. I think it’s more… effective.

  47. The FAQ says quite clearly that some societies are more patriarchal than others, and also that there are intersectionalities of prejudice and oppression which complicate the situation. Attempting after that to present such an oversimplistic analysis is disingenuous in the extreme.

    For a start, you assume without evidence that the Forces Leaders are Patriarchs themselves, rather than simply senior minions of Patriarchs. Patriarchs are heads of dynasties, not merely heads of heirarchical institutions, although those institutions certainly serve the dynasties.

    One of the best ways that the Patriarchs have developed over the millennia, probably mostly by trial and error, to control the masses on non-patriarch men who don’t share their power, is to give them a smaller share of power at lower social levels. The legal subjugation of women has been a large part of that.

    So why is it that our Western culture over the last century has dismantled de jure legal subjugation and is moving towards better de facto gender equity without being overtly opposed by the Patriarchs tooth and nail? Because consumerist capitalism is a better tool for channelling the ambitions and frustrations of post-industrial society’s non-patriarch men than merely allowing them to subjugate women, thus freeing women to join the ranks of productive cogs in the economic machine. That this still mostly sucks for all us who aren’t actually in the Patriarch class should hardly come as a surprise.

  48. […] The Patriarchy is a critical concept in Feminist theory, and it’s actually a concept that is really worthwhile for men to understand if they’re interested in their own rights- even if casual references to it in feminist writings make it sound like it’s a conspiracy theory. (hint: it’s not, they’re just using jargon you don’t understand, which in any other field has exactly the same effect: you make stupid comments to it if the reference looks dumb out of context) […]

  49. […] = the patriarchy. Men =/ all, individual men. See this for more on that. addthis_url = […]

  50. Hi. I’m not sure I’ve got this idea of patriachy quite right – it sounds like is a collection of cultural assumptions and values passed down by society which pushes people towards particular roles? (in a way which is, overall, detrimental to women?)
    But I’m wondering, is *some* system of that kind is not necessary? It seems like these cultural values are the way society encourages people to fill necessary roles – such as in feudal societies, bravery tends to be highly valued, pushing the young men towards fighting, and equipping them to help defend their town/village/thing.
    Granted, the particular cultural assumptions are unfair and discriminatory and should be changed. But I’m wondering, when feminists talk about “overthrowing the patriarchy”, is the aim to replace it with a fairer system, or simply to do away with all the cultural assumptions that constrain people entirely?
    Then again, maybe this is another of those “feminists may vary” situations?

    Thanks for your help,

  51. Hugh,
    I think that’s a great question. Feminism is a value system. I’m not versed in socio-cultural anthropology (or whatever 😉 so this may be a naive post. Someone who knows, feel free to set me straight.

    It seems that any value system will frame values as 1) explicit or implicit, and 2) positive, negative, or neutral. These are all my terms, so to explain, explicit values are stated outright; implicit values flow from the explicit ones, either logically or as a side effect of enforcing them. For neutral values, an implicitly neutral value is simply not addressed by the system, whereas an explicitly neutral value is one where positive or negative judgments are discouraged.

    Much of feminism (or progressivism in general) deals with explicitly neutral values. I think that this can throw people who are looking for positives and negatives, which are precisely the opposite of the intent.

    On “feminists may vary”, indeed, all individuals have their own set of values, and they fluctuate over time. The only answer to “what do feminists believe in” comes in a multitude of voices. What *I* would love to see, and suspect you would too, Hugh, is a discussion in terms as clear as those stated above. I accept that there are many answers, but my poor brain can’t always get though the language, especially since discussions of value tend to piss people off.

  52. […] Excellent. If you want details, go to Feminism 101. […]

  53. I came across this post in the course of googling “patriarchy” in my ongoing research on the subject. I am an anthropologist at the National University of Singapore.

    While the account of patriarchy in this post is correct on some counts (e.g. the relationship between patriarchy and hierarchy) it is flawed on numerous other ones (e.g. the anthropological record shows ‘primitive, lawless societies’ to be less prone to patriarchy than more complex ‘civilizations’). But then again, if you go to Patriarchy on Wikipedia you will find an even more deeply flawed account! I’m rather amazed at how poor the quality of information on patriarchy is on the web, especially when it is such a crucial issue in feminism and gender studies.

    I am in the process of compiling and presenting a broad spectrum of the many explanations offered for patriarchy as well as developing one missing piece of the puzzle. For those interested follow the link below. Comment and criticism (constructive criticism!) is most welcome!


    To the specific post regarding sources, see the following:


    At the moment, this list of sources is very, very incomplete… but a work in progress.

  54. […] am a Latina that was raised with Guatemalan lingo, assumptions, machismo and customs that are often patriarchal.  The realities of the region continue on, as I store my parents emotionally defined memories of […]

  55. […] FAQ on Patriarchy Posted on November 4, 2009 by tigtog The Patriarchy FAQ has been edited and modified to include material on the concept of “kyriarchy” and to […]

  56. It sounds like the article assumes that the existence of Patriarchy implies the existence of Patriarchs — an oligarchy of people who mastermind the system and keep the whole thing going.

    I don’t think that Patriarchy is maintained and controlled by “patriarchs,” any more than the U. S. Army is maintained and controlled by its generals (or the Commander-in-Chief — the President of the USA.) It’s only really necessary for a large number of people to feel invested in keeping it going. That is, to believe that they or what (or who) they value are likely to lose out if things are changed. The generals can give orders, but if they want to maintain the illusion that they’re in charge, they’d better only give orders that the army is prepared to follow (cf. the King in The Little Prince.)

    If anything, I think that the existence of people at the top is more of a side-effect of a system which is based on inequality. Unless you have “daisy chains” of dominance (A > B > C > A), you’re going to end up with a few people who aren’t subordinate to anybody. But it’s all the people below the top, who feel that any change to the system would mean that they’d suddenly be subordinate to the folks they used to be superior to, who keep the whole thing going.

    And all it would take for Patriarchy to fall apart is for the mass of people to simply stop believing in the system. I’m reminded of how the communist system in the USSR basically fell apart about 20 years ago.

    (By the way, this is awfully remeniscent of Lev Tolstoy’s view of history in War and Peace.)

    • While I think the term definitely does imply the existence of Patriarchs/Kyriarchs, I don’t think that necessarily implies a conscious conspiracy between them, just that the system throws up certain people as the creme de la creme, as it were.. As you say, a large number of people heavily invested in keeping the current interlocking systems of inequalities just as they are (because they receive things they value through it) is all that’s required to perpetuate those inequalities.

  57. [comment text deleted, link to blog deleted ~ moderator.]

    [Moderator note: Free Clue Department
    Somehow, I don’t think readers here have a single worthwhile thing to learn from someone whose blog has a category named “Dumb Ideas Girls Have”. Welcome to the automod list.

  58. “Kyriarchy” is not an ideal choice.

    In modern Greek, the word for “master”, which is used as a salutation much as we use “Mr.”, is “Kyrie”. The female version is “Kyria”, used like “Mrs.”

    There is very little difference in their pronunciation, save for a longer i sound in “kyria”. If it weren’t for this extended vowel sound, the words would sound exactly alike.

    In the word “kyriarchy”, when the “-e” in “kyrie-” is changed to “a” because of “-archy”, the word becomes indistinguishable from what you would get if you combined “kyria-” and “-archy”.

    So “kyriarchy” is confusing. It gives the impression that women are the rulers.

    I find it unsettling when a movement keeps trying to rename itself. I wonder if this isn’t some kind of retreat from those who criticize the use of the word “patriarchy” out of a desire to attack feminism itself, in the guise of criticizing its labels. When a term becomes widespread enough to be generally understood, pressure builds up to change it. I don’t know if yielding to that pressure is such a good idea. Pushback is a sign that you’re actually getting somewhere.

  59. Hmm, interesting post. I rarely see the concept ‘Patriarchy’ defined with a more negative slant (as presented on this page) especially in my country where *the* Patriarchy and Paternalism is in general viewed as something positive and benevolent.

    Of course that itself boils down to one’s definition of a patriarch or father figure. Ideally, he should be one who is loving, caring and protective of his children and family; someone who manages to strike a good balance between giving freedom and imposing controls.

    I think it might be mainly because of our poor impressions of fathers (there can never be a perfect human father anyway) that we reject ideas and institutions that are patriarchal in nature claim they ‘know what’s good for us’ (the people) and ask us to ‘trust in them’.

  60. […] This is compounded by intersectional oppressions: the less like a guy you are, the less likely it is that you can even consider being one of the guys. Or, in one word, kyriarchy. […]

  61. […] patriarchal social traditions are universal in human societies […]
    That’s the sort of statement I’d like to see a citation on.

  62. […] Wikipedia, feminist websites and anthropologists all have their own idea of what patriarchy is; I’m using it here to […]

  63. I have a question that I think is worth consideration – although, I fear, alas that it might have no answer. As a cis-gendered, white, anglo-saxon, protestant male is there any way I can avoid benefiting from kyriarchal social structure I happen to inhabit? This is more than an abstract moral question: I am wondering if there are practical steps I can take to ensure that I am judged on – and succeed or fail based on – my own merits rather than on my gender, sexual orientation, religious or cultural outlook, or race?

    • I don’t know if these comments are still being read by anyone, but I have a related question. There are many dimensions of privilege, as the FAQ discusses. A white, heterosexual male who has access to education and a good job would seem to be at the “top”, so to speak, of the patriarchy/kyriarchy, or at least be among the most privileged, even if he isn’t one of the dynasty-leading Patriarchs. What should someone in this position do to help to make society more fair? I am quite sure it is not enough for me to simply not be sexist/racist/homophobic in private, but what sort of steps should I take to use the privileges that I have in a positive way?

      • Have updated this FAQ to improve some problematic language in places. Noting the last two comments from Zach and DW, I see the need for a post on ally-work. I’ve added it to the to-do list.

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