Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks
Social historians and other scholars frequently disagree about the meaning and usefulness of the word "patriarchy." Some use it very broadly, to mean social systems in which men have more power and access to resources than women. By this definition, every culture that has left written records has been patriarchal. Others use it more narrowly, to mean social systems in which older men, particularly those who are fathers and heads of households, have authority over women, children, and men in dependent positions, such as servants, serfs, and slaves. By this definition, most Western cultures were patriarchal until the eighteenth or nineteenth century and retain vestiges of patriarchy today, such as the continued power of fathers over their children. (This narrower definition of patriarchy is sometimes termed "patriarchalism" or "paternalism.") Still others avoid using the term completely, arguing that it is too politicized and associated with feminism; they prefer terms that they see as more neutral, such as "male dominance" or "paternal power" or "inequities based on gender." Others avoid it because they feel it lacks much explanatory value; at least until the twentieth century, patriarchy was simply an aspect of human life, like breathing, and so in their opinion merits little scholarly attention.
Most historians who choose to use the word "patriarchy" emphasize that despite their ubiquity, patriarchal systems have taken widely varied forms. Male assertions of power over women, children, and dependent men have involved physical force, legal sanctions, intellectual structures, religious systems, economic privileges, social institutions, and cultural norms. Thus patriarchy does have a history, and social historians have been particularly active in investigating the changing construction of patriarchy and the responses of women and men to it. Most investigations of that history in Western cultures concentrate on three periods, which will thus be the primary topics of this article: the origins of patriarchy in antiquity, the explicit institutionalization of a father-centered patriarchy in western Europe during the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, and the challenges to that patriarchy by the liberal revolutions of the late eighteenth century and radical social movements of the nineteenth century. Because patriarchal configurations of power were less explicitly a matter of concern in the Middle Ages than they were in the early modern period, most medieval historians have not felt compelled to make them a specific focus of investigation. Historians of the twentieth century tend either to use the term without explicating or defining it, or to avoid it altogether, although some investigations of authoritarian regimes that made extensive use of father imagery—such as Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Stalin's Soviet Union—do label these as patriarchal and explore the consequences of this ideology. Whatever century they lived in, all later supporters (and most opponents) of patriarchy hearkened back to ancient models and made references to patriarchy's origins, so it is important to understand the scholarly debate about this before looking at more recent developments.
THE ORIGINS OF PATRIARCHY
Explanations of the origins of patriarchy were first advanced in the nineteenth century, particularly by German social theorists. The scholar J. J. Bachofen asserted that human society had originally been a matriarchy in which mothers were all-powerful. The mother-child bond was the original source of culture, religion, and community, but gradually father-child links came to be regarded as more important, and superior (to Bachofen's eyes) patriarchal structures developed. Bachofen's ideas about primitive matriarchy were accepted by the socialist Friedrich Engels, who postulated a two-stage evolution from matriarchy to patriarchy. In matriarchal cultures, goods were owned in common, but with the expansion of agriculture and animal husbandry men began to claim ownership of crops, animals, and land, thus developing the notion of private property. Once men had private property, they became very concerned about passing it on to their own heirs, and attempted to control women's sexual lives to assure that offspring were legitimate. This led to the development of the nuclear family, which was followed by the development of the state, in which men's rights over women were legitimized through a variety of means, a process Engels describes as the "world historical defeat of the female sex."
The idea that human society was originally a matriarchy with female deities and female leaders continues to be accepted by some scholars and a number of popular writers, but it has been largely discredited among anthropologists and historians for lack of evidence. What has not been discredited is the notion that both property ownership and political structures were intimately related to patriarchy. The historian Gerda Lerner has tipped Engels's line of causation on its head: women, she argues, were the first property, exchanged for their procreative power by men with other men through marriage, prostitution, and slavery. Thus patriarchy preceded other forms of hierarchy and domination such as kin networks and social classes, and women became primarily defined by their relation to men. Like Engels, Lerner links patriarchy with economic and political change, but she also stresses the importance of nonmaterial issues such as the creation of symbols and meaning through religion and philosophy. Women were excluded from direct links to the divine in Mesopotamian religion and Judaism, and defined as categorically inferior to men in Greek philosophy. Thus both of the traditions generally regarded as the sources of Western culture—the Bible and Greek (particularly Aristotelian) thought—affirmed women's secondary position. Because other hierarchies such as those of hereditary aristocracy, class, or race privileged the women connected to powerful or wealthy men, women did not see themselves as part of a coherent group and often supported the institutions and intellectual structures that subordinated them.
Lerner's ideas have been challenged from a number of perspectives. Materialist historians have objected to her emphasis on ideas and symbols, and to the notion that gender hierarchies preceded those based on property ownership, while some classicists have argued that she misread ancient prostitution and other aspects of early cultures. Despite these objections, however, some of her—and Engels's—points are now widely accepted. Though it is unclear which came first, women's subordination emerged in the ancient Middle East at the same time as private ownership of property and plow agriculture, which significantly increased the food supply but also significantly increased the resources needed to produce that food. Men generally carried out the plowing and care for animals, which led to boys being favored over girls for the work they could do for their parents while young and the support they could provide in parents' old age. Boys became the normal inheritors of family land and of the rights to work communally held land.
The states that developed in the ancient Middle East further heightened gender distinctions. They depended on taxes and tribute as well as slave labor for their support, and so their rulers were very interested in maintaining population levels. As hereditary aristocracies developed, they became concerned with maintaining the distinction between themselves and the majority of the population, and male property owners wanted to be sure the children their wives bore were theirs. All of these concerns led to attempts to control women's reproduction through laws governing sexual relations and, more importantly, through marriage norms and practices that set up a very unequal relationship between spouses. Laws were passed mandating that women be virgins on marriage and imposing strict punishment for a married woman's adultery; sexual relations outside of marriage on the part of husbands were not considered adultery. Concern with family honor thus became linked to women's sexuality in a way that it was not for men. Men's honor revolved around their work activities and, for more prominent families, around their performance of public duties in the expanding government bureaucracies.
The states of the ancient Mediterranean built on these precedents, with the Roman Republic developing the most comprehensive notion of patriarchy in the ancient world. Roman fathers in theory held life and death power over their children, including married daughters. Such power, termed the patria potestas, appears to have been very rarely exercised and may actually have served to protect women from abusive husbands.
These economic and political developments were accompanied and supported by cultural norms and religious concepts that heightened gender distinctions. As agricultural communities changed the landscape through irrigation and building, they increasingly saw themselves as separate from and superior to the natural world and developed a nature-culture dichotomy. Because women were the bearers of children and because they did not own the irrigated, culturally adapted fields, they were regarded as closer to nature and therefore inferior. As more of women's labor began to take place inside the house or household complex, and as houses were increasingly regarded as owned by an individual or family, women were increasingly associated with the domestic or private realm. Men, whose work was done outside in conjunction with other men, were increasingly associated with the public realm, a realm that grew in complexity and importance as communities and then states expanded. Heavenly hierarchies came to reflect those on earth, with the gods arranged in a hierarchy dominated by a single male god, who was viewed as the primary creator of life. Both monotheistic religions that developed in the ancient world, first Judaism and then Christianity, regarded their single god as male and excluded women from official positions of authority. Christianity also adopted and adapted Roman notions of paternal power, with bishops and priests taking the title "father" and, in western Europe, ultimate authority coming to reside in a single father, the pope, whose title derived from a Latin word for father.
The development of patriarchy in the ancient world is thus a complex process, with no single cause: property ownership, the division of labor, the requirements of marriage, the growth of the bureaucratic state, cultural values, and religious ideas were all involved. Patriarchal hierarchies shaped all of these in turn, and continued to do so throughout Western history. Later Europeans referred back to the patriarchal values and institutions of the ancient world constantly, and took longer to question and challenge patriarchy than almost any other aspect of ancient culture. Indeed, the very individuals who challenged other inherited institutions and hierarchies were often the strongest supporters of patriarchy, seeing no contradiction in their refutation of traditional authorities in other aspects of life and their acceptance of those same authorities when it came to notions of gender.
PATRIARCHAL STRUCTURES IN EARLY MODERN EUROPE
Just as it had in the ancient world, the elaboration of patriarchy in early modern Europe involved economic, political, cultural, and religious issues. Economic institutions that developed in the Middle Ages, such as craft guilds, were patriarchal in both the broad and narrow sense. Women were generally excluded from formal programs of apprenticeship that led to independent mastership in a guild, although as the wife or daughter of a master a woman might work in a shop and as a master's widow might run one. Women's ability to work was thus dependent on their relationship with a man, not their own skills and training. The men involved in guilds were also arranged in a patriarchal power structure, however, with the master having authority over his apprentices and journeymen, who might be grown men. In some places journeymen objected to this situation and formed their own guilds, but these were often prohibited by state authorities, who saw them as dangerous and antithetical to the properly hierarchical arrangement of society.
Economic development in the later Middle Ages and early modern period is generally described as the rise of capitalism, which has long been recognized as offering more opportunities for men than it did for women. Because sons inherited more than daughters—a pattern established in the ancient world—women rarely controlled enough financial resources to enter occupations that required large initial capital outlay. In some areas capitalism created opportunities for wage labor, but women were regularly paid far less than men, or their pay went directly to their husbands or fathers when families rather than individuals were hired. Occupations that required advanced training were closed to women, as they could not attend universities or academies. Their domestic and family responsibilities prevented them from entering occupations that required extensive traveling, and their productive tasks within the household, even if these were for pay, such as laundering or sewing, were increasingly defined as reproductive—as housekeeping. Thus in many instances capitalism and patriarchy worked together to heighten existing gender distinctions, a process that has been analyzed in what is usually termed a "dual-systems approach."
The intertwining of capitalism and patriarchy did not have the same effects in all of Europe, however, or the same effects on all social groups. The expansion of wage labor, despite its low pay and low status, may actually have benefited some women, as it allowed them to leave the parental household and perhaps even support themselves without marrying. This possibility of greater independence was unacceptable in the minds of political authorities, who began to pass laws that attempted to force women into male-headed households. Such laws had not been necessary earlier because the opportunities for women to live alone and support themselves by their labor were much fewer. In southern Germany, unmarried women were forbidden to move into cities unless they went into domestic service in a male-headed household, and a special pejorative term, Eigenbrötlerinnen (women who earn their own bread), was used for women who lived on their own. These laws were often justified with explicit defenses of patriarchy, noting that if women did not live in male-headed households they would be "masterless" and "indulge in slovenly and immoral debaucheries." Such laws were largely ineffective, however, if the demand for women's wage labor was great enough, a situation that occurred especially in cloth-producing areas. In sixteenth-century Augsburg, for example, city authorities tried to force women who spun thread to live in the households of male weavers, but they refused, saying openly they were not so dumb as to work as spin-maids for the weavers when they could earn three times as much spinning on their own. Such comments incensed both the authorities and the weavers, but the demand for thread was so great that there was little they could do. Thus in this instance, the demands of patriarchy and those of capitalist development were at odds with one another, a situation that was rare, but possible.
The attempt by city governments in Germany to force everyone to live in male-headed households was only one of the many ways in which political institutions and patriarchy were linked in early modern Europe. In cities and villages, political rights—to make decisions about common concerns, to choose and hold office as a public official—were limited to men, and in some cities, such as Venice, to men who were married heads of household. Women were often considered citizens—which gave them legal advantages over noncitizens and the obligations to pay taxes—but this did not bring the rights that it did to male citizens. Though they often took oaths of allegiance on first becoming citizens, they did not participate in the annual oath swearing held in many cities and villages, in which adult male citizens swore to defend their town and support it economically. (Parts of Europe where this oath swearing was maintained and prized into the modern period were often those where patriarchy was the strongest. Switzerland, whose national mythology revolves around stories of William Tell and village democracy, was the last country to Europe to grant women the vote; they received it only in 1971, after eighty-two referenda.)
The connection between masculinity (or fatherhood) and political power was strong in early modern nation-states as well as cities and villages. The lack of male heirs in many of Europe's ruling houses led to an unusual number of female monarchs in the sixteenth century, an apparent contradiction with patriarchal ideals. This situation sparked a vigorous public debate about women's rule, with many writers arguing that women's rule was unnatural, unlawful, and contrary to Christian scriptures. The Scottish religious reformer John Knox termed rule by a woman "monstrous" and "repugnant." Defenders of female rule, who often hoped to gain favor with female monarchs through their writings, attempted to separate the private and public persons of a queen, arguing that she could be feminine in her private life—and thus subject to her husband if she was married—but still exhibit the masculine qualities regarded as necessary to a ruler in her public life.
Jean Bodin, the French jurist and political theorist, used the narrower definition of patriarchy—rule by fathers—as another reason to object to women's rule. He argued that the state was like a household, and just as in a household the husband/father has authority and power over all others, so in the state a male monarch should always rule. The English political writer Robert Filmer carried this even further in Patriarcha, asserting that rulers derived all legal authority from the divinely sanctioned fatherly power of Adam, just as did all fathers. Male monarchs picked up on Filmer's ideas, and used paternal imagery to justify their assertion of power over their subjects. James I of England commented in speeches to Parliament, "I am the Husband, and the whole Isle is my lawful Wife. . . . By the law of nature the king becomes a natural father to all his lieges at his coronation....AKingistrewly Parens patriae, the politique father of his people." Though such language was usually used to justify royal absolutism, it was also used by those who opposed certain royal actions; they stressed, in these cases, that the king was not acting as a beneficent and loving father would and thus merited criticism.
This link between royal and paternal authority could also work in the opposite direction to enhance the power of male heads of household. Just as subjects were deemed to have no or only a very limited right of rebellion against their ruler ( James asserted that it was "monstrous and unnatural for sons to rise up"), so women and children were not to dispute the authority of the husband/father because both kings and fathers were held to have received their authority from God. The household was not viewed as private but as the smallest political unit and so as part of the public realm. Jean Bodin put it succinctly: "So we will leave moral discourse to the philosophers and theologians, and we will take up what is relative to political life, and speak of the husband's power over the wife, which is the source and origin of every human society."
Concerns about the patriarchal state and household led not only to theoretical treatises and royal speeches but also to new laws. Rulers intent on increasing and centralizing their own authority supported legal and institutional changes that enhanced the power of men over the women and children in their own families, in what the historian Sarah Hanley has termed the "family/state compact." In France, for example, a series of laws were enacted between 1556 and 1789 that increased both male and state control of marriage. These were proposed and supported by state officials because they increased their personal authority within their own families and simultaneously increased the authority of the state vis-à-vis the Catholic Church, which had required at least the nominal consent of both parties for a valid marriage. Children who disagreed with their father's decisions on marriage or other matters could be imprisoned by a lettre de cachet, a warrant of arrest signed by the king of France and closed with a seal (cachet), ordering their imprisonment without trial until further notice. Lettres de cachet were also used occasionally by husbands seeking to control wives who were disobedient or whom they regarded as harming family reputation and honor.
Religious institutions occasionally worked against patriarchy, as in the requirement of spousal consent in marriage, but more often worked to reinforce it. During the fifteenth century, humanists and religious reformers increasingly emphasized that God had set up marriage and families as the best way to provide spiritual and moral discipline. In sermons, homilies, and catechisms, they stressed the role that godly men were to play in leading these families and the corresponding duties of pious and obedient women and children. Such paternalistic households fit well with those envisioned as ideal by the craft guilds and became an essential part of Protestant moral ideology after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Because Protestants—beginning with Martin Luther—put such an emphasis on marriage as the proper life for all people and patriarchal households as the cornerstone of society, the Protestant Reformation used to be viewed as the originator of these ideas. It is now recognized that such ideas were quite common already in the fifteenth century and that they were based on still earlier social and economic changes that had made the marital pair the basic production and consumption unit in Europe. Thus Protestant ideas about the family did not create the patriarchal bourgeois family but resulted from it, a causal line that can help explain why the ideal family in Catholic writings was exactly the same as that in Protestant: a pious, responsible, forceful husband and father, who lovingly but firmly governed his pious, deferential, and obedient wife and children.
Though the patriarchal family did not originate with the Reformation, certain aspects of Protestantism worked to strengthen patriarchy at both the household and state level. Protestantism, and in England, Puritanism, granted male heads of household a larger religious and supervisory role than they had under Catholicism, in which the priest could serve as an alternate source of authority for a wife or child, who could thus use one patriarchal structure to limit the power of another. (Wives in Protestant areas could turn to their pastor or city authorities if their husband was abusing his authority or acting irresponsibly, but authorities usually intervened only if the husband's actions were causing financial ruin for the family.) The fact that Protestant clergy were themselves generally married heads of household also meant that ideas about clerical authority reinforced notions of paternal and husbandly authority; priests were now husbands, and husbands priests. Most Protestant writers also gave mothers a role in the religious and moral life of the household, but this was always secondary to that of fathers and derivative from paternal authority. At the state level, the ruler was now in charge of the church, thus not only—as patriarchal theory had it—deriving his power from God but having direct power over God's deputies on earth. This situation made opponents of female rule in Protestant areas even more adamant in their opposition, although astute female rulers were careful not to highlight the issue. Elizabeth I, for example, commented that she had the "heart and stomach of a king," but chose the rather neutral title "governor" rather than the more clearly dominant "head" to describe her position vis-à-vis the Church of England.
This brief sketch of various issues has indicated that a range of relationships of governance in Europe from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries were clearly patriarchal: husbands and wives, fathers and children, masters and servants, pastors and parishioners, rulers and subjects, and (in some instances) employers and workers. The multifaceted nature of early modern patriarchy served to make it appear an inevitable part of life, as both God-given and natural. Thus those who were regarded as opposing or subverting patriarchy were described and sometimes treated very harshly. Female rulers were largely protected from the effects of such attitudes by their position, but women accused of witchcraft, scolding, or infanticide were not. The very ubiquitousness of patriarchy could also create conflicts, however, as cities and pastors defended wives against their husbands, or states ordered fathers to send their children to school, or guild masters "adopted" young women as their "daughters" to gain more workers and contravene laws that forbade female labor. Patriarchal systems could thus work at cross-purposes to one another and be manipulated in ways that served individual and group interests.
CHALLENGES TO PATRIARCHY
The contradictions within and conflicts between patriarchal structures were joined in the early modern period—or even earlier—by intentional challenges to patriarchy. Very soon after craft guilds were formed, for example, journeymen in many parts of Europe formed their own guilds and objected to the power of masters (and masters' wives, who usually decided what they would be fed) over them. These journeymen's guilds were often banned by city and state governments, but they continued as clandestine or quasi-clandestine groups and maintained their power by refusing to work in shops that did not follow their rules. Such guilds—termed compagnonnages in France—were egalitarian in their relationships within the group, with members calling each other "brother" and electing their leaders, but they were also hostile to women's labor and often to women in general. Thus they opposed patriarchy among men but supported it in relation to women.
This same pattern can be found among English men who overthrew the monarchy and supported a parliamentary form of government in the seventeenth-century Civil War. Even the most radical groups in the Civil War never suggested that ending the power of the monarch over his subjects should be matched by ending the power of husbands over their wives. The former was unjust and against God's will, while the latter was "natural," as the words of the radical Parliamentarian Henry Parker make clear: "The wife is inferior in nature, and was created for the assistance of man, and servants are hired for their Lord's mere attendance; but it is otherwise in the State between man and man, for that civil difference . . . is for . . . the good of all, not that servility and drudgery may be imposed upon all for the pompe of one." Despite Parker's sentiments (which were shared by most of his colleagues), groups of women did petition Parliament several times. A few of these petitions were received respectfully, but most were not, and the women were called "bawds and whores" whose husbands should give them more to do at home. Such treatment led many women who reflected on women's condition to remain loyal to the monarchy and occasionally to point out the irony of Parliament's position. The writer Mary Astell, for example, commented: "If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves? . . ." Why does Parliament "not cry up Liberty to poor female slaves?"
By extending political power to a somewhat larger group of men, parliamentary governments in the early modern period in fact heightened the gendered nature of patriarchy and the importance of sex as a determinant of political power and rights. Once the decision of an all-male representative body became the most important factor in determining who would rule, women even lost the uncontrollable power over political succession they had through bearing the next monarch. (The fact that parliamentary power over the choice of a monarch freed men from being dependent on women's biology was not lost on early modern advocates of republican governments or limited monarchy.)
During the seventeenth century, some thinkers began to question the basis of patriarchy in the same way they questioned other traditional institutions. In his On the Equality of the Two Sexes (1673), François Poulain de la Barre argued that men and women have equal capacity for reason and that differences between the two are a matter of inherited prejudices. His ideas were adopted by several of the leading figures in the Enlightenment, who argued that gender hierarchies were no more rational or tolerable than aristocratic hierarchies. The marquis de Condorcet, for example, commented, "Why should individuals subject to pregnancies and to brief periods of indisposition not be able to exercise rights that no one ever thought of denying to people who suffer from gout every winter or who easily catch cold?" For a brief period during the early years of the French Revolution, lettres de cachet were abolished, the property rights of women and children were improved, and women were granted the right of divorce; these measures gave women more civil rights in economic and marital concerns than anywhere else in Europe.
For most of the revolutionaries, however, the possibility of getting pregnant created a type of distinction unlike any other when it came to civic political rights. Whereas wealth, family background, social class, and status of birth were distinctions they increasingly took to be meaningless in terms of the limits of citizenship—the 1791 Constitution limited voting rights to those men who had some property, but by 1793 all men over twenty-one could vote—sex remained, in their eyes, an unbridgable chasm. Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette, a Parisian official, commented in 1793, "Since when is it permitted to give up one's sex? Since when is it decent to see women abandoning the pious cares of their households, the cribs of their children, to come to public places, to harangues in the galleries, at the bar of the Senate? Is it to men that nature has confided domestic cares? Has she given us breasts to feed our children?" In the eyes of most revolutionaries, patriarchal relationships of authority and governance among men were socially constructed and thus alterable, but those involving men and women were established by nature and were thus unchangeable.
Many women in Paris and other cities in France paid no attention to such ideas and actively opposed all forms of patriarchy. Poor women marched from Paris to the king's palace at Versailles demanding that the king sign a new constitution; they signed petitions and formed clubs calling for further political changes and, along with men, carried weapons in armed protest marches through the streets of Paris. Throughout all of these activities, they identified themselves as citizens—citoyennes in the feminine in French—and as patriots. The writer Olympe de Gouges drafted a Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen as a counterpart to the earlier Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, proclaiming "Woman, awake! The tocsin of reason is making itself heard the world over. Assert your rights. . . . This sex, too weak and too long oppressed, is ready to throw off the yoke of a shameful slavery."
Such actions and words did not lead to greater gender egalitarianism. Six months after they formed, women's political clubs were banned as threats to "public order," and none of the various constitutions drafted during the Revolution allowed women to vote. The conservative backlash after the Revolution led to greater restrictions on women's civil rights regarding economic and family issues as well as their civic political rights. In Napoleon's Civil Code of 1804—which became the basis of many law codes in Europe with the Napoleonic conquests—adult unmarried women were relatively free to engage in business and legal affairs, but married women were to be totally subservient to their husbands. As Article 213 of the Code puts it, "A husband owes protection to his wife, a wife obedience to her husband." Napoleon himself suggested that this article ought to be read aloud at weddings, for in a century when women "forgot the sense of their inferiority it was important to remind them frankly of the submission they owe to the man who is to become the arbiter of their fate."
Napoleon's opinion on other matters was firmly rejected throughout Europe in the nineteenth century, but his opinions about the centrality of patriarchy were accepted by men of widely varying political persuasions. The word "male" was included in laws regarding political rights, thus barring women at the same time that such laws removed property requirements for male voters. Though some socialist thinkers took Engels's attacks on patriarchy seriously, others did not. The socialist leader Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, angered in 1848 that socialist women were endorsing political candidates, wrote
The role of women is not the exterior life, the life of activity and agitation, but the intimate life, that of sentiment and of the tranquility of the domestic hearth. Socialism did not come only to restore work, but also to rehabilitate the household, sanctuary of the family, symbol of matrimonial union. . . . We invite our sisters to think about what we have said and to penetrate to this truth, that purity and morality gain more in the patriarchal celebrations of the family than in the noisy manifestation of politics.
The labor organizations that developed in the nineteenth century often used similar language, arguing not for women's right to work but in favor of a "family wage" high enough to allow married male workers to support their families so that their wives could concentrate on domestic tasks. Such wages were only an ideal, and industrial workplaces often replicated the patriarchy of the household in their organization. Male overseers replaced parents as supervisors of production and often claimed the right to control the activities of workers while off the job, ostensibly to guard their morals and honor. In many industries, young unmarried women and children predominated among the workers, with hierarchies based on age reinforcing those based on gender.
Along with the affirmation, reinvigoration, and creation of patriarchal structures based on gender, the nineteenth century also saw the beginning of social movements to overthrow these structures. Women's exclusion from formal political rights sparked an international movement for women's rights, which gradually succeeded in lessening husbands' controls over their wives' property and persons and, in the twentieth century, obtained voting rights for women in Europe. Social reformers increasingly called on the state to intervene or at least get out of the way when fathers or husbands were abusive or unsupportive; divorce laws were slowly liberalized and programs of foster care for children established. Women workers sometimes organized their own unions or otherwise pressured the labor and socialist movements to address their concerns, recognizing that higher wages for women were a more secure avenue to economic independence than was a family wage for men. Governments eventually yielded to pressure by reformers and banned child labor in factories and mines; they were less willing or able to prohibit children working directly for their parents on farms and in the household, though mandatory public schooling acted to lessen this.
This slow dismantling of patriarchal structures was too fast for many people in Europe, and twentieth-century authoritarian regimes in Europe played on people's fears about social change to gain support for their own dictatorial powers. Using explicitly patriarchal imagery, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Franco portrayed themselves as loving fathers to their countries, who would reward their good children and discipline those who disobeyed. They praised women for their roles as wives and mothers—particularly as mothers, for they were extremely concerned with maintaining or increasing population—and promised a return to the traditional values of the past. Such rhetoric was successful in gaining them mass support and allowing the construction of states dependent on the will of one man to a level unimaginable to early modern patriarchs such as James I. This very concentration of patriarchy was a force for its continued erosion, however, for the totalitarian regimes continued to limit the power of fathers, employers, religious leaders, and other lesser patriarchs, just as the social reformers whose policies they attacked had recommended. Thus all patriarchal structures other than the state continued to lose authority, a pattern that persisted after the totalitarian leaders died.
Some social historians have seen this pattern persisting in Europe at least until the 1980s, for they view the state welfare programs which developed in most countries of Europe after World War II as state paternalism or patriarchy. Immediately after the war, such programs also promoted patriarchal relations within the family because they were geared toward a male breadwinner–female homemaker model. These programs became more egalitarian in the 1970s under pressure from feminist groups and some political parties, however, and their curtailment because of political changes and economic dislocations in the 1980s has, in fact, increased gender disparities as women decrease their hours of paid work and time for activities beyond the household in order to care for family members. The fact that women remain responsible for a disproportionate share of all domestic tasks provides evidence for analysts who point to the continued power of patriarchy to structure people's lives. They point out, as well, that nationalistic and ethnic-separatist leaders often promote a patriarchal family ideal no different from that advocated by Robert Filmer over three centuries ago. Thus, though the official legal and political privileging of certain types of men over women and other types of men has largely ended in Europe, patriarchy continues to shape relationships, cultural values, and institutions in significant ways. These differ in different parts of Europe, however, and it is difficult to say whether increasing contacts among people within Europe and beyond its borders will serve to shorten or lengthen patriarchy's endurance.
See alsoCapitalism and Commercialization (volume 2);Gender and Popular Protest (volume 3);The Household; Inheritance; Courtship, Marriage, and Divorce; The Family and the State (in this volume); and other articles in this section.
Amussen, Susan Dwyer. An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England. London, 1988.
Bachofen, Johann J. Myth, Religion, and Mother Right: Selected Writings of J. J. Bachofen. Translated by Ralph Mannheim. Princeton, N.J., 1967. Contains long selections from Bachofen's 1861 work on primitive matriarchy.
Bast, Robert. Honor Your Fathers: Catechisms and the Emergence of Patriarchal Ideology in Germany, 1400–1600. Leiden, Netherlands, 1997.
Bennett, Judith M. "Feminism and History." Gender and History 1, no. 3 (1989): 251–272. Stresses the importance of explicitly studying patriarchy as a historical phenomenon.
Engels, Frederick. The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. New York, 1972.
Fauré, Christine. Democracy without Women: Feminism and the Rise of Liberalism in France. Translated by Claudia Gorbman and John Berks. Bloomington, Ind., 1991.
Filmer, Robert. Patriarcha and Other Writings. Edited by Johann P. Sommerville. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.
Fraisse, Genevieve. Reason's Muse: Sexual Difference and the Birth of Democracy. Translated by Jane Marie Todd. Chicago, 1994.
Hanley, Sarah. "Engendering the State: Family Formation and State Building in Early Modern France." French Historical Studies 16 (spring 1989): 4–27.
Hardwick, Julie. The Practice of Patriarchy: Gender and the Politics of Household Authority in Early Modern France. University Park, Pa., 1998.
Harrington, Joel. Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany. Cambridge, U.K., 1995.
Howell, Martha. Women, Production, and Patriarchy in Late Medieval Europe. Chicago, 1986.
Landes, Joan B. Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution. Ithaca, N.Y., 1988.
Lerner, Gerda. The Creation of Patriarchy. New York, 1986.
Merrick, Jeffrey. "Fathers and Kings: Patriarchalism and Absolutism in Eighteenth-Century French Politics." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 308 (1993): 281–303.
Miller, Pavla. Transformations of Patriarchy in the West, 1500–1900. Bloomington, Ind., 1998.
Murray, Mary. The Law of the Father?: Patriarchy in the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. London, 1995.
Pateman, Carol. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, Calif., 1988.
Roper, Lyndal. The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg. Oxford, 1989.
Schochet, Gordon J. Patriarchalism in Political Thought: The Authoritarian Family and Political Speculation and Attitudes, Especially in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford, 1975.
Smith, Hilda L., ed. Women Writers and the Early Modern British Political Tradition. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.
Sommerville, Margaret R. Sex and Subjection: Attitudes to Women in Early-ModernSociety. London, 1995.
Walby, Sylvia. Theorizing Patriarchy. Oxford, 1990. Focuses on the contemporary West, especially Britain, with some historical examples.
Patriarchy is a social structural phenomenon in which males have the privilege of dominance over females, both visibly and subliminally. This phenomenon is manifested in the values, attitudes, customs, expectations, and institutions of the society, and it is maintained through the process of socialization. Some societies are more patriarchal than others, but virtually all are characterized by the phenomenon in one form or another. Patriarchy is a function of male physical, social, economic, and political power. Females and children, along with any individuals with a nontraditional gender identity, suffer from subordination to men.
The term patriarchy comes from the Latin pater (father) and arch (rule). Historically, “rule of the father” was the more appropriate definition of patriarchy. Valentine Moghadam has written that under classic patriarchy, “the senior man has authority over everyone else in the family, including younger men, and women are subject to distinct forms of control and subordination” (2004, p. 141). Furthermore, property, residence, and descent all proceed exclusively through the male line. Today, however, this definition may be considered an overly simplistic description because the phenomenon has evolved substantially over time.
As already mentioned, to varying degrees, patriarchy is nearly universally prevalent. Although, as Gerda Lerner (1986) has noted, anthropologists have found societies in which sexual differences are not associated with practices of dominance or subordination, patriarchy does exist in the majority of societies. Often, patriarchy is associated more strongly with nations characterized by religious fundamentalism. Yet male domination and female subordination are salient features of social structure in virtually all societies, regardless of the race, ethnicity, class, or religion of the members. Most patriarchal societies have adopted characteristics associated with male domination, namely, aggression and power, as well as the consequences of these characteristics, namely, war and destruction.
Because the subordination of women to men is a feature in the majority of all societies, patriarchy is often argued to be due to biology, such as women’s principal role in childbearing. However, many scholars today hold that patriarchy is a social construction. Lerner has written that there are indeed biological differences between men and women, but “the values and implications based on [those differences] are the result of culture” (1986, p. 6).
The existence of patriarchy may be traced back to ancient times. Lerner has stated that the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity emerged at about the same time as the development of private property, thus setting the stage for patriarchal social structures. The Bible is sometimes cited as exemplifying the original “father-rule” form of patriarchy in many of its stories. An example is the Adam and Eve story of creation, in which Adam is created first, followed by all the animals. Then Eve is created from part of Adam so that, in a sense, he may be considered her parent (Pateman 1989, p. 451). As such, Adam is clearly in the dominant position. This is consistent with Lerner’s explanation that “men learned to institute dominance and hierarchy over other people by their earlier practice of dominance over the women of their own group” (1986, p. 9). The sexual subordination of women was subsequently written into the earliest system of laws, enforced by the state, and secured by the cooperation of women through such means as “force, economic dependency on the male head of the family, class privileges bestowed upon conforming and dependent women of the upper classes, and the artificially created division of women into respectable and not-respectable women” (Lerner 1986, p. 9).
The classic form of patriarchy decreased in its prevalence during the seventeenth century. The transition to what Teresa Meade and Pamela Haag have described as a broader fraternal-right patriarchy or “domination of society by the ‘brotherhood of men’” (1998, p. 92) is often associated with the rise of “capitalist rationalism” because the prior standard of fathers ruling over sons was not compatible with the demands of capitalism. Meade and Haag also note that “the defeat of classic patriarchy in the Enlightenment era meant that the father’s absolute power over sons was lost and patriarchy moved to the broader civil society” (1998, p. 92). This transformation occurred to the detriment of women whose work in the home was suddenly separated from what was considered to be the larger economy.
Modern patriarchy is structural, meaning that it underlies the foundations of all of society’s institutions. In most societies, any accomplishments in the direction of gender equality must be made within a larger patriarchal structure. This is one reason why women are at such a constant disadvantage socially, politically, and economically. In the world today, the vast majority of leaders are men. Moreover, Laura Bierema has noted that while women make up over half the workforce, they fall far short of men in terms of pay, promotions, benefits, and other economic rewards. She has also observed that those women who are successful economically often reach their goals by emulating men, thus reproducing the masculine traits and characteristics that are associated with success. By doing so, the patriarchal systems “that discriminate against women and people of color” are reinforced (Bierema 2003, p. 3). Those women who actually become world leaders or advance to high positions in the business world tend often to do so on terms that accommodate the needs and characteristics of males, hence necessitating the need for them to make significant sacrifices (e.g., having a family versus a career). Otherwise they would be viewed as distinctly different from their male peers, and this would be disadvantageous.
SEE ALSO Gender; Power
Bierema, Laura L. 2003. The Role of Gender Consciousness in Challenging Patriarchy. International Journal of Lifelong Education 22: 3–12.
Meade, Teresa, and Pamela Haag. 1998. Persistent Patriarchy: Ghost or Reality? Radical History Review 71: 91–95.
Moghadam, Valentine M. 2004. Patriarchy in Transition: Women and the Changing Family in the Middle East. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 35: 137–162.
Pateman, Carole. 1989. “God Hath Ordained to Man a Helper”: Hobbes, Patriarchy, and Conjugal Right. British Journal of Political Science 19: 445–463.
Dudley L. Poston Jr .
Patriarchy is an important category for social analysis in feminist theory and theology. Patriarchy refers to societies where the rule of the father is the basic principle of social organization of the family and society as a whole. Patriarchal systems seem to have arisen first in nomadic herding groups in the tenth to fifth millennia bce in various centers of social development: the ancient Near East, the Indus Valley in India, in China, and in Mesoamerican cultures. Gathering and gardening societies seem to have taken on the patriarchal order as they moved to larger scale agriculture, property ownership, and urbanization. This process took place over a period of time in the ancient Near East, but was well developed by the time written codes of law were developed in the third millennia bce.
Patriarchy means the "rule of the father." Patriarchy refers to systems of legal, social, economic, and political relations that validate and enforce the sovereignty of male heads of families over dependent persons in the household. In classical patriarchal systems, such as were found in Hebrew, Greek, and Roman societies, as well as classical India and China, dependent persons included wives, unmarried daughters, dependent sons, and slaves, male and female. In Roman law, the term familia referred to all persons and things ruled over by the paterfamilias, including animals and land.
While male slaves and dependent sons were ruled over by the patriarch, women were more thoroughly subjugated. Sons grew up and male slaves could be emancipated to become independent householders. Women—as daughters, wives, and widows—were defined generically as dependent persons under the male head of the household in which they lived. The female slave, combining the subjugated statuses of female and slave, was even more vulnerable, having no protection from physical or sexual abuse.
Patriarchy as a social system is found in classical societies around the world. Some anthropologists, such as Elman Service, believe that the patriarchal family was the aboriginal order of human society and hence is "natural" and inevitable. But others, especially feminist anthropologists, have challenged this assumption. They argue that patriarchal systems arose at a particular time in human history with the change from food gathering and gardening to plow agriculture, private landholding, urbanization, and class stratification. In the ancient Near East this happened sometime between the seventh and fourth millennia bce. Thus the classical societies and religious cultures of the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans that predate Christian society and theology were shaped by patriarchal ideological and social patterns.
The status of women in patriarchal societies has many nuances, depending on such factors as how women's physical protection and the property deriving from their own families of origin are related to their status within their husband's family. Economic and legal liberalization and the spread of women's education also modified women's subjugation in classical times, particularly during the Hellenistic and the later Roman periods. However, in classical antiquity women never gained the status of citizenship with its independent legal political status, the right to vote, or the right to hold office.
Although one cannot define a single system that would be true of all patriarchal societies at all times, one can generalize about the characteristics usually found in patriarchal societies. The general characteristic of the status of women under patriarchy is one of subjugation without legal status in their own right. Several other aspects of this subjugated status include the following:
- Lineage of children is passed down through the father
- Male children are preferred to female children
- As wives, women's bodies, sexuality, and reproductive capacity belong to their husbands
- The sovereignty of the husband over his wife includes the right to beat her and to confine her physically, sometimes even to sell her into bondage
- Since women do not have public roles in politics and culture, their education is usually limited to household skills and sometimes minimal literacy
- Women's right to inherit property as daughters or widows is restricted, and what property they do inherit is usually administered by a male relative or guardian
The exclusion of women from public political and cultural offices and from the higher education that prepared men for such offices accounts for the almost exclusively male elite formation of public culture under patriarchy, and for the definition of women from this male point of view. Women typically have had great difficulty gaining visibility and credibility as creators of culture, even when they manage to gain education and skills and produce cultural creations of comparable quality to those of ranking males. Since the cultural creations of women have not been incorporated into the public heritage that is taught to the next generation of students, such cultural accomplishments that women did achieve have been continually lost, erased from public memory, or else have survived by accident, often by being attributed to a male.
These patterns of patriarchy were reconfirmed in early modern European law codes and continued to define women in Europe and North America until the feminist movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries succeeded in winning for women the legal status of citizens, with the right to vote and hold political office, as well as to make property transactions in their own names and have access to higher education and professional employment. Similar changes in women's social status have taken place in other parts of the world in the twentieth century through liberal democratic or socialist revolutions.
However, many remnants of patriarchal ordering of society still remain in "modern" societies. Women are seen as the primary house-workers and child-raisers, and their capacity to compete economically with men is thereby limited. Cultural patterns and legal restrictions continue to limit women's economic, political, and social equality, and to ratify the view that women are subordinate to men as a gender group, a subordination that is interstructured with class and racial subordination.
The major world religions have been deeply shaped by the patriarchal ordering of the societies in which they developed. Christianity inherited patriarchal religious and cultural patterns both from Greek and Roman philosophy and law and also from the Hebrew world. Patriarchy rooted in these ancestral sources shaped a Christian worldview that took for granted the male hierarchical ordering of society and the church as the "order of creation" and the "will of God."
God is typically imaged as a patriarchal father and lord. The patriarchal hierarchies of male over female, father over children, and master over slave are reduplicated symbolically in the relationship of God and Christ to the Church as bridegroom to bride, father to sons, and lord to servants. The image of Christ as Head and the Church as his body reduplicates the legal view in which the wife lacks her own "head" (self-direction) and belongs as body to her husband.
For some church fathers, such as St. Augustine, this concept of male-headship led to the conclusion that women lack the image of God in themselves and are included in the image of God only under their husbands as their "head." Women are seen as naturally subjugated and inferior by nature, more prone to sin, lacking reason and self-control, and defined by their body and sexuality. As such, women cannot represent Christ in the ordained ministry. These views have flowed from patriarchal patterns taken into Christian theology and church polity.
Feminist theology arises by challenging this patriarchal distortion of Christian theology. Feminist theology dismantles the legitimization of patriarchy as God's will and the "natural order" and redefines it as sinful distortion of good human relations and as an apostasy from God's true mandate for creation. Feminist theology builds on the partial liberation of women in modern societies and calls for a completion of that liberation in society and in the church and its theology.
Ehrenberg, Margaret. l989. Women in Prehistory. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Herlihy, David. l985. Medieval Households. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lerner, Gerda. l986. The Creation of Patriarchy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Pomroy, Sarah B. l975. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken.
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. l995. New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation. 2nd edition. Boston: Beacon Press.
Sanday, Peggy S. l981. Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Although patriarchy has been the norm in most religions for most of recorded history, it has become a highly contentious term in contemporary American religion. Patriarchy (father rule) refers more generally to male authority within any social structure—family, country, religion—and has historically been associated with reduced power and freedom for women (e.g., dress codes, restriction of mobility outside the home, control of sexual activity, prohibition from voting or holding political office, exclusion from education and various occupations). While contemporary American society has—legally, at least—virtually abolished patriarchy, religion has long served to legitimate it and is the last remaining institution to claim that patriarchy should be maintained. Theoretical debates over patriarchy, therefore, have important practical implications.
First, scholars disagree over what exactly is meant by religious patriarchy and the impact it has on gender roles. Some traditions are patriarchal in their official structure but allow women considerable power within the home. Robert Orsi has described nineteenth-century Italian-American Catholicism as a public patriarchy, private matriarchy, and similar characterizations have been made of Judaism. Conservative Protestants officially promote male authority, but women have founded and led popular movements, particularly in early Pentecostalism and in healing ministries. In short, we need to distinguish between public (official) and private (domestic) elite and popular religion.
Second, there is considerable debate as to patriarchy's origins. One theory holds that religious patriarchy is tied to economics. Settled agricultural societies where women make an equal or greater contribution to the food supply than men often have female-centered creation myths and include women in public rituals, while the reverse is true in nomadic societies that depend primarily on hunting or herding of animals. Patriarchal religion became universal because the latter type of society developed weapons and techniques of warfare to overpower the former.
Another theory ties the rise of patriarchal religion to reproduction. Before man understood the reproductive process, woman's ability to give birth must have seemed magical. Patriarchal religion emerged either as a means to counter woman's power (e.g., menstruation taboos) or as a result of man's eventual recognition that reproduction requires his input and that to claim offspring as "his" he needed to control women's sexual activity.
Both these theories imply that patriarchy may have been preceded by a society in which men did not rule. Some contemporary feminists have argued for the existence of a universal matriarchal religion that was suppressed by more patriarchal traditions (e.g., Judaism in the Middle East or the Vedic tradition in India), but the evidence is controversial. Much of the argument turns on whether archaeological findings of female figurines should be interpreted as goddesses, and whether societies who worship goddesses actually give women any authority.
Finally, and most important, there is the debate over religious patriarchy's future. Within American religious history, patriarchy was until recently accepted as normative, since it was clearly legitimated by Scripture. Until about the middle of the nineteenth century, God's curse that Eve must bear the pain of childbirth and that her husband "shall rule over you" was taken quite literally by most Jews and Christians to mean that women's primary role was raising children and that men should lead in church, at home, and in society at large. Patriarchal religion also dovetailed nicely with existing social and economic arrangements, as the newly independent nation and its emerging industrial economy benefited from keeping married women at home, raising children.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, however, several factors combined to challenge the notion that patriarchy was God's will. One was a broader awareness of scientific theories, including evolution and biblical criticism, which led people to question the literal truth of the Bible. Another was the unintended consequence of the cult of domesticity (the notion that the home is a moral haven from the corrupt world of business and politics), which led women to become increasingly involved in church activities and later in moral reform movements such as temperance. Such involvement in turn motivated women to question their exclusion from religious and political leadership. Feminists began to challenge the notion that patriarchy is God-given and sought for new interpretations of Scripture that gave women greater equality.
Churches and synagogues were slow to respond. So-called mainline Protestant churches such as Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Methodists were the first to officially abolish patriarchy by permitting the ordination of women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reform Jews followed suit in 1972 and Conservative Jews in 1985. Yet, as studies of women clergy have shown, such symbolic moves do not necessarily mean the actual structure of American religion is no longer patriarchal. Most churches and synagogues that permit women's ordination do not actually employ female pastors, and Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and the majority of conservative Protestant churches still refuse to ordain women.
Because feminist criticism undermines the very foundations of conservative religion (scriptural inerrancy for Evangelicals, magisterial authority for Catholics, and halakah for Orthodox Jews), defending patriarchy has become a kind of identity badge or symbolic boundary that conservatives use to distinguish themselves from liberals. Yet unlike the nineteenth century, patriarchal religion is at odds with contemporary social and economic trends, inducing conservatives to claim that patriarchy isn't really sexist and actually empowers women.
A similar dilemma is faced by Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims, whose numbers in the United States have significantly increased since immigration laws changed in 1965. These religions are historically every bit as patriarchal as traditional Christianity or Judaism, and many immigrants come from countries where feminism has yet to make a significant impact. In attempting to retain the younger generation and in seeking new converts, these religions have had to either modify their patriarchal structure (e.g., Zen) or develop an apologetic for it (e.g., Islam).
Feminists for their part are divided over how to respond to the persistence of patriarchal religion. While most continue to push for reform, more radical feminists assert that biblical imagery and language are inherently patriarchal and must therefore be rejected altogether. These women are often drawn to new religions, especially Neopaganism, that provide an alternative to patriarchy.
Baum, Charlotte, Paula Hyman, and Sonya Michel. The Jewish Women in America. 1976.
Barfoot, Charles, and Gerald Sheppard. "Prophetic vs. Priestly Religion: The Changing Role of Women in Classical Pentecostal Churches." Review of ReligiousResearch 22 (1980):2–17.
Brasher, Brenda. Godly Women: Fundamentalism and Female Power. 1998.
Falk, Nancy, and Rita Gross. Unspoken Worlds: Women'sReligious Lives. 1989.
Friedman, Lenore. Meetings with Remarkable Women:Buddhist Teachers in America. 1987.
Kaufman, Debra. Rachel's Daughters: Newly OrthodoxJewish Women. 1991.
Manning, Christel. God Gave Us the Right: ConservativeCatholic, Evangelical Protestant and Orthodox JewishWomen Grapple with Feminism. 1999.
McCloud, Aminah Beverly. AfricanAmericanIslam. 1995.
Orsi, Robert. The Madonna of 115thStreet:Faith andCommunity in Italian Harlem, 1880 –1950. 1985.
Tannahill, Raey. Sex in History. 1992.
pa·tri·arch·y / ˈpātrēˌärkē/ • n. (pl. -arch·ies) a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line. ∎ a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. ∎ a society or community organized in this way.
patriarchy: see matriarchy.