Patriarchy literally means “father rule” and refers to a society, government, or both that is ruled by either exclusively, or predominately, by males. It is a historical social structure that shapes a culture and its people through pervasive male privilege and authority in both private and public spheres. This unearned, exclusive, social privilege and authority bestowed upon males is marketed as their “superiority” or “rights.” Patriarchy depends upon and is built around:
- force and violence,
- control and dominance,
- hierarchies and status,
- fear and hatred,
- separation and alienation.
Patriarchal hierarchies create “classes” of people based upon the amount of sociocultural influence, resources, access to resources, or authority that an individual or group may hold. Patriarchy is inherently misogynistic and racist. It emerged as a war-driven, slavery-based social system. It is also something we all currently participate in to lesser and greater degrees (depending upon our individual awareness) because it is the social structure we live under.
Women, as a class, are placed in the lowest strata of a patriarchy and, therefore, face the greatest restrictions and strictures on their lives. In a patriarchy, wielding authority, exercising social influence, and gaining access to resources is exceptionally difficult for women as they are routinely excluded from the opportunities to do so. Patriarchy has a strong propaganda campaign against women as a class, and to a lesser extent, against males who appear in any fashion to be “feminine.” Females are depicted continually as inferior to males, even to the point of reducing their humanness to objectification (i.e. being seen as things, or objects such as “sex objects”) rather than as people.
Patriarchy is not simply a code word for men and boys. Men and boys are also harmed by patriarchy; harm that is easier to see if those men and boys are not Caucasian, or part of the financial elite. Patriarchy imposes rigid gender roles, expectations, and definitions for both males and females. One effect of this is a continually reinforced polarization between males and females because patriarchy spreads the lie that we are fundamentally opposite. Such a divisive, reductive, social structure can only create further separations and anguish for all.
Here are excellent resources if you want to learn more about patriarchy is, how it blends into our culture so much it seems “invisible,” and how to be more conscious about its effects on you and others.