The concept of patriarchy has evolved from the struggles of women all over the world. It encompasses the totality of structures of Domination and Exploitation that affect women's position in society.
The term patriarchy essentially means the rule of the father or the patriarch (a male member of the household or society). In feminist theory and practice, patriarchy has been looked at differently from the liberal to socialist feminism. Defined simply however, it implies a system in which the father or a male member who is considered as the head of the family, controls all economic and property resources, makes all the major decisions of the family and thereby maintains ongoing control over all members of the family and those related to it. Very clearly, this system establishes male dominance and control over women in society, in general, and particularly so within the family. The "unequal power relationship" between men and women, accrues power to men in an important institution of society. Thus, it is important to see patriarchy as both an ideology of women's subordination and control, and, a concept of struggle against the same.
The origins of patriarchy can be traced through different stages of civilisation and, several views have been expressed regarding the origins of patriarchy and its universality. Its roots have been traced in history, religion and in nature. For some, patriarchy as a system has a beginning in history, is man made and thus can be ended by historical processes in the future. For others, patriarchy is a natural phenomenon, i.e., it is based on biological differentiation of human beings into male and female categories. It is understood that, patriarchy is universal, God‑given, natural and cannot be questioned. Therefore to change patriarchy would amount to changing nature. Still others, have not accepted the above explanations and have talked about the existence of a stage in society prior to patriarchy – that of a matriarchal or matrilineal society, where have had a dominant status. Evidence for such a society is quoted till today,
through religious myths and
symbols over different periods in history, citing examples of matrilineal
heritage in some parts of
While we can endlessly debate on the differing perceptions about the origins of patriarchy, it is more significant to understand the modes of patriarchal control and its institutional manifestations as it has impacted upon processes of women's subordination in society.
In this context, one would also like to analyse the often asked question ‑ "Do women have no power at all?" It has been seen that women are not totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence and resources, but that they are subservient to male control. Men have laid down the acceptable social norms for women – the role models for women in society. Women are thus made unwitting partners in the perpetuation of the patriarchal system, in different ways: "Gender indoctrination (i.e., role‑stereotyping of men and women), denial of education and knowledge of their own history, dividing women from one another, by defining norms of behaviour i.e., respectability and deviance according to their sexual activities, by discriminating women in access, and/or control over economic resources and political power, etc." (Gerda Lerner, 1986)
Since patriarchy is perpetuated through a process of institutionalisation of the social, cultural and religious practices in society, as well as legitimised through the political, legal and economic systems of society, it leads women to internalise, as well as further perpetuate patriarchal ways of thinking, both in values and behaviour. Therefore, women are not part of this system or out of it by choice alone. The system is so complex with interplaying factors such as sex, gender, class, caste, ethnicity, and race that it encircles women within its control of exploitation, discrimination and oppression. It is this cycle that needs to be understood by women themselves and by those who are working to support women's struggles in society.
Let us further elaborate some of the issues in patriarchy and examine its institutional manifestations, which will enable us to refine our analytical tools for
strategies to fight against patriarchal forms of control over women ‑ their identity, their bodies, their minds, their actions and their very existence...
The institutional manifestations of patriarchy can be seen in
2. Educational processes and institutions
3. Media (in perpetuating sex‑stereotypes)
4. Medical, health practices and systems
5. Religious influences and structures
6. Micro and macro economic systems and institutions
7. Legal procedures and violation of women's rights
8. Political processes
9. Government and its various areas of control
AT A GLANCE
¨ The rule of the father or patriarch, in a sense, rule of men
¨ Existing at ideological and material levels
¨ An ideology of women's subordination
¨ Underlying basis that men are superior to women and women are part of men's property
¨ Interacting with other systems (economy, class, race, ethnicity, caste and gender) in the construction of social institutions like culture, the state and law
¨ Establishing male dominance and control in personal relationships, the family and society at large
¨ Based on a material basis that benefits men
¨ Perpetuated through institutional beliefs and structures, which are kept in control through violence
¨ Not static, keeps changing over time, varies historically, in different socio‑econ‑political contexts, and with different classes, race and ethnic groups, etc.