Patriarchy

According to popular belief the only people reading this blog post now that I have mentioned the P word are likely to be either trolls, who will be excited that I’ve so opened myself to ridicule, or some purple wearing feminists over the age of 50.

I’m testing this out because I’ve recently been heartened to hear several feminists, both male and female, issuing a rallying cry to bring back patriarchy. The word that is, because the thing itself sure hasn’t gone away.

I would like to use the word more often because it actually provides a way for us to talk about the cultural and structural systems that perpetuate inequality.

Let’s take the very obvious example of domestic violence.

Currently domestic violence is talked about like any other crime; something we all need to look out for and let people know is not okay, pretty much like drink driving. It is treated as an individual issue that may be responsive to social marketing and a few safety measures like refuges. It is treated and named in a gender neutral way.

In contrast, a response that recognised the centrality of the patriarchy would label the violence as either male violence against women and children, or violence against women and children, or (I’m exploring the idea)  patriarchal violence. This would recognise that violence is a reflection of existing power imbalances in our society and that violence happens within a cultural context that still mistrusts or blames women. This is not to say women cannot commit acts of violence, or that men can’t be victims of violence. We know they can. What this says is domestic violence is highly gendered and to end it we need to fix the core power imbalances and social norms that it is an expression of and ensure our institutions do not treat men and women as if they’re on the same even playing field.

In the words of the UN Secretary General’s 2006 In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women:

Historically, gender roles – the socially constructed roles of women and men – have been ordered hierarchically, with men exercising power and control over women. Male dominance and female subordination have both ideological and material bases. Patriarchy has been entrenched in social and cultural norms, institutionalised in the law and political structures and embedded in local and global economies. It has also been ingrained in formal ideologies and in public discourse. Patriarchy restricts women’s choices but does not render women powerless, as evidenced by the existence of women’s movements and successful claims by women for rights.

If we’re to address the problem of domestic violence in this country, a problem that impacts on 1 in 3 women, we need to recognise the social structure that supports that violence. That structure exists and has a name, the patriarchy. I’m keen to hear your views on that.

9 thoughts on “Patriarchy

  1. Too much groupthink and not enough regard to facts.

    I would say to much PC BS, but that term has been overused and sometimes PC is not always wrong.

    I think being in Parliament does the same.

    “domestic violence is highly gendered..” “men exercising power over women”..

    The research shows that statement is manifestly wrong, for starters.

  2. K.T: It would be interesting and fair if you explained your brief comment!!! So far on this page there are comments by: a politician; a”Monster”; a “Butler”; a retired (very practical!) Nurse; a “Green Partier”! And yourself…..so where does the over-exposure to University come into it, pray tell……..??

  3. It’s not necessary to have a word definined by feminists to get to be able discuss our social and cultural history or order. The fact the author sides with feminists tells us that opinion has just been polarised, that there is only two sides to the story.

    “I’ve recently been heartened to hear several feminists, both male and female, issuing a rallying cry to bring back patriarchy.”

    If we “bring back Patriarchy” we’re just setting up a word target to shoot at, without ever considering what Matriarchy would look like now, how it has looked in the past, what alternatives there are to either system and treating our “enemies” as objects. It’s a simplistic way of regarding the nature of politics and a self defeating attempt at arriving at something useful. It suggests that if we cut out all that we think is wrong, without considering why we think it’s wrong, using nicely polished logic, we’ll arrive at something that is the truth. It doesn’t work that way. To think that you’d have to ignore the existence of the processes of at least half the human brain and dismiss discussion.

    The UN, in the short quoted statement, has decided to blinker itself to known human societies that contradict it’s assumptions in order to further whatever aims they may have. Why are we compelled to regard their offerings as something like the truth?

    “…violence…we need to fix the core power imbalances and social norms that it is an expression of and ensure our institutions do not treat men and women as if they’re on the same even playing field.”

    People can be nasty to each other. So many reasons why. In my opinion, the author gets close with “power imbalances” and then steps further away with “social norms”. The author does not deny women commit violence inside a patriarchal structure or that men can be on the recieving end. Why is that? They can’t all be victims lashing out or back. The structure itself isn’t the sole cause or the prime motivation of violence. Otherwise it suggests that there is conclusive proof that violence is only ever motivated by environmental factors and people are instinctual animals.

    To discard the loose ends of real life is the same kind of blinkering the UN makes. Strangely, their own summary includes the part they are blind to:

    “Patriarchy restricts women’s choices but does not render women powerless, as evidenced by the existence of women’s movements and successful claims by women for rights.”

    Fighting, they claim, is evidence of women being powerful within an oppressive structure. Fine, but what are they putting their power into? Reacting. The terrain and battles are defined and controlled by the people they fight. They can’t win. New strategy required.

    Nicely trimmed statitics fit into tidy political ideaology, but narrow the scope of possible human variation so much that the reflection in policy solutions no longer looks anything like the subject. If politics was all about finding something to blame, trimming off the inconvenient bits to make an ideaology, forming a policy to match the invented enemy, the world would have been fixed thousands of years ago.

    Power imbalances. Yes. Usefulness in using Patriarchy as a target? Not much.

  4. I think someone has been over exposed to University, and too many big words, and not enough to life.

    So I will just go and put the dishwasher on, and feed the cockateil chick, while my wife mows the lawns.

    See my reply to Metiria’s post.

  5. I think we’d find, if we did a little more research, that emotional abuse is much more highly prevalent than we suspect. I think that this would be similarly gendered in that it would be predominantly propagated by women.

    That’s not to say it balances the statistics on physical abuse, or in any way would contradict the basic premise of this post about the gendered nature of domestic violence – it is a good post that I agree with in essence.

    But (yes, I know) I also think we’d find that the claims made in this post would be weakened by that prevalence, and that alcohol plays an equally great, if not greater, part in the statistics. Alternatively it may just be an enabler that allows the patriarchy to do the dirty work.

    I don’t claim to know. I’m just not sure you’ve entirely hit the nail on the head with this post. The Alcohol Reform Bill ought to have had more teeth, it would do a better job fixing the problem (in the short term, certainly) than “bringing back the patriarchy.”

  6. “..domestic violence is highly gendered..” “men exercising power over women..”

    Reputedly the early patriarchal church leaders of Christianity misrepresented God as a judgmental, punishing tyrant – which won’t have helped, as a role model for succeeding generations of men and boys!
    I’m interested in causes which EXACERBATE that sense of power over women, and lead to its expression in a violent manner.
    Alcohol – a major cause; inferiority-complex manifesting as the ‘need’ to show ‘superiority'; ditto feeling inadequate(pressure to ‘provide’ and to measure-up in today’s world; ill-health, etc…)- the expectation that men and boys will be big and strong and powerful;and now the efforts, quite often, by women, to be that way also, a competition in trying to ‘beat’ one another; various forms of mental cruelty and ‘violence’ which some women can be very skilled at dishing out; possibly extremes of feminism and demands for ‘women’s rights’, where men feel that women want to be the ones with power over THEM! I feel all these things and more, contribute to violent expression. Power on either side does not sit well with understanding, co-operation, appreciation and compassion! We’ll get on better when men and women can show these qualities towards each other – and both show them towards children!

  7. The pushback against the term “patriarchy” is nothing more than the patriarchy defending itself like any other power structure. By denying the name it seeks to deny the concept and hide itself from scrutiny.

    I was thinking about this yesterday when I was (of all places) at an Anglican church, and the priest said as part of his sermon “But of course we hate the patriarchy…”. I wasn’t paying attention to what he was preaching – that’s not what I was there for – but I liked that an agent of that most patriarchal organization could identify and name the problem, and in that (liberal) parish at least expect to be understood without clarification.

  8. Hmm, interesting post.

    In terms of definitions, I would argue that domestic violence is a subset of patriarchal violence, which would include violence against LGBQT folks on the basis that rigid gender roles and enforcement of gender performance are patriarchal norms as well.

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