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This lesson defines patriarchy. It also provides a brief description of where the term originated and how systems of patriarchy have changed over time.

What is a Patriarchy?

A patriarchy is most often thought of as a group or society that is culturally based on male-dominated teachings. Yet, a patriarch is not just a man who runs a home or leads a culture. The term patriarch originated from the Latin variation of pater familias and was used to denote a Roman male who exercised autocratic authority over a family. This system carried over into patriarchy, which indicates a system where families are ruled by senior males.

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The Structure of Patriarchy

The control within a patriarchal system can fall within a large range.

In some traditionally rigid patriarchal groups, males are given the opportunity for independence whereas there is very little opportunity for female family members to experience the same individuality. Because females are not viewed equally, the sharing of power and control in an equal partnership between a man and woman does not exist.Not all but many patriarchal groups and cultures are based on the opinion that traditionally regards women as physically weaker and/or less intelligent.

Within such subcultures, females are expected to be subservient to males within the family, as well as to males outside the family. This is not to say that all patriarchal groups view females as dispensable. There are some who have a more democratic relationship with females, but the male head of the household has power over the final decision being made.

Modern Patriarchy

Loosely used, the term patriarchy stands for male domination. However, a more modern way to phrase it may be the rule or responsibility of the father.

In this manner, patriarchy does not refer to a pattern of male power over women, but rather power exerted more complexly by older men over younger men, women, and children. The systems of power in a patriarchal group are usually unconsciously passed down by tradition. Some of these younger men inherit leadership in these patriarchal systems.

Yet, there are others who reject its unspoken traditions, behaviors, customs, and habits.Today, the patriarchal triangular relationship of a father, a mother, and the eldest son frequently form the dynamics and structure of modern patriarchy. These relationship dynamics have less to do with politics and business; they simply provide conceptual models for organizing power relations within the family.

Learning Outcomes

When you get done with this lesson, you should easily be able to:

  • Define patriarchy
  • Describe the patriarchal structure historically
  • Give examples of the modern patriarchal system and the triangular relationship
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