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"Patriarchy," Historical and Present

second wave feminists resurrected the term for a reason

Forum: Reddit (/r/AskFeminists)
Date: 08/26/2012


Can you guys explain this whole patriarchy idea you have?

I look at the word: rule of men (or fathers). Male authority. But we don't have that right now. A hundred years ago, probably. Women were expected to obey a man just because he's a man, but not now. Yeah, there might be more men in positions of major power (noticeably more, but not overwhelmingly more), but I don't have authority on account of me being a man.

Words have specific history, so it's not helpful to rigidly analyze a word's etymology. There was a time in the early 20th century when "patriarchy" was merely an academic term used by sociologists and anthropologists, who (like you) considered the patriarchy to be a thing of the past in Western societies; according to them, it was replaced by modern capitalism as a fundamental mechanism of authority and power.

Then, feminists in the post-WWII era re-appropriated the formerly academic term "patriarchy" to discuss how, despite drastic changes to familial, social, political, and economic structures in which modern women live, men continued to control vast majority of power and resources and dominate women. Rather than being replaced, these feminists argued, the patriarchy reasserted itself in a different form. "Patriarchy" in contemporary feminist discourse thus means something different from what the word meant in certain academic disciplines in the past--and you appear to be about half a century behind the rest of us.


If I made up a word like "Jewiarchy" and blamed most of society's ills on it, Jews would be incredibly justified in calling it out, even if I said "that's just the word we use for society's ills, it doesn't actually mean 'rule of Jews'; get with the times!".

Patriarchy is not simply a neutral word that can be used for gender roles and such. That's what I'm arguing. It has the baggage of being a direct attack on men. Blaming something on a patriarchy is blaming something on a rule of men or male authority in some way.

You think feminists picked the word "patriarchy" arbitrarily, like your made-up example of "Jewiarchy"? Of course feminists are blaming the rule of men and male authority.