Feminism Battles Patriarchy: Overcoming the False Social Construct and Institution that is Patriarchy


The concept of 'patriarchy' arose in the late 1960s from the same ferment of left-wing ideas and experiences as 'sexism,' as young women in a number of western countries, often white and privileged, discovered that many seemingly egalitarian and progressive men did not extend their political principles to their treatment of women.

These women came to realize that their seemingly particular and personal difficulties were widely shared when they related their terrible experiences in "consciousness-raising groups," and that they had grown up into a broad pattern of male exploitation and abuse of power.

In this environment, they began to claim that women were oppressed as well as black people, and that women should take urgent action to free themselves from what they came to refer to as "patriarchy."

The term "patriarchy" goes beyond "sexism" in identifying men's collective dominance over women.

"Connecting the dots" between many elements of women's experiences in both their political and private lives and tying these individual experiences to larger societal structures and institutions.

If we see the world not only as "gendered," but also as "patriarchal," we can see that the gender disadvantages and inequities listed in the Introduction are cumulative and interrelated, as well as taking less physical or quantifiable forms.

It's not just that women earn less and are more likely to live in poverty than men in the same class or race; it's also that they're under-represented in economic and political decision-making positions; their experiences, needs, and perceptions are frequently marginalized or ignored; and they're all too often subjected to sexual harassment.

Individual and/or seemingly isolated instances of discrimination, exploitation, or injustice, on the other hand, add up to a more general picture of a world marked by a gender hierarchy that is so pervasive and pervasive that it can, paradoxically, appear as unremarkable and invisible as the air we breathe.

Some far earlier feminists were also aware of the multidimensional character of women's injustices and disadvantages, the necessity to advocate on a wide variety of topics, and some of men's more subtle tactics of maintaining power. When John Stuart Mill, a nineteenth-century philosopher, contended that women had the right to education, work, and the vote, he also claimed that they had the right to be protected from violent spouses.

‘Men don't only want women's obedience; they want their feelings, too'.

As a result, they have put everything in place to imprison their brains.' At the same time in the United States, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was campaigning on the same public issues as Mill; she also argued that men used all forms of organized religion to oppress and manipulate women, she refused to listen to male ‘experts' on how to raise her children, she asserted her right to dress for comfort and convenience rather than male approval, and she insisted on equal pay for equal work.

She also stated that “when I think of all the wrongs that have been piled upon womankind, I am ashamed that I am not eternally in a state of chronic rage, stark insane, skin and bones, my eyes a torrent of tears, my mouth overflowing with curses.” Stanton, like Mill and other feminists of the day, lacked a term to express her beliefs or to analyses as well as identify the various wrongs she observed.

Feminists did not have an accessible and systematic means of conceptualizing the links between seemingly unconnected concerns until 1970, when Kate Millett's Sexual Politics was published.

Millett argued in ‘Notes towards a theory of patriarchy' that all known societies have been structured around the power of men over women, that this patriarchal power extends into every aspect of human life, and that it appears natural rather than political precisely because it is so universal and all-pervasive.

She argued that the family is ‘patriarchy's chief institution,' and that it is primarily maintained through a process of socialization, in which women are taught about their own inferiority and insignificance from a young age; this early ‘interior colonization' is then confirmed by education, literature, and religion. Patriarchy is thus based on the agreement of both men and women. 

It is, nevertheless, anchored by governmental authority, the legal system, and women's economic exploitation, and, like other systems of dominance, it ultimately relies on the use or threat of physical force; this danger often extends into private life in the form of sexual assault and rape.

With male dominance, love can only be a confidence trick that hides the power that is inescapably present in all female-male interactions.

Many women at the period discovered that labelling their society as "patriarchal" gave them with a strong new way of viewing the world and making sense of their lives, and many experienced a "click moment" in which disparate parts of knowledge and experience came into place.

Since 1970, a number of feminist writers have developed the term, which has been extensively criticized by others; it was somewhat out of favor at the turn of the twenty-first century, but it is now commonly utilized in popular debate of #MeToo or the gender pay gap. While it can be misused or exploited to make exaggerated assertions, I believe that the notion of patriarchy continues to give vital insights into effective feminist politics. Before looking at its limits, I highlight three major situations where it appears to be very useful.

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