What do you understand by the term ‘patriarchy’? Essay

Western female thought in recent years has identified the relationship between patriarchy and gender as crucial to the understanding of women’s subordinate position in society. Patriarchy and its role in gender relations is now an important and every increasing area of study in human geography and many authors have attempted to classify patriarchy and account for its place in determining the contemporary social relations and structures in society.

This essay will define the term patriarchy and then discuss various aspects of society where the concept is still considered relevant to the study of gender and geography.Little (1994) highlights the fact that definitions of patriarchy as a theoretical tool tend to concentrate on its use rather than its composition. Perhaps this reflects the difficulties inherent in arriving at a conclusive definition of patriarchy. Patriarchy can be a confusing term because its meaning has changed over time and no one meaning dominates today (Rose, 1993). Various early definitions of patriarchy concentrated on patriarchy as a rigid social system i. e.

The Women and Geography Study Group (1984) defined patriarchy as a ” set of social relations between men which, although hierarchical, establishes an interdependence and solidarity between them, which allows them to dominate women”. Walby (1990) simply defined patriarchy as ‘ a set of social structures and social practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women”. The Oxford English Dictionary (1993) defines patriarchy as the ‘manifestation and institutionalisation of male dominance over women in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general’.These definitions suggest that patriarchy is a concept which has become so ingrained in society and accepted as a biological given, with the result that throughout the centuries it has succeeded in reinforcing male dominance and women’s inferiority and this is reflected in many societal structures. It is important to recognise that these definitions see women as deprived of access to the power their male counterparts have but they do not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights.In contrast, McDowell and Massey (1984) argued that different forms of economic development in different regions provided different challenges to male dominance and this clearly shows how gender relations and gender roles vary over space. This idea was expanded upon by Foord and Gregson (1986) who stated that patriarchy is in fact a set a gender relations, a form in which men dominate women. Thus patriarchal gender relations are the underlying basis through which male power over women and hence women’s inequality is reproduced (Little, 1994).

Ferguson (1989) proposes that there has been a shift from private to public patriarchy. Although she doesn’t deny that men continue to dominate women in the private sphere, she recognises an important shift away from the direct power of men in the family as the primary mechanism of patriarchy. This idea has been further developed by Walby (1990) who attempted to provide a definition of patriarchy which would apply to many people’s day-to-day lives. She identified six structures within which sets of ‘patriarchal practices’ are carried out.These structures are namely; the mode of production, paid work, the state, male violence, sexuality and within cultural institutions. A main idea throughout her work is the idea of a movement from private to public patriarchy. Private patriarchy is based upon household production, with a patriarch controlling women individually in the private sphere of the home (Walby, 1990).

Whereas public patriarchy is where institutions which are conventionally regarded as part of the public domain are key to the maintenance of patriarchy.She identifies that the contemporary form of patriarchy is more public in nature i. e. women have entered the public sphere yet are still subordinated here e. g. in paid work and state institutions. This will be discussed in depth subsequently.

Walby also argues for a dualist model of patriarchy and capitalism whereby both patriarchal and capitalist relations are found in all spheres and levels of society. There are not separate institutional bases for patriarchy and capitalism and patriarchy can evolve unevenly in the different spheres of everyday life.This breadth adds a necessary geographical flexibility to the concept of patriarchy (Halfacree, 1995) As I feel that Walby’s classification of six different structures of patriarchy fits in very well with contemporary society, this essay will now proceed to discuss five of the sections in detail (grouping the state and male violence together as they are closely interrelated) and show how patriarchy still dominates, in differing degrees, in each one.Thus highlighting that the concept of patriarchy is a very important one to the study of contemporary gender and geography as it underlies the whole notion of gender inequality and lays the basis for contemporary gender relations. Patriarchal Mode of Production In this context I shall refer to the domestic mode of production.

This relates to the idea of women as ‘domestic goddesses’ (Delphy, 1977).Within the patriarchal mode of production, the producing class is composed of housewives or domestic labourers while the non-producing and exploiting class is composed of husbands (Walby, 1990). The BBC 2 documentary ‘The Lipstick Years’ shown in the late 1990’s clearly demonstrates women’s expected and perceived roles within the household and illustrates the societal expectation and norm that men should have little or no involvement in the domestic sphere and are primarily associated with the public domains of life.An interesting point to note is that although recent years has seen increasing women’s involvement in the labour market, the household division of labour remains the same e. g. preparation of evening meals and domestic duties such as ironing and dusting, still fall to women.

Thus many women today in contemporary British society have dual roles to fulfil. The system of patriarchal domination ensures the continuation of these sexually defined roles i. e. women confined to the domestic sphere whilst men dominant in the public arena.This is especially true when patriarchy articulates with the capitalist mode of production because this ensures that women who are excluded from work due to patriarchal structures and barriers in the labour market, have no other choice but to fulfil domestic labour and reproductive duties (Middleton, 1984) Ultimately a women is ‘trapped’ in the home if she depends on her husbands support for she has no where else to go (Yeandle, 1984). Patriarchal Relations in Paid Work:This closely relates to the above section because patriarchal relations in paid work are often necessary to the retention of women as unpaid labourers in the household (Walby, 1988). Walby describes the existence of exclusionary and segregationist strategies. The exclusionary strategy is based in the private, domestic sphere.

This depends on individual patriarchs controlling women in the private world of the home. On the other hand, the segregationist strategy is used in the public sphere and actively excludes women from the public arena using various structures to subordinate them (Golombok and Fivush, 1995).Thus although public and private patriarchy operate differently they act to achieve the same end i.

e. the overt oppression of women. The control of women’s access to paid work is maintained primarily by patriarchal relations in the work place and by the state. Cockburn (1983) highlights the fact that women are not permitted to undergo apprenticeships and other forms of career training and also quota’s are used to restrict the number of women from entering many traditionally ‘male-dominated’ professions e. g. edicine, where quotas are imposed on numbers of women who are allowed to attend medical school (Braybon, 1981).

Other common forms of patriarchal oppression of women within the paid work sphere are; the firing of women before men in certain situations of redundancy (Mackay et al, 1971) and the restriction of the amount of certain kinds of paid work that a women can do (Humphries, 1981). Patriarchal relations and gender inequality within the labour market can be divided into horizontal segregation and vertical segregation.Horizontal segregation refers to the fact that there are still inequalities and gender differences within the labour market i. e. many jobs are still male dominated. Women also tend to be concentrated into fewer jobs than men who tend to have a broader range of employment opportunities (Hansard, 1990). By contrast, vertical segregation refers to the fact that within the labour market there is a gendering of positions in relation to seniority.

Thus men tend to occupy more senior and more highly paid jobs and the ‘glass ceiling’ acts as a patriarchal barrier to women who want to further their careers.A good example of this type of segregation is provided by a study carried out by the Institute of Managers in 1993 which found that women make up 50% of the labour force but only 25% of managers. Women’s wages are also less than men’s and they also have less secure jobs and often do not receive benefits such as sick and holiday pay which their male counterparts receive (Martin and Roberts, 1984). However, one of the most prominent and obvious forms of patriarchy in the labour market is the expression of sexual harassment towards female colleagues.Research by the Alfred Marks Employment Bureau found that 66% of employees and 86% of managers reported that they were aware of sexual harassment taking place within their work environment (Stanko, 1988). Patriarchy, The State and Male Violence: The state has a systematic bias towards patriarchal interests in its policies and actions (Walby, 1990). One of the clearest examples is the limited historical tradition of women’s participation in parliamentary politics.

McIntosh (1978) suggests that the state upholds the oppression of women by indirectly supporting a form of household in which women provide unpaid domestic services to men.The State is a prime supporter of patriarchal relations e. g. limiting of women’s access to paid work with the Dilution Acts, the criminalisation of forms of fertility control and through the strict regulation of marriage and divorce (Smart, 1984). However, it is of crucial importance to understand that although the intervention of the State has been of crucial significance in the shaping of patriarchal relations in society it is not the basis of patriarchal power (Jessop, 1982). Another example of the patriarchal nature of the state is its lack of response to male violence against women.Men who rape, batter or molest women are rarely punished by the criminal justice system. Male violence against women is actually a patriarchal structure in itself but I have linked it to the State because its lack of response almost justifies men’s actions and promotes a perpetual cycle of violence.

West (1978) argues that male violence against women is the result of ‘ impaired masculinity in a few men’ and Pizzey (1974) argues that a male will most likely be violent towards women if he has been brought up in a violent household.However, it is incorrect to see male violence as the occasional product of a ‘sick male mind’, rather it is a widespread social institution reinforced by the notion of patriarchy. Walby (1990) sees male violence towards women as a primary consequence of other sets of patriarchal relations, particularly women’s weak material position which means it is difficult to escape a violent relationship and also the State’s unwillingness to enforce criminal law when men are the aggressors and women the victims.Patriarchy and Sexuality: Many feminists e.

g. Mitchell (1975) and Segal (1990), believe that sexuality is the medium through which male power over women is established and reinforced. Thus it is central to any discussion about patriarchy and to the understanding of gender relations. Walby (1988), suggests that certain forms of sexuality are crucial for patriarchal relations and in particular this relates to heterosexuality for without it the patriarchal mode of production could not exist.The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group (1981) argued that heterosexuality is the basis of patriarchal relations and that the formation of love and sexual relations within a heterosexual pairing conspire to hide the fact that men are essentially women’s enemies. They even go as far as to suggest that the sexual act of penetration is a form of control over women” bodies which serves to reinforce male superiority and reduce the strength of women. The acceptance by women of heterosexuality as the dominant form of sexual relations can in itself be seen as a form of patriarchal power and control.

Rich (1980) suggested that for women, heterosexuality might not be a preference but rather something that has been ‘composed, managed and maintained by force’. However, in today’s society increasing openness and sexual liberation regarding lesbianism and gay’s is providing a basis for a serious challenge to patriarchy (Kitzinger, 1987). For a woman to gain more control over her own sexuality she needs to ultimately be in control of her fertility.

Since the 1970’s patriarchal control of fertility has significantly declined as women have gained increasing access to abortions and contraception.However, an issue which still exists today is the ‘sexual double standard’ (Walby, 1990). This means that sexual promiscuity in men is tolerated and in many instances is actually praised, however, if a women has numerous sexual partners she is open to criticism, abuse and questioning of her morals.

Finally, another area where male power is strongly expressed through sexuality is the commercial exploitation of women’s bodies in the form of pornography. This promotes the notion that a woman’s primary purpose is the satisfaction of men’s sexual desire (Little, 1994).The final section of this essay will look at how the City in today’s society acts as a site which embodies patriarchal principles. This demonstrates how patriarchy is present in many aspects of society and even exists and operates within the urban environment in which much of the population reside.

Feminists argue that the city has been shaped to confine women to traditional roles within the family (Peake, 1993). This is demonstrated by men working in the city and women confined to the family and domestic duties in the suburbs.Thus according to Garmanikow (1978) ” male control of, and access to the city are the result of patriarchal social relations imbedded in marriage and the family”. Also a wide range of social and spatial inequalities exists which disadvantage women more than men e. g. access to transport, jobs and services is more difficult for women than for men.

Another problem within urban areas is women’s curtailed use of urban space which Valentine (1989) sees as a spatial expression of patriarchy due to fear from male violence. Conclusion:Thus it is obvious that gender inequality in today’s society can be better understood in relation to the theory of patriarchy. The notion of changing forms of patriarchy i. e. steady change from private to public patriarchy is indispensable to the understanding of historically varying forms of gender inequality (Walby, 1990). It is however, also important to understand that patriarchy does not exist in isolation because its interaction with capitalist and racist institutions affects the nature of subsequent gender relations.

So patriarchy becomes one of a series of important interrelationships between various aspects of society which serves to highlight the perceived differences between men and women’s roles in society (Hamnet, 1989). This essay has clearly shown that patriarchy, although constantly changing in nature and degree of importance, is still a significant and highly relevant concept in human geography and needs to be considered in any debate regarding notions of gender differences, gender relations and gender inequality.


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