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Why is the concept of patriarchy crucial to feminist analysis?

Patriarchy comes from the Latin term ‘pater’ meaning, literally, rule by father. Within feminism it is used as a concept to describe the power relations between men and women. For the feminist gender, like social class, race or religion is a significant social cleavage. For the radical it is the most deep and significant social division. The feminists have advanced an idea of ‘sex politics’ in a similar way to ‘class politics’ of socialists. However, as conventional politics has typically ignored gender division feminists have been forced to develop their own concepts to aid in their analysis – one of such crucial ‘ideas’ is that of Patriarchy.

Some feminists limit the terms use to describing power relationships within the family, and use terms such as ‘male dominance’ to discuss the wider world gender relations. However, they do hold that the dominance of the father within the family is symbolic of the supremacy in all other institution. Many would argue the patriarchal family is crucial because it lies at the heart of a systematic process of male domination. Thus, it is used in the broader sense to mean ‘rule by men’ within the family and not. Millet talked of ‘patriarchal government’ and institution whereby ‘the half of the populace which if female is controlled by that half which is female’. It is thus crucial because it means ‘males shall dominate female, and elder male shall dominate younger’ It is thus a hierarchic society, characterised by both sexual and generational oppression.

Though, one can argue that the effects of patriarchy have lessened in the UK thanks to divorce laws, education, the legalisation of abortion. However, the analysis is still crucial to parts of the developing world such as Africa where 80 million women are subject to female circumcision, bride murders in idea and the persistence of the dowry system which causes some female children to be unwanted and left to die.

Thus, there is no unified reason why it is crucial. Liberals use it to draw attention to the unequal distribution of rights in society and the under-representation of women in high up positions, socialists look at the economic aspects of patriarchy and see it as an operate of the capitalist system. Indeed, some socialist feminists reject the term as a worthy analysis point all together, Engle’s saw it as a product of the capitalist system and the class system, once the former is destroyed females will gain their true emancipation. However, for radical feminists it is crucial, they see it as a systemised institutionalised and pervasive form of male power which is routed in female oppression. Thus, patriarchy in the family is the start of the pattern of domination and female subordination across all economic, political and social life. It is a reflection of the power structures in domestic life.

Patriarchy, despite its varying degrees of importance and attention has still been highly crucial in the development of a feminist analysis of society.


This essay is aimed at people studying for A Level Politics, but will be suitable for other people too.

Originally submitted by Dr Pip on TSR Forums.

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