PATRIARCHY

DEFINITION

Patriarchy is defined by Professor Errol Miller (1991 and 2001)) as that social system of mutual and reciprocal obligations in which final authority rests with older men of the kinship collective, or voluntary group, who exercise final authority over its individual male and female members in the overall interest of the kinship collective or voluntary group. The key elements of patriarchy are generation, gender, and genealogy or voluntary bond of solidarity. Generation and gender determine rank within the kinship collective or voluntary group. Genealogy or voluntary bond determines who belongs to and who does not belong to the collective or the group. In other words, genealogy or voluntary bond sets the external boundary separating kinship collectives or voluntary groups.

This definition of patriarchy can be applied to ancient societies which invariably assumed blood bonds based on lineage, clan, tribe, caste and race. It can also be applied to modern societies increasing based on voluntary association: political parties, unions, clubs, corporations, religious organisations and social class. This definition can also be applied in the public and private spheres.

This unique feature of this definition of patriarchy is its capacity to be applied to the interactions between different patriarchal entities be they lineages, tribes, clans or races or political parties, religious groups, unions or corporations. Two broad types of interactions exist. First, interactions in the consensual mode which involves a covenant of kinship. That is, where different patriarchal entities settle differences by finding common ancestry, factual or fictional, recognize the older sibling whose authority the younger siblings accept. Second, interactions in the conflict mode is which rival patriarchal groups compete to establish dominance and hegemony, the ultimate conflict being war. In the conflict mode men and women cooperate and compete against each other with the common goal of dominance over the other.

THE DIFFERENCE WITH OTHER DEFINITIONS

The Wikipedia definition of patriarchy, embraced by many feminists, is that social system of society in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In this definition patriarchy and gender are almost the same. However, gender is not the only source of domination/subordination in societies. Further, not all men are powerful, nor are all women marginalized.  Powerful women and marginal men have been present in society throughout the history of human civilization. In addition, it treats all men and all women as separate monolithic and undifferentiated groups that have maintained their coherence over time and across cultures. The factual evidence against such a conceptualization of men and women is overwhelming.

Max Weber defined patriarchy as that form of social organisation of society in which male heads of households have final authority in families. Simply put, Weber defined patriarchy as the rule of fathers over younger males and women in families. Patriarchy as the rule of fathers implicitly includes blood relationship between fathers and other members of the families as well as reciprocal obligations in the family. Fathers have the obligation to protect and provide for their families, while family members in return are obligated to honor, accept and abide by decisions of the patriarch.

The Weberian definition of patriarchy combines two axes of domination/subordination in society: gender and generation. Also, gender and generation are identities, bases of solidarity and foci of mutual obligations. The Weberian definition connects more accurately with earlier eras of human history as well as with some segments of modern societies that have continued to practice the rule of fathers. However, the greatest flaw of the Weberian definition is that it confines patriarchy to the private sphere. It has particular difficulty addressing patriarchy in the political arena, in religious organizations, in unions and social clubs especially in instances in which men, who are not fathers, exercise final authority over other men.

References

Miller Errol (1991) Men at Risk: Jamaica Publishing House. Kingston, Jamaica. 290 pages.

Miller Errol (2001) Gender, Power and Politics: An Alternative Perspective.  In Gender, Peace and Conflict. Editors. Inger Skjelsbaek and Dan Smith. International Peace Institute and Sage Publications. Oslo and London. Pages 80-103.