Patriarchy. How is this oppressive social system characterized and how does it manifest itself today?

Patriarchy. How is this oppressive social system characterized and how does it manifest itself today?

Since ancient times, patriarchy has been a social system that has been implemented in every aspect of our life, disempowering the female gender and highlighting the inequality that has characterized society for many years. 

This system, in which complete authority and power is given to men in different areas, has been the cause of innumerable violations of women’s rights, including the oppression of various freedoms, as well as their participation in economic, social and political powers. 

The debate about this oppressive social system has taken place at different times, reaching its point of greatest visibility during the 20th century, when different feminist movements initiated actions to guarantee the fulfillment of women’s rights, in a society in which their oppression and domination by the male gender was normalized. 

Today, the worldwide struggle by feminist movements continues to achieve a world in which patriarchal system is completely rejected, and women can finally be free to exercise their lives as they see fit, having the same rights as any individual, without distinction of any kind. 

In this article we analyze a little about the definition of patriarchy as a global system, how this oppressive ideology originated and how it manifests itself in today’s society. 

What is patriarchy? 

Patriarchy is a form of social and legal organization that bases its principles on the possession of authority by men, maintaining a system in which the male gender usually has superiority in different aspects. 

In her book ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’, American historian Gerda Lerder defines this system as “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of that dominance over women in society at large”. 

Historically, men have always been the figure associated with money, power, business and property, while women are associated with weakness, housework, caregiving, etc. 

This type of oppressive system has been established in various organizations, such as the world’s large industries and religion, including in many families where the rule that the man is the “head of the household” has been normalized. 

What is the origin of patriarchy? 

The word “patriarchy” comes from “patriarch”, which in turn comes from the ancient Greek ‘patér’ (father) and ‘arkhé’ (authority). In other words, it literally means paternalistic authoritarianism. This term began to be used in the 1970s by feminist studies that referred to a system in which men exercised power over women in terms of freedoms, rights, economic, social or political power. 

Now, in order to delve a little into the history of humanity and discover how patriarchy was becoming an oppressive system that was gradually delving into the family customs of all communities worldwide, it is necessary to consult the various theories around this topic. 

One of the most popular has been the one mentioned by the author Gerde Lerner, who in the same book ‘The Creation of Patriarchy’, explains that patriarchy is a relatively recent system and originates in the so-called “old world”, during the Neolithic revolution, when the first states began to form, that is, about 10 thousand years ago. 

However, there are other studies that differ from Lerner’s theory, holding that patriarchy has been a system that has probably been present for much of human history, establishing it as a “natural” fact that has been present even since primitive societies.

What are the social ideas of patriarchy based on? 

Patriarchy bases its ideas on the separation and segregation of people by sex, gender and gender identity. These three concepts, although they may be related to each other, represent different parts of each person. 

There are many people who consider sex, gender and gender identity to be aligned, while others do not. To understand it better, here is what these three concepts mean, according to the Planned Parenthood website: 

  • Sex: clinical label that is usually established based on genes, hormones, and parts of the body (such as the genitalia). This label is included on your birth certificate, and describes your body as male or female. Some people’s gender does not fit the female or male labels. When this happens, it is called intersex.
  • Gender: It is a legal status. It refers to the way society thinks we are supposed to look, think and act. Every culture has its beliefs and informal rules about how people should act according to their gender. For example, many cultures believe that men should be more aggressive than women and encourage them to be so. 
  • Gender identity: Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you express your gender through the way you dress, behave and your personal appearance.  

The gender separation and segregation of patriarchy accepts only two sexes: female and male. 

The female sex is established as a “passive” sex which must dedicate itself to private activities such as the home and family, fulfilling the forced role of parent or caregiver, while the male sex is the “dominant” one, and must engage in public activities such as the positions of power and leadership in politics, community, religion and labor, maintaining complete control over economy. 

How is the patriarchal system characterized in today’s society? 

The practices and customs of patriarchy can be seen in almost any social sphere in which men clearly enjoy greater benefits than women, even in cases where a woman may have more professional training. 

Some of the main characteristics of patriarchy as a social customs are the following: 

  • Economic violence 

This is one of the main characteristics of patriarchy and is often seen in families where women have no authority in financial decisions, or even their earnings are managed by a man to perform the role of the “head of household”. 

Economic violence can cause serious damage to a woman’s psychological health. Today, despite advances in women’s financial autonomy in various parts of the world, there are still many cases of women being subjected by their husbands to this type of abuse, often encouraged by cultural and/or religious beliefs. 

  • Imbalance in work and domestic activities 

Most of the time, women are “overworked” in their jobs and often have to work long hours at home. Different studies worldwide indicate that, if we take into account women’s professional work, which is paid, and the domestic work they usually perform, women produce surplus labor compared to men. 

This imbalance in work and in household tasks and responsibilities is one of the most notable characteristics of patriarchal system based on sexual division of labor, that is, in distribution of tasks between men and women, in which it is established that women are dedicated “by nature” to domestic activities, and men to productive and commercial activities. 

  • Partial or total absence of women’s rights

Despite the fact that in the Western world women, thanks to their constant struggle over the years, have managed to considerably expand their rights in areas, such as education, politics and economics, there are still many places in the world where women are subjected to cultural customs that completely undermine their rights. 

In parts of the Middle East and Africa, for example, women’s rights are quite scarce, especially in those societies governed by extremist religious beliefs, where even today practices such as female genital mutilation are still carried out. 

  • Physical, sexual, moral and/or cultural violence

Most of the time, the ideas established by patriarchy give way to situations of physical, sexual, moral and/or cultural violence, as a result of the beliefs of male superiority over women. 

Physical violence tends to be experienced mainly in the life of a couple and marital life when it gives a way to domestic violence. In this case of sexual violence, there are situations of rape and sexual abuse against women, as well as cases of genital mutilation. 

On the other hand, moral violence is represented by insults and humiliations towards women, while cultural violence is represented by myths, legends and religious beliefs. 

An example of cultural violence occurs among the “Baruya”, a population of New Guinea where men consider breast milk not as a female product, but as a transformation of the man’s sperm. That is, they see the woman as a “vehicle” to feed the babies, considering that the man is the one who really nurtures the newborns. 

Are we nearing the end of patriarchy? 

There are many studies that affirm that, thanks to the constant struggle of feminist movements in the world, which in the last century gained much more strength, during the next decates patriarchy could come to an end, after being a generalized system in society for more than 10,000 years. 

In today’s world, great progress has already been made in terms of respect for women’s rights. 

News such as the election of the first woman as Vice President of the United States: Kamala Harris, the decriminalization of the abortion in countries such as Colombia, Argentina and Mexico, are proof of how the constant struggle of femenist movements for freedom, justice and equal rights has yielded good results. 

However, as mentioned above, there are still many places in the world where women are subjected to systematic violations of their fundamental rights, so there is still much to be done to achieve a world of equality and justice in which all people can have access to the shame rights. 

In fact, according to the Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2019, it will take approximately 100 more years to be able to close the gender gap that marks the inequality currently experienced in many parts of the world.

How do we combat patriarchal oppression in Yo Digo No Más? 

At Yo Digo No Más we are aware of the long road that still lies ahead to achieve a society in which women’s rights are truly respected in every aspect, especially the essential right to life, health and non-violence. 

We know that, although these problems affect both women and men, women are often the main target of abusers worldwide, due to the ideas instilled in society by the patriarchy. 

Therefore, from the beginning our mission has been based on serving as a platform to give voice to anyone who has been a victim of any kind of abuse, violence or physical and/or psychological aggression, without distinction of sex, gender or gender identity. 

Through education, counseling and empowerment, Yo Digo No Más contributes every day so that victims of abuse worldwide (women, men, girls and boys) can break the silence about their experiences and help more victims to do so. 

By breaking the silence and raising our voices against these abuses, we take another step in the struggle to break the oppressive chains of patriarchy. 

You can be part of this fight! Join the movement and let’s work together against sexual abuse and all forms of injustice that treaten gender equality and women’s rights worldwide.