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All about Patriarchy

The vast majority of cultures are patriarchies, where men hold positions of importance in social, economic and political fields. But a study of humanity’s roots suggests this answer is too simple.

Photo Credit: Zazzle

Chimpanzees are not a proxy for our ancestors – they have been evolving since our two family trees split between 7 and 10 million years ago. Common chimpanzee groups are manifestly patriarchal. Males are vicious towards females, they take their food, forcefully copulate with females that are ovulating and even kill them merely for spending time away from the group. Males also spend their lives in the group they were born into, whereas females leave at adolescence. As a result, males in a group are more closely related to each other than the females.

The same is true in human societies. In places where women move to live with their husband’s family, men tend to have more power and privilege therefore patrilocal residence, as it is called, is associated with patriarchy, says anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy.

According to one school of thought, things changed around twelve thousand years ago. With the advent of agriculture and homesteading, people began settling down. They acquired resources to defend and power shifted to the physically stronger males. Fathers, sons, uncles and grandfathers began living near each other, property was passed down the male line and female autonomy was eroded. As a result, patriarchy emerged.

Violence against women has been maintaining the structures of gender oppression; be it carried out by individuals in private or institutional forces in public. A UN women study reveals that in combat zones, being a woman is more dangerous than being a soldier. Whilst violence commands greater attention and fear; sexism and misogyny invest in their share to shape inequality, by defining and upholding restrictive gender norms.

Patriarchy is a system for maintaining class, gender, racial and heterosexual privilege and the status quo of power. Patriarchy beliefs, heterosexual dominance and the devaluation of girls and women are the root of gender-based violence. Culture is also used to defend and justify gender inequality and roots of patriarchy by evoking traditional beliefs about how women should be treated. The defense of the culture is in fact a defense of the culture of patriarchy and the culture of violence everywhere.

When we go on to talk about the analysis of violence by men of color against women of color, it tends to over-emphasize how racial oppression contributes to use of violence by men predominantly. But within communities of color, women and non-abusive men who are exposed to similar social histories of oppression, do not resort to battering to cope with racism. While oppression based on race, class, gender, heterosexuality etc., are undeniable; explanations relying on oppression are inadequate.


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