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The Origins Of Patriarchy

Cody Peluso Nov 08, 2023

The term ‘patriarchy’ has become a buzzword in contemporary conversations about gender equality and feminism. But what exactly is patriarchy, when did it begin, and how can we overcome its deeply ingrained structures?  

Patriarchy is a social system that has historically bestowed primary power and privilege upon men in various aspects of society, including politics, economics, and culture. Patriarchy’s influence extends across many aspects of modern life, contributing to disparities in education, employment opportunities, and income between genders. It also plays a role in normalizing gender-based violence and control over women’s reproductive rights.  

The media and popular culture often reinforce patriarchal norms by perpetuating gender stereotypes and objectification. However, the feminist movement has emerged as a powerful force challenging and dismantling these oppressive systems, advocating for gender equality and inspiring change.  

Understanding what patriarchy is and its far-reaching effects is crucial in the ongoing effort to create a more equitable and just society for all genders. 

Unveiling the Origins of Patriarchy 

To understand patriarchy, we must first explore its historical origins. Patriarchy is a social construct where men predominantly wield power, and it has existed for centuries, dating back to the agricultural revolution. The shift from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to settled agricultural communities marked the beginning of patriarchal systems. 

In agrarian societies, land ownership and surplus food production became central to power and wealth. Consequently, men, who typically performed physically demanding tasks, such as plowing and hunting, gained a dominant position. This newfound control over resources led to the subjugation of women, who were often relegated to domestic roles, deemed less valuable in the eyes of society.  Consequently, women were often relegated and subjected to societal norms that limited their opportunities and autonomy. The enduring impact of patriarchy continues to shape gender dynamics, perpetuating gender inequality and reinforcing harmful stereotypes, ultimately hindering progress toward gender equality. 

According to author Angela Saini “The first clear signs of women being treated categorically differently from men appear much later, in the first states in ancient Mesopotamia, the historical region around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Around 5,000 years ago, administrative tablets from the Sumerian city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia show those in charge taking great pains to draw up detailed lists of population and resources.” 

“Person power is the key to power in general,” explains political scientist and anthropologist James Scott at Yale University, whose research has focused on early agrarian states. The elites in these early societies needed people to be available to produce a surplus of resources for them, and to be available to defend the state – even to give up their lives, if needed, in times of war. Maintaining population levels put an inevitable pressure on families. Over time, young women were expected to focus on having more and more babies, especially sons who would grow up to fight. 

The Impact of Patriarchy 

The patriarchy’s impact on society has been profound, affecting various aspects of our lives, including politics, economics, and culture. Here are some key areas where the influence of patriarchy is still felt: 

Gender Inequality: Patriarchy perpetuates gender inequality, leading to disparities in education, employment opportunities, and income. Women continue to earn less than men for the same work, and leadership roles are disproportionately occupied by men. 

Gender-Based Violence: The patriarchal system normalizes gender-based violence, as it reinforces male dominance and control over women. This contributes to the persistence of issues like domestic violence and sexual harassment. 

Reproductive Rights: Patriarchy often limits women’s control over their reproductive choices, including access to contraception and safe abortions. This restricts women’s autonomy and bodily autonomy. 

Stereotypes and Objectification: The media and popular culture play a significant role in perpetuating gender stereotypes and the objectification of women, reinforcing patriarchal norms. 

Overcoming Patriarchy: The Feminist Perspective 

Feminism, a movement advocating for gender equality, has been instrumental in challenging and dismantling patriarchy. Feminism is a multifaceted social and political movement that advocates for gender equality and the recognition of women’s rights on par with those of men. It seeks to dismantle systemic gender-based discrimination and challenge ingrained societal norms that perpetuate gender disparities. Feminism encompasses a wide range of perspectives and approaches, from promoting equal pay and reproductive rights to addressing issues such as sexism, misogyny, and violence against women. In the digital age, feminism continues to gain prominence as a vital force for change, fostering inclusive and equitable societies that value and empower individuals of all genders. Prominent feminists have spoken out against these oppressive systems, inspiring change and progress. Let’s draw inspiration from some powerful quotes by feminists: 

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” 

Simone de Beauvoir:

Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” 

De Beauvoir’s quote highlights the social construction of gender roles. It challenges the idea that women are inherently inferior or suited to specific roles. Instead, it emphasizes that gender roles are imposed by society and can be changed. 

“The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.” 

Gloria Steinem

Steinem’s words remind us that confronting the patriarchy and seeking gender equality can be uncomfortable and challenging. It may stir resistance, but it’s a necessary step toward liberation. 

Gloria Steinem on Population Dynamics

“Your silence will not protect you.” 

Audre Lorde

Lorde’s quote serves as a call to action, urging us to break our silence and speak out against injustice. Remaining silent in the face of patriarchy only perpetuates its harmful effects. 

“Feminism is for everybody.” 

Bell Hooks

Hooks’ inclusive perspective on feminism emphasizes that the fight for gender equality benefits everyone. It challenges the notion that feminism is a threat to men, encouraging them to join the movement for a more just society. 

“We should all be feminists.” 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie’s statement underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing gender inequality. It advocates for a collective commitment to feminism, urging individuals of all genders to be allies in the struggle for equality. 

Patriarchy, deeply rooted in history, continues to exert its influence on society today. However, feminist voices have resoundingly called for change and have made significant strides in dismantling patriarchal structures. As we navigate the complex path towards gender equality, let us heed the wisdom of influential feminists and continue to challenge the status quo. By raising our voices, advocating for change, and promoting inclusivity, we can work together to overcome patriarchy and build a more equitable future for all. 

Our Future Depends on Hers 

We inspire people, especially women and girls, to write their own life stories. All women should have the right to stay in school, plan a family, use contraceptives, access vital health care, and choose whom they marry. With inspirational characters and relatable storylines, our transformative radio and TV series provide women with the role models they deserve and the inspiration to advocate for themselves. From Nepal to Zambia to the United States, more women and girls are accessing their power to change their lives and communities for the better. 

One of Population Media Center’s most vital contributions to global sustainability is our work to destigmatize voluntary family planning, correct misinformation about the safety and efficacy of modern contraception, and dismantle patriarchal opposition to contraception. When women and girls — men, boys and nonbinary people — have agency over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, they are able to pursue education, follow their dreams, and reach their full potential. Population Media Center accelerates progress toward global sustainability by helping people make their sexual and reproductive health decisions from a place of personal freedom and autonomy.  

Our Future Depends On Hers

PMC’s award-winning TV and radio series, broadcast in the US and 50+ countries, focus on improving the rights of women and girls, especially reproductive autonomy, gender equity, and self-determination. This is the heart of our commitment to helping population growth stop. By realizing the rights of women and girls.