Simply put, a hierarchy is a way to organize objects. Objects are superior or inferior in relation to other objects in a group. There are generally fewer objects at the top of the hierarchy, and an increasing number of objects as we move down the chain, however this is not always the case.
Some traditional examples of hierarchies are the food chain, in which there are many animals at the bottom and a decreasing number as we go up the chain. Other hierarchies include chain of command in a military operation or a computer process in which one action follows from another.
Specific types of hierarchies relevant to class include patriarchies , matriarchies, and heteronormativity. Patriarchies and matriarchies are similar in which, respectively, a male or female is the head of power. Heteronormativity is a hierarchy placing heterosexuals at the seat of power, and horizontality removes hierarchy altogether by evenly distributing power.
Our society runs under a patriarchy , in which men hold the majority of the power. To date, no women have ever been the head of our country, and hold less than 20% of the political seats in congress. Our patriarchy is further exampled by discriminating facts such as women only make 77 cents per dollar that men make, and that three times as many women experience sexual violence or assault as compared to men.
Many feminist works have challenged the notion of a patriarchy. For example, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland she devises a utopian society of all females. That is, a matriarchy. She challenges the current patriarchy by devising a “perfect world” without the male influence and critiques many aspects of our culture. In Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas she asserts that we must throw away our current institutions of education because, by definition, they are gendered and biased towards men.
In addition to the patriarchy, our society operates under a principle of heteronormativity . It asserts a gender binary of man and woman, where gender and sex are equivalent and heterosexuality is the only natural sexual orientation. However, similar to the feminist movement and not completely unrelated, there has been a recent challenging of this concept. In Michael Warner’s introduction to Fear of a Queer Planet he calls out for a change in the way we see the queer community. He states that instead of living under this concept of heteronormativity and simply tolerating the queer community, we instead need to break down the traditional values of society. He encourages us to reconsider them so we live in a society that does not think of the queer community as separate but tolerable, but the same as us and one that we belong to in some way.
Hierarchy itself is a stable concept. It is simply an ordering of objects in which some are superior to others. However, in the context of our society, it is a fluid, ever changing ideal. Discussions lead to different ways of thinking of a subject, which in turn can lead to a power shift, thus changing the hierarchy of our society.
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