The term “patriarch” refers to the man that is the head of the family or social structure in a patriarchal society. Patriarchal literally translates to “rule of the father”. This doesn’t just include the gender binary however, it also includes things such as age and experience. Older males exercise power not only over women, but also over younger males.
Patriarchy is a term used to describe a particular type of heteronormative relationship between men and women in which the man is the leader of a family structure. The man is the “head” of the family who brings in the money and makes all the decisions of the family, and the woman is more of the body, taking care of the home and the children. The man is at the center of the social organization. The family line becomes patrilineal , meaning the sons carry on the family name. The woman assumes her husband’s name after marriage as a signal of subordination to his “rule” in the household. Typically property was also inherited in a patrilineal fashion, with the sons of the father inheriting the wealth.
While the history of the patriarch is more extreme than the typical modern version, it still exists today. In contemporary times, the term patriarchy can be applied to any social organization in which power is held primarily by one or more adult men.
Women have traditionally been oppressed in patriarchal societies because of their perceived inferiority. They are seen as weaker and less intelligent, their reproductive ability turned into a detriment. Patriarchy as a social structure has been passed down through generations primarily based on “biological” arguments. Because of a woman’s body type, she is inherently fit to do more “womanly” roles such as cooking, cleaning, and having children. Women are perceived as irrational and unfit to take on larger leadership roles. Their smaller brains are less capable of making important decisions. For example, premenstrual syndrome (or “PMS”) has become a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, perpetuating the idea that once a month women become addled, unable to think clearly.
Others speak about biological roots of patriarchy in terms of the competition forced on men. Because women are innately more invested in child-bearing they will select the mate who controls the most resources to provide for the child. Thus, men have been under a selection pressure to become more competitive and succeed in gaining resources and power over other men.
Many religions have contributed to the patriarchal structure. Christianity, for example, has taken the command “honor thy father” to mean everything from God, to kings, to husbands. In Buddhist tradition men can become monks but are not allowed to touch women for the rest of their lives lest they be “contaminated”. Hindu tradition used to have the practice of “sati”, the killing of a widow once her husband has passed away because they were considered unholy or impure.
Feminist Theory denounces patriarchy as a socially constructed entity designed to subjugate women. It is considered to be another mechanism to ensure that women remain under man’s control. This can be exemplified in the “exchange of women” seen in customs such as marriage. Typically a daughter is passed from the home of the father to the husband, as the new protector and leader.