What do feminists find to be objectionable in patriarchy, and are they right to be critical of it?


The above illustration is one of many that are used on a daily basis in order to make the understanding and also the highlighting of patriarchy an everyday issue in the daily conflict of gender issues. Western female thought through the centuries has identified the relationship between patriarchy and gender as crucial to the women’s subordinate position. For two hundred years, patriarchy precluded women from having a legal or political identity and the legislation and attitudes supporting this provided the model for slavery. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries suffrage campaigners succeeded in securing some legal and political rights for women in the UK. By the middle of the 20th century, the emphasis had shifted from suffrage to social and economic equality in the public and private sphere and the women’ s movement that sprung up during the 1960s began to argue that women were oppressed by patriarchal structures.

Indeed what is feminism? In order to understand the question more fully we must first define feminism in its own right. I believe that the 3 following statements define the feminist movement in its simplest form. 1. The belief that women and men are, and have been, treated differently by our society, and that women have frequently and systematically been unable to participate fully in all social arenas and institutions.

2. A desire to change that situation.3. That this gives a "new" point-of-view on society, when eliminating old assumptions about why things are the way they are, and looking at it from the perspective that women are not inferior and men are not "the norm."

Equal status for women of all races, classes, sexualities and abilities - in the 21st century these feminist claims for equality are generally accepted as reasonable principles in western society; yet the contradiction between this principle of equality and the demonstrable inequalities between the sexes that still exist exposes the continuing dominance of male privilege and values throughout society(patriarchy).

Feminist Theory and Patriarchy
Patriarchy is arguably the oldest example of a forced or exploitative division of social activities and clearly existed before it was ever examined by sociologists, the features of patriarchy had been accepted as natural (biological) in substance. It was not until feminists in the 1960s began to explore the features and institutions of patriarchy, that the power of the concept to explain women’s subordinate position in society was proven (Seidman, 1994).

The feminist engagement with theories of patriarchy criticised pre-existing theoretical positions and their ideological use, tracing theoretical progenitors of popular views about gender, gender roles etc (Cooper, 1995; Raymond, 1980). Developing theories to explain how gender inequalities have their roots in ideologies of gender difference and a hierarchical gender order, feminist theoretical concepts of patriarchy are able to explain and challenge gender inequality and the gendered division of labour in the private and social spheres (Seidman, 1994). They have done this by challenging concepts of gender, the family and the unequal division of labour underpinned by a theory of patriarchy that has come to reveal how it operates to subordinate women and privilege men, often at women’s expense.

Patriarchy, Structure and Gender Inequality
Walby (1990) reveals how patriarchy operates to achieve and maintain the gender inequalities essential for the subordination of women she identifies patriarchy as having diverse forms of and relationships between its structures in the public and private spheres, and yet still operates in a related fashion.

Walby\'s explanation sees the household and household production as being a key site of women’s subordination but acknowledges that the domestic area is not the only one that women participate in. She shows how the concept of patriarchy is useful in explaining the relationship between women’s subordination in the private and public arenas by showing that they work equally to achieve this subordination as well as supporting, reflecting and maintaining patriarchy itself.

Firstly, Walby points out that the structures of patriarchy differ in their form. The household has a different structure to other institutional forms, e.g., the workplace. This is an important point because if feminist theories of patriarchy are to stand they must show that patriarchy operates to the same end in both the private and public sphere, even if it