Patriarchy is a social system where the male holds a position of power or authority. This occurs in a society, a clan or a family. In a patriarchal system, wives and children are legally dependent on the male figure of husband and father. A matriarchal system involves women holding positions of power. The word patriarchy is derived from the Greek words patria, meaning father, and arches, meaning rule. Whereas previously patriarchy was considered to imply an autocratic form of leadership by males, as head of family or clan, today the term denotes a social system of adult male leadership.

The family unit, community or society is based on the patriarchal social system of male authority, or a system of governance by men. Patriarchy involves both principles and practice pertaining to the society or institution. Patriarchy is distinctive from patrilineality, a system whereby lineage is traced through the father, and patrilocality, an anthropological term defining residence with the family or clan of the husband.

Considered to be a hierarchical system, patriarchy values hierarchy over equality, although this concept is considered to be multifaceted and complex. Obedience to authority is considered important, as is the concept of individuality. Studies reveal that America is closely aligned to a patriarchal culture, as it pertains to individuality, as well as being male oriented. Masculinity, as relevant to a male-dominated society, suggests an assertive and competitive quality.

Historically it appears that societies where hunting and gathering took place were not patriarchal but rather egalitarian. Once agriculture took over as the dominant mode, and domestication developed, it seems that structurally societies began to change. At that time, marking the end of the Pleistocene era, the new societal system moved towards a patriarchal one. The exact origins of patriarchy, however, are unclear. Scholars have made various suggestions, including assessing a date of 4,000 BCE.

Further historical accounts point to aspects of patriarchy in a range of societies and philosophies. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle viewed women as subordinate to men and this was manifest in his works. By the mid to late 17th century, political inference was drawn from Aristotle's earlier ideas of women's role in society, translating into political obligations based on patriarchy.

Sir Robert Filmer's mid-17th-century work entitled Patriarcha was a significant study on patriarchy. Patriarchal political theory is often attributed to the theories he raised. Opposition to patriarchy emerged in the 19th century when women such as Sarah Grimke raised concerns regarding a patriarchal interpretation of the Bible. Grimke suggested ways of interpretation that viewed verses from a women's perspective. Her proposal was that what was considered to be commands were applicable to a specific historical and cultural context. Elizabeth Cady Stanton drew on Grimke's criticism, establishing a feminist standpoint. Her publication of The Woman's Bible gave a reading of the Old and New Testament from a feminist stance.

Feminists believe that a patriarchy gives men an unfair share of power. The concept of males ruling over females, and notions of privilege according to male right, is anathema to feminist ideology. Feminists infer that male dominance equals the subordination of women. Feminists consider patriarchy to be unjust. They speak about the oppression of women and promote what they view to be freedom, away from male leadership and power. Feminism looks at patriarchy as a social construct.

A scholarly debate exists between the biological and social foundations of patriarchy. This is further exacerbated by the notion that the origins of patriarchy cannot be clearly defined, and that any attempts to do so are speculative. Some researchers have suggested that patriarchy traces its roots both to pre-social and biological origins. Pre-social in this instance refers to the animal kingdom, and biological to the area of family and reproduction.

Patriarchy is a term also used to refer to the hierarchical leadership by men in certain churches or religious bodies. In addition, many educational institutions maintain patriarchal practices, as do commercial enterprises. Taekhil Jeong in the article "Pedagogy of Patriarchy: A Window on American 21st Century Gifted Education" attests to patriarchal pedagogy being beneficial to gifted children particularly. The idea is that the concept of individuality, competitiveness, and striving for excellence contributes to patriarchal pedagogy as an effective educational system.

Patriarchy: Selected full-text books and articles

The Female Face in Patriarchy: Oppression as Culture By Frances B. O'Connor; Becky S. Drury Michigan State University Press, 1999
Patriarchy and Families of Privilege in Fifteenth-Century England By Joel T. Rosenthal University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991
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