The Origin of Patriarchy


It’s time we disengage and shift our mindsets.

Think patriarchy and the first thought in any mind would pivot around its impact on women — whether in peacetime or in conflict.

Society is divided according to gender, among other factors.[1] The concerted assertion of male domination eventually went on to create a social system, namely, patriarchy. In a patriarchal system, the males hold primary power, laying their dominance in all spheres — political leadership, economic authority (including control of livelihood and property), social and moral authority (including religious dominance).

Gender is not the same as the differences and distinctions between the sexes, but is rather a “cultural categorisation and ranking grounded in a sexual division of labour that may be the single cultural form of greatest significance.”[2] It is therefore inferable that gender does legitimise inequality and domination. It appears that the “general crisis of modernity has its roots in the imposition of gender”.[3] With the purportedly continued increment in the bifurcation of both genders, the segmentation gained a definitive form, culminating in the birth of patriarchy.

The processes that confer privileges to one group and not another group are often invisible to those upon whom that privilege is conferred.[4] The patriarchy rhetoric has significant political dimensions.[5] Our primary lessons in patriarchy commence with and within our families. Specific roles and conduct are ascribed and are expected of children of both sexes — and with that, a subliminal understanding of the bifurcated statuses is inculcated. This is then systemically built upon with time, as children grow to become adults who encourage and perpetrate the same beliefs, and a continuous cycle is then created.

In peacetime, patriarchy remains a part of the social fabric, propping up gender inequality. In conflict, patriarchy manifests itself through war-strategy in the form of gender-based violence that culminates in war crimes and genocide. Irrespective of whether it is peace or conflict, therefore, there is always a simmering undercurrent of prevailing patriarchy.

Patriarchy is a social and ideological construct which considers men (who are the patriarchs) as superior to women. Sylvia Walby in “Theorising Patriarchy” calls it “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women” (Walby, 1990).[6] Patriarchy is based on a system of power relations which are hierarchical and unequal where men control women’s production, reproduction and sexuality,[7] and it imposes the masculinity and femininity character stereotypes in society which strengthen the iniquitous power relations between men and women.[8] Patriarchy is not a constant, and gender relations which are dynamic and complex have changed over the periods of history.[9] The nature of control and subjugation of women varies from one society to the other as it differs due to the differences in class, caste, religion, region, ethnicity and the socio-cultural practices.[10]

Patriarchal ideas blur the distinction between sex and gender and assume that all socio-economic and political distinctions between men and women are rooted in biology or anatomy” (Heywood, 2003: 248). Gender like social class, caste, race or religion is a significant social cleavage, and it is important to analyse it in order to understand social inequalities, oppressions and unequal relationships between men and women.[11] It has been explained by feminist scholars / thinkers/ writers who believe that the theory of ‘sexual politics’ and ‘sexism’ are conscious parallels with the theory of ‘class politics’ and ‘racism’ to understand oppression of women.[12]

Public patriarchy refers to the institutional arrangements of a society, the predominance of males in all power positions within the economy and polity, both locally and nationally, as well as the “gendering” of those institutions themselves (by which the criteria for promotion, for example, appear to be gender- neutral, but actually reproduce the gender order).[13] “Domestic patriarchy refers to the emotional and familial arrangements in a society, the ways in which men’s power in the public arena is reproduced at the level of private life. This includes male-female relationships as well as family life, child socialisation and the like. Both public patriarchy and domestic patriarchy are held together by the threat, implicit or explicit, of violence. Public patriarchy, of course, includes the military and police apparatus of society, which are also explicitly gendered institutions (revealed in their increased opposition to women’s entry). Rape and domestic violence sustain domestic patriarchy. These two expressions of men’s power over women are neither uniform nor monolithic; they vary enormously, are constantly under flux. Equally, they are not coincident, so that increases or decreases in one invariably produces increases or decreases in the other. Nor are they so directly linked that a decrease in one automatically produces an increase in the other, although there will be pressures in that direction. Thus women’s entry into the work-force or increased representation in legislatures undermine public patriarchy and will likely produce both backlash efforts to reinforce domestic patriarchy (covenant marriage, tightening divorce laws to restrain women’s exit from the home, increased domestic assault) or even a virulent resurgence of domestic patriarchy (the Taliban). However, at the same time, increased public presence will also undermine domestic patriarchy (shared parenting and housework).”[14]

It is undoubtedly clear that there is no sameness in the sexes — biologically, they are not the same. However, not being the same doesn’t mean that they are not equal. It is, therefore, more of a social, psychological and anthropological interpretation of what gender is and operates as. Regardless of which theory is acceptable to one as the most appropriate explanation for the inquiry into the origins of patriarchy, it is vital to bear in mind that there are many factors that constitute the nuanced process that has resulted in patriarchy and the definitive scope of gender inequality.

One of the ways to address an issue is to understand where it began and to work with shifts in that space. However, where the origins are themselves subject to much discussion and a lack of clarity, and the prevailing scenario so created is disparaging to the peace of a social order, it becomes imperative that an approach be devised to disengage with the practice and to shift mindsets.


Feature Image Credit: Brooke Campbell on Unsplash


Kirthi Jayakumar is an Advisor at One Future Collective.



[1] John Zerzan, Patriarchy, Civilisation and the Origins of Gender

[2] John Zerzan, Patriarchy, Civilisation and the Origins of Gender

[3] John Zerzan, Patriarchy, Civilisation and the Origins of Gender

[4] Michael Kimmel, Global Masculinities: Restoration and Resistance, p.1

[5] Ibid.

[6] Suranjita Ray, Understanding Patriarchy, p. 1

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Supra n.4, p.2

[14] Supra n.4, p.3

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What Power Do Your Words Hold?


The way you say it, matters.




I heard it all the time: whether while walking down the hallways, or sitting inside class, skimming through a textbook, while eating a snack, or even while just sitting quietly while waiting for a ride to get back home. This is just the tip of the iceberg: the huge, glacial edifice of hostility and astute hatred ran far deeper, all through High School and College. It didn’t matter what I did — or didn’t do — I was me, and that was immensely difficult for so many people around me to accept. I set out with my ambitions, I had my dreams. But to them, I was nothing more than a joke, a stimulus for cruel laughter and insults. To them, my ambition was not supposed to be anything besides trying to be invisible, if the earth below didn’t do me a favour by caving in and swallowing me whole.

It is easy to throw adjectives. It is very easy to sit on that side and pass judgment. It is totally easy to say that someone is ugly, or that someone is a “retard”, or that someone is a loser. Very, very easy. It is very easy to string two harsh words together and stamp it on someone’s forehead, branding them forever.

But what is not easy, is being at the receiving end. And, when you’re at the receiving end while dealing with the challenges posed by mental illness.

Words can be terribly destructive. They can leave you crushed under their power. We forget that words are not just a means of communication but become a verbalisation of our thoughts. We forget that words are not just callous utterances that one forgets like yesterday’s news, but are etched in the hearts and minds of the one hearing them.

Every person is born with rights and dignity that are inherent in their identity as a human. Every person has intrinsic value and deserves to be respected and treated with equality for that very value. When one is coping with mental illness, there’s already a challenge to their perception of themselves — they are unable to see their value and dignity, and feel vulnerable. Stigmatising them with language that polarises their needs, their identities and their challenges makes for demeaning experiences that are hurtful and which complicate their personal situations.

Language can, whether inadvertently or otherwise used, assault the dignity of an individual, and this is as true of a person in need of help for a mental health disorder. If they are made to feel fear or are shamed, it makes their treatment and healing difficult. Dignity should be promoted in the caregiving process, both professional and personal. Always be there for a person who has a mental health disorder and is in need of some assistance. Do not judge them, scold them or tell them to “snap out of it”, because that can be one of the harshest things one can say to them. This is both dangerous and also a bad example to set — for the individual may not feel comfortable with sharing, or talking about what he is going through.

It’s all in how you say it.

It might come from a place of care, but what you say is only one part of it; it’s just as vital, if not more to also be careful about how you say it. Concern is but natural, and you want your loved one to be okay — so the best way to go about is to cast aside any considerations that you might have, and avoid imposing solutions upon an individual who is in need of help for his mental health issue. Avoid forcing your solutions onto them — it is important that you stand steadfast in support of the person, but always ensure that you do not expect that your solution for them to be the be all and end all. A solution is not a solution until it is owned and shared as a vision for the person in need of a solution.

The way you say it, matters.

Kirthi Jayakumar is an Advisor at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Bobbo Sintes

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Fighting Gender Inequality: A Common But Differentiated Responsibility


In January 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio formalised the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which articulated a concept called “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities,” or CBDR. Specifically, under Article 3, Paragraph 1, and Article 4, paragraph 1, the comprehensive convention speaks about how all the states in the world have a shared obligation to address environmental destruction, but it denies equal responsibility of all states with respect to protecting the environment. Sitting in law school, as I pored over my Environmental Law textbook, an idea that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around struck me.

It would take me all of eight years to articulate it. How about looking at gender inequality through the CBDR lens? How about importing a concept that addresses a problem which challenges all of humanity, to another problem that challenges all of humanity?

Women world over will testify that misogyny thrives around them. And so, regardless of the many boundaries that divide us in the form of nationality, race, religion, caste, colour, ethnicity, language, economic capacity and literacy levels, patriarchy is common. Women world over have been affected by patriarchy, and have been discriminated against — whether they realise it or not, actively think about it or not. It’s not just the women who are affected by gender inequality. All genders are adversely affected by patriarchy — be it in the pressure it puts on men or the othering it encourages of gender identities that do not conform to the binary.

Adding all the factors back — nationality, race, religion, caste, colour, ethnicity, language, economic capacity and literacy levels — the burden of a gendered oppression is altered, depending on which end of the spectrum one stands in, when it comes to these other identities. Many of the world’s communities come with histories of oppression, of subjugation and generations of facing discrimination, that then goes into making the gender-based discrimination much heavier for those communities to bear. The fount of this articulation takes me back to Kimberle Crenshaw, who looked at feminism and addressing gender inequality through the lens of intersectionality. To Black Feminism, sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together. To Islamic Feminism, gendered oppression is about discourse and practice articulated within an Islamic paradigm. To Feminists in India, gendered oppression needs to be studied through the lens of caste, class, ethnicity and colour. Chinese Feminism is tied to socialism and class issues.

The root of this theory of intersectionality lies in the concept of epistemic privilege or standpoint theory, the concept which explains that people who are marginalised have a position of privilege in terms of understanding “how the world works.” As Sandra Harding argues, people who are marginalised remain in a “privileged position to access the objective truth,” since marginalised groups learn the dominant viewpoint while they experience its limitations, which in turn puts them in the best position to see the limitations in the system. This makes the impact of patriarchy and misogyny differentiated.

It’s important, always, to remember that gender is an identity that one embraces — and it is not rigidly binary as some believe it to be. The impact of a gender identity that is non-binary, or transitional, is an incredibly personal experience and comes with its own slew of challenges. In the light of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s recent comments on trans women, it is all the more necessary that we understand the dynamics of marginalisation. Transitioning from one gender identity to another is nothing like turning a switch on or off. It is an accretion of thoughts, feelings, personal identity explorations and choices — and in the course of evaluating these parameters, there is an element of personal struggle involved. To sweep these struggles aside and to oversimplify the concept of gender, ignoring fluidity, is to trivialise an otherwise significant truth.

To this end, then, although we’re all fighting for the common goal, the efforts will splinter if the many dimensions of gender inequality are not accounted for.

Zooming out even further, the inter-gender dynamics account for how the burden of addressing gender inequality is differentiated. Whatever theories you may subscribe to that informs the “origin” of patriarchy, all of them dovetail to one point of convergence: the dominance of the male, the subjugation of the female and the ostracism of the non-binary gender identity. Being male comes with tremendous privileges — and this privilege can be turned around on its head to question structures that prop up constant gender inequality.

A man could use his privilege to demand to restructure the way women are viewed. Episode 12 of Season Five, of The Mindy Project, feeds right into this, where an Indian woman finds herself wishing she was a White Man — only to find her wish granted. But instead of seeking out what privilege offered from a standpoint of entitlement, the character proceeds to question the structural violence of patriarchy. Being female comes with the pre-installed burden of misogyny that the woman is then forced to bear for the rest of her life — but a simple evaluation on where she stands in the pecking order through an intersectional lens can help bridge the gap that other identity-related privileges offer.

Circling back to where I started from, if we can look at gender inequality through the framework of common but differentiated responsibility, our efforts around restoring the balance would be more meaningful. In our everyday lives, we are incredibly capable of inertia. Maybe this is the force we need to change.

Kirthi Jayakumar is an Advisor at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Popov

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