It refers to a period of time ranging approximately 4,000 years so far as we’re aware, stemming back shortly before the advent of the first Abrahamic religion (Judaism). As discussed in a video clip I created several months back and will link below, once humans gained a better understanding of the process of procreation and came to track patrilines along with matrilines (matrilines are obvious due to women birthing babies, but this notion of a man’s seed factoring in came along much later, approximately 7,000 years ago), it was only a matter of time before that pendulum swung to the opposite extreme and patrilineality rose in prominence.
(Skip about 6 minutes into the video and you’ll find where that talk begins):
So what’s the significance of the focus being placed on the patriline? Well, it wound up diminishing the matriline for reasons I’m not entirely clear on since the cognatic approach had been embraced by countless cultures over thousands of years. Yet some cultures took it to this new extreme, and it just so happens those same cultures also were agrarian (agrarianism is said to have began approximately 10,000-12,000 years ago, that being the most radical change to have initially kicked this all off). Agrarianism is important here because it changed everything for humans — it gave rise to the first civilizations (and the slavery that accompanied them once greater specialization became possible), and humans learned about crop cultivation and animal husbandry and thereby became first acquainted with this idea of domestication. And all of that had a PROFOUND impact on humans’ worldviews. PROFOUND. Unprecedented.
Some of these cultures came to embrace the idea that womankind was too wild and undeserving of being leaders going forward into civilized times. Why is that? Well, because women had very different standing in all past cultures up to that point in time, and those cultures were coming to be thought of as barbaric and savage and comparably less civilized than the new orders being established. Part of the blame was cast onto womankind for what humans came to see as their predecessors being locked into basically animal existence. Some humans came to wish to strive to become above that, and the rise of civilizations promised this possibility, so they aimed to separate themselves from that past through demonization of it (as is all-too-common in the rise of the Abrahamic religions). All we need to do is read the Bible to see that those “Pagan” rituals of old were shunned, along with free sexual expression for both women and men. Because otherwise these new societies would fall apart if men and women weren’t locked into marriages prior to the conception of children so that the patriline could be known. This was an important part of this new cultural framework.
Why? It appears to come down to maintaining this new social order people were wanting to support. They saw it as “progress” to become “civilized” by following these new civilizing religions and creating more complex societies where specialization became possible and a wider array of knowledge could be attained. But these cultures specifically granted men as suitable for the intellectual endeavors that held such potential for advancements, whereas women were relegated to sticking with the “domestic roles.” Think about that. What were domestic roles before the advent of agrarianism? Very different from what they became, that much we know. But through these new religions there arose this idea that women are either wicked or stupid, but either way needed to be controlled by men and by wider society. Because otherwise they could undermine this new way of life.
Now, a big problem people have with this is that it also entailed that since men were viewed as the intellectuals of the species (or at least some among them possessed that potential), it was only fitting that they held all the high positions in the religious and cultural hierarchy being created. We have to keep in mind that none of this occurred overnight and that during the transition that could have lasted thousands of years, women maintained varied levels of power throughout that time until around when Judaism arose. Then women’s power became severely restricted, and that continued on until very recent times, at least in those cultures and societies that embraced (or continue to embrace) one of the three Abrahamic religions.
What this meant was a woman could not be a Rabbi or a Pope or a Cardinal or a priest (though there had been priestesses of old from past religions and continued to be within cultures outside of the Abrahamic paradigm). The father was considered the ruler of the home and had the final say over his wife and his children (not that wives didn’t have influence, that’s granted, but this is a serious limitation to be imposed). This meant a woman’s chastity became ultimately prized to such a degree that her loss of it, even if through being raped, led to her value being completely diminished and her family was shamed for this “bad fortune.” Did the same double-standard hold for boys or men? No. Boys don’t possess hymens to prove their virginity either way, but this comes down to women’s sexuality needing to be more strictly regulated than men’s because the whole system was hinged on this notion of what amounts to a man’s world where his offspring were known to him. A woman who’s engaged in sexual activity with others proves to be a liability in this sort of scheme, whereas not so much for a man, hence why he could have multiple wives. The major punishment that came down on men who were sexual outside of marriage pertained to them having sex with another man’s women (whether that be his wife/wives or his daughters) because that again messed up this whole system by making it impossible to keep up with which woman is carrying which man’s offspring. It was more or less seen as a property crime—the diminishing of value of another man’s property or domain.
This is essentially a “man’s world” setup—that’s just what it came to be. That doesn’t mean women were completely powerless within it, however there were major power differentials between the sexes. A woman who chose to do as she wished sexually would be severely punished, if not killed. That was not allowed. Let one do it and they’ll all think they can do it. Hence why you hear of stonings of women under Islam just based on the accusation that she was sexual with another man, no concrete evidence required. Though I’m sure other societies handled it in other ways, like through ostracizing the “offending” woman, exiling her, which could very well lead to death without the protection and provisions of one’s tribe. That’s a big deal.
When we look at the Bible we see the talk of “whores” and “Jezebel” and others of ill-repute, most of the focus was on women. In fact, I can’t recall a single story in the Bible that chastised a man specifically for behaving like a man-ho. There’s the admonishments for spilling one’s seed (anti-masturbation decree, likely arising from the desire to grow these communities and thereby grow their religions, making it all the more important that people produce large families) and for not coveting thy neighbor’s wife (again, going back to that property rights issue mentioned already). What else? Men are encouraged to engage in sex only with their wife/wives, yes, but where is the story of a man being stoned for having sex with a prostitute? There is the story of the men about to stone the prostitute, however.
Prostitution uniquely became reviled by the Abrahamic religions and is mentioned again and again and again throughout their scriptures. In the Bible’s book of Revelations, the great downfall to come will be ushered in by the Whore of Babylon who rides upon the seven-headed beast. That’s not a coincidence — whores were seen as a real problem, destructors of the new order, tempters of men away from the “enlightened” path, a scourge needing to be annihilated, lest she unleash abominations into the world once more. Ha (Or at least that’s how some folks literally interpret these scriptures…)
It’s goofy how people think, but there it is — it’s no secret. And of course these worldviews have undergone changes over time, especially as Christianity came on the scene and then later Islam, and these Abrahamic religions grew and spread out and were introduced to all corners of the earth thanks to the imperialist ambitions of some of their followers. The Catholic Church rose in power, abused the shit out of the power, which then spawned the rise of Protestantism in response (which also coincided with the advent of the printing press, allowing people to have their own personal Bibles so that they no longer had a need to rely on Catholic Priests or other officials to speak scripture to the masses — that’s power taken into the hands of individuals and families — a major game-changer). Interesting shit.
But then what happened next? Well, scientific exploration came around and over time undermined the religious order, particularly in the Era of the Enlightenment (around the 17th century C.E.). And ever since then humans have been heading toward a new order, socially, politically, paradigmatically, technologically, economically, scientifically, spiritually—you name it. And included within the social change has been a major scrutinizing of these old gender norms. (What’s funny is Plato way back in Ancient Greece also advocated educating women with the same curricula as men, and notice how long it’s taken for that idea to come around to being taken seriously.)
It’s a whole new world in a way, though it’s built on the old world and the older world before that one, and on and on it goes. But when people today refer to patriarchy, they’re usually pointing to the customs associated with Abrahamic religions, though I do believe the term tends to be overused and misapplied and that many who use it aren’t very familiar with human history so as to realize male domination of societies hasn’t always been the norm, nor was it ever to such an extent in those societies that managed to stay free from Western influence (various aborigine and indigenous cultures demonstrated this). People tend to use the term so casually as to render it meaningless, and hence others don’t find it very accurately descriptive in many instances. But we do continue to wrestle with these ideas of old and this fixation on female sexuality and the desire to somehow regulate and control it.
This is demonstrated by prostitution remaining criminalized, and it’s obvious in the attitudes and opinions many people express about sexually “promiscuous” women. People might not approve of a man behaving like a gigolo, but the female “whore” sparks indignation in people on a level that’s irrational. We’re talking hatred in some cases, and all you have to do is wander around the internet or pick up a book written by a Christian or listen to one of my ex-father-in-law’s sermons to figure out how much a woman’s free expression of her powers and sexuality is still despised. Not by all, and attitudes are changing, but change takes time. And in the meantime we’re still wrestling with this shit, some more than others.
That’s what patriarchy means to me at least. As always, I am a ponderer, not a teacher, so look into shit for yourselves. Feel free to chime in if you see things differently, but do try to remain civil since this blog is my personal corner of the internet.