Our Weekly Blog
A Brief History of Patriarchy
By Henry Twombly, Sedona, AZ
In loving memory of Henry Twombly. You are missed.
When considering equality for all and the health of both the environment and all of the earth’s people, patriarchy is the Grim Reaper disguised as civilization and progress. Patriarchy is all about control and competition among men for money, power and status. The more men seek to control, the more they see and treat everyone and everything as objects of their control. They become self-absorbed, emotionally disconnected and socially isolated.
How did we come to this point? Paleolithic and Neolithic societies were mostly all-inclusive and more equal societies, wherein women shared positions of power and responsibility. No gender was superior to the other, and all worked for the common good.
Scholars agree that no single major event caused the shift from gender equality to male domination; that patriarchy arose in various parts of the world at different times. It probably began 7,000 years ago when nomadic tribes on the edges of agricultural centers raided and invaded, disrupted and displaced the Pleistocene cultures. The characteristics of this new model for society were centralized authoritarian rule; hierarchy of power and status; glorification of war; social oppression of women; and concentration of wealth and private property for a few. In religion the Goddess was no longer worshiped but replaced by a vengeful God. Technologies no longer sustained and improved life; rather they dominated and destroyed life. (This information was gleaned from Rianne Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade.)
As mentioned before, patriarchy is a men’s game for money, power and status. Money buys power and status; and trade – the buying and selling of goods, manufactured from resources - makes money. The Phoenicians, the first real trading civilization, were superseded by the Greeks.
The Greek thinker and writer, Aristotle, was predominantly responsible for the spread of patriarchy as a belief system. Considered the “Father of Western Philosophy” and an inquisitive scientist, he also believed women were the property of men. He wrote that women’s main function was to make babies and serve men obediently. In his view, men were perfect and superior; and therefore male domination was natural, logical and even virtuous as a part of the divine design. Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, who instituted those beliefs throughout his empire that spanned from Macedonia to India. Later, during the Middle Ages, Aristotle’s teaching/philosophy was revived, revered and followed throughout Europe.
The Roman Empire was Greek patriarchy on steroids. Rome was a well-oiled machine of brutal domination until it expanded beyond its ability to administer its vast territories. To stop its unraveling, Constantine used Christianity to unite the many diverse cultures within the empire. At the Council of Nicaea, in 325 CE, women were written out of the Bible except as the servants and temptresses of men.
To fast forward through history, let’s focus on the mix of politics, economics and social thought that drove the white men of Europe to exploit and oppress the rest of the world. The economic systems of mercantilism, colonialism and imperialism boiled down to conquering the lands, resources and people of Central and South America (Spain and Portugal – 1500s), North America (England, France, Spain and Holland – 1600s-1800s), India (Holland, England – 1600s-1700s), Africa, SE Asia and parts of China (England and Europe - 1800s). Missionaries would get their feet in the doors under the guise of civilizing the “savages” and saving souls. Once a nation had a beachhead, it brought in its troops, took over the governments and exploited the countries’ resources. In the process these nations would hijack local cultures and impose their own belief systems, brainwashing the peoples with their more “sophisticated” yet brutal forms of patriarchy.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) epitomizes the arrogance and self-righteousness of these European powers, as they used their religious beliefs to justify their greedy conquests and ruthless exploitation. As it developed its own empire at the turn of the 20th century, the United States did the same thing. Its doctrine of Manifest Destiny declared that it was God’s will and America’s destiny to redeem and remake the world in its own image.
The unfortunate by-products of patriarchy have been white male entitlement, racism, religious persecution, income inequality, misogyny and environmental decay. Today, governments, religions, and corporations collude to maintain the system, from which they all benefit. Thankfully, in some countries and cultures patriarchy is breaking down and being transformed and transcended by men and women who are waking up to a higher consciousness.
Patriarchy hurts everyone. Men are taught to deny and suppress their feelings, their capability for nurture, compassion and empathy. Women are dehumanized because they are treated as sexual objects, domestic servants and in some cases as property/slaves to be used however men wish. Children are dehumanized because they are taught limiting gender roles that forfeit the other half of their full human potential.
Patriarchy is also killing the planet, whose resources continue to be plundered for profit. Men’s competition and aggression have waged numerous wars of mass destruction. In their relentless pursuit of more money, power and status, they have polluted the air, the waters and lands, making the environment more and more inhabitable. Climate change, unrestrained consumerism, overpopulation and hateful belief systems are putting the survival of humanity at risk. If all this goes unchecked and is not reversed, patriarchy could eventually cause the planet to implode environmentally, making humans extinct.
Now is the time to start dismantling patriarchy by exposing its harmful effects on everyone and the planet. We need to change public policies to ensure gender equality (and overall equality) throughout all aspects of society. We need to change how we bring up our boys and girls, teaching them mutual respect. And all this change begins with each of us. We must all “be the change we wish to see in the world.”