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. 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). This essay seeks to move beyond the irrepressible evidence for gender inequality and the division of labor. Rather, it poses the question of gender inequality as it manifests itself as an effect of patriarchy drawing from a theoretical body of work which has been developed so recently that it would have been impossible to write this essay thirty years ago. Feminist Theory and Patriarchy
Although 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 criticized 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 labor in the private and social spheres. They have done this by challenging concepts of gender, the family and the unequal division of labor 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. Crucially for this essay, she shows how it can operate differently in the private and public domain but toward the same end. 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.,...