A patriarchal system involves men being in authority over women. The following lesson further explains this social phenomenon and provides a quiz to assess your knowledge of the concept.

What Is a Patriarchal System?

A patriarchal social system can be defined as a system where men are in authority over women in all aspects of society. In modern American culture and society, the idea of patriarchy is not as accepted or practiced as it once was decades ago.

In today’s more progressive American society, women work in executive positions, maintain leadership roles in organizations, and are often decision-makers in their households and communities. In the past, men were more often the established gender of authority and exhibited control in all situations. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of a patriarchal system and where this social system is active today.

Characteristics of a Patriarchal System

Some characteristics of a patriarchal system include:

  • Male Dominance: In a patriarchal system, men make all decisions in both society and in their family unit, hold all positions of power and authority, and are considered superior.
  • Male Identification: Men are concerned with identification that includes qualities of control, strength, forcefulness, rationality, strong work ethic, and competitiveness. Each of these qualities contribute to male identification in a patriarchal system.
  • Male Centeredness: In a patriarchal system, the center of activity and progression is on men and what they do to move the society forward. In any patriarchal system, men will be the focus and developer of all events and inventions, men will be the heroes in all situations, and men will be the center of social engagement, fun, and entertainment.
  • Obsession with Control: Men living in a patriarchal system or society must be in control at all times. They have a desire to control all social and family situations and must make all decisions regarding finances and education.

Additionally, in a patriarchal society, the oppression of women is emphasized. The term oppression means to push down or restrict; therefore, women are not allowed to rise up to leadership levels or make decisions. Women are also not allowed to demonstrate independence or suggest changes to any social order.

In essence, women also have a role in a patriarchal society, but only in a sense that is submissive and subservient to men. Let’s look at some cultures and societies that recently or still operate under the patriarchal system.

Examples of Patriarchal Systems: Military

Many have argued that the military has historically operated under a patriarchal influence, not only in the United States but around the world. It wasn’t until the last two years of World War I that women were allowed to join the military (1917-1918). Women were allowed to enlist as nurses and support staff; however, they were not allowed to rise through the ranks of the traditional military ranking system until the 1940s.

During the 1940s, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women military authority. This is a classic example of how patriarchy also exists in not only cultures but in organizational and industrial sectors.

Examples of Patriarchal Systems: Church

Many religious groups and organizations have operated or still operate under the patriarchal system. For example, the Catholic Church has always and remains to exist under the patriarchal system. The Catholic Church has always been directed by a central leader, the Pope. The Pope has always been a male figure and is supported by other men of the Church referred to as bishops, priests, and deacons; however, the Catholic Church does not oppress women and does allow women the opportunity for leadership and authority positions.

Many churches have moved from full patriarchal operation to a lesser operation of patriarchy. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has also moved into a more liberal approach to allow women leadership within their church. Overall, religious groups and organizations range in diversity in terms of patriarchy, and while many have historical roots in patriarchy, most have moved into a more progressive, liberal, balanced approach to both men and women leadership.

Lesson Summary

The patriarchal system is characterized as including:

  1. Male dominance
  2. Male identification
  3. Male centeredness
  4. Obsession with control

The most evident of these characteristics is that in the patriarchal system, men have full authority over women. There is still evidence of a patriarchal system in today’s society; however, more organizations and societies do allow women the opportunity for leadership and authority positions.

Learning Outcomes

After you’ve completed this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define patriarchal system
  • Describe the characteristics of patriarchal systems
  • Recall evidence of patriarchal systems in today’s society and in the recent past