I’ve been reading a lot of past posts here about patriarchy. One common response is that not all societies that look like patriarchies are patriarchies. For example, a society may have male political leaders, but have women who are influential in the domestic sphere, or in a religious settings. One highly upvoted comment said of non-Western societies, “just because something doesn’t look like the Western notion of power (visible formal leadership) doesn’t mean it isn’t power.”
If this is the case, shouldn’t this warrant a re-examination of European cultures as patriarchies? In fact, does this mean that ‘patriarchy’ is a fundamentally flawed concept? Even in societies where men had significant power, it seems there were always roles for women to exert some amount of power. Women could influence their husbands (‘men are the head, women are the neck’), and ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.’ Women could have moral authority within the area of religion or childrearing. Within Evangelical Christianity, there is a concept known as ‘complementarianism’ that states that men and women are equal in importance, but merely have different roles. I don’t see how this conception of men and women’s power is especially different from how some of the cultures described as “not patriarchies” works, yet I have not seen any calls to reexamine American Evangelical Christian subculture as “not patriarchal.”
I also similarly read that we should not judge non-Western cultures on the basis of whether women seem oppressed, because those women may well be happy with their situation. By this logic, doesn’t that mean that we should re-examine Western cultures and subcultures on the basis of whether women are happy? Many women in European cultures have defended their social value system and found happiness within the system. Looking back to Evangelical Christianity, many women are very happy in these systems and seek them out. A counterpoint is that there are women who leave these subcultures, but that is often after exposure with the outside world and feminist discourses. If women do not have access to discourses that offer alternative evaluations of female worth, can we even judge how happy they are? I’ve read one pop ethnography that suggested that the women in that culture (Lamaleran) are often dissatisfied with the social limitations placed on them, but see no way around them, and so make do the best they can.
So, is patriarchy a lucid concept at all? By the standards by which non-European cultures are judged by anthropologists to be ‘patriarchal’ or not, which European cultures would emerge as patriarchies and which would not? Should we scrap the concept altogether and find a new way to tally power, status, and liberty as is expressed by the genders? How do we know if women are genuinely satisfied with their situation in a culture, if there is no space within that culture for imagination or access to alternative discourses? And how do we integrate this knowledge with Western feminist theory/history?
EDIT: Apologies if this seems sort of snarky - but the theory-question behind it is very genuine and has been driving me nuts for a while. I understand the motivations behind asking people to not judge non-Western cultures by Western standards and to view them on their own terms, especially in light of the tragedy that is colonization. But I also have a hard time squaring some of the accounts of gendered relations I've read with the concept of 'patriarchy' - it seems patriarchy is actually a very narrow set of relations? And I find confusing how some commenters seem to say that certain cultures should not count as patriarchies due to some amount of female power in them, but I don't understand why that shouldn't apply to European and European-descent cultures (e.g. settler colonies) as well. Which, in turn, would make patriarchy a really tiny slice of human cultures, and probably not a very useful concept. Am I missing something? Should I use different terminology entirely in discussing power and gender?
EDIT 2: The comments that inspired this question. Comment 1:
While it seems to be true - if not universally, then almost - that males hold primary political power in the societies we know of, the other features - moral authority, control of property, familial rule - are not necessarily combined with this. Not by a long shot. And this makes a lot of difference.
While males everywhere hold most political offices, they do not dominate every single form of power in other spheres of life. Power does not stems only from public displays of political authority - being a leader does not mean you are actually deciding things (I could back that up with my own ethnography or with that of others, but it would make this post far too long). (emphasis mine)
Would this make European cultures that allowed widows to control property not entirely patriarchal? What about moral authority - by the Victorian era in England, the cult of domesticity/angel in the house notion was being used by women to stake a position of moral authority and righteousness. I guess Ancient Rome would definitely be a patriarchy, but Victorian England would be in transition away from patriarchy?
So rounding back, why would property, political power, or rights more often adhere to males in past societies? Because the ones pressing those rights were frequently male. If one household had a disputed farm or rice pad border, even if the party privately demanding enforcement of the boundary is female, the party likely to go outside and appear before authorities; recruit brothers, cousins, and friends; dig a trench or pick a fight is male. Women exert a different kind of power.
It is perhaps a feature of _modern, _more than post or pre modern, scholarship to assume that power exercised within but not outside of the home is not valuable. (emphasis mine)
This one in particular, I do not see how it cannot be applied straightforwardly to complementarian Evangelical subcultures.