I’ve been thinking a lot about words we use habitually when we discuss equality for women and girls. The word that has most eye rolls, and ‘not again’ complaints when I discuss equality and violence against women and girls is PATRIARCHY. A quick google search defines PATRIARCHY
- Definition: A patriarchy is a social system in which family systems or entire societies are organized around the idea of father-rule, where males are the primary authority figures
You probably already know the meaning, but do you know how we as a culture adopted patriarchy, as opposed to a matriarchy (of which there are many examples) or, better yet, an equal society? The answer lies with the ancient Greeks.
In the political philosophy of Aristotle patriarchy is the natural rule of men over women, but includes the absolute rule of the freeborn male head of household over wives, children, male and female slaves, and material property as the foundation of the state. The Greeks believed that the male seed – sperm – carried all the potency required for new life. Under the most favourable conditions men, who were regarded as the pinnacle of creation, would reproduce their own perfection, and produce sons. However, as we know, at least half of human population is female; daughters were explained as something defective.
After the Greeks and Romans came the Christian world in the west, and Thomas Aquinas, one of the most important thinkers in the Catholic tradition. He shaped the thinking of the Greeks into Christian language, continuing the Greek understanding of male and female biology. Aquinas continued the belief that daughters fall short of the perfection of the male sex.
In Aquinas’s own words:
Only as regards nature in the individual is the female something defective and misbegotten. For the active power in the seed of the male tends to produce something like itself, perfect in masculinity; but the procreation of a female is the result either of the debility of the active power of some unsuitability of the material, or of some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp, as we are told by Aristotle.
So, for the Greeks and in subsequent Christian teaching, female children were a result of some defect in the sperm, not naturally formed creatures entitled to take up their own space in the world, and androcentricism continued to define the sexes for centuries to come.
Androcentricism is the term commonly given to the personal pattern of thinking and acting that takes the characteristics of ruling men to be normative for all humanity.
Physically: We live in a world where might is right; domination and coercive control can give us what we want. If we are rich enough, physically strong enough, intimidating enough, we can take from others what they don’t want to give, and get away with it through fear and favour. Traditionally, men deal with their differences in a punch up, which, for some, is often taken home to their wives and children, especially if they lost the fight.Emotionally: As long as a powerful elite decide how or lives should be, it limits our capacity to develop our relationship with ourselves and understand our emotions. If society says it’s normal to punch it out in an argument, we don’t mature into walking away, calming down, and thinking about the cause of the argument. As long as our neighbours tolerate partners returning home and punching their wives and children, the abuser does not mature, and he inflicts emotional damage on his wife and children.Psychologically: Where only men have power, and masculine thinking dominates, we cannot mature psychologically as individuals or as a society, because only half of humanity can speak to offer solutions to issues at hand or to demand protections in law, and decide where limited resources should be spent. How each sex speaks, the focus of our thinking, and the way we achieve our aims do seem to vary according to sex, therefore pooling our resources and our approaches to problem solving can only be a good thing. Many of these differences have been acculturated into us, but we need to start where we are. We must envisage a better way for all.