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What are the major difficulties around the concept of 'patriarchy'; has the term outlived its usefulness?

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Introduction

What are the major difficulties around the concept of 'patriarchy'; has the term outlived its usefulness? The term patriarchy has many definitions, but it broadly means male supremacy over women in society. It can be said to be a "system of male authority, which oppresses women through its social, political and economic institutions" (Humm, 1989 p89). There are several major difficulties around the term. There are conflicting ideas within feminism about what exactly the term means, and as such there is no one set definition of it. The universality of the theory can also be questioned. Furthermore the theory itself can be said to be patriarchal. It can be argued the term has outlived its usefulness, as due to changes in the law, the roles of men and women are viewed as more equal. However, on the other hand it can be argued these changes are not carried out in practice, and that patriarchy still is a useful concept. As stated in the introduction, patriarchy means male supremacy over women in society. The word patriarchy comes from Greek, and means 'rule of the father' (Wynter, 2000). It is commonly used by all feminists to explain the oppression of women by men. The government, the church, the judiciary system and the media are among the institutes in society, which are said to enforce patriarchy. ...read more.

Middle

Muller argues it is "a social system in which the status of women is defined primarily as wards of their husbands, fathers and brothers" (Muller, 1995). Millet sees patriarchy as being independent of capitalist and other modes of production (cited in Humm, 1989). This view would be greatly criticised by socialist feminists as they view patriarchy and capitalism as being inextricably linked. Although there is a basic, broad idea of what patriarchy means, there are still a great number of interpretations, which all differ and concentrate on different areas. The universality of patriarchy may also be questioned. The term is often used to cover all areas of male dominance in society, which can encounter problems. Instead it can be argued that more than one term should be used to describe male supremacy over women, or that the definition of patriarchy should be much broader. Patriarchy can be further problematic as it is often argued that the theory itself it patriarchal. It can be argued the theory is an example of female chauvinism, which is similar to patriarchy. Although patriarchy is a key component of feminism, it has been argued the term has outlived its usefulness. Certain changes in the law are cited as evidence that patriarchy has outlived its usefulness. Laws such as the 1975 Equal Pay Act demonstrate that now women have the same rights as men. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is the belief among a number of feminists that the term 'patriarchy' should not be completely dismissed, but should be changed. Mitchell (1974) argues the term should be retained, but should only be used to describe the rule a father holds over his wife, children and household dependents (cited in Andermahr, 1997). Rubin argued the word patriarchy should be replaced by the term 'sex-gender' system, which could be applied universally (cited in Andermahr, 1997). These show that to some feminists 'patriarchy' is still a useful term, but simply needs to be up dated or modified. 'Patriarchy' is the concept at the centre of feminism, and basically means male supremacy over women. It has many difficulties, which include the differing views from different feminists, and the fact that there is not one agreed meaning of the concept. Also, the universality of the term may also be questioned. Furthermore, the theory itself can be said to be patriarchal. The question supposed that the term is outlived, which is supported by the fact changing laws have made the positions of men and women equal in theory. However, it is argued by many feminists that this theory of equality is just that and is more often than not never carried out in practice. Although women have come a long way, and achieved a number of reforms the position of men and women remains unequal. Although 'patriarchy' is a problematic concept and women's position has changed, it is still a useful term to refer to and explain male supremacy over women. ...read more.

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