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What do you understand by the term 'patriarchy'? Is the concept still relevant to the study of gender and geography?

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Gender & Geography Coursework - GEO 3101 What do you understand by the term 'patriarchy'? Is the concept still relevant to the study of gender and geography? Western female thought in recent years has identified the relationship between patriarchy and gender as crucial to the understanding of women's subordinate position in society. Patriarchy and its role in gender relations is now an important and every increasing area of study in human geography and many authors have attempted to classify patriarchy and account for its place in determining the contemporary social relations and structures in society. This essay will define the term patriarchy and then discuss various aspects of society where the concept is still considered relevant to the study of gender and geography. Little (1994) highlights the fact that definitions of patriarchy as a theoretical tool tend to concentrate on its use rather than its composition. Perhaps this reflects the difficulties inherent in arriving at a conclusive definition of patriarchy. Patriarchy can be a confusing term because its meaning has changed over time and no one meaning dominates today (Rose, 1993). Various early definitions of patriarchy concentrated on patriarchy as a rigid social system i.e. The Women and Geography Study Group (1984) defined patriarchy as a " set of social relations between men which, although hierarchical, establishes an interdependence and solidarity between them, which allows them to dominate women". Walby (1990) simply defined patriarchy as ' a set of social structures and social practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women". ...read more.


Thus although public and private patriarchy operate differently they act to achieve the same end i.e. the overt oppression of women. The control of women's access to paid work is maintained primarily by patriarchal relations in the work place and by the state. Cockburn (1983) highlights the fact that women are not permitted to undergo apprenticeships and other forms of career training and also quota's are used to restrict the number of women from entering many traditionally 'male-dominated' professions e.g. medicine, where quotas are imposed on numbers of women who are allowed to attend medical school (Braybon, 1981). Other common forms of patriarchal oppression of women within the paid work sphere are; the firing of women before men in certain situations of redundancy (Mackay et al, 1971) and the restriction of the amount of certain kinds of paid work that a women can do (Humphries, 1981). Patriarchal relations and gender inequality within the labour market can be divided into horizontal segregation and vertical segregation. Horizontal segregation refers to the fact that there are still inequalities and gender differences within the labour market i.e. many jobs are still male dominated. Women also tend to be concentrated into fewer jobs than men who tend to have a broader range of employment opportunities (Hansard, 1990). By contrast, vertical segregation refers to the fact that within the labour market there is a gendering of positions in relation to seniority. Thus men tend to occupy more senior and more highly paid jobs and the 'glass ceiling' acts as a patriarchal barrier to women who want to further their careers. ...read more.


This is demonstrated by men working in the city and women confined to the family and domestic duties in the suburbs. Thus according to Garmanikow (1978) " male control of, and access to the city are the result of patriarchal social relations imbedded in marriage and the family". Also a wide range of social and spatial inequalities exists which disadvantage women more than men e.g. access to transport, jobs and services is more difficult for women than for men. Another problem within urban areas is women's curtailed use of urban space which Valentine (1989) sees as a spatial expression of patriarchy due to fear from male violence. Conclusion: Thus it is obvious that gender inequality in today's society can be better understood in relation to the theory of patriarchy. The notion of changing forms of patriarchy i.e. steady change from private to public patriarchy is indispensable to the understanding of historically varying forms of gender inequality (Walby, 1990). It is however, also important to understand that patriarchy does not exist in isolation because its interaction with capitalist and racist institutions affects the nature of subsequent gender relations. So patriarchy becomes one of a series of important interrelationships between various aspects of society which serves to highlight the perceived differences between men and women's roles in society (Hamnet, 1989). This essay has clearly shown that patriarchy, although constantly changing in nature and degree of importance, is still a significant and highly relevant concept in human geography and needs to be considered in any debate regarding notions of gender differences, gender relations and gender inequality. ...read more.

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