Patriarchal Ideology Explained

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Sept 01, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD

What Is Patriarchal Ideology?

Patriarchal ideology is the idea that men have more power, dominance, and privilege than women. Patriarchy is a social system in which men are thought to hold the positions of power in both the public and private sphere. Women, on the other hand, are believed to be in less privileged positions and are oppressed by a patriarchal society. 

Patriarchy is a complex system made up of a set of symbols, ideas, values, and behaviors which are thought to embody most aspects of life, from conversations to politics, and literature. An example of patriarchy is the tradition that family name comes from the man. The wife would change her family name for her husband’s name, and then their children will also carry his name. 

Another example of patriarchy is how men would typically hold positions of power in their career. They would be most of the political leaders, lawmakers, directors, CEOs, and managers. To contrast, women would not hold as much power in a patriarchy and would be mostly confined to the household as a mother, or in lower workplace positions. 

With patriarchal ideology, there are typical values associated with it. For instance, a patriarchy may assign more worth to reasoning and rationality than to emotions and prioritize family over all other types of commitment. 

Patriarchal values are supported by patriarchal beliefs, such as the belief that (primarily) white, heterosexual men should have dominance and that girls and women should be devalued. These values and beliefs are intended to explicitly steer behavior. 

Characteristics Of Patriarchal Ideology

Patriarchal ideology is thought to be defined by key elements – male dominance, male identification, and male centeredness. Male dominance is the recognition that there is a hierarchical system which puts men at the top in dominating roles, whereas women are in lower, subordinate roles.

In a patriarchy, men see themselves as superior to women. Their biological differences are exaggerated to justify why men should be dominant. 

Male identification means that traits that are typically associated with being ‘masculine’ or ‘pertaining to men’ are considered preferable, whereas ‘feminine’ or traits ‘pertaining to women’ are unfavorable. In a patriarchy, boys and men are encouraged to be masculine through being aggressive, strong, competitive, and forceful. It is believed these traits are innate and any deviation from this, such as showing sensitive ‘feminine’ traits will question one’s male identity. 

Male centeredness in a patriarchy refers to the fact that everything in a society is focused on men. Men are the ones who dominate human history, they are the leaders, and they are the main protagonists in most TV shows and movies.

Girls and women are socialized to believe that they must attract a husband and have children as their main goal in life, thus they are taught that their lives will revolve around a man. 

How Does Patriarchal Ideology Affect Society?

Patriarchy influences many areas of society including the culture, school, family, the workplace, and relationships. A patriarchal society ensures that there remains a hierarchy of power, with (usually) white, heterosexual men at the top. 

A major concept of patriarchy is social patriarchy, which means that there is patriarchy within organizations and institutions. These patriarchal institutions can include the government, where primarily men make much of the laws and legislations which govern society.

It can also include religious institutions such as the church, which traditionally maintains a lot of patriarchal values and rule over women. 

In culture

Even in everyday life, patriarchal ideology can be present. For instance, women who experience sexual harassment on the street are often made to feel objectified by men who are asserting their power over women. 

This is not limited to the street – women can often experience harassment in the online sphere such as receiving unsolicited sexual messages (Burke Winkelman et al., 2015).  If one lives in a culture that sees men as being dominant over women, sexual harassment is likely to be more accepted and expected.  

In education

Education for children is thought to be an agent of socialization to learn appropriate behavior for their gender and contributes to the patriarchal system and structure (Sultana, 2010). Young girls may be socialized into thinking that there are subjects that are more suited to boys such as mathematics and science. 

Heaton and Lawson (1996) suggested that the ‘hidden curriculum’ encourages patriarchal values in schools. They observed there were traditional family structures in textbooks, gender divisions in physical education, subjects aimed at specific genders, and a gender division of labor (predominantly female teachers and male managers). 

In the workplace

Patriarchal ideology can also be present in the workplace. Although there may be women in higher positions in their career, most of these positions are taken by men, reinforcing the hierarchical structure of men at the top.

In a 2021 report, it was found that there is a limited presence of women in senior roles. For instance, in the United States, women are in just 42% of senior and managerial positions, 36.8% in the United Kingdom, 14.7% in Japan, and 7.4% in Egypt (Global Gender Gap Report). 

It is thought that patriarchal attitudes, often practiced at home, are frequently transferred to organizational settings, affecting men’s self-perceived superiority. Due to this, women are dominated, discriminated against, and placed in inferior positions in the workplace (Adisa et al., 2019). 

What Is the Feminist View Of Patriarchy?

Feminists mainly view patriarchy as a system of political, social, and economic relations and institutions structured around the gender inequality of men and women (Nash, 2009). 

Many forms of feminism characterize patriarchy as a present day unjust social system that subordinates, discriminates, and oppresses women. Feminists often view patriarchal ideology as the root cause of gender inequality. 

Attributes and traits which are seen as ‘feminine’ or relating to women are often undervalued in comparison to ‘masculine’ traits according to patriarchal ideology. Women are thus not taken seriously or not seen as having much value.

Under patriarchal ideology, women are usually excluded from fully participating in the public sphere and are instead limited to the home where they are confined to the role of wife and mother. Women are often under-represented in key institutions which make big decisions and in employment and so they do not have as much opportunity to create change in society. 

The main work for women under a patriarchy is in the household where they complete chores, manage the house, and care for children. This work is known as women’s unpaid labor and many feminists believe that women should be paid for this work. 

Even today, while there are more women in paid work and positions of power, an imbalance remains. It can be argued that it is harder for a woman to be in a position of power in the public sphere simply because she is a woman. In a lot of cases, women are only promoted into leadership positions if they display typically ‘masculine’ traits – traits which are viewed as more desirable. 

If women in a patriarchy are seen as less valued, they are more likely to be oppressed, exploited, and abused by men, according to many feminists. Women are supposed to be obedient under a patriarchy, so if they are ‘disobedient’, men may be forgiven for acting violently towards them. Under patriarchal ideology, women can face multiple types of intersecting oppressions based on their race, social class, and sexuality among others. 

Is Patriarchal Ideology Harmful? 

Patriarchal ideology can be harmful to women when they are exposed to gender-based violence. A perspective of intimate partner violence is that it is largely the product of patriarchy, with most serious forms of violence being male perpetrated (McKee, 2014). 

It has been found that a disproportionate amount of intimate partner violence involves female victims, in some cases as much as 85% of the time (Rennison & Welchans, 2000). Although there are cases of women using violence against male partners, it is often in self-defense against male-initiated violence or threats of violence (Allen, Swan, & Raghavan, 2009). 

In a patriarchal society, there is likely to be more favor towards men in terms of reports of violence against women. This means that there is likely to be less criminal justice against men who are violent towards their female partners or other women.

In a patriarchy, many women almost expect to experience violence or discrimination for being a woman. A patriarchal society would support men and belittle or blame women for being a victim of such. 

A patriarchal society is not only harmful for women, but it can also negatively affect men. There are a lot of societal expectations on men to display and act on typically masculine traits. They are expected to be strong, assertive, rational, and even aggressive. They are conditioned to believe that expressing their feelings does not align with the male identity.

Expecting to live by these standards means that men may suppress a lot of their emotions. They might feel ridiculed or shamed for displays of sensitive, or more typically feminine emotions. 

If, under patriarchal ideology, men are discouraged from being vulnerable and sensitive, these suppressed feelings can build up over time and cause lasting damage. It can cause poorer mental health such as increase levels of depression and anxiety, but it can also increase men’s risk of suicide. In 2020, men died by suicide about 3.88 times more than women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020).

Who introduced the concept of ‘patriarchal ideology’?

The concept of ‘patriarchal ideology’ is thought to have been conceptualized by Kate Millet in 1970 who saw patriarchal ideology as the justification for societal-wide male domination.

She believed that patriarchal ideology was rooted in the family and argued that these ideologies were important for the overall sustainability of societal patriarchy.

What is the patriarchal view of the family?

A patriarchal view of the family sees the man, usually the husband or father, as the head of the house. A man is believed to have all the authority in the family and makes all the decisions.

In many instances, the woman must ask her husband’s permission before making a decision. In marriage, women in a patriarchy must have permission from their fathers to marry. This is treated as if the woman cannot make an informed choice about whether to marry on her own.

In many cultures, the father traditionally ‘gives away’ his daughter on her wedding day, to her future husband. This is almost viewed as an exchange in property, from one man to another. The woman adopts her new husband’s name, and any children they have together also have his last name. The patriarchal structure of the family expects the woman to remain at home, tending to the house and caring for her and her husband’s children. She thus engages in unpaid labor instead of having paid work like her husband.

What is the main difference between patriarchal ideology and feminist ideology?

Patriarchal ideology and feminist ideology are two completely opposing concepts. The main difference between the two is the position of women. In a patriarchy, women face oppression and discrimination on the basis of their gender.

Whereas, in feminist ideology, women have equal rights to men and do not experience oppression on the basis of gender.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, Sept 01). Patriarchal Ideology Explained. Simply Sociology.


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