Patriarchy has been defined as a system of subordination of women to men that has been reproduced over thousands of years.

This concept, which is closely related to machismo and inequality, has had a great deal of weight in both psychology and the social sciences, since it tells us about a dynamic of relationships that makes one part of the population totally or partially dominated by the other.

What is patriarchy?

The discussions and debates surrounding the idea of patriarchy generate a lot of controversy, among other things because of how difficult it is to study its existence or presence in certain societies, but also because of the far-reaching implications it has for us, both politically and philosophically.

But patriarchy is not only a controversial issue, it is also a relatively difficult concept to understand . These are some of the keys that can help to better understand what we mean by patriarchal society.

1. Machismo and patriarchy are not synonymous

Although they are two very related concepts, machismo and patriarchy do not refer to the same thing . Machismo is a set of beliefs, cognitive biases and attitudes that predispose people to act as if women had less value than men, while patriarchy is defined as a social phenomenon that historically has been the driving force behind machismo and certain privileges that only men enjoy.

While machismo is expressed through individuals (regardless of whether they are men or women), patriarchy is something that exists in large collectives, a power dynamic that can only be understood if we take into account many people at once.

2. It is not just a system of cultural domination

When we talk about machismo, we often tend to think that this is just a psychological phenomenon, a way of thinking in which women are undervalued and objectified. However, from gender studies and feminism it is customary to talk about the machismo generated by patriarchy as a phenomenon that has two pillars: one psychological, based on how individuals think and act, and another material, based on objective characteristics of our environment and institutions: clothes, laws, films, etc.

In this way, the psychological and material aspects would be fed back, giving rise to individuals whose macho attitudes are reinforced by the environment in which they live and which they help to reproduce through their actions.

3. Believed to be related to the property system

Patriarchy is understood as a phenomenon that jumps from generation to generation, and that is why a relationship between it and the idea of property has come to be hypothesized. This idea, deeply rooted in Marxist philosophy, proposes that, just as properties are inherited and offer the possibility of exploiting others to work with them, generating a part of value that the owner can keep in spite of not having worked, women have been conceived as a resource, something that can be possessed and with which the patriarchs of the family have dedicated themselves to trade, either to have cheap labour (normally applied to household tasks) or to be able to have offspring (something that is also linked to the domestic and, therefore, private sphere).

Since women could not aspire to ownership, since they only dealt with the goods necessary for the well-being of the family, they could not aspire to negotiate as equals with men, which would put them at a disadvantage even when female participation in jobs outside the home became normal.

4. Their relationship with capitalism is confusing

Within feminist currents there has been a lot of talk about whether patriarchy is a system of domination linked to capitalism (as understood from Marxism) or whether they are two separate phenomena. Both have been theorized as dynamics of relations based on repression and exploitation , but it is not clear if their historical engine would be the same.

5. Patriarchy has been universal

It is very easy to find societies where men have a clear power over women, but so far no example of a relatively broad and stable culture where the opposite is true has been found.

The idea of matriarchy, proposed in the 19th century by the anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen, talks about primitive societies of thousands of years ago in which women had the power, but is not based on empirical evidence to support it .

6. It is not clear if it originated from genes

Since patriarchy is conceptualized as a universal system that has spread throughout the world and has resisted all kinds of political changes, some researchers have proposed the idea that its origin has to do with genetic propensities. Specifically, one possible explanation for its existence would be the alleged differentiation in the way both sexes behave that is directly responsible for DNA. According to this idea, men would have a kind of natural tendency to dominant and aggressive behaviour , while women would manifest more easily submission behaviours.

The other proposal, much less controversial, is that patriarchy was produced because of cultural dynamics in which men and women were educated to divide the work , leading to a situation in which men came to have a bargaining power over women that they have been exploiting over generations.

Of course, between the two proposals there are theories that could be considered intermediate between these two extremes.

7. It is a terribly abstract concept

As it is a social phenomenon with different forms of manifestation, the existence of patriarchy in certain countries is not an obvious fact. This is because this concept is not in itself an explanatory model that can be proven or refuted by empirical contrast, and therefore the same fact can be interpreted as proof of the existence of patriarchy or as a sign of its absence .

For example, the abundance of famous actresses who conform well to the canons of beauty can be understood as a sign that women need to sell their bodies in order to prosper, but it can also be interpreted as an example that women can become more powerful than men without having to work much harder than them.