Enter the Patriarchy

Written By: - Date published: 9:57 am, May 26th, 2023 - 68 comments
Categories: feminism, patriarchy - Tags: ,

This post by Susan McDonnell was first published at her substack Think Like A Feminist.

When I first started trying to think like a feminist, I thought patriarchy referred to the fact that men are typically stronger than women, throw their weight around, and tend to impose limits on women which accentuate that delta. It isn’t a bad working model, in some ways, and certainly, the word “patriarchy” is a great sassy answer to many questions about women’s disadvantage. However, there is a lot more to it than that. Patriarchy is about rule by men and is a social construct. It is generally taken to be demonstrated through male dominance, male control, and male identification. It is a facet of societal organisation, not a facet of biology. This really matters.

Homo sapiens evolved around 300,000 years ago as a nomadic hunter-gatherer species. It is difficult for us now to grasp some important facts about early members of mankind. One of these is that they – we – had no real concept of wealth or property, or trade; what they “owned” was broadly limited to what they could carry. Another is that they – we – were as intellectually able as we are today, even if less informed. Finally, our existence as settlers is comparatively speaking very recent: less than 5% of our time as a species has been spent this way. It is worth bearing these things in mind as we look at the development of patriarchy.

Hunter-gatherer societies still exist, as does archaeological evidence, so we know some of how people lived. Most people lived in kin-based groups. Society was, in most cases, quite egalitarian, both between group members and between the sexes. While men had some advantages in hunting, these were not many, and as interactions with other groups were relatively few, battles were not as common or as costly as you might think – there was no land to defend. Women were vulnerable to male violence, but a badly treated woman would find it relatively easy to leave because she could walk away – even with her children – and join her family elsewhere, or another group. Mankind existed in this hunter-gatherer mode until around 12,000 years ago, when some people began to develop a new way of living: agriculture.


Agriculture enabled humanity to shift from nomadic to settled status. The reasons are unclear; the evidence suggests that life became harder (humans got smaller, for instance). It has been suggested that humans might have stuck with it because despite the hardships, they could accumulate things, and have bigger families, than if they were on the move. We acquired land and livestock, and property beyond what we could carry (and with that, eventually, technology).

Acquiring things – especially livestock – meant that tribes had things worth defending from other groups and predators. As men were stronger than women, it came to be the men who defended the property, especially livestock away from the homestead, from attack, with women specialising in other ways, including child-rearing and dealing with crops. Because men defended the property, they increasingly took control of it.

Therefore, women’s relatively smaller and less physically powerful bodies meant that, coincidentally, men came to be the ones who owned property. This male dominance would have consequences.


Men who own property want to use it to provide for their own young – not other men’s. Unusually for mammals, in women ovulation is concealed and is likely only to be known to an intimate partner, at most, and possibly not even then. Ascertaining paternity was impossible until the late 20th century, so controlling whose baby a woman carried to term required controlling her access to men at all times. Women’s bodily autonomy was therefore limited; after all they were the birthing vessels (thanks, transactivists – so progressive!) for the future inheritor of a man’s wealth.

It isn’t hard to see consequences flowing from this. Women whose chastity was necessary would have their lives curtailed. To discourage women from leaving with their children or having female allies, they would be removed from their own families and placed in the family of the man who controlled them. They would not be encouraged or enabled to learn skills that might enable them to support themselves. Older women, less subject to control through childbearing, were sidelined. With fewer options to avoid an abusive man, women learned deference and tolerance. So their lives became further curtailed, and so on. Male control is thereby established.


Women’s reproductive capacity also became a valuable resource to be farmed. Agriculture is labour intensive – it takes more calories to farm a give quantity of food without sophisticated tools than to gather it – and the pressure for villages to grow was probably significant. Children were needed, a phenomenon seen well into the twentieth century in many communities. Women ovulate, over a lifetime, about 400 times. Typically women are fertile for around 30 years and are reasonably capable of producing between 15 and 30 live births at most – in reality, far fewer surviving offspring. Men, on the other hand, can father many children – the highest recorded number was over a thousand. A woman’s peak fertility is in the first half of her reproductive capability. Because of this, the relatively small number of women at peak fertility became very much prized by men.

Men began to compete with each other for access to women. A wealthier man could offer a better home or lifestyle to a woman he chose. New property ownership rules developed, and women were at the centre of these. Brideprice – a fee paid by a man to a woman’s family for a desirable bride – meant that women were traded as economic commodities. Further, of course, a woman who wanted to leave her husband would be discouraged by her family because that money would need to be repaid. In some societies, polygynous relationships became the norm, with wealthy men able to exert control over other men and acquire more birthing vessels – sorry, I mean women! – to propagate their genes. In others, bride capture – a euphemism for what is really sex trafficking, slavery and rape – featured.

Male identification of their property, the third pillar of patriarchy, is shown. It is no accident that women were seen as chattels – a word with the same root as cattle.


Not all societies were like this, and the differences that remain now shed light on why men came to dominate in the way that they do. For example, societies in the Tsetse belt in Africa are less patriarchal; this seems to suggest a link with livestock farming. In mountainous areas in Asia, particularly those engaged in the spice trade, where agriculture is more marginal and men are absent much of the time trading goods, matriarchies with communal familial structures have emerged. In other societies where fishing, rather than livestock, was the protein mainstay, again patriarchal structures did not develop so much; in fact, in groups where men were absent for long periods, society developed in a very different way. Studies even show that quality of marine life – good fishing – significantly correlates with matrilineal ownership of wealth, for instance.

To understand this, we need to look again at why men came to dominate in the earlier model. There were two salient features: defending land and livestock denoted ownership; and male ownership of property led to a wish to pass that property on to one’s own children. However, in societies where men were absent and unable to defend land that was being farmed, perhaps trading (as in Minang society) or, as in the Solomons, attending to fish that they could gather but never own, men never developed the relative advantages of ownership; and how could they be sure of paternity if they were away from the village for weeks or months on end? In these societies, matrilineal inheritance made more sense.


The point of this is not to say that we should all become fishing societies – it is hardly practical, after all – but to show that the things that underpin patriarchy are not inevitable, are fairly recent, and are produced by circumstances that no longer prevail. Over the next two weeks, I hope to cover some of the mechanisms put in place to perpetuate patriarchy and some of the ways in which these might be reshaped in our changing world. I hope you will join me.

68 comments on “Enter the Patriarchy ”

  1. SPC 1

    Camille Paglia wrote that mans greatest achievement was (creating) God.

    They used God to establishing patriarchy (as someone who once identified as a lesbian while always felling like a boy – body dysphoria, and now openly transgender she is not the feminist critic of that "she" once was).

    Since then evolutionary psychologists, such as Jordan Peterson, have justified that work, not as a proof of God, but of the neediness of men to feel in control, so that there is not chaos, in which they feel insecure.

    Sure control of territory is part of kingdom (under God) development.

    Paglia’s opinion about the liberal concepts such as male and female equality leading to acceptance of androgyny (and now transgender identity) being related to late stage in a civilisation (empire) leads to more masculine barbarians at the gate seeking to take over – Rome to the Weimar Republic – is if true, a disturbing trait within humanity – any apparent sign of weakness identifies a victim to a predator.

    • weka 1.1

      or, we could look at egalitarian cultures and figure out how and why they work.

  2. bwaghorn 2

    Kinda points to patriarchy being caused by evolutionary selection,so in a modern world where woman are free to choose,if they stop breeding with A type possessive, aggressive men, it should be breed out in a couple hundred years !!

    • SPC 2.1

      Capitalism encourages aggregation of wealth and that leads to inequality, that requires a regime to protect the privileged.

      So while democracy has enabled the landless to vote, if it does not tax capital gain and wealth, it will ultimately lead to oligarchy. Of course an oligarchy will use populist means, such as external threats to nationalism (socialism as a foreign threat to property ownership) or here a domestic indigenous one. Then find all sorts of ways to counter any organised challenge – ECA, neo-liberal institutions (as Murray Horn put it no future elected government would be able to undo the generational change they had imposed by 1998).

      The 1% are a new form of kingship, one not based on territory, but whose wealth makes them an international elite.

    • weka 2.2

      that presumes that A type possessive, aggressive men have a gene that makes them like that that they can pass on only their male children. More likely is that where possible they socialise their male children to the aggressive, and/or those boys are socialised to be aggressive/possessive by patriarchal culture.

      • bwaghorn 2.2.1

        As a farmer you notice how genes run true, it's all about selecting traits that you want.

        Humans are the same, look round the people you know ,then look at their family, they won't be carbon copies but recurring types will poo up amongst them.

        • Belladonna

          You can't separate nature vs nurture in that example of families.

          In order for it to be an effective test, you'd need to separate the children of aggressive types at birth, and raise them in non-aggressive families (or at least with non-aggressive male role models)

          My belief is that much of the aggressive/dominant male behaviour is socialized, rather than genetic.

          It is, however, socialized pretty young. By 4 or so you can see the pre-schoolers who have a 'dominant' male as the head of the household (both in the behaviour of the girls and the boys). I'm not talking about sexualized behaviour, but 'letting the boys choose first' or 'boys jobs' and 'girls jobs', etc.

  3. pat 3

    A lot of dubious assumptions within this piece.

    It appears to me that humans have a propensity to growth as the protection /projection which size provided….how did that impact the increase in physical (male?) power?

    In a world of ever increasing dispute/desire for resources the group that had the ability to seize and hold those resources predominated….until the advent of technological advantage that equated with numerical superiority,

    Curiously numerical advantage relies upon the child bearing capacity/desire of women.

    Go figure

    • SPC 3.1

      The evolutionary side was at one point very extreme – initially the homo erectus male was much larger than the female but as the brain size grew the height difference began to diminish. So maybe it was increased sophia that led them to being superseded by homo sapiens?

      • pat 3.1.1

        Your appear to have misunderstood…the size referred to was numerical…the role of males differed in that females were to important to risk in combat.

    • weka 3.2

      Curiously numerical advantage relies upon the child bearing capacity/desire of women.

      Yes. That's the advent of the patriarchy. Once you get enough resources (via settling and agriculture) that need protecting you need women to breed armies and wage/slaves.

      I don't know what you think the dubious assumptions are (because you didn't say), but the post is positing some of the dynamics for why and how patriarchal societies or egalitarian societies have arisen. One of the points about analysing the patriarchy from a feminist perspective is so we understand that it's not inevitable.

      • pat 3.2.1

        I expect that hunter gathers and fishers had occasion to defend their resources as well.

        The dubious assumptions are so not so much for the assertions but rather as to the motivations ascribed to them.

        Power (and the ability to exercise such) is predicated on physical force….what is described in this piece may be better described as the pursuit of power, something that has afflicted humanity throughout history.

  4. DS 4

    The medieval Norse were property owners. They were also highly egalitarian on gender matters.

    The status of women in any given society ebbs and flows over time. It cannot be reduced to simple notions of pop-history.

    • SPC 4.1

      The mobility of the male Viking would make their society more like the fishing one mentioned.

    • joe90 4.2

      They were also highly egalitarian on gender matters.

      Relative to contemporary societies if you happened to be high-born. Otherwise, the Norse caste system rivaled the sub-continent's and male or female, your low-born life was pretty much as shitty as anyone else's in Europe.

      • DS 4.2.1

        Well, yes. Turns out there's a little thing called class that trumps gender considerations. But I was merely attacking the notion that property = patriarchy.

    • weka 4.3

      They were also highly egalitarian on gender matters.

      citation please. There is a difference between egalitarian societal structures and small numbers of women being afford status and power in patriarchal societies. I can't tell from your comment if you understand the difference, but your dismissal of the post and the importance of sex based rights suggests you don't yet have a good understanding of the issues being discussed here.

      • DS 4.3.1

        Literally the first thing that pops up on Google: https://www.history.com/news/what-was-life-like-for-women-in-the-viking-age

        Were women equal? No. But women in medieval Scandinavia had serious domestic and household power – and that isn't simply a reflection of a small number of privileged elites distorting things.

        As noted, the real issue, as ever, was class.

        • RedLogix

          Agreed – that is my sense of it as well. Men were expected to be responsible outside of the household, women inside of it. There are many non-Western societies where this social mode still holds sway.

          What is easy for us to forget is that in the pre-Industrial world, the household was a more dominant part of our social and economic life than it is in our modern world – and women played a leading role in this.

          And yes – what we think of as class mattered most of all. Although it helps to remember that almost everyone – apart from a tiny elite – was dirt poor by our standards.

        • weka

          I'm asking for evidence that medieval Norse societies were highly egalitarian. Please provide quotes, links and your explanation.

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    Might've worked. Under corporates like Sanford, Sealord & Talleys though, probably not.

    • Stuart Munro 6.1

      'Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.' Terry Pratchett.

  6. LawfulN 7

    Ugh. One of the things holding feminism back is that people still believe in this dreck.

    Everyone knows hunter-gatherer societies were more egalitarian (although still awful to live in. Everyone also knows that farming societies eventually end up being more hierarchical and patriarchal. The reason isn't some conspiracy but because groups of humans compete over land and resources. The hierarchical-patriarchal form of organisation has a massive competitive and reproductive advantage over hunter-gatherer societies, even though it's often a less pleasant society to live in – especially for females. Hence, most societies end up with a hierarchical and patriarchal structure – those that don't are usually outcompeted and either vanish or are conquered.

    What ended patriarchy is not politics, but lower child and maternal mortality due to developments in sanitation, medicine, and contraception. Basically, women don't have to spend as much time having kids to keep the population up. It takes people a while to adapt, but that is basically the story of the last 150 years or so.

    Although competition between societies (and organisational forms of societies) is much less lethal than it used to be, it still exists. The good news is that the things that make a society competitive now have more to do with brains than brawn, so a society that doesn't take full advantage of the equality of intelligence between the sexes by equalising opportunities for its female citizens is doomed to be outcompeted by those that do.

    • RedLogix 7.1

      Yes. Reading the OP I can appreciate that it acknowledges the impact of technological innovations such as agriculture on social conditions. As a general principle that makes sense.

      At one level it is of course rather selective in it's one-eyed lens on history – comparing the general state of all women with that of a small minority of high status men. The 80% of the ordinary men who led disposable, dangerous and largely brutal lives as slaves in fields, galleys, mines and the like are entirely invisible in this narrative. But this is nothing new.

      That genetics tells us that we all have far more female ancestors than male, indicative of a highly polygamous past, is painted solely as an expression of female oppression – while ignoring the vast majority of our ancestoral males who were ruthlessly excluded from reproduction.

      But on reading the OP a second time it is the complete absence of any female agency – either biological, social or economic that seems the most striking omission. This writing of human history as women the eternal victim, diminishes the struggles and achievements of all of our female ancestors whose own desires and demands for a better life for them and their children has played a crucial role in making humanity what it is today.

      • SPC 7.1.1

        Patriarchy is a "kingdom" hierarchy under God – as of the king arose out of the land as its owner and declared his primacy over his descendants (first born line inheritance).

        That there were classes, but women within each class were subordinate, is what made it patriarchy.

        • RedLogix

          That argument, while superficially plausible, is based on an illusion. The conditions of our pre-industrial past meant that most work and many roles outside of the household were either too physically demanding or dangerous for women. And especially so for their infants and young children. And as the OP correctly observes, the 400 eggs per lifetime of each woman are from the point of view of human survival, are far too valuable to risk unnecessarily.

          It's a massive survival advantage if the relatively disposable males do most of the dangerous roles in the public domain – while the more vulnerable women are protected in the private domain.

          But because history is for the large part a record of what happened in the public domain, this creates an illusion that women were invisible, oppressed and generally subordinate. And entirely lacking agency. More recent work being done in the social history space really paints a quite different picture, casting light on the very active, often complex and productive lives of women in this world that conventional history has glossed over.

          Personally I suspect most of our female ancestors would be rather insulted to read of us characterising them as 'subordinate'.

      • Incognito 7.1.2

        Sadly, this comment also fails to engage constructively with the main points in the OP and its contents. In addition, the comment is based on false dichotomies and generalisations.

        You assert that the OP is selective in its one-eyed lens on history, comparing the general state of all women with that of a small minority of high status men. However, the OP doesn’t make such a comparison, but rather shows how patriarchy affects all women (and men!) in different ways depending on their socio-economic class, among other factors. The OP also doesn’t ignore the hardships and struggles of ordinary men under patriarchy, but implies that patriarchy harms men as well as women, though not in the same way or to the same degree, depending on their socio-economic status.

        You claim that genetics tells us that we all have far more female ancestors than male, indicative of a highly polygamous past. However, the OP doesn’t deny this genetic fact, but rather it explains how it’s related to the social and economic conditions that favoured male control over women's reproduction. It also doesn’t paint this as solely an expression of female oppression, but rather as one of the consequences of patriarchy that affected women (as well as men).

        Lastly, it doesn’t deny female agency, but rather shows how women have been denied or limited in their access to resources, opportunities, rights, and freedoms by patriarchal structures and practices. The real clinger is that the OP also doesn’t write human history as women as the eternal victim(s), but rather from the feminist perspective of women as the active agents who have challenged and resisted patriarchy in various ways throughout history and across cultures, i.e., the complete opposite of what you allege the OP does.

        • RedLogix

          but rather from the feminist perspective of women as the active agents who have challenged and resisted patriarchy in various ways throughout history and across cultures,

          The OP also doesn’t ignore the hardships and struggles of ordinary men under patriarchy, but implies that patriarchy harms men as well as women,

          Where? Can you please point me to where this is clearly laid out? I seem to be having reading comprehension problems this morning.

          but rather shows how women have been denied or limited in their access to resources, opportunities, rights, and freedoms by patriarchal structures and practices.

          Which is a world in which usually 90% or more of the population was engaged in primary production meant that literacy, numeracy and education was a scarce and expensive resource that was really only accessible to a tiny elite. That most of them were men, scarcely changes the fact that the vast majority of both sexes were denied resources, opportunities and freedoms.

          As roblogic points out below, most of this oppressive patriarchy narrative is the result of us moderns looking back on the past and applying our own cognitive biases to their world and their lives that we struggle to properly comprehend.

          Besides if you think women are so easy to oppress – have you actually tried living with one?

          • SPC

            Have you done so when men were able to discipline their wives (and worse) and incarcerate them into care on a mans say so … .

            • RedLogix

              In the western world at least, that this condition no longer applies scarcely supports the idea that everything is an oppressive patriarchy in the present.

              • SPC

                A male teen rapes 5 female teens and gets 12 months home detention?

                2 youth pastors target teens and also get home detention.

                You are aware of the numbers of rapes compared to those who come forward, those prosecuted, those that get convicted and those that result in a prison sentence?

                The wealthy western 1%, how much male and how much female?

                And Trump and Biden say protecting the women of Afghanistan is not part of their forever war.

                • RedLogix

                  Apologies – I'm not able to keep up with your goal-post shifting. That is indeed a whole other discussion, but not for me I think.

          • Incognito

            Can you please point me to where this is clearly laid out? [my italics]

            What or which ‘this’ are you asking after? Where did I say or imply ‘clearly’?

            … the vast majority of both sexes were denied resources, opportunities and freedoms.

            You only seem to want engage with certain parts/words in the OP and my comment, which is rather selective. I did mention qualifiers and dependencies as did the OP.

            As roblogic points out below, most of this oppressive patriarchy narrative is the result of us moderns looking back on the past and applying our own cognitive biases to their world and their lives that we struggle to properly comprehend.

            You alleged selective bias and one-eyedness in/of the OP. I’d like to think that the OP did a much better job at gaining understanding of the current situation we’re in and I expect the next instalment to suggest much better constructive (and progressive?) ideas for moving forward than you’ve proffered so far. Just saying.

            Besides if you think women are so easy to oppress – have you actually tried living with one?

            Red herring

            • RedLogix

              In the short clip I quoted – you were referring to the OP. I wanted to know whereabouts in the OP you found this claim clearly laid out.

              How you chose to qualify it is a … red herring.

              • Incognito

                You’re obstinate.

                I assume this is the bit you’d like me to respond to, yes?

                The OP also doesn’t ignore the hardships and struggles of ordinary men under patriarchy, but implies that patriarchy harms men as well as women, […]

                If so, you now have twice twisted “implies” into “clearly laid out”.

                Do you or do you not wish to engage with me in a genuine discussion here?

                PS It looks like you & I are done and not just under this Post

                • RedLogix

                  You’re obstinate.

                  According to you I am "cowardly" – make up your mind.

                  If " genuine discussion " was your wish, do you think your answer "42" is a "genuine" response to anything?

      • tWiggle 7.1.3

        Actually RedLogix, your supposition of an ancient polygamous norm being the main reason that there is lower variation in Y vs X chromosomes is debatable.

        Apparently, the practice of women marrying outside the kinship group, ie, going with husband's family, will also give rise to greater diversity in X chromosome over Y. As well, I saw a paper claiming one in 200 men in Europe-Asia have Y material related to Ghengis Khan. This would not be surprising as the Mongol modus operandi was to sweep in and slaughter local males in the millions, seriously reducing local variability in the Y chromosome.

        " [Ghengis's descendents] extended the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia by conquering or creating vassal states in all of modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and substantial portions of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia. Many of these invasions repeated the earlier large-scale slaughters of local populations." Ghenghis did, off course, father many. Ghengis Khan wiki.

        Thirdly, a monogamous social structure could still concentrate the Y chromosome, when widowers remarried after one or more wives dying in childbirth.

        • Nic the NZer

          Differences in a Y chromosome from the father are down to mutation. Differences in an X chromosome (from either parent) are from the other parents contribution and mutation. The rates of variation between X and Y is down to basic genetic processes and could not be explained by sociology.

          On the other hand, if your drawing the conclusion that we have more female ancestors than male via genetics, that's obviously incorrect. My argument goes, every child has one male and one female parent, the end.

          • RedLogix

            A little searching on the topic throws up a range of material. For example:

            Once upon a time, 4,000 to 8,000 years after humanity invented agriculture, something very strange happened to human reproduction. Across the globe, for every 17 women who were reproducing, passing on genes that are still around today—only one man did the same.


            Other useful references:



            This 2014 paper is rather technical but seems to get cited a lot. It attempts to determine the ratio of female to male ancestors over a range of geographies and time – and while it varies a fair bit – there are always more female than males in your lineage.


            The general consensus – and I accept this is open to debate – is that in deep time the ratio is about 2:1. Of course in say the last millennia or so, especially where religions enforced monogamy, it would be generally closer to 1:1.

            The general observation is that male reproductive success is tied to their performative success in obtaining resources or status. And for males this is very wildly distributed.

            • Nic the NZer

              Your statement is however false discussing actual human ancestors. Allowing for cases of incest to be counted in different generations the portion is exactly 50-50 male to female in every family tree.

              While discussions of genetic diversity may say something about sociology its highly likely first to say something about frontier emigration. Simplistically speaking maybe only one seventeenth of your female population sources were able to make the transition out of Africa to begin with.

              And in applying this to actual human sociology keep in mind the mapping of chromosomes to humans is not 1:1. For the X chromosome females contribute one of their two X's to males one X. That is the underlying reason for a 2:1 ratio being there.

              • RedLogix

                This is a good example of what is true at the level of the individual – as you correctly say each child has one male and one female parent – is not necessarily true at the population level where social dynamics of society come into play.

                This is obvious if you imagine a society with 100 males and 100 females – but only 1 male is the parent of all the children. Yes each child has one male and female parent – but over the whole population the answer is quite different.

                The references I gave above go into this in more detail.

                • Nic the NZer

                  True. You might also just happen to have 100 males and 100 females who share exactly one gene. Your effective population size in that marker is then 1. While the scientific references you gave do take this into account and talk about an effective population size, I'm not convinced that the pop-science references even tried to explain what the effective population size is to their sociological context however. It's not the actual population of males and females by any means.

                  • RedLogix

                    Well you are entitled to your pop reckons – however it remains generally agreed by published researchers that over deep history about 80% of females had children, while only 40% of males did. This is quite a striking difference in reproductive success and counterintuitive to the modern mind. And similar if not much higher ratios exist in many animal species – so the idea is not outlandish or unsensible.

                    The point is that humans are indeed a mildly polygynous species and I am surprised you find this a controversial idea.

                    • Nic the NZer

                      Not sure why you think I disagree with your revised statements. The one which is incorrect is that we have more female than male ancestors. This statement makes sense only for our genes, not for our genealogy.

                      Incest is not that common either, and is not the primary explanation for those variations in our genes (which is, as you said the rates of male and female reproduction).

                    • RedLogix

                      Fair enough – I think we can agree that what is true for our genetic heritage at a population level is not necessarily true for our individual genealogy. They are different contexts.

                      In the context of the thread this means the idea that partriarchy somehow meant that all men subjugated all women to control their reproduction does not quite stack up as proposed. It's a lot more complex than this.

                    • Nic the NZer

                      Would say rather than this kind of analysis doesn't provide any particular evidence that most men subjugated most women to control their reproduction. I don't think it particularly excludes that possibility either.

                  • RedLogix

                    Given that pretty much everything we might know about our deep ancestors relies on a rather modest evidence base – dismissing the clues that genetics does offer, for unspecified reasons, seems to me a tad arbitrary.

                    If we accept the general idea that if only 40% of all males who ever lived actually went on to have children – this scarcely supports the claim that all men were all having all their own way all the time.

                    My final point is that in the context of my original statement above – I didn't pull it out of thin air. It has a demonstrable basis in prior research and discussion.

                    • Nic the NZer

                      The effective population size measured by genetics is a measure of diversity of genes in the population, not a measure of the population size itself. This means you could also end up with some result based on at some period in the populations past a relatively small number of (presumably) women migrating to a particular area and then the population evolving from there. This may have happened well in advance of the society your trying to consider the sociology of, but is still invalidating your conclusions.

                      The issue with the statistical model being applied is that all the most important factors such as male/female mortality, infant mortality rates and underlying genetic diversity need to be correctly factored into the statistics before you can hope to get to sociological conclusions.

                      Getting on more solid ground here would look like having some other evidence that society functioned in a particular way and then that conclusion being confirmed by that populations genetics, but I don't think can be drawn just from the genetics alone if it is stronger than informed speculation.

                      I mean the other question is 80% of females are having children. We could also read that as rather an imposition on them in a lot of circumstances. Richard Dawkins wrote "The selfish gene", not "The selfish human" and human behavior and motivation is not well explained by supposed desires of our genes to reproduce.

                  • RedLogix

                    We could also read that as rather an imposition on them in a lot of circumstances.

                    If you think the genetic evidence is weak – on what basis are you making that claim?

                    In a world where infant mortality often reached 50% in the first year, and only another fraction of them made it to puberty – it was simply necessary for those 80% of woman who did have children to have at least somewhere between 4 – 8 births in order to keep the total fertility level over the 2.1 replacement level. You can characterise this as an 'imposition' if you like, but this was their reality. And if they had not literally carried that burden you and I would not be here to be quibbling about it.

                    The past was a different world – we impose our cognitive biases on it to no good end.

    • SPC 7.2

      Once men defined the realism of authority – Hobbes – then others claimed the rights of man (Thomas Paine) and a woman Mary Wollstonecraft responded, it was political alright.

      Descartes and Emerson challenged the world as it was.

      Patriarchy declined with the Magna Carta, the growing role of parliament in governance, then the Bill of Rights and end of the need to be of the right church/religion to get into university or executive governance.

      It is related to the concept of not all being equal …. it's continuing fall is very political.

      • roblogic 7.2.1

        So much of modern society operates on male coded ways of thinking — laws and hierarchies and competition — these social constructs need a re-think

        More Jacinda-style leadership is much needed

    • Incognito 7.3

      Seriously? You want to argue against the OP with your simplistic reckons and using strawmen and ad homs without addressing the main points of the OP?

      Irrespective of whether I like or even agree with the OP, a first-time Guest Post on the Standard deserves a better reception than this. Clearly, a lot of effort went into the OP. Moreover, there’s dearth of female writers on TS.

      You claim that patriarchy is not a conspiracy but a result of competition between groups of humans over land and resources. However, the OP doesn’t imply that patriarchy is a conspiracy, but rather that it’s a social construct that emerged from certain historical and environmental circumstances. The OP also acknowledges that competition between societies is a factor, but not the only one, in shaping different forms of social organisation. As mentioned in the OP, not all societies developed patriarchal structures and practices, and there are variations and exceptions depending on factors such as geography, ecology, economy, religion, and culture. Nor does the OP deny the biological differences between men and women, but rather it challenges the social and political implications that have been derived from them.

      You claim that what ended patriarchy is lower child and maternal mortality due to developments in sanitation, medicine, and contraception. But the OP doesn’t claim that patriarchy has ended, but rather that it is changing and can be reshaped in our changing world. The OP also doesn’t deny that lower child and maternal mortality are important factors, but suggests that there are other mechanisms that perpetuate patriarchy that need to be addressed. I can think of quite a few, can you?

      You also claim that the things that make a society competitive now have more to do with brains than brawn, so a society that does not take full advantage of the equality of intelligence between the sexes by equalising opportunities for its female citizens is doomed to be outcompeted by those that do. This is a strawman, because the OP isn’t inconsistent with this claim, but it rather implies that patriarchy is an obstacle to achieving this goal. The OP also doesn’t make the assumption that intelligence is equally distributed between the sexes, but rather that women have been denied access to education and skills that would enable them to contribute to society and they have been systematically excluded from power and decision-making in most spheres of life.

      If you insist on having a go at a Post, at least put some effort into it. It’d show that you’re genuinely interested in a constructive and respectful discussion, which I’d prefer over diatribe any day.

      • RedLogix 7.3.1

        but rather that women have been denied access to education and skills that would enable them to contribute to society

        Given the relentless trend toward female tertiary graduates outnumbering males, often now close to a 2:1 ratio, can we now accept that at least in the Western world, this condition no longer applies?

  7. roblogic 8

    When reading history it is important to be aware of our own cultural context and contemporary biases – a difficult task but not insurmountable.

    The past is a foreign land. They had different cognitive capacity and had to optimise for different goals, primarily survival. But not just their own individual survival, that of the family and tribe, if the situation required it, were more important than one warrior or old person who could not work.

    The lines between individual, collective, nature and the gods were porous. But like the Ma’asai some things were obvious.. https://youtu.be/6yAnHFj4IK0

    We moderns have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy and now, as culture at the apex of self actualisation, are falling back into tribalistic squabbling. IMO beyond self actualisation is service to our fellow human.

    • Incognito 8.1

      We moderns have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy and now, as culture at the apex of self actualisation, are falling back into tribalistic squabbling. IMO beyond self actualisation is service to our fellow human.

      As it so happens, last night I read this – it wasn’t the title that piqued my interest.

      In case you get ‘hung up’ on the title, here’s the full abstract as well:

      From Orgasms to Organizations: Maslow, Women’s Sexuality and the Gendered Foundations of the Needs Hierarchy


      One of the most enduring theories in management is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in that its basic concepts, such as the needs for self–esteem and self–actualization, are accepted without question. This adoption of Maslow’s theory has generally occurred without an examination of its empirical basis, which was his own 1930s’ study of the relationship between self–esteem and sexual behaviour in young college women. In this article, we locate Maslow’s study of women’s sexuality in the sexological research of his time, and contrast it with a study undertaken by Katharine Davis in 1929. These two studies present very divergent pictures of women’s sexuality. We argue that Maslow’s portrayal, which is subsequently embedded in the needs hierarchy, has implications for our understanding of dominance and subordination in organizations, because implicit in Maslow’s portrayal is an assertion of the naturalness of female submission and the eroticization of male dominance.


  8. Ad 9

    Look good on you for ferreting out obscure minor anthropological quirks, but it's a bad idea to define women within fertility as the root of patriarchy.

    It's just not true now and hasn't been in the developed world for over half a century.

    From your biologically captured perspective, unproductive sex is a human trademark. It's only about 1/3 of a woman's life, for the 90% who can.

    The more time it takes for infants to be independent of adults, the less attractive having children is. They even get driven to school now.

    The big brains we've evolved in the last 100,000 years are mostly responsible for this, for they only begin to approach adult size two years after birth, and need about 16 before they can be operated with any adult competence.

    Those females that now choose to reproduce need massive subsidy to care for them into independence, which is now provided either by the state or a long term relationship with the presumed biological father. Both are now well tested solutions.

    In no short order in NZ you will be subsidised out of the workplace male or female to have kids, and then they go straight at the age of 2 into childcare. You can call that freedom maybe, but this state is looking more lactative than patriarchal every day.

    Women have recognised that childbirth is far more dangerous for human mothers than for any other species. Women in the last 60 years no longer say "birthed five, buried two". They are more likely to say: birthed one and that's it, according to our fertility graphs.

    Some of that is simply women learning to read. UNESCO estimated that around 10% of the world's population could read 200 years ago, as against 90% in 2017. Most of patriarchy doesn't survive a good education.

    From every developed country in the world we see rapidly declining fertility, which is as good a signal as you can get that our phenotype is responding less to fertility signals and more towards sustained erasure of difference. Again, patriarchy struggles when there's no children to underline any difference.

    No one says the arc of freedom is inevitable for women, but searching for the mechanisms of freedom in obscure atavistic huddles doesn't cut it in useful analysis.

    • SPC 9.1

      The neo-liberal global market reform resulted in two income partnerships to afford home ownership is sort of relevant – whether people wanted this or not (some chose the dual career path). And some now doubt they can do it and have children – thus the government support.

      but searching for the mechanisms of freedom in obscure atavistic huddles doesn't cut it in useful analysis.

      In what sense atavistic?

      • RedLogix 9.1.1

        The neo-liberal global market reform resulted in two income partnerships to afford home ownership is sort of relevant

        For once I think we might agree on something. That and the fact of women entering the workforce en mass also put a dramatic downward pressure on the value of labour should probably not be ignored as a factor either.

        Throw in the advent of hormonal birth control – and mass migration from rural to urban settings where the economic cost of children far outweighs their benefits – and suddenly we have a catastrophic demographic inversion almost everywhere.

      • Ad 9.1.2

        The examples cited in the article were from small groups with origins between 100,000 and 12,000 years ago.

        Total nonsense about your proposed relationship between 'neoliberalism' and childcare subsidy.

        Many different kinds of 20th and 21-century states have generated massive childcare subsidy. From Scandinavia to Cuba to Soviet bloc to Europe to Canada to Australasia.

        • SPC

          but searching for the mechanisms of freedom in obscure atavistic huddles doesn't cut it in useful analysis.

          In what sense atavistic?

          And my previous response to this

          Those females that now choose to reproduce need massive subsidy to care for them into independence

          Why? I provided an answer.

          In no short order in NZ you will be subsidised out of the workplace male or female to have kids, and then they go straight at the age of 2 into childcare. You can call that freedom maybe, but this state is looking more lactative than patriarchal every day.

          Is it because of the construct of a global market, an ECA, reduced apprenticeships and requiring TD to obtain employment and then migrant labour to hold down wages. Is not the concept of a capitalist dominated global market somewhat patriarchal?

          • Ad

            You were provided with the sense used in atavistic.

            Your answer was flat wrong. So I provided a number of countries with different kinds of child subsidy that are and are not 'neoliberal'. You could for yourself have looked up childcare subsidies in the countries provided.

            Then you made your silly definitions even sillier with a new one, the "capitalist dominated global market".

            None of the above post requires a "capitalist dominated global market". Some of the most patriarchal countries in the world barely trade with the outside world.

            • SPC

              Your certainty in the supremacy of your intellectual competence is probably sourced in some obscure atavistic community association hostile to feminist criticism and left wing ideology (and of course its critique of those in alliance with mammon).

              Our scenario was clearly caused by neo-liberal market reforms – as it did not apply until after 1984. Until then most mothers did not return to work until after children were at primary school or later. Because they did not need to own homes and raise children.

              As for years to independence of children – this has been at least 15 for generations. The more recent change came with the rise to dominance of neo-liberalism in government policy because of globalisation (unskilled job destruction), moving training for jobs from apprenticeships to tertiary sector with related student debt – all as part of competing in the global market (costs offloaded to the individual and the state for worker training).

  9. Sanctuary 10

    The only comment I would make about the OP is you'd need to go a long way to find a more superficial example of historical materialism.

    • weka 10.1

      another superficial comment without substance then 🤷‍♀️

    • RedLogix 10.2

      I would not be so tough. While historical materialism is heavily associated with Engels, it is nonetheless a way of thinking about our world that has some real value. It goes a long way down the road of discovering why we are the way we are – and helps clarify root causes.

      In more recent times, these ideas have been extended by evolutionary biology – into a broad and interesting set of ideas. Throw in geography, demographics and sexual mating strategies and there is a lot to work with.

      So in this sense I'd not want to be mean or dismissive toward the author. Clearly they made an authentic effort to express their world view in a consistent argument. Without damning by faint praise – I'm happy to give credit for this.

      That it comes from a feminist perspective however should not make it immune to scrutiny – the usual processes of challenge and rebuttal.

    • SPC 10.3

      Sure (surprisingly) it neglects to mention the role of religion in validating hierarchy – the first man of the land area to found his kingdom.

      And the concept of order (human dominion) out of nature chaos being a male's (kingship) rule of the society.

      So a feminism informed by left wing materialism analysis.

      But it's right to note the difference between such society based on territorial defence of land for grazing and cropping and other. Whether fishing or trading cities like the Phoenicians and Venice.

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