The Origin of Patriarchy

The Origin of Patriarchy

The Origin of Patriarchy has been edited by Nidhi Shah


Patriarchy in itself is a rather dense word, and pinpointing its origin is unachievable. It is an act of misjudgment that initiated out of human potential and needs. And it now addresses the world disguised as means of undermining the sexes.

So, where and when or rather how did patriarchy site its place in this damned world? The answer dates back to the Neolithic and Palaeolithic age where the division of labour occurred on the basis of the sex. During this time they realised that it took both a man and a woman to produce an offspring. But it was primarily women who bore the offsprings in their wombs. And thus they had to take up the task of rearing children in their households and looking after their needs. Meanwhile, the men went about hunting large animals defeating and capturing each other. This led to the building of tribes. Hunting became a matter of prestige, leadership and honour. Somehow this way the grandeur of women in birthing lives seemed to have lost its prominence.

One evolutionary sociobiological speculation for the origin of patriarchy states that females almost always invest more energy into producing and rearing of the progeny than males. Thus, females are a resource over which males compete. This theory is called Bateman’s principle. One important female preference in selecting a mate is which males control more resources to aid her and her offspring. This, in turn, causes a selection pressure on men to be competitive and succeed in gaining resources.

In the Palaeolithic era, the concept of ownership and inheritance of the possessions of ancestors arose. Due to this very reason, a new command over women was devised. Women had to be virgins before marriage, that is, they had to remain devoid of adultery. So men had the assurance that the offsprings produced were their own and they could carry on the hierarchy.

As cultures took more defined forms, patriarchy flourished. Ancient Greece in particular contributed significantly to it. A democracy seen in the ancient Greece gave men equal rights compared to the aristocracy they had known before. It took away all the rights that women deserved.

Male dominance may be the result of some entirely different cause. An anthropologist Marvin Harris, proposed that because most men are physically and biologically stronger than most women. Survival in tribal groups required hand-to-hand combat, men became the warriors, and women became the reward that lured men to risk their lives in battle.

The works of Aristotle portrayed women as morally, intellectually, and physically inferior to men. He brought in the perspective that women were the property of men. And claimed that women’s role in society was to reproduce and serve men in the household. He considered the male domination of women as natural and virtuous. Greek influence spread with the conquests of Alexander the Great, who was educated by Aristotle.

Mythological tales have spurred the patriarchal rule as well. In Greek mythology, perhaps the most prominent goddess Athena, the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and warcraft birthed from the thoughts of Zeus. She put forth a statement declaring her heart to be that of a male’s as she was not born from a woman. This was in the Hellenistic era. As humanity progressed to the Paleolithic and early Neolithic era, many prominent goddesses fell and Gods had magnified their presence

However, Indian mythology has many instances that emphasise the glorification of godly women and their feats over the evils. It’s a debate of completely different stances.

The Elizabethan era was one of the most significant eras that showed opposition against patriarchy. As per the article, the history of patriarchy from the women resource centre was due to the strong nature of Elizabeth Tudor who became Queen of England in 1558. She refused to share her power through a marriage and even stated that she would “have here but one mistress and no master”. Her powerful position raised the notion of women in the eyes of the men during the time. Because of this, people questioned some of the oppressive traditions. Men did not let their dominance go without protest, however, and many worked to stop empowerment of women.

Why patriarchy still persists, is a question that someone might answer in another article, another time.


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Prishanti Pathak

Prishanti Pathak - An Oxonian in making, with immense love for classic and feminist literature, and a true potter head.