Masculinity and Patriarchy
What is Patriarchy?
From Greek: patria meaning father and arché meaning rule
So, the most basic level of relevance is the family unit, which is the building block of
social order. But also, the family is the realm where individuals might in today’s world
feel the limitations of that definition. Patriarchy is opposite of Matriarchy
A social system that privileges men over women – it can have different manifestations:
on the individual level, collective or cultural level, legal and/or institutional level
In a patriarchy, male members of a society tend to predominate in positions of power; with the
more powerful the position, the more likely it is that a male will hold that position.
Patriarchy need not be reduced to essentializations such as all men are exploitative or all
women are victimized. It can, instead, be seen as a system in which most identities of power
are coded ‘male’ – a dominant woman in a relationship ‘wears the pants’ for instance, or men
who reject or fail to upload patriarchal power-structures would be reduced to identities coded
‘female’ such as a ‘sissy’
Patriarchy is not a stable, unchanging state – its lineaments are constantly shifting historically,
geographically and in specific inter-personal interactions. But it persists more or less virulently
in pockets of contemporary existence.
Patriarchy does not primarily maintain itself by force but by the process of socialization.
Often patriarchy functions on the premise of ‘natural’ gender roles in which men and
women have different strengths and weaknesses. These ‘innate’ qualities such as the
boldness of men or the nurturing ‘instinct’ of women reinforces the ‘naturalness’ of
patriarchy – it is ‘obvious’ that men who are ‘bold’ will be better suited to authority.
Men might be more inclined to preserve patriarchal institutions as it benefits them but
very often women are the enforcers and perpetuators of patriarchal power. Patriarchy often rewards complicit women with power and approval, who in turn reinforce
patriarchal structures in other women.
But patriarchy is not only about Man – with the capital ‘M’ having more power or privileges than
women – it is also about some men having power over other men through socially sanctioned
The conundrum of patriarchy for men often is that conceptual patriarchal power very often
coexists with experiential disempowerment and helplessness.
Some of the reasons for this
Erosion of traditional bastions of male privilege
Patriarchy is harsh on men who challenge or are unable to follow its notions of
privileged masculine behavior
Not all masculinities are equal. Economics, race, sexuality, geography – all
factor into male access to patriarchal power
Bob Connell: Hegemonic Masculinity
Hegemony: Dominance of one group over another not merely by force but by tacit consent of
Hegemonic masculinity refers to the “cultural ideal (or ideals) of masculinity” which “need not
correspond at all closely to the actual personalities of the majority of men.”
“Hegemonic masculinity is very public.”
In order to maintain dominance, there has to be an element of mass assent to those
profiles of masculine behavior.
“The public face of hegemonic masculinity is not necessarily what powerful men are, but
what sustains their power and what large numbers of men are motivated to support.” Why do men admire and preserve the ascendance of masculinities (Rambo, Bogart, James
Bond) that highlight their own distance from these models and often put men in risk of being
punished for failing to live up to these hegemonic figures?
Fantasy gratification, displaced aggression
But main reason: hegemonic masculinity is the cultural expression of general male
ascendancy over women and thus promisingly attractive to men. It “embodies a
successful collective strategy in relation to women.”
Men as well as women might like hegemonic gender patterns and find them comfortingly
familiar. The “’fit’ between hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity” Connell talks
about is at the core of some of the most successful romance narratives.
But hegemonic masculinity is not only constructed vis-à-vis women but in relation to
The most persistently subordinated masculinity is homosexuality which is mocked,
But also, other factors – race, religion, physique, employment – create subordinate