The Patriarchy is About Class, Not Gender

Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain
Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain

A Battle for Our Bodies

We women know a hard truth of our culture; our bodies are not our own.

We are told how our bodies are supposed to behave.  How they are supposed to look (age/weight/height/hair/skin colour/breast size/genitals; the last of particular interest to women not visibly born “female”).  What we should feed them.  How we should decorate them.  Whether or not we should use them as incubators and what we are allowed to do with them once a zygote starts growing.  We are told to hide, and suppress, our body’s needs and natural functions.  We are told that the functions that formulate the incubator are supposed to be hidden from polite company, from menstruation to breast feeding.  We are told how we should wrap them, under what conditions it’s okay to unwrap them, and whom we should (or should not) unwrap them for.

After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why.  This is something that has puzzled me for many years.  Why in the world does anyone else care about what I do with my body, whom I choose to have sex with, or how?  I mean, think about it.  How does it affect anyone else that I’m not sleeping with (or someone who’s sleeping with someone I’m sleeping with?)  I don’t give two figs what kind of car my neighbour drives because its effect on my life is exactly zero.

I read all the Dianic literature and found it empowering: The Wise Wound, Goddesses in Everywoman, The Chalice and the Blade.  Their theory was that because, until recently, your mother was a certainty but your father was an opinion, controlling women’s sexuality assured paternity and therefore, men would not find themselves in a situation in which they were struggling to feed someone else’s offspring.  I believed it because it was the only thing that sounded plausible to me.

The men in my life were angered by this theory.  They are feminists, and they are stepfathers.  They chose to raise someone else’s offspring, knowing full well it was someone else’s offspring, and give their love even when that love has not always been returned.  I didn’t give their anger much heed.  I figured it was a case in which they did not recognize their privilege.  I figured they would come around.

But there’s another theory, one that I’ve recently stumbled upon that makes much more sense.  Like anything else it’s not new; I was excited when I discovered, as I was reading it for the first time, that Starhawk had touched on it in the Appendices of her classic book on magick and activism, Dreaming the Dark.

Patriarchy exists to preserve inheritance.

Patriarchy is all about class.

Expropriation and Estrangement

Starhawk believes that we can find the evidence in enclosure.  In the sixteenth century a movement spread through England to enclose what was previously common land.  All of a sudden, which family controlled the land and its use became of paramount importance.  All of a sudden the people who lived on that common land became threats, because if land was held by common “squatters,” it could not be enclosed.  Often, lone widows lived in such places and so they were favourite targets of the would-be landowners, since they couldn’t do much to fight back.  Persecution increased against marginalized groups; that and widespread famines and possibly ergot poisoning led to revolutions and pogroms.  Enclosure forced most of us out of the woods and fields and into places in which our livelihoods depended on wages, and since one could only farm what was now on one’s land, trade became vital, and not an enhancement to existing living conditions.  We have seen the culmination of this trend in our current world economy, which depends on trading in raw resources and the forced labour of the developing world.

Knowledge became a marketable commodity in the new mercantile culture that was developing.  Universities developed.  Knowledge became something you could only have if you had the money to pay, and thus, graduates of those universities worked to preserve their monopoly on knowledge.  This particularly affected medicine.  Graduating university doctors spread the idea that anyone who did not have their certification was dangerous and stupid and might possibly cause real harm, even when the folk healing tradition was well ahead of the medicine of universities.  Often this was also a women’s profession, so once again women became an incidental target.  And “women’s medicine,” as a natural and unavoidable consequence of all of the medical practitioners being male, lagged behind and became a method of social control, culminating with the myth of the “hysterical woman” in Victorian times; an excuse to institutionalize women who did not behave according to the desired social mien.  We are currently seeing the culmination of the ownership of knowledge, with every task requiring (expensive) papers to certify your capability, bizarre trademark and copyright laws that allow corporations to claim intellectual property over ideas created 700 years ago, and tuitions so high that only the moneyed class can generally afford to pay them.

In order to justify this culture of ownership and expropriation, the world had to be disenchanted.  If the world has no life and no spirit other than what can be used as resources, there is no reason not to use it up.  Once again, the bodies of (cisgender) women, who are bound visibly by biological needs and changes, and who hold the power of the womb, became incidental targets, as the needs of the body and the needs of the earth and its creatures were denigrated, and “spiritual perfection” came to mean transcending anything as filthy and low as biology and nature.  We are seeing the culmination of this disenchantment now, in which faith is painted as a choice between the binary of absolute obedience to a patriarchal, distant god; or utter denial of the possibility of anything spiritual.

All of this is part of a culture of expropriation that derives from estrangement; estrangement from our nature, from our bodies, from the sense of the spiritual in the material, from people who are different from ourselves, even from one another.  We are almost seeing the culmination of it now.  We no longer know our neighbours.  We no longer live in families any larger than the nuclear.  Most of us these days are raised by single mothers.  We don’t even talk to each other any more, except through phones and computers.  As a result we are siloed in echo chambers of the ideas we support and our children sit across the table from each other and use their phones to converse.  Almost by definition, Paganism and Polytheism, which see gods and spirits here within the earth, are natural enemies of this culture.

I was excited!  Starhawk articulated it so much more effectively than I was able to.

Of course, it started long before that.  While the theory of the ancient matriarchy has been essentially disproven at this point, it is likely that inheritance did not matter in the prehistoric world until there was something to inherit that did not belong to the clan as a whole.  Chieftainships created a class of haves, and have-nots, which made tracking inheritance “necessary.”

How I Stumbled on This

I was writing a science fiction novel.  In the process I created a society in which all the men were warriors, so of course, the women were required to do everything else.  This society also had a noble caste who ruled over the other classes.  And I found that the society quickly developed, through a natural process of cause and effect, into a patriarchy.  Fascist societies, the ultimate in Corporatism, usually develop into patriarchies for this reason.

So I changed one condition; I made inheritance dependent on the female bloodline.  Now clans were organized around the females of a particular family, and to become nobles of the clan, males had to marry into it.  Technically the males inherited, but only through the females.  Suddenly, it looked to outsiders like the males were in charge, but in reality, the females were controlling marriages and fertility, and through that, the process of inheritance.  Over time, males began to develop traits that the females found desirable, and eventually it led to the breakdown of the class system and changing roles for males and females.

Corroborating Evidence

Why is it always the right wing who seems to support ideas that restrict the freedom of women?  You would think that powerful women of the moneyed class would be in an ideal position to challenge the supremacy of the patriarch.  But consider it.  Keeping the classes divided is the only way in which to assure that there are haves and have-nots.  In order to separate the classes, it is necessary to assure that the poor and the rich never mingle, and that requires controlling a woman’s fertility; and subsequently, her sexuality.  This is why it’s so important to the moneyed Conservatives to prevent cisgender women (and trans-men) from controlling their own fertility and claiming their own sexuality outside of the imposed rules of the patriarchy.  If women could do that, we wage-slaves wouldn’t continue to breed fodder for factories, would we?  Especially not in the developing world.  And what if a low-class male has sex with a high-class female and she has a child?  That elevates him out of the have-nots, doesn’t it?

We women impose these unconscious limits on ourselves.  Did you know that women do not call each other “sluts” based on their level of sexuality activity?  According to a study conducted at university campuses by Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong, the key trigger to being called a slut by another woman is being from a different economic class.  Why on earth would women perceive each other as being “trashy” for being more, or less, affluent than themselves?  It seems to me that this is a subconscious method of social control, to prevent the classes from breeding together.

Also, we choose mates based on perceived status.  It’s such a cliche that we make jokes about it; trophy-wives and sugar daddies.  Men with money are considered sexy.  Men buy expensive gifts and seek good jobs to impress women, and it’s considered the height of romanticism from him to buy us jewelry or that coveted diamond ring that proclaims our status as desired property.

We feminists think we’re above that.  After all, we believe in making our own way in the world and not relying on other people for financial support.  But consider this; assuming you are heterosexual, would you marry a man who made less money than you do?  Most of us won’t.  We think that “we can do better” and men who make less than we do are often perceived as freeloaders and “bums,” no matter how hard they work.  Fortunately this is changing.

There’s one last point of note that supports this theory, and that is the Mosuo people of China.  Often called “the last matrilineal society,” they have evolved a society in which all property rights pass through the female line.  There is no permanent marriage and partners do not live together, even if they have a long-term relationship.  Men live with their female relatives.  And all the behaviours of control and sexual dominance are displayed by the women; all the behaviours of social manipulation and preoccupation with appearance is displayed by the men.  In other words, property equals power.

The Real Enemy: Kyriarchy

Kyriarchy, pronounced /ˈkriɑrki/, is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism, and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.  (Source: Wikipedia).

It is in the interests of the Capitalists to maintain divisions of haves and have-nots.  Kyriarchy is how they go about this in a (nominally) free, democratic society.  They teach the rest of us to see one group as being superior to another, which leads to an interconnected system of privilege and disadvantage.  Notice that the poor are the only identifiable group that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against?  Institutionalized discrimination limits the ability of the poor to get education, houses and jobs, and forces them to pay more for simple things due to interest payments, bank fees and “planned obsolescence.”

This is why it is necessary to consider all disadvantaged groups.  The truth is that Kyriarchy cannot exist if we all stand together and refuse to see these artificial divisions.

In other words; sisters, men are not the enemy.  Those who teach us that one group is better than another, are.  And those who benefit from the status quo the most are usually the ones most invested in preserving it.  The ones who benefit the most from this current status quo are white, white-collar, straight, wealthy, older men; in other words, the Corporatist 1%.

By extension, this means that anyone who challenges this status quo and demands change is our ally.  It would help us all to march in Ferguson.  It would help us all to defend women’s reproductive rights.  It would help us all to support labour unions, advocate for anti-poverty groups, and march in the Pride Parade.  Any one of these activities is a blow to Kyriarchy; which, in its death throes, will take the Patriarchy with it.

Why the Patriarchy is Doomed

Don’t worry; it can’t last forever.  It was doomed from the invention of the Pill.  When you can’t control a woman’s fertility, you can’t control her sexuality.

But social sanctions will try.  And as long as we allow groups which are invested in the idea of patriarchy — such as religions or corporations — to dictate morality to us, then it will continue.  We must stop calling each other sluts.  We must stop trying to dictate to each other when it’s okay to sleep with someone and when it isn’t.  We should feel free to make our own sexual choices and respect the right of others to do likewise.  We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women).  The Kyriarchs know this and that’s why they find it so threatening and fight it so hard.

A great victory was recently won when the United States finally caught up to the idea that marriage should be a right for everyone.  I am pleased to see another nail being hammered into the coffin as the worldwide movement for the rights of sex workers grows and we stop looking down on women who get more action than others.

When our social customs catch up to our physical and scientific realities, patriarchy’s inevitable end will crumble the support pillar that sustains the Kyriarchy; and it will collapse like a house of cards.  We will see the dawn of a new age which is not dependent on human beings dividing themselves into superior and inferior classes.  That day is coming.  I believe it’s not far away.

  • Sept. 2 Update: edits made in response to suggestions from Keen on how to be more gender-inclusive (see commentary below).

29 thoughts on “The Patriarchy is About Class, Not Gender

  1. Thank you for writing this. My politics is all about my personal experiences, theory of any kind is a distant second. My experience as a child was poverty and violence, so I instinctively support anyone anywhere who is fighting back against oppression. Most leftist theories I’ve seen don’t account for my experience or my motivations. This does.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are precisely right that property is power. The idea of any form of property ownership by individuals (remember corporations are people!), outside of minor personal property, is simply absurd. Property ownership in the modern, capitalist, sense diminishes us all. Of course, I say all this while continuing to “own” property and support the system with my purchases.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the problem is we have no choice but to play this game right now, do we? I have tried many methods of opting out and all have failed. But: one person is a lone weirdo, two are an event and three are a movement. The change is in the air; I can taste it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You are correct in stating ‘we have no choice’ but in actuality you DO have a choice, as do I: from supporting locally-grown organic and sustainable agricultural practices in the food we eat, to supporting renewable energy and conservation in our home heating/cooling practices, in transportation (bike/walk/public transit/ride-share), supporting (or even running ourselves) for political posts that help shape local governmental policies…and education, travel…the list is endless. I know you are already doing most of these things, and so are millions of others.

        Gandhi stated something to the effect of: “Whatever you do is inadequate – but it’s terribly important you do it anyway.” As Pagans and Witches we are at the forefront of this shift in public perception of the Kyriarchy.

        While at times I might suffer a moment of despair in this struggle, I also remember that the change first lies within, then without. We are that change in the air.

        I’ll be re-posting your article on our community page w/ links to ‘spread the word’. Thanks again for educating us once again.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Once upon a time in America there was a great gust of change that flowed through the land called the Equip Rights Amendment. It seemed destined to pass easily…but then a funny thing happened: a backlash. It was begun by corporations who did not want to pay equily. Then church’s said it violated Holy Writ. Then radio comments from the conservative right warmed of ‘feminazi’s’….and all the political support evaporated.
    Forward to today: nary a word from either party on female equality. Hillary? A feminist supporter? Nope. Sarah Palin as a GOP model? Seriously?

    I have taken Starhawk’s words and actions to heart for over 30 years now, and have come to the conclusion that only nonviolent noncooperation (Ghandi’s founding model) will win the victory for survival of the human species.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Firstly, I love you for this. All of this, but especially linking a feminist theologian (Schussler-Fiorenza) and the word kyriarchy, long a favorite word of mine.

    Secondly, I am reading a book (Being and Place Among the Tlingit) where an entire chapter is on the effects of “enclosure” and capitalism on the social structure of the Tlingit of SE Alaska. It happened as recently as the late 1880s up until the 1920s (and really, has been continuing). What had been a matrilineal society of inheritance and family conserved lands had little way to function in a patriarchal society of inheritance and capitalist “ownership” and use of lands. You piece is a a great companion for me right now.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the keys that is missed is that repressing women goes farther back than enclosure. It goes back to when the proto-IndoEuropeans went from hunter-gatherers to herdsmen (what was that, about 6000 years ago?). The reason being that herds were mobile and could be stolen, so they had to be protected. Our ancestors were a bunch of cattle and horse rustlers. Men were generally buried with their weapons, chariots and horse sacrifices, but so were some women (presumably those who were warriors). The proto-IndoEuropeans property was not land, but animals. Patriarchies arose out of the need for defense and the opportunity raids provided, simply because men were more powerful physically.

    Thus, while hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists still maintained feminine figurines representing fertility (we call them Venus Figurines – and there were phallic symbols among those societies too!), our proto-IndoEuropean nomadic ancestors discarded feminine figurines because their existence came down to stealing others property (animals) while defending their own. It is still going on today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re absolutely right, Woods. The book I linked from the word “Chieftains” is Guns, Germs and Steel, which details how the development of animal husbandry led to the development of tribal chieftains and a society centered in inheritance.


    2. Absolutely right. I have only recently become acquainted with these theories. There is so many in this that makes sense to me. I find it staggering that in all of my education I have never come across this before. Perhaps because the first proponent of this theory was a woman, Marija Gimbutas? Anyway, I think this theory should be at the heart of the origins of western culture, and it is not pretty.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is what it is – it is how we developed as a people. It is hard to judge other realities by our standards – I try not to do that. However, the concept of women as property lasted way too long IMO, but evolution is not a constant process. Things are changing now, and for the better for all. It just doesn’t happen overnight.


  6. Historically, yeah, you can trace several things to patriarchal paranoia about cuckoldry, which concerned not only social stigma but also controlling the inheritance of patrimony. In addition, the old marriage economy emphasized marriage as a way for men to transfer financial resources and social capital to other men through dowries, with marriage merely serving as a sacralization and legitimization of that transfer while finding a “use” for young girls. Companionate marriage as an idea was relegated to the poor (who had little to worry about inheritance-wise most of the time) up until the Renaissance when companionate marriage gained in popularity as an ideal to aspire to (rise of the middle class and some amount of romantic idealization but also a growing ‘Hey, maybe I’d like to be WITH my spouse and do other things than engage in kyriarchical discipline.’). Of course, patriarchy and kyriarchy never went away, and paranoia about patrimony shifted in some ways towards avoiding estate taxes (and taxes in general) and other, more modern capitalist notions.

    One interesting read about the history of marriage–especially the changing shape of attacks against and defenses thereof and models of marriage–is Frances E. Dolan’s Marriage & Violence: The Early Modern Legacy (UPenn Press).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I agree with probably… 85% of this.

    The remaining 15% is because this piece is simplistic in its understanding of the ways in which sex and gender intersect, and makes a lot of mistakes that radical feminism does (which is why radical feminism isn’t actually all that radical). First off, this needs, if not a supplementary analysis of non-cis identities in the context of incubation, then at least a mention. The language in this piece is very essentialist; a rookie mistake.

    The other thing that should have been referenced is how gender, as most of the world currently knows it, is also an artificial construct that appeared relatively recently on the timeline of human history. Man = male/woman = female is a form of enclosure in itself as well.


    1. Hi Keen! You’re probably right; that’s because I *am* a rookie. I did not take women’s studies, gender studies, or anthropology because of those expensive tuitions I mentioned, and I was born a blue collar girl. I’m just smart, and I read, and I think.

      I have to disagree that I didn’t mention non-cis identities though. I did so, here: “We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women).” Actually, I think that non-binary gender identities are probably the most significant current battleground in fighting the Kyriarchy, and if you follow the link contained in that sentence I just quoted, you’ll see that I speak out about the importance of non-binary inclusion in feminism, and how I believe that not being, in particular, trans-inclusive, is anti-feminist.

      If you’re telling me I should have spoken to the experience of those who are not gender-binary in the bearing of children, I would have to protest that I really don’t feel qualified to do so, since I do identify as female (though maybe not completely; I am currently researching the term “demi-gender” and considering if it applies to me) nor have I successfully carried a child to term in my own body (though I have tried).

      My piece is intended to speak to the gap between genders on the issue of the patriarchy. Put bluntly, I’m trying to end the war of the sexes because I think we’ve been diverted by a tactic of “divide and conquer”. If we end the kyriarchy we end discrimination based on gender. I’m trying to ask my feminist compatriots, in particular radical feminists, to stop directing their anger towards men in general, and instead direct it to the billionaire class, because men are not the cause of the problem, though sometimes, like any privileged caste, they are unaware of their privilege.

      And perhaps that’s true of me too. Mea culpa. I’m just learning how to change my language and perhaps I have erred there. I guess I was trying to point out that these gender-based expectations of “men” and “women,” as well as our judgments about sexuality, are divisions created to control our behaviour so that the classes don’t intermingle and our system of haves, and have-nots, is preserved. By definition, the non-binary challenge those divisions and this is, I believe, the reason that defying the binary is met with such aggressive, often violent, opposition.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that I agree with you; “Man = male/woman = female is a form of enclosure in itself as well.” You’re absolutely right. And actually, I said as much in the article I linked to in this sentence: “After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why.” The article was called “Faith, Feminism and Gender.” Can you recommend how I can be more inclusive in my language without losing the audience I’m directing the message to?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for replying, and I understand what you’re trying to say better. (I am a gender nihilist, so there’s something about gender identity-by-negation that will always miss the mark to me.)

        I think that just linguistically distancing yourself from the concept of womanhood as blood and womb-bearing would take you very far here.

        Always beat to see people talking about gender through the lens of class in a way that isn’t radical feminist though ~

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For a more concrete example, this is a line that sort of set the tone for the rest of the piece for me regarding my previous issues:

        “women… hold the power of the womb”

        I think specifying “cis women” at least once would go a long way toward helping this piece. Anything more, IMO, should be left to the queer theorists to delineate. ;]

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Sable, I read an article recently that the more common one was a rip-off of Rockwell’s original image, and was used by Westinghouse Electric in dealing employee morale during WWII. Some say it may even have had an anti-union intent. I believe the difference in the two images are somewhat germane to points in your article as the Westinghouse image contains a conventionally pretty woman almost saying that working in war plant changed nothing fundamental about femininity, while Rockwell’s Rosie is transgressing a number of norms.

        Now Rockwell was hardly know as a radical artist. He published covers for the Saturday Evening Post, a moderate Republican journal, but he was known for his sharp wit, and graphics that though full of ‘down home, small town, heartwarming Americana’ were often full of rather sharp graphic commentary that only grows as one spend time with the images.

        Here are links to two sites about the history of the two images.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. One of the side benefits of writing for this blog is engaging in great dialogue with intelligent people who teach me things. I don’t imagine Rockwell’s image is public domain yet though. But I like it much better! Even more so now of course.


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