Home >> Gender >> Theory on the origin of Patriarchy

Theory on the origin of Patriarchy

The major theory of the origin of patriarchy men dominating society points to social consequences of human reproduction. In early human history, life was short therefore to balance the high death rate and maintain the population, women had to give birth to many children.

Consequently, around the world women assumed tasks that were associated with the home and child care, while men took over the hunting of large animals and other tasks that required both greater speed and longer absences from the base camp.

As a result, men became dominant. It was the men who left camp to hunt animals, who made contact with other tribes, who traded with these groups, and who quarreled and waged war with them. It was they who accumulated possessions in trade and gained prestige by returning to the camp triumphantly, leading captured prisoners or bringing large animals they had killed to feed the tribe.

In contrast, little prestige was given to the routine, taken-for- granted activities of women who were not perceived as risking their lives for the group. Eventually, men took over society. Their sources of power were their weapons, items of trade, and knowledge gained from contact with other groups. Women became second- class citizens, subject to men's decisions.

Male dominance may be the result of some entirely different cause. For example, anthropologist Marvin Harris (1977) proposed that because most men are stronger than most women and survival in tribal groups required hand-to-hand combat, men became the warriors, and women became the reward that enticed men to risk their lives in battle.

Frederick Engels proposed that patriarchy came with the development of private property. He could not explain why private property should have produced male dominance, however. Gerda Lerner (1986) suggests that patriarchy may even have had different origins in different places.

Whatever its origins, a circular system of thought evolved. Men came to think of themselves as inherently superior based on the evidence that they dominated society. Even today, patriarchy is always accompanied by cultural supports designed to justify male dominance such as designating certain activities as "not appropriate" for women.

As tribal societies developed into larger groups, men, who enjoyed their power and privileges, maintained their dominance. Long after hunting and hand-to-hand combat ceased to be routine, and even after large numbers of children were no longer needed to maintain the population, men held on to their power. Male dominance in contemporary societies, then, is a continuation of a millennia-old pattern whose origin is lost in history.