GMP’s resident feminist, HeatherN, explains the very useful term “kyriarchy”.
In this week’s Ask the Feminist, I’ll be tackling only one question. I’ve been trying to answer at least two, and sometimes three, each week but this one is going to be a bit of a long answer. If you’ve got a question about feminism that you’d like answered, please ask it in the comments below. Alternatively you can e-mail me at email@example.com.
Gabby asked: “if the patriarchy hurts men and women, how can it, by definition, still be considered the patriarchy?”
The answer to this is, like so many things, kind of layered. First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there are some feminists out there (namely radfems) who dismiss the way in which the patriarchy hurts men as negligible. Those feminists are, however, on the fringes of the movement. They are considered radical for a reason.
On the other side, we have feminists and social justice types who have basically stopped using the term patriarchy. Instead, they tend to use the term kyriarchy, which is a “set of connecting social systems built on domination, oppression and submission.” The point of using the term kyriarchy is that it looks at how the intersections of sexism, heterosexism, racism, etc. create and maintain hierarchal power structures. Originally the term kyriarchy was not created as a way to talk about our gender system while acknowledging that it hurts men, but that is sometimes how it’s used.
I quite like the concept of the kyriarchy, personally. It’s very useful when trying to understand how different types of oppression intersect. However, I still use the term “patriarchy” when referencing the “western” gender system, because in terms of gender our system is patriarchal. Simply put, the term patriarchy refers to the gender of the people in power. Economically, politically and even domestically, those in power are men. What’s more, the system is set up in such a way as to maintain the gendered nature of power dynamics.
However, and this is key, just because the vast majority of people in power are men, that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of men are in positions of power. This is where the concept of the kyriarchy becomes so useful. Due to class, race, sexual orientation, etc. plenty of men are actually quite disempowered. However, the systematic reasons they are disempowered is not because of their gender, and that is why the term “patriarchy” still fits.
The other thing to remember about the feminist conception of western patriarchy is that it acknowledges that the patriarchy privileges a very specific, narrow and rigid idea of what manhood is. This is how the patriarchy ends up actually hurting men. The patriarchy privileges men who are heterosexual, physically strong, financially successful, stoic, aggressive, in control, etc. It is when men deviate from these very narrow ideas of masculinity that the patriarchy hurts them.