Patriarchy is a set of belief systems, ideologies, and experiences that together create a worldview. They are tightly held in what I call the normative paradigm of patriarchy. It is a fixed worldview that cannot readily be changed.
Those whose minds are regulated by the normative paradigm of patriarchy are responsible for the toxic relationships seen worldwide. That is, in the workplace, home, and community. The paradigm fans the flames for the exploitation of women.
The normative paradigm of patriarchy
The normative paradigm of patriarchy dates back to a patriarchal belief system in the first century, based on patria potestas. In this social system power is held by the pater-familias. That is power over wives, concubines, children, workers, animals, and property, remains with the father or head of the family, tribe, or clan. The authority of the pater-familias was considered divinely established, and the patriarchal system was unalterable. Rebellion against the father or head of the family, was rebellion against God. In Greco-Roman times, insubordinate wives or workers could be sold or killed.
Through social conditioning, the paradigm of patriarchy has been seared into consciousness. Little has changed over the centuries. This is because certainty and equilibrium must be maintained within the paradigm. All efforts go into preserving the worldview in its current state.
To understand the paradigm, think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces (beliefs, ideologies, and experiences) are interlocked to create the scene (worldview). Once the pieces are locked in there is no way of changing it or challenging it.
Consequently, it is a major challenge for women and men who want to revolutionise the normative paradigm of patriarchy. The paradigm is so pervasive that women are not only the victims but at times they actively work to reinforce it.
In the eighteenth-century women in the church and in society questioned the right of men to have authority over women. One of the earliest works of feminist literature was by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. Wollstonecraft’s platform was that women are not inferior to men, but their lack of access to education makes them appear inferior. She argued against women being treated by men as property, something to be traded.
It is around this period that there was the First Great Awakening. The movement was referred to as the Age of Reason. Participants from Britain, France and Europe questioned traditional authority and the hierarchical model.
In the early 1820’s and 1830’s in the United States of America a Protestant religious revival became known as the Second Great Awakening. By the 1860’s Phoebe Palmer and Hannah Whitall Smith, known as the holiness women, taught a theology of gender equality in marriage and ministry. Women then began questioning the patriarchal stronghold in the church and state.
Another significant trailblazer was Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902). Stanton organised the Seneca Convention in July 1848 to discuss the social, civil, and religious rights of women. Susan Anthony (1820-1906) attended the convention and then worked with Cady Stanton to form the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NSWA) in 1869. Katharine Bushnell (1856-1946), a Hebrew and Greek scholar, travelled the world promoting the work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In America the WCTU, involving many evangelical women in church leadership, became a leader in social reform for women in the western world.
Gender equality and feminism
The WCTU action in Australia was so successful that Australia became the first nation in the world where women had the right to vote and to stand as candidates simultaneously for the national parliament through the Commonwealth Franchise Act in 1902. Therefore, it was the WCTU that paved the way for what came to be known as the first-wave of feminism in the latter part of the 19th century.
In the 20th century there was a further struggle to get out of the grips of patriarchy. It began with a convention held in Great Britain in 1914 after a Pentecostal church revival. At the convention male authority was debated and reaffirmed. In the same year, the Assemblies of God in America church was formed. Women who had been participating and teaching in the church no longer had biblical authority for their office. Patriarchy pulled everyone back into line, into the normative paradigm.
Even though some religious organisations moved towards greater equality for women in the 1930s, others moved to exclude them. In the church, between the first and second world wars, there was a conservative backlash (the paradigm at work) against changing social values. This resulted in less support for women in position of leadership, power, and authority.
In the 1960’s Betty Frieden’s book the ‘Feminine Mystique’ paved the way for change for women in the secular world. Frieden’s work drew attention to the impact of industrialisation and inequality for women in the home and workplace. Addressing inequality and rights for equal pay through legal amendments became the touchstone for the second wave of feminism in the 1970’s. Yet, over 50 years later we still have a long way to go to achieve equal pay for women.
The third-wave of feminism beginning in the 1980’s began to take more seriously the differences worldwide in women’s experiences and stimulated action to achieve justice for all women. Such action through international treaties further strengthened the quest for women’s equality. Despite these small wins women continued to experience gender discrimination, racial prejudice, and colonial oppression, due to the normative paradigm of patriarchy.
The third-wave of feminism in the mid-1990s was a movement of liberation to raise the consciousness of women. It was thought that this would finally bring about gender equality. But inequalities continued to exist. Patriarchy consolidated its position in society.
The fourth-wave of feminism began in 2012-13 with a focus on sexual harassment, the rape culture and body shaming. The fourth-wave is using social media and other new technologies to highlight inequalities in the gender debate.
The struggle is evident, and the stakes are high. Will the latest wave challenging the status quo of patriarchy be the tipping point? Time will tell.