Patriarchy Project 0: what am I trying to do?

I’m still going to have my work as a librarian to do in the next few months, so I’m not going to have a lot of extra corona virus lockdown time to do any research. But I thought that I should at least blog in a bit more detail about the new project I’m trying to start.

What I’m hoping to do is look at the long-term development of patriarchy in Western Europe. By long-term, I’d ideally looking to cover from the Roman period until about 1700 CE, so going a long way out of my comfort zone, which means I’ll be relying largely on secondary literature.

I gave a preliminary paper about this project at the University of Bedfordshire last year: the PowerPoint and script are on my webpage. That paper included (and provided an explanation for) my provisional definition of “patriarchy”:

A system of social practices and institutions which give men more power and opportunities for power than women of the same social class

To change the terminology a little (I’m still trying to work out the best terms to use), I’m regarding patriarchy as an institution in Avner Greif’s sense, “An institution is a system of rules, beliefs, norms, and organizations that together generate a regularity of (social) behavior.” (Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade, p. 30)

In order to get a better sense of change over time (or lack of it), I want to look at different individual components within the system of patriarchy. What I’m planning to do in this series of blogposts is therefore go further than my preliminary paper, putting down some initial thoughts about the different components of patriarchy I’ll be studying. For each component, I want to sketch the following aspects:

Effects: how does a particular component disadvantage women, relative to men of the same social class?

Change over time: my preliminary thoughts on this (which will probably get modified greatly by actually doing more reading).

Causes: I want to go beyond simple ideas of “male oppression” to explain the development and persistence of patriarchy. What specific groups of men in a society benefit from particular components and how? Are there men with contrary interests in that society and how are they acting?

Women’s agency: do we see individual women or groups of them working around/within this patriarchal component? How are some women able to get through the net and manage to do what they want to do?

Here’s my current list of components, though this may get changed as I investigate further:

1) Economic

a) Job segregation and lower pay

b) Household as economic unit (additional domestic work, lack of independence)

c) Limitations on owning or administering own property/wealth

d) Limited inheritance rights for widows/daughters

e) Inequality in divorce settlements

f) Differential patterns of unfreedom/slavery

2) Education and training

a) Exclusion/limitation of school-age education

b) Exclusion/limitation from training/apprenticeships

c) Exclusion from higher education

3) Sex and marriage

a) Disdain of female bodies (menstruation/childbirth as uncleanliness, blame for sterility)

b) Restrictions on contraception and abortion

c) Lack of support/care in pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding

d) Double standards on sexual behaviour (virginity, premarital sex, extramarital sex, women’s sexual activity as male property)

e) Prostitution (effect on prostitutes and non-prostitutes)

f) Restrictions on choice of marriage partner

g) Divorce (differential grounds, custody rules)

h) Compulsory heterosexuality

4) Violence

a) Exclusion from rewards of violence (wealth/social status/political status)

b) Treatment in war

c) Rape and sexual violence

d) Domestic violence

5) Politics and government

a) Exclusion from most religious offices

b) Exclusion from most secular offices

c) Exclusion from assemblies

d) Restrictions on ability to act in law courts

6) Ideology and culture

a) Religious ideology of female inferiority

b) Scientific ideology of female inferiority

c) Expectations of appropriate gender performance (body/costume/behaviour/activities)

d) Spatial restrictions on women/greater male homosociality opportunities

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