Re: Swyer's questions on Power

Peter D. Junger (junger@PDJ2-RA.F-REMOTE.CWRU.EDU)
Sat, 16 Mar 1996 09:11:27 -0500

Ruby Rohrlich writes:

: Talk about ignorance of language. A society ruled by a few old people is
: a gerontocracy. If you did any reading on this subject you would quickly
: discover that my use of the word "patriarchy" is correct. Your
: ignorance and arrogance are inferior only to your big nasty mouth.

A ``gerontocracy'' is a government of old men, not (necessarily) a
government by a few old men; a ``patriarchy'' is a government by
patriarchs--each of whom is the father (Latin: pater) of a family or
an extended family of the sort often called a tribe. Thus the present
government of China is a gerontocracy, but not a patriarchy. And it
seems to me that it is very important to be able to make that

Someone has already given the definition of patriarchy from some
version of Webster's, so I will give the definition from the COD.
(``COD'', by the way, is acronym, and is not in any way symbolic of
any part of a man nor is it any evidence of the nastiness of my

``Patriarchal system of society, government, etc.''

And the COD then gives a cross-reference to PATRIARCH, which is
defined as follows:

1. Father & ruler of family or tribe; (pl.) sons of Jacob, also
Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, & their forefathers. 2. (In early &
Eastern Churches) bishop, esp. of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople,
Jerusalem, or Rome; (in R.-C. Church) bishop ranking next above
primates & metropolitans. 3. Founder of an order, science, etc.;
venerable old man; _the_ oldest living representative (_of_ a class
etc.). Hence patriarchal.

So I fear that my definition of the term ``patriarchal'' is not evidence
of my ignorance--which, of course, in no way suggests that no such
evidence could be found.

I fear, however, that this responce of Ruby Rohrlich's is another
example of the ```shut up, she explained'' style of argumentation that
irritates many people on this list.

The interesting question, however, is why have some people found it
rhetorically advantageous to misuse the term ``patriarchal'' to
describe a ``male dominated'' society, and in particular, our society,
i.e., the society that encompasses all members of this list.

I am not persuaded that the term ``patriarchy'' has been
misappropriated because it has some sort of negative connotation in
its original usage. (I suspect that most members of patriarchal
societies consider their patriarchs to be the legitimate holders of
their offices and that those offices are so much a part of the way that
things are that one cannot even think of questioning them, until the
colonialists--or anthropologists like Ruby Rohrlich--arrive to destroy
the old order and make the world safe for CocaCola and labor saving
devices.) My guess is that the attraction of the word ``patriarchy''
to the self-righteous Humpty-Dumpty's of this world comes from their
tendency to rant about ``illegitimate hierarchies'', which seems to
mean any hierarchy in which the ranters are not the hierarchs. The
phrase--and remember that it is my thesis that Ruby Rohrlich cares only
about words and symbols and nothing about reality--``male dominated''
does not seem to pertain to a hierarchy, while ``patriarch'' does, so
it was natural for them to misappropriate ``patriarchal'' as a term of
opprobium to apply to the society that they wish to destroy--and it
has the further advantage of further reducing the possibility of
anyone being able to say anything coherently in the language that they
wish to destroy, the language being symbolically identical with the

It seems to me that there is a paper lurking there for someone: ``Was
Humpty Dumpty a feminist?''

Peter D. Junger--Case Western Reserve University Law School--Cleveland, OH