Re: Patriarchy and the potency of words

Emine Onaran Incirlioglu (eoi@XMISSION.COM)
Sat, 16 Mar 1996 19:30:57 -0700

On the confusion created by the haphazard use of the term "patriarchy,"
the best discussion I had seen was by Michele Barrett, in *Women's
Oppression Today: The Marxist/Feminist Encounter*, first published in
1980 by Verso (my copy is the revised ed., 1988). In her first chapter,
"Some Conceptual Problems in Marxist Feminist Analysis," she takes up
three over-arching and uncritically used concepts: patriarchy, reproduction,
and ideology. Reproduction and ideology may be subjects for future threads;
here's what Barrett has to say on patriarchy:

As Weber had used it, patriarchy referred to a "particular form
of household organization in which the father dominated other members of an
extended kinship network and controlled the economic production of the
household" (p.10). Feminists (esp. second wave feminists, during the 70s),
however, used "patriarchy as an over-arching category of male dominance."
As there is no one feminism, there is no one definition of patriarchy; and
the theoretical significance of the concept changes depending on the particular
feminist framework it is used in. Barrett, briefly discusses these theoretical
positions, and, rightly, criticizes the ambiguous use of the term. Mind you,
she is operating in a feminist framework, and what she is doing *is not*
"feminist bashing" but advocating clarity and mutual understanding. This is
her conclusion: "It seems admissable in some contexts to refer to patriarchal
ideology, describing specific aspects of male-female relations in capitalism,
but as a noun the term 'patriarchy' presents insuperable difficulties to an
analysis that attempts to relate women's oppression to the relations of
production of capitalism" (p.19).

I just wanted to share this with those interested.

Emine Onaran Incirlioglu (
University of Utah
Middle East Center
153 OSH
Salt Lake City, UT 84112