A patriarch (from Greek: patria means father; arché means rule, beginning, origin) is a male head of an extended family exercising autocratic authority, or, by extension, a member of the ruling class or government of a society controlled by senior men. The word patriarch also denotes any of certain high-ranking bishops in some hierarchical churches; see patriarch; the word patriarchy in that case refers to his seat and domain.
Under patriarchy, if a man whose father (and whose father's father, etc.) has died, has two married sons and two married daughters and 15 grandchildren, then any money earned by either of his two sons belongs, not to the individual who earns the money, but to the family, and he, as patriarch of the family, has authority to decide how the money is to be distributed among the family members. He has no similar authority over his married daughters, who are under the authority of the patriarchs of the families into which they have married.
Anthropologists define patriarchy relatively narrowly, as a society in which men are the "dominant element" in public political affairs. This is also known as andrarchy or androcracy. By this definition, anthropologist David Brown considers patriarchy to be a "human universal" (Brown 1991, p. 137). Patriarchy is distinct from patrilineality and patrilocality, neither of which are universal.
In gender politics
In gender politics the word patriarchy refers to any form of social power given disproportionately to men. Many construe this to mean a gender hierarchy in which men dominate or exploit women, but that doesn't need to be the case.
Many feminist writers have considered patriarchy to be the basis on which most modern societies have been formed. They argue that it is necessary and desirable to get away from this model in order to achieve gender equality. Although "feminism" is a term in widespread use since the 1970s to refer to the movement that seeks greater power for women, some feel that it is a misuse of the word since to feminize a man is to castrate him; they argue the more appropriate (and less offensive) term would be "egalitarianism." Some critics argue that these writers are oversimplifying the complexities of society, or that such gender roles are not necessarily harmful. Other authors have condemned feminists for trying to replace patriarchy with matriarchy, an equally harmful system.
- Brown, Robert. (1991). Human Universals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press