It wasn’t until my college years that I began to fully realize the hatred for “patriarchy” when people propped up signs and placards denouncing it as something akin to an abomination.
The word pops up quite frequently these days in literature and media and as far as I can tell, always with negative connotation. It’s used for a negative comparison in debates about gender roles or social inequity between the sexes much in the same way that Nazism is used to compare everything from political candidates to third grade teachers.
Even though the word is referred to in a lot of literature it never seems to be defined—as if we the readers already know what it means. If something is so used and so hated, maybe we should have a working definition? Here is what Patriarchy means according to Merriam-Webster dictionary:
…social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power
So what exactly is it about patriarchy then that is so detestable, so awful, and so unacceptable especially if all it really means is “males in control”? (Hint: it’s not that males are controlling but rather that males are controlling.)
Except to those who decry it, it means much more: women oppressed and robbed of their rights and underprivileged. An unfair balance of power. Yet that doesn’t appear in general definitions. So what is going on?
It is curious that this definition states, “control by men”. What do they mean by saying men and not males? Does it mean anything? Regardless, the real issue at heart is a brewing hate in modern society for men—not males—but men. To be clear, the word male refers to a mere physical description but the word men has always had the connotation of leadership and strength and so men are increasingly afraid to be men. The backlash is a brewing disdain among men for women. But the hate is based on a lie—that sin does not exist and the problems of the world are mere obstacles that just need to be removed so that the good nature we possess can flourish. Of course the irony is, hate is sin, and it exists. It is very alive and well—just show up in the courtyard of your local university and start proclaiming, “Bring back patriarchy!”
The social construct, man, is seen as a tyranny and is at fault for well, most of the world’s problems. Thus men must be bad, and modern society would like to change it because it doesn’t believe in sin even though it believes in hate. The Apostle Peter did say the world was a corrupt place (2 Peter 1:4).
It has been trying this for forty years at least, and now, strangely, males are really bad. Teenage boys, devoid of any real social construct are joining gangs, killing one another, impregnating scores of young females, and murdering innocent women and children and killing themselves. And the lyrics to their songs are glorifying all of it. The movements to eradicate gender and social identity constructs have made a great deal of headway. But reality is telling us, very clearly, that nothing has improved but only gotten worse. Way worse. Meanwhile, Christianity was sidelined making it difficult to blame for the current downward spiral.
Perhaps what we need is….men?
But lest we think that there needs to be a return to patriarchy, we need to understand exactly what it means and why patriarchy is not the answer. The suffix -archy denotes “rule” and is the root of many words such as monarchy (one ruler) and anarchy (no ruler). The prefix patri denotes “father”. Thus patriarchy means “father rules”. In a good deal of feminist literature it might be defined as “male qualities superior to female qualities,” or “male value higher than female value,” or “male privilege”. Definitions of the word are as many the scores of anti-men literature out there.
By implication to rule means one does not submit to anyone but holds others in submission to him or her. This is the beauty of U.S. Constitution which dictates that our political leaders must submit to the will of the people. Thus, while they lead us, they do not rule over us.
Thankfully the Bible does not teach this patriarchy. Instead it teaches headship of the father. This is already in place with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ but if you’ll notice by reading the Gospel, they do not lord it over us but actually submit to our needs:
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” John 13:8
Peter explains that it is oversight and setting an example without lording it over, controlling, or being reluctant:
Shepherd…exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples… 1 Peter 5:3
Your own head, or mind, submits to the needs of every member of your body. When a limb is hurt, wounded, or sick, your mind does not ignore it but submits to its needs. Your mind does not make decisions against what is best for your body. When you exercise, your body tells you when its tired. It tells you when it needs a shower. It tells you when it needs medicine or a hospital. It tells you when you eat to much or too little. Or when you have to go to the bathroom. Should your head not submit to these needs you’d be a dead or unhealthy person indeed! But, being the smart person you are, you give priority to your body over the interests of your mind every single day. Not only that you do it voluntarily with eagerness. And because it is your own body, you look to give it the best rather than exploit it. Biblical headship works in exactly the same way and this is what the Bible teaches.
This kind of headship of the father (and the Father in Heaven) is what will allow our families and communities to heal, grow strong and healthy, and prosper. Fatherhood is a trait that, if realized, will bring stability, protection, and prosperity to the “body” like nothing else. The question is, will you submit to the Head as a member and receive the benefits?
So as far as patriarchy is concerned, you could say it’s satanic. Satan wishes to rule everybody and has no interest in submitting to anyone and Jesus calls him a “father”. He is a loner and a coward.
We can fight for fatherly headship, because nothing else in the world will keep us healthy or be able to help us fulfill our potential in a messed up world:
…the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction… 2 Cor. 1:3-4