Study Notes

Classic Texts: Sylvia Walby "Theorising Patriarchy" 1990


Last updated 23 Apr 2019

In this classic overview of feminist theory, Walby identifies six sources of patriarchal control.

The word patriarchy means a society controlled or dominated by men. Walby argues that contemporary society is still very much a patriarchy but that the nature of patriarchy did change through the 20th century. While it was once about men directly controlling their wives or daughters in the home, it is now more complex and happens throughout society.

The six sources of patriarchal control Walby identified were:

1. Paid work. Women are exploited at work. There is a gender pay gap (men get paid more than women), a glass ceiling (women are often not promoted to senior positions) and are often expected to take a mother role and therefore take career breaks or work part-time.

2. Housework. Walby calls this the "patriarchal relations of production". She argues that men benefit from women doing unpaid work in the home.

3. Culture. It is often argued that there is gender equality in countries like the UK now, but Walby highlights that there are still different norms and values for men and women, and that the culture is patriarchal. For example there is still a social norm that a man is "head of the household". Gender stereotypes are reinforced in the media.

4. Sexuality. There are very different expectations and standards between men and women when it comes to sexual behaviour and relationships. There is more censure (disapproval) of young women having sexual partners than there is for young men.

5. Violence. Walby notes that a feature of a patriarchal society is the threat of male violence against women. One of the ways in which women are controlled by men is that men could use their physical strength to force them to comply.

6. The state. This has changed of course - in the early 20th century women couldn't even vote and, as of April 2019 we have a female prime minister - but politics is male dominated too. Women form a minority of MPs and decisions for everyone are generally taken by men.

Critics of Walby and feminism would point to the great strides towards gender equality that have taken place over recent decades.

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