What Is The "Kyriarchy"?

And how is it different from "patriarchy"?

I often get accused of blaming "the patriarchy" for the ills of the world. This always makes me smile, because it's clear that they haven't been paying attention. I haven't used the word "patriarchy" in earnest for years. (I do sometimes use it in jest. As in, "The toaster burned my toast again! I BLAME THE PATRIARCHY!")

Instead, I always blame the kyriarchy.

The word "kyriarchy" was coined by German feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in 2001. Kyriarchy encompasses patriarchy, and so much more. Kyriarchy is about power, whereas patriarchy is specifically about men having authority over women.

"Patriarchy" is both inaccurate and divisive. Men who hear the term feel, rightfully so, that they are being cast as the villain. And many men will be happy to point out to you (typically in an aggrieved fashion [and frequently in the form of online comments to articles such as these]) that although they are a man, they personally are hardly in a position to rule the world.

Patriarchy is in fact a sub-set of all the domination structures at work in the world today. Aside from being a somewhat fusty, outdated-sounding term, it's just not broad enough. What about gay men, and the transgendered? What about skin color? What about your area code (inner city Baltimore, small town Iowa, Manhattan)? What about income level and career?

What about the elephant in the room: America's class system?

All of these things are far more accurate and relevant to most people's life experience than just plain old "patriarchy."

If it helps, think of a culture's power structure as being a pyramid. The people with the most power are at the top, and the people with the least power are at the bottom, and there are dozens of strata in between. And as we all know, crap rolls downhill.

Granted, being male in most contemporary societies is going to automatically bump you up a few levels. But in America at least, there are a lot of factors that can serve to drag you down from there. Being a man who is non-white, poor, transgender, socially awkward, mentally handicapped… these are all grave disadvantages according to the kyriarchical structure in America.

Talking about the kyriarchy rather than the patriarchy also serves to broaden your focus to include all unprivileged people, not just the female ones. In fact, I tend to think that America's class structure is a more powerful and corrosive force than straight-up misogyny. Which is to say, our pyramid runs more on class lines than it does on gender lines.

Although it's difficult to tease these strands apart, I think most people would agree that it's better to be a rich woman than a poor woman. It's also better to be a rich black woman than a poor white woman. And - most damning to the theory of America as a patriarchy - it's better to be a rich woman than to be a poor man. It may even be better to be a rich black woman than to be a poor white man, although I bet there are plenty of racists who would disagree with me on that point.

And when social status and income level (the two are closely related, but not quite the same) have more to do with your status than your gender, you know that the term "patriarchy" doesn't quite get at the root of the problem.

Hilariously excellent illustration of the concept of "kyriarchy" courtesy of Flickr user smiteme

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