Kyriarchy not patriarchy?

// 28 April 2008

Is the concept of patriarchy too limited? Sudy at A Womyn’s Ecdysis explains why she talks about “kyriarchy”, not patriarchy.

So, what does kyriarchy mean? (Any how do you pronounce it?!)

Let me break this down for you. When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy. When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy. When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy. It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid. At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it’s more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they’re not the ones I find most dangerous. There’s a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down.

Who’s at the bottom of the pyramid? Who do you think are at the bottom of the pyramid who are less likely to scheme and spend extravagant resources to further perpetuate oppression? I think of poor children with no roads out of hell, the mentally ill who are never “credible,” un-gendered or non-gender identified people, farm workers, modern day slaves…But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom. And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother. The pyramid shifts with context. The point is not to rank. The point is to learn.

Comments From You

Anne Onne // Posted 28 April 2008 at 1:46 pm

OOh I know! Kyriarchy uses the word ‘kyrios/kyria’ from the Greek for ‘Lord’, a title I was taught would have been applied to the master/mistress of the house in Ancient Greek households. It can probably be pronounced kiri-archy (or if you’re being extra-Greek geeky and incorporating the proper way they used to pronounce Y, KUri-archy, with the ‘ku’ like in ‘courier’. That’s my experience, at least!), but the pronunciation is secondary to it’s meaning. :)

Actually, I really like the concept. It brings into play the fact that misogyny, racism and anti-LTBTQ senitment all work together. I still think ‘patriarchy’ has its uses, but it looks like that when we’re talking about how it all intermingles, kyriarchy may be the way to go.

Jess McCabe // Posted 28 April 2008 at 2:41 pm

Indeed, pronounciation is not *that* important, except that it’s useful to know because otherwise people will be reluctant to use the term!

ss // Posted 28 April 2008 at 9:05 pm

Yes this is spot on. At the bottom are the Atlasses, the strong in the guise of the weak and vulnerable, supporting the rest of us on their shoulders. To level the playing field, we the privileged have but to hold hands and jump!

Shea // Posted 29 April 2008 at 1:04 am

Now I wish I had read this prior to making the other comment. Kyriarchy- shifting circles of privilege, power and domination—exactly!

Feminist Avatar // Posted 29 April 2008 at 12:54 pm

To me, the definition of kyriarchy is very similar to definitions of patriarchy as it is used in most of the feminist theory I use (and write).

Elaine Vigneault // Posted 1 May 2008 at 10:45 pm

“the definition of kyriarchy is very similar to definitions of patriarchy as it is used in most of the feminist theory I use (and write).”

Agreed. But isn’t it interesting that when there’s a label or a word then something becomes more real? A lot of people can’t think about something until there’s a label for it.

Besides, a lot of people get tripped up by the word patriarchy and think it’s all about sex and gender, when it’s not, it’s about power.

lady vanessa // Posted 23 April 2009 at 5:01 pm

thanks for the explanation of what “kyriarchy” is and means! i am beginning to explore the various trans-related blogs and was wondering what that word meant. it is wonderful to learn new things!

it seems to me to be a more holistic concept and way of looking at domination, power and so on. and in my opinion this is a very good thing, because all too often when it comes to individual people, things are quite complicated!

bless you all, and let’s keep up the conversation and work towards a better future for all.

Thay // Posted 15 May 2009 at 9:40 am

At the risk of asserting my part in the grammar kyriarchy, when Sudy writes about “…people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a…”, she probably intends “…diverges…”.

But other than that, this is a wonderful deconstruction of how power games are at the center of (at least!) western society. Personally, I am a little skeptical about whether they are avoidable – it seems to me that communities always set up rules and that dominating personalities…well dominate. But perhaps we can learn a little more self-awareness and the ability to hold looser to our preconceptions within our communities.

kandela // Posted 4 June 2009 at 11:24 am

I think this is an excellent word. I’ve often found patriarchy to be too limiting, because it tends to divide into two spheres – haves and have nots, or the powerful and the oppressed, etc.

What really makes this a better term for me is the ‘pyramidal structure.’ There are strata within oppression; often not easily differentiated. Men can be sexist to other men, women can be sexist to other women, depending on the context. I think kyriarchy captures the essence of that much better.

Mel // Posted 17 October 2009 at 5:01 pm

For a quick pronunciation help, dig up the song “Kyrie Elieson” from Mr. Mister. Take the first two syllables, then say “-archy”

Athena // Posted 25 October 2009 at 9:35 pm

Does this concept have the potential to obscure the fact that men have vastly disproportionate power over women and white men have disproportionate power over everyone else?

Butterflywings // Posted 26 October 2009 at 11:48 am

Patriarchy never meant ‘men are the oppressors, and no other form of oppression matters’.

It means ‘rule of the fathers’, not rule of men. It does refer to the concept of a small group of rich, mostly white, able-bodied etc. men ruling over other men as well as women.

This allows for the fact that some women have privileges over others, too, but women as a group have in general less privilege than men as a group, I think.

Madison McClendon // Posted 30 October 2009 at 8:21 am

Part of my response to that, butterflywings, is the same way I respond to those kyriarchs who try to tell me that I shouldn’t care about “man” being used to refer to all people; they say, “Oh, the thing is, ‘man’ never meant ‘just males, and no other people matter.’ It just is the way we talk about all people.”

That argument is bad for any number of reasons that I won’t go into here because most people reading this blog know them and can explain better than I can.

But it cuts in towards the way in which our language excludes and oppresses and categorizes. And “patriarchy” does just that; it excludes wo/men from the circle of people who have, from time to time, ruled. Patriarchy is still an expressive and powerful term; it describes the general parameters of a phenomenon that is largely rooted in “rule of the fathers,” as you describe.

But if a term requires a constant definitional caveat every time an issue comes up that falls outside of the way it is GENERALLY understood, then perhaps a new term is called for. Kyriarchy is that term.

Also, as a note — fascinating that the term comes from a Catholic wo/man New Testament scholar, Elisabeth Shussler-Fiorenza, and that the “ku-” pronunciation mentioned by Anne Onne is quite prevalent in another specifically Catholic term — the Curia. Those who, well, run the Vatican.

Madison McClendon // Posted 2 November 2009 at 6:30 am

Just as an added note; I was at a panel discussion at DePaul University between now and my last comment, in which Elisabeth Shussler-Fiorenza was participating. She pronounced it “Curiarchy.”

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