Patriarchy Is Not A Bad Word

Patriarchy Is Not A Bad Word September 12, 2018

Patriarchy is not a bad word. Period. Neither are radical feminism and matriarchy comforting words.

Patriarchy, in its pure sense, is a society made up of family units that is led by the oldest male, usually the father of the household.

Have humans done patriarchy well? No. And that is why we are here discussing why patriarchy is not a bad word.**

According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, patriarchy is a “social organization [or societies] 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.”

And matriarchy is defined as “a family, group, or government controlled by a woman or a group of women”; “a social system in which family members are related to each other through their mothers.”

But my observation is that you cannot have a true patriarchy without a matriarch present also. That’s because patriarchy is originally a biblical concept. It was designed by Creator God for the preservation of mankind, His image bearers.

So, what is true patriarchy?

Well, let’s consider what it is not. Patriarchy is not abuse of power or authority. It is not oppressive, immoral, greedy, lustful, self-serving, dismissive, neglectful, or chaotic. In short, it is not idolatry—where man is the center of his glorious universe. Misogynist men, what used to be called “male chauvinist pigs”, cannot implement biblical patriarchy. History is full of examples of imperfect patriarchies. The Scriptures also directly and indirectly allude to these imperfect male leaders. It seems to rational, sensible observers that only a Christ like man, who serves to protect, provide for, lead, and die for his bride is fulfilling this God given privilege and responsibility.

But the opposite of patriarchy is not radical feminism.

Radical Feminism

When patriarchy is not done right, we get shrill, abusive women who call themselves “feminists.” Radical feminism, as it’s sometimes called, seems to be the modern day version of the women’s rights movement. However, there is really nothing feminine about a woman who is barely surviving in this harsh world of corruption and deception. Her unruly behaviors are merely a reflection of her suffering at the hands of the very people who are supposed to honor her as a co-image bearer of Creator God. If you are a helping professional, you might be able to see the underlying hurt, neglect, abuse, trauma, or oppression endured over the years by these female survivors.* It is no wonder that radical feminists dismiss patriarchy as espoused in the bible.

However, what postmodern America forgets is that women can display toxic femininity.

We can also inflict major pain and suffering on others, especially on family members. Women’s victims include the young and old alike, rich and poor, male and female, black and white and all skin colors in between. Continual ridicule, condescension, anger outbursts, physical abuse, sexual molestation, and emotional manipulation, however understandable, can truly wreak havoc on a person.

Young children especially get hurt by women who behave like extreme, men-hating feminists. Male students who are denigrated by female ideologues in the classrooms (helped by worldly values propagated in the mainstream media) will become alienated from their positive sense of self. Instead of connecting to their role and purpose in society, they become disillusioned, frustrated, or depressed. Young boys in these types of environment are likely to grow up to be misogynists or passive, wounded men who are incapable of carrying out their role as patriarchs of their households. Or, they carry out patriarchies badly, oftentimes leading to matriarchies.

Matriarchies are intimately tied to profound loss. The man is either absent or so severely wounded that he is not the functional head.  Therefore, the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy either.

The Bible honors women, but does not promote radical feminism or matriarchies. And not everyone who advocates nobly for honoring women behaves like a radical feminist. Those on the political left point to the example of Jesus Christ as the first radical feminist. Yet, there are also thoughtful, nonabrasive, god-fearing women who engage in social political activism. Christian actress Candace Cameron Bure has called the Christian version of this kind of feminine leadership “strength under control, or bridled strength.” Christian femininity follows the complementarian model of biblical marriage.


Scripture promotes the complementarian model of marriage just as much as it endorses patriarchy. God created humans in his image, male and female he created them. Neither is right or wrong. Instead, the biblical framework differentiates holy from unholy, sinless versus sinful, godly versus ungodly. Contrary to what some might believe, strong women leaders in the Bible do not compete with patriarchies. Rather, they enable the patriarchy to be more stable and effective for their loved ones. The two are not mutually exclusive. Like in the Confucius yin yang theory of opposites, the male leader is neither dominant nor superior to the female leader. Both are equally distinct entities, yet interdependent in an egalitarian way.

But since one partner needs to be the head when there is an impasse, the bible is clear that it be the husband, like Christ is the head of his body, the church. See Ephesians 5:23. The body of Christ seems to connote a feminine identity, and yet head and body are not quite equal parts. So the bible simultaneously promotes egalitarianism between the sexes and also order, a sense of hierarchy.

The Human Journey

We, humans, are all on a journey. Whether you call this the refiner’s fire refining believers to become pure gold, or the potter molding and making us (the clay) into his image, conscientious Christians can expect some painful challenges on the road to becoming more “Christlike”.

And this journey is frustratingly not linear. It is one of self discovery that leads us sometimes around in circles or a few steps forward, a few steps back. We are on this complicated, sometimes joyous, oftentimes trying path of self growth until we are no longer in the flesh.

I was in my late thirties, attending dozens of marriage seminars and retreats, reading books from experts on marriage and men/women differences, when I finally made a realization: No one has arrived. Not even pastors, ministers, priests, monks, nuns, missionaries, “saints”, theologians, best-selling authors, successful public figures, or any other human leader. So, you and I are off the hook!

The Guide

But just because men and women consistently make plenty of diverse mistakes in life does not mean that we are without a guide. Christians have God as our guide. He reveals His holy character to us in the bible, in quiet devotional time, and through the body of Christ. Yet, even with this guide, Christian fathers will not carry out patriarchy perfectly. Many do behave selfishly or aggressively without any regards to how this wounds the women and children. However, neither can women claim that we’ve played out our roles as matriarchs perfectly. Not withstanding human history, the fact remains that patriarchy and complementarianism are biblical, God-ordained models for the harmony of Christian families and preservation of diverse societies.

Furthermore, God’s Holy Spirit helps believers to see that we are not each other’s enemies (Ephesians 6:12). Even men who hurt women, sexually harass, abuse, or oppress women with their physical strength and societal powers are not our true enemy. Do they deserve consequences? Emphatically yes. Socially, politically, and legally, evil acts by sinful men need to be brought to justice. However, finding effective solutions for #metoo, #churchtoo, and #timesup need not require that we dismantle patriarchy, an orderly system that, for the most part, works. Nor should we join in the choir to denigrate all men and boys for their innate masculinity.


Our menfolk don’t need to be battered, shamed, or guilt-tripped to being equal to their feminine counterparts. De-masculinizing men and boys and destroying patriarchy in human societies will not make human civilizations work any better. It will lead to disorder and dysfunction of the worst kind. After-all, women were not designed to be exactly the same as men, but wonderfully different and complementary —parts and all. Same value to God, different functions for the preservation of humankind. Unity in diversity.

Complementariansim, egalitarianism, and hierarchical order in one holistic, balanced mixture. ***

Essentially, the opposite of patriarchy is anarchy. Chaos arises and structured societies, no matter how homogenous or diverse, destabilize when men do not do patriarchy well.

So instead of dismissing the Bible as a misogynist, patriarchal, hierarchical, sexist book that oppresses women, believers can embrace the entirety of it. According to the ESV Bible, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim 3:16). We can look to Creator God as our guide and Scripture as His instruction manual. We do not need to settle for lawlessness, shortsightedness, selfish ambitions, self-righteousness, pettiness, or vain living. Despite our struggles in the flesh and challenges of a fallen world, the Holy Spirit can live in us and guide us toward righteousness.

It has been my experience that the Spirit gives us greater insight each day into the great, loving character of Father God. He is the solution to the brokenness that we suffer individually and as communities. Believers are blessed to know that our lives have meaning and purpose. God ultimately redeems and restores what has been fallen and corrupted by sin.

And He is the true hope we all have for a better tomorrow. Men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, strong and weak– we can find a way to all coexist in harmony knowing that one day, we will all be freed from pain and suffering.

*Update: Check out the stories of brave whistle blowers, Ronan Farrow and most recently, Linda Bloodworth Thomason.

**This blog is dedicated to my three sons.

***Update: Similar to the mystery of the Trinity.

mom and her three boys
"Good article. I can understand why women would be frustrated with men, since I worked ..."

Patriarchy Is Not A Bad Word
""What is the balance between selfless love and the responsibility for self-preservation?"if you want the ..."

Law and Order Allows America to ..."
"There is a difference between CONTROLLED borders and both OPEN or CLOSED borders. Open borders ..."

Law and Order Allows America to ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Luis Gutierrez

    Patriarchy is not a bad word, but it is not the natural order of things either. Patriarchy is a culture that emerged after original sin (Genesis 3:16) and is tainted by it. Both the clerical sexual abuse crisis and the exclusively male priesthood are rooted in patriarchal gender ideology. The following points are based on study of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    1. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, God made flesh, not a patriarch
    2. God the Father is a person, but not a male
    3. God the Son is a person, but was not a male before the incarnation
    4. God the Holy Spirit is a person, but not a male
    5. The Trinity is a communion of persons, not a patriarchate
    6. The “Son of man” is God made flesh, not a patriarch
    7. All men and women are consubstantial in their human nature
    8. Bodiliness and sexuality are not simply identical
    9. Being a body-soul is more fundamental for human nature than sexuality
    10. All men and women are of the same flesh in their somatic structure
    11. All men and women are ontologically homogeneous in their whole being
    12. All men and women are fully consubstantial with Jesus Christ as to his humanity
    13. For the redemption, the masculinity of Jesus is an incidental as the color of his eyes
    14. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, not the male of life
    15. The substance of the Eucharist is BODY, not XX or XY chromosomes
    16. The substance of the Eucharist is FLESH, not testosterone
    17. The Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,” but not necessarily patriarchal
    18. Patriarchy is a disordered attachment to the supremacy of masculinity
    19. The Church is a communion of persons, not a patriarchate
    20. The Church is the body of Christ, not a woman with a male head
    21. The Virgin Mary is the “type” of the Church, not a woman with a male head
    22. The Virgin Mary precedes the sacramental economy as Mother of the Eucharist
    23. The Marian dimension of the Church precedes the apostolic dimension
    24. Apostolic succession is contingent on redeemed flesh, not on masculinity
    25. The nuptial mystery of Christ and the Church is not a patriarchal marriage
    26. Canon 1024 is an artificial contraceptive and abortifacient of female priestly vocations
    27. Catechism 1577 reduces the priesthood of the New Law to priesthood of the Old Law
    28. Catechism 1598 declares that ordaining only males is a choice, not a dogma
    29. The exclusively male priesthood makes invisible the “feminine genius” in Christ
    30. The Christian/Catholic/Orthodox faith is not intrinsically (dogmatically) patriarchal
    31. The conflation of patriarchal gender ideology and Christian doctrines is a disgrace
    32. Institutionalized ecclesiastical patriarchy is an abuse against Christ and the Church
    33. It is time to discard the patriarchal scaffolding that obscures the Catholic faith

    For the redemption and the sacramental economy, what counts is the body-soul humanity of Jesus, not simply his masculinity. The Vatican must stop promoting patriarchal doctrines and allow Christ to call women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

  • Thank you for your feedback. I especially liked #29. Yes, the Catholic Church needs more open accountability, less legalism.

  • The Dove

    In my church, a lot of college kids were home for the summer. Based on several conversations with them, I realized there is almost no “toxic masculinity” on campus, but a severe case of “toxic femininity” on steroids. I’m so thankful to God that I attended college when you really could speak your mind and not be tagged as a “bigot” or “hater.” Most young people will never have that experience. It’s very sad.

  • RustbeltRick

    How do your complementarian beliefs impact your job as a social worker? Would you be more likely to advise a woman to return to her husband in the midst of a tense situation, compared to other social workers who don’t have the same viewpoint?

  • NorrinRadd

    Your article muddles and befuddles, and really does not move the conversation in a helpful direction.

    Your opening paragraph is really more trite than profound, as words per se are merely ordered collections of letters and phonemes, and none are inherently “bad” (or “good”).

    Regarding your definition of “true” Patriarchy — A better term would be “highly idealized” Patriarchy.

    Regarding your definition of “Complementarian” — The opening sentence of your closing paragraph in that section shows you are using the same kind of Orwellian newspeak as the CBMW. If the man always gets the deciding vote, it IS “Patriarchy,” no matter how much lipstick you slap on that pig.

    Also, while I realize your article focuses on the home and family, it is well worth noting that “Complementarians” typically extend their thinking, perhaps even more emphatically, to authority structures in the church and Church. For example, those of us who have been involved in these discussions/debates for some years are uncomfortably aware of the (in)famous list of 83 Rules by Grudem —

    Finally, w.r.t. “Complementarianism,” I am obliged to note that it was the Egalitarians of the “Christian Left” who first used the term, despite claims to the contrary by Grudem et al., as documented here:

    It is (obviously) debatable whether the Bible “promotes” a hierarchy, or merely records it. Many of us find complete equality as the ideal in the original “created order” in Gen. 1-2, and in the “New Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) order in Gal. 3:28, and implicit in the mutual submission in Eph. 5:21. We see hierarchy as an unfortunate state of affairs that did not exist until the Fall, and which ideally should not characterize the redeemed.

  • Good points. “Highly idealized patriarchy”—agreed. Is there a hierarchy in the Trinity? If not, what is the Father-Son relationship really like? Just pondering.

  • Yes, very sad.

  • Good questions. Are you a fellow social worker? If so, let’s discuss best practice, SW values, ethics, client self determination, professional use of self, etc… There are groups that meet to consult on these relevant topics. Iron sharpens iron.

  • Kathy Baldock

    Researching terms in historical context would have been a good place to start your work on this topic.

    Patriarchy has been rooted in most cultures since the Agricultural Revolution about 12K years ago. The Bible was written through the lens of patriarchy, a lens created by people, not God.

    Complementarianism was invented in 1987 in the Danvers Statement. The group knew feminism was finally making its way into the church, they called it biblical feminism, and it SCARED them to possibly allow women access to become leaders, teachers and preachers. They repackaged gender hierarchy and patriarchy and created a new word, really, a new word, “complementarity.”

    The opposite of patriarchy to those who have been in control would likely seem like anarchy. According to Jesus’ own prayer, we are to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. That kingdom does not exist with gender hierarchy, can you imagine that it ever would?

    It must feel terrifying for men to imagine they are losing power, status and control. After 12K years of patriarchy, since the 1960s in the US, the system has been challenged. And it should be!

    #SmashThePatriarchy and with it, other systems of oppression will naturally fall. Good.

  • RustbeltRick

    Not a social worker and therefore not knowledgeable about the particular jargon of your field. Since you list your professional social work credential right next to your name, I assumed it was okay to go there, and to understand how certain personal beliefs would affect professional practice. I would have the same question for someone who held a traditional belief like “divorce is never acceptable” while holding a job like marriage counselor.

  • No problem. Everyone has feelings and convictions and triggers. Good to dialogue with you. God bless.

  • Thanks for responding. I’m not defending the sins of male leaders or excusing the trauma inflicted by women, or advocating for oppressive systems. Just pointing out that the biggest, most oppressive system is the sin of humanity. And the solution is not male leaders or male power, but Christ, our Lord. Sorry I was not clear.

  • Bungarra

    I suppose the concept that before Jesus there is no Jew or Gentile, Free or Slave, Male or Female but all humans are equal. I find it interesting that Jesus congratulated Peter that he saw tha Jesus was God. Much has been made of that. However a very similar event, the Woman at the Well does not seem to have been as celibrated.

  • Yes, the woman at the well is one of many examples of how Jesus elevated women, compared to the cultures of the time.

  • CelestialChoir

    “Patriarchy” throughout sinful human societies has never, does not now, and cannot, deliver on God’s demands for holiness, justice and fair and equitable treatment–not only within the family unit, but also in society at large. The record of human history is clear–and the often misguided attempts of people
    to have forms of so-called “biblical patriarchy” has all too often resulted in polygamy, sexual abuse, trafficking of human beings and the use of marriage
    to “relieve” the family of unwanted female children. That is why believers are continually enjoined to imitate Jesus Christ. Without the Blood of Jesus as an antidote and shaper of Christian character, patriarchy will always continue to be the abusive system it has always been.

  • Ron Swaren

    Good article. I can understand why women would be frustrated with men, since I worked in a career that is rife with “toxic masculinity.” I.e. construction. We were supposed to be skilled tradesmen, but the spoils went to the nasty and aggressive, not to the skilled and conscientious. A lot of Christians in the construction world will also try to fit in on the job. And I have heard this about Christian women in highly competitive fields, too. Evangelicals get blamed for T.M. but trust me, the language that I typically heard was very anti female, and also anti-minority, anti-homosexual….you name it.

    I think it is hard for people (read Christian women) who can find success in skilled professions or in the business world to know what it is like—-to have to live up to high expectations, but get torn down everyday in the subcultures in our society that are not polite at all. And I do know that in every corner of our society, including the professional world, there are plenty of jerks who will harass you and have dark secrets they are carrying, too. But it is typical of evangelicals to move up the ladder in our society. They are trusted employees, skilled at maintaining the standards needed for successful businesses. A ‘rising middle class.’ But some corners of our society don’t even seem to care. Some of the corrupt big cities in the US prove this out. It can be a very nasty world.

    But don’t take out frustrations with male leadership (patriarchy) on Christian men who have to endure the same sort of harassment. In early Christianity wasn’t it typically the men who got martyred? I know a lot of women did, too, and this happened in other eras of history. Or they were sold as slaves and concubines.. The cross, though, could easily have been a symbol of Jewish martyrdom too, since at the same time as Jesus, thousands of Jews were killed as they fought for their understanding of God. Back to frustration with men—the women’s movement of the 1800’s stemmed out of frustration with men and their alcohol abuse, and related problems. And women were expected to keep an orderly home that was also safe for children—a really big task when the men were going the opposite way.

    I’m just saying that these same sorts of social problem re-surface time and again in our society—-and it may be the dedicated Christian man who is also caught in the crossfire. Yet men are expected to produce a safe society that protects women and children.