Honor-related crimes are invariably linked to the patriarch. What is this term and why is it so important for us to understand how certain societies function, what are the relationships between their members and what are the role models. We will understand all this from the excerpt from the book “Why Does Patriarchy Persist?” by Carol Gilligan and Naomi Snider:

With the election of Donald Trump, the persistence of patriarchy has once again come to the fore as a question that calls for explanation. Why does patriarchy persist?

But first, what is patriarchy?

 Tolstoy describes a force that is crude, powerful and mysterious in its ability to turn what seems natural and good (love and feelings of tender compassion) into something that in the eyes of the world appears shameful and improper. In an often overlooked passage in Anna Karenina, Karenin, Anna’s husband, an officious bureaucrat who is seemingly incapable of human feelings, “had given himself for the first time in his life to that feeling of tender compassion which other people’s suffering evoked in him and which he had previously been ashamed of as a bad weakness.” Yet beside this “good spiritual force that had guided his soul, there was another force, crude and equally powerful, if not more so, that guided his life.” He knew beforehand that “everything was against him and that he would not be allowed to do what now seemed to him so natural and good but would be forced to do what was bad but seemed to them the proper thing.”

Tolstoy is not the only author whose work describes the patriarchy. In one of Shakespeare's plays - Much Ado, the public standard of honor for men is once again expressed in the cultivation of male relationships and the power over females purity and innocence. This contrasts sharply with the standard of conduct of women, which preaches silence, obedience and chastity. Within the rigorous patriarchal structure of the Renaissance society portrayed in the play, the heroine is the ideal woman to set an example for each of these qualities, her primary function being "to meet or reflect the expectations of others for what women should be".[1]

This depiction of men and women strikes us as apt. We define patriarchy as a culture based on a gender binary and hierarchy, a framework or lens that:

  1. Leads us to see human capacities as either “masculine” or “feminine” and to privilege the masculine.
  2. Elevates some men over other men and all men over women.
  3. Forces a split between the self and relationships so that in effect men have selves, whereas women ideally are selfless, and women have relationships, which surreptitiously serve men’s needs.

Patriarchy is an age-old structure that has been near universal, and yet there is an incoherence at its center because in reality men can’t have selves without relationships and women can’t have relationships without a self. Thus, in essence, patriarchy harms both men and women by forcing men to act as if they don’t have or need relationships and women to act as if they don’t have or need a self. But you’re not supposed to see or to say this.

As a culture then, patriarchy exists as a set of rules and values, codes and scripts that specify how men and women should act and be in the world. Breaking these rules can have real consequences. More insidiously, patriarchy also exists internally, shaping how we think and feel, how we perceive and judge ourselves, our desires, our relationships and the world we live in. Moreover, these two aspects, the cultural and the psychological, often exist in a state of tension: we can unconsciously absorb and reify a framework that we consciously and actively oppose. In a paper entitled “The Nasty Woman: Destruction and the Path to Mutual Recognition,” written shortly after Trump’s election, the psychologist Tracy Sidesinger observes the ghostlike presence of patriarchal norms and values: “Even as we have developed conscious attitudes of equality, there is a much larger context of unconscious ideas of what women should be that hovers like a ghost, making the transformation to mutuality between masculine and feminine subjectivities much harder than we think it should be.” We can believe in a woman’s equality and yet, as women, feel guilt when we put our own needs forward or uncomfortable when other women do the same, just as men, including feminist men, can feel anger and shame when their sense of autonomy or their status and power are threatened and their vulnerability exposed.

Moreover, Pope John Paul II himself believes that portraying Christ as a man pastor or bridegroom and turning him into an icon does not in any way impair the role of women.[2] From all this we understand that a strict patriarchal structure is not only inherent in typical Arab or Muslim societies, but is well spread in the Christian world from ancient times to the present.

What is the connection between patriarchy and honor related abuses?

One of the earliest extant legal texts that links patriarchy and physical abuse of wives is the Code of Hammurabi (early second millennium, bc). Based on male superiority, one law lays out the consequences for a wife who does not carry out her submissive role, thus bringing shame upon her husband: “if she was not careful, but was a gadabout, thus neglecting her house (and) humiliating her husband, they shall throw that woman into the water.” While the husband may or may not have been the one to carry out the punishment, the point is clear—wives who violate their subordinate position so dishonor their husbands that they deserve to be assaulted, even fatally.[3]

Similar legitimization of wife abuse based on patriarchy is seen in the ancient west, where in Republican Rome husbands who found their wives committing adultery could kill them, though husbands who cheated on their wives faced no such legal threat. Aulus Gellius quoted a speech of Cato in which Cato declares, “If you catch your wife in adultery, you can kill her with impunity; she, however, cannot dare to lay a finger on you if you commit adultery. It is the law.” While we do not know how often this law was actually implemented, the point remains the same, namely, male power and superiority provides the conceptual basis for the abuse of women.[4]

But why patriarchy still persists?

In asking why patriarchy persists, we are asking why a set of cultural rules and assumptions that are psychologically incoherent and harmful has such a powerful grip on the psyche? In essence, we are asking where is the resistance?

To put it more starkly, the willingness to override not only the voice of desire but also the voice of experience adds a psychological dimension to what has been the more common, political understanding as to why patriarchy is still a force we contend with. In addition to the realities of privilege and power, we are also dealing here with ghostlike forces that operate outside our awareness—with an initiation that bypasses conscious thought. Or, as Tolstoy dramatizes it in his novel, we are contending with a shift in the framework that makes what is bad seem good and what is natural and good feel shameful.

We recognize that there are complex social and political forces which can account for the persistence of patriarchy. Some people benefit from its institutional and economic arrangements and have a collective interest in maintaining them. Yet any political or social theory rests on a psychology: a set of assumptions about what people want and what drives them.

Our work began with a question: does patriarchy persist not only because those in positions of power are loath to give up their privilege but also because it has a psychological function? By requiring a sacrifice of love for the sake of hierarchy (think of Abraham commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac), patriarchy steels us against the vulnerability of loving and by doing so, becomes a defense against loss. In this light, we suggest that forces outside our awareness may be driving a politics that otherwise appear inexplicable to many people.

This understanding then implies that psychological dynamics also may drive the backlash against any progress toward equality. Any dismantling of patriarchy poses a threat not simply to status and power, but to psychological defenses that poses a threat not simply to status and power, but to psychological defenses that protect us from what have become some of our deepest fears and most shameful desires. From this perspective we can begin, perhaps, to understand the rage and violence that so often follow when the mask of masculine invulnerability and autonomy slips and a man’s desire for love or his need for care is exposed, and also why it is that some women shun women who speak from a place of their own desire and agency.


Patriarchy is in fact not natural to us as humans. By nature, we are relational beings, born with a voice—the ability to communicate our experience—and with the desire to engage responsively with others. There is a growing consensus among those who study evolutionary history that our capacity for mutual understanding—for empathy, mind-reading, and cooperation —was key to our evolutionary success and responsible for our survival as a species. From an evolutionary standpoint, patriarchy posed a threat. To put it starkly, in the words of the evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, “patriarchal ideologies that focused on both the chastity of women and the perpetuation and augmentation of male lineages undercut the long-standing priority of putting children’s well-being first.”

Read the whole book if you want to learn more about patriarchy and its influence on the society.

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This article was created with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The responsibility for the content of the document lies with the Center for Sustainable Communities Development and under no circumstances can it be assumed that this document reflects the official opinion of the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism and the Operator of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria.


[1] Christa Wilson, “Father, As It Please You”: The Problems of Patriarchy in Much Ado

[2] O'Connor, Frances B.; Drury, Becky S., The Female Face in Patriarchy : Oppression As Culture




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