Word of the Day: Kyriarchy

As contrasted to ‘patriarchy’:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms. The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men do not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).

– Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books New York 2001

Put like that, it seems pretty clear which term is the most useful for making sense of reality. Many thanks to Sudy at A Woman’s Ecdysis for introducing her readers to the term!

66 thoughts on “Word of the Day: Kyriarchy

  1. It’s a very nice term indeed. Yesterday I read the Miranda Fricker piece that was mentioned in another thread last weekish, and in a footnote she argues that patriarchy, as such, is not really what contemporary (I would say: third wave) feminism is about. She claims feminists today are more interested in `symbolic oppression of the feminine’ (close paraphrase), which I think is just as inaccurate. (Unless, I think, we’re talking about French feminism. Which generally I am not.) Kyriarchy, as a concrete system of power relations and material inequalities, does seem to be what third wave feminists are interested in, at various levels of abstraction.

  2. I would appreciate it if someone could briefly say the distinction(s) between hierarchy and kyriarchy. The way I use and have seen hierarchy used does not seem to differ, at least obviously, from kyriarchy. Thanks.

  3. As I understand the distinction (and I may be wrong)…. hierarchy is a simpler structure, where group A is above group B who is above group C. In kyriarchy, e.g. some members of C are also members of A which makes the structure far more complex to understand– and which doesn’t fit into the simple hierarchical model. Now, it may well be possible to have more complex understandings of hierarchy that can accommodate this.

  4. This might be saying what Jender said: classification terms that are normally employed don’t fit well into the simple two-place relations that seem to compose a hierarchy. It might be that if you tried to complicate a hierarchy to reflect the fact that that some men are above “middle class white women” and some below (and so on and on), you’d turn a hierarchy into a more pyramid like structure.

  5. I think both patriarchies and kyriarchies are essentially hierarchies, but the term hierarchy in itself doesn’t determine who is at the top, patriarchy and kyriarchy do?

  6. Did anyone else notice that this definition of kyriarchy is ridiculously word-y? Would this actually explain the word to anyone who has never been to college? While I appreciate that this is on a site for feminist philosophers, I tried to use this to explain it to my boyfriend, only to realise that my clumsy roundabout explanation was still better. What good is a definition if it can’t explain the word to anyone not already in the ‘know’? It could be improved in really simple ways. For example: “multiplicative”=”multiple” or even “many.”

  7. Jessica, I never had the kind of education you refer to but dutifully put in the work to make sense of those kind of definitions. But your (indirectly) calling me out on this raises all sorts of red flags.

    I think you’re definitely on to something there. “Kyriarchy” as a word may be daunting, and as such weakening the enabling purpose the concept could still have. I’ve been meeting mixed results — read frequent utter failure — in my attempts to explain what I’m talking about with this, so I would appreciate it if you could give me your “clumsy roundabout explanation” that did work. You know, I think I’m running out of patience with my usual “clever direct expounding” that just doesn’t.

    Please don’t take this as an ironic put down, I’m not challenging you or anything, I’m genuinely interested in ways to get beyond preaching to the choir — especially since I’m not even part of it.

  8. Jessica and Fred– useful as I think the concept is, I must admit that I have yet to drop the word into conversation. This may be due to a general policy of avoiding jargon when I can avoid it. So I tend to try to explain the idea in small chunks. But if you’ve got a good “roundabout” explanation, that would be lovely to see! And yes, the one above *is* unnecessarily verbose.

  9. […] terminology, however, I wonder how much it really helps to enrich understanding. I mean, when I see examples that cite BD/SM relationships as places where “patriarchy” isn’t always applicable, I have to question it, […]

  10. In general comments are very welcome; you are invited to disagree and argue, for example, that terms like kyriarchy are not good additions. However, we insist on “being nice,” and demeaning comments will be removed.

    And one just has been sent off to spam heaven.

  11. I came across this term in a discussion group in which woman dropped the phrase, then casually informed us that for simplicity we should just substitute patriarchy because it would be too complicated to try to explain the term to us.

    What is the point of inventing a new word if the definition of it is so convoluted that no one can really explain it?

    On the other hand – I do find it amusing to note that if you do not know that the preface root word was Kyrios … it could just have easily been Kyrias, giving an almost subliminal nod to the concept of female rule.

    Perhaps that was not intentional, knowing the rules of how we merge words, where the breaks occur, etc. Still, cynically, I wonder if it was deliberate to choose the greek for that very reason.

  12. […] In particular, I keep coming back to a conversation with my friends about the division between campus ministry and theology departments, and the unspoken assumptions that keep staff and faculty operating in separate universes–assumptions which are shot through with various hierarchies and manifestations of kyriarchy. […]

  13. […] And of course, if you read the footnote (or have, y’know, a few brain cells), you’ll realize that women aren’t the only people who are being oppressed. Society is ever-creative in finding new ways to discriminate against people for arbitrary reasons (such as class, gender, race, sexuality, and probably many more things that I’m too privileged to be able to think of off the top of my head). For me**, the correct word to describe this system is “kyriarchy“. […]

  14. I must get across my respect for your kind-heartedness supporting individuals who actually need assistance with the concept. Your personal dedication to passing the message up and down appeared to be extremely helpful and have truly made ladies just like me to get to their endeavors. Your own helpful help implies this much a person like me and somewhat more to my office workers. Best wishes; from everyone of us.

  15. Females fear the smashey upper-body strength of ALL MEN. Not just white men. So Kyriarchy is not useful in discussion. There is sexism. And then there is racism. And there is also hetero-ism. They overlap for some, like lesbian WOC.
    But it is necessary to separate these out for analytic purposes.
    Kyriarchy doesn’t work as a concept.

  16. […] Kyriarchy is the word for everything, for all the oppressions. It’s on all of our necks. We cannot lift that one off – but if we start by lifting the stones that make it up, it will get lighter and lighter until we (or more likely our children’s children) might have a hope of hoisting it. It’s cismonoheteronormative androcentric dominant culture. And, again, the piece that never seems to get addressed is economic oppression. It’s a BIG piece, maybe the biggest, and it just doesn’t get talked about in this context, possibly because it’s so hard to get a handle on. The problem is obvious, but the solution isn’t. […]

  17. I would appreciate it if someone could briefly say the distinction(s) between hierarchy and kyriarchy. The way I use and have seen hierarchy used does not seem to differ, at least obviously, from kyriarchy. Thanks.

  18. The need for a new theory shows that the “patriarchy” long needed tehcnical repairs … it just shows how scientific paradigms tend to change by forces that are not always intellectual. Let more men do their gender studies and investigate the male experiencie narratives troughout history, and i bet soon enought we gonna have a certain crisis in all movements centralized on the “opression of woman” (feminisms)

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