Feminist Philosophers

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Word of the Day: Kyriarchy May 1, 2008

Filed under: intersectionality,language — Jender @ 10:02 am

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!


64 Responses to “Word of the Day: Kyriarchy”

  1. Noumena Says:

    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. […] support/dominance or through having worked at personal growth and healing, frequently the Kyriarchy reasserts its ordering and tells the person in question to get back in hir place–and a rather […]

  3. […] “we” deliberately vague and expansive because I’m too lazy to try to catalog the kyriarchy’s myriad targets of oppression. Sphere: Related Content This entry was posted in Life and […]

  4. […] the author says: Smashing kyriarchy since 2002. Try it. It’s fun to watch it […]

  5. […] that it applies to gender identity and presentation just as strongly. One of the features of kyriarchy (and I love that word, and am so glad to know it) is the idea that things expressed in […]

  6. […] terms bringing  readers to this blog.  And sometimes one is “kyriarchy,” which Jender wrote about.   And that’s the pyramid structure of power relations that constrain and oppress […]

  7. lar Says:

    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.

  8. Jender Says:

    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.

  9. jj Says:

    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.

  10. hippocampa Says:

    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?

  11. […] stalls and sputters when there are other oppressive forces at work. Fully Engaged Feminism is about kyriarchy – defining it, exposing it, and looking at its force within activist spaces with the goal of ending […]

  12. Jessica Says:

    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.”

  13. fred Says:

    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.

  14. Jender Says:

    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.

  15. […] feminist about descriptions of MJ’s life?  If we think of feminism as concerned with kyriarchy, then the answer comes quite easily.  The finally fatal tensions in MJ’s life cannot be […]

  16. […] Kyriarchy Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words fo… […]

  17. […] out with recommendations of more palatable porn. Also, reading this post taught me a new word–kyriarchy. It’s one of those great crit-theory words that perfectly describe a really-existing […]

  18. […] Feminist Philosophers, quoting from Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books New York […]

  19. […] 4, 2009 We have a word for the intersecting structures of oppression. It is very […]

  20. […] considered lesser. And this is a great example of why intersectionality is so important – the kyriarchy uses other marginalized groups to attack us. As we support each other and all grow stronger, the […]

  21. […] 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, […]

  22. […] on equal, human terms. To always work to be aware of and whittle away at untempered consumerism, kyriarchy, rape culture, sexism, racism, etc. In my daily […]

  23. […] out. And that’s the keyword here. Her goals. She has found a way to benefit from a system of kyriarchy and has so far shown no indication that she wants to change it. A feminist, fundamentally, wants […]

  24. […] deadly if the person doesn’t fit into them, creating a hierarchical system of oppression. The kyriarchy, or intersectional top of the identity heap, comes out on […]

  25. […] moment—far from it, as our differences need to remain intact to put up a good fight against the kyriarchy. In other words, if a social justice movement doesn’t address intersectionality of the myriad […]

  26. […] faced by women of color in another — and the idea that race and gender are both part of the kyriarchy that oppresses everyone but straight, white men remained […]

  27. […] as a safety/prevention strategy when they are enmeshed in the problem? The police are agents of the kyriarchy and not of the people. As a middle-class, white, cisgendered, passing woman with a cop for an […]

  28. jj Says:

    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.

  29. […] to cartoons.  But SI is a space where terms like “heteronormative” and “kyriarchy” are used as freely as “like” and “um.”   In working to develop the […]

  30. […] were the abominable next 30 minutes. The following is a play-by-play feminist response to all the kyriarchy and lazy writing that is […]

  31. Cecelia Says:

    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.

  32. […] veganism serves as a cover for body issues. Let’s not lose sight of the common enemy: the kyriarchy, which has shown time and again to prefer lining the pockets of people on top rather than caring […]

  33. […] to add women to existing history.* This is as damaging as leaving women out entirely, servicing kyriarchy by silencing the very voices deemed most threatening and marginalizing the women most threatened […]

  34. […] it is my opinion that we should abandon these obsolete and problematic terms for a focus on kyriarchy, which attempts to understand domination structures as highly complex, contextual, shifting and […]

  35. […] are lots of places on the interwebs where one can read about kyriarchy (like here, here, here, here, here, and here). Or you can just stay here with me while I wrap you into my boa […]

  36. […] 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. […]

  37. […] faced by women of color in another — and the idea that race and gender are both part of the kyriarchy that oppresses everyone but straight, white men remained […]

  38. […] the road ahead is; and, therefore, how methodical and patient we have to be in engaging the kyriarchy arrayed against […]

  39. […] to what they see as a patriarchal society. Yet their objection is/was notably silent about kyriarchal relations, and the paradigm I was presented of patriarchy is inherently–deceptively […]

  40. […] 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“. […]

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  42. […] what you mean by “hot” or” “pretty” here, but I can take a guess. There are cultural and kyriarchal beauty standards in any given time and place. Right now, in white Western culture, does “hot” […]

  43. […] discovering the term kyriarchy earlier this year, I’ve become a big […]

  44. […] of these people can be oppressed as a member of that privileged group. While intersectionality and the kyriarchy can make issues of social privilege complicated, that fact is inarguable. For example: A black man […]

  45. […] not doing much to overthrow the kyriarchy today. Besides writing this blog post. ‘Cause you see, I’m conforming, whether […]

  46. […] we will NOT SHUT UP. Throughout history marginalised groups have been silenced by the patriarchal, kyriarchal society and we have been told to ‘just get on with it’ or that we ‘complain too […]

  47. noboychildrenformethanks Says:

    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.

  48. […] 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. […]

  49. […] discovering the term kyriarchy earlier this year, I’ve become a big […]

  50. […] isn’t the old complaint about the patriarchy, it’s conspiracy theory […]

  51. […] or intra-racism. And I somewhat agree, since the commentary was more overcast with cumulus misogyny. The line of demarcation that was drawn- “us” Blacks vs. “those” hoodrats (and […]

  52. […] of femaleness that reifies the idea of woman as object. She’s safely fierce. She challenges kyriarchy while embracing it. She’s powerful because she’s smoking hot. But Beyoncé has also […]

  53. […] blog challenges institutions of kyriarchy, speciesism, and capitalism in order to increase discourse surrounding oppression. I think that […]

  54. […] I became aware of the transphobia, the ablism, and the host of other ways feminism was reinforcing kyriarchy, and it just makes it too hard to stick around. There have been vast gains over the past few […]

  55. […] I became aware of the transphobia, the ablism, and the host of other ways feminism was reinforcing kyriarchy, and it just makes it too hard to stick around. There have been vast gains over the past few […]

  56. 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.

  57. Ricardo Says:

    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)

  58. […] Totes my goats, I think that’s true. But repeatedly I saw this example used as a clarifier; black men don’t have control over white women. See to me, that both is and isn’t true. Let me […]

  59. […]  Word of the Day: Kyriarchy | Feminist Philosophers […]

  60. […] privilege and success then women can’t be oppressed any longer. But that’s not so. As kyriarchy theory (a theory I mostly agree with) states, it’s possible to be both privileged and […]

  61. […] change — change that dismantles the system predicated on power that is power-over (the kyriarchy) and replaces it with with power-with. Power-with being the sort of power that recognizes the […]

  62. […] series. At the same time, I want to think about the framework Kivel is developing to combat the kyriarchy more […]

  63. […] note if you look up kyriearchy despite what people will tell you I don’t think Fiorenza meant it as a substitute or […]

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