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Patriarchy | What is it? Paid Employment

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There are three main empirical features of gender relations in employment that feminist writers have addressed.

  1. Why do women typically earn less than men?
  2. Why do women engage in less paid work than men?
  3. Why do women do different jobs from men?

Objectors to claims of structures of Patriarchy often list these features as reasons, but seldom ask why. They are put forward as reasons and not as questions. The reason why the wage gap is presented as one of the first, if not the very first, presentations of the existence of patriarchy, is because it is the easiest and simplest way for everyone to see it. It requires a historical context too, something that will become more and more important to understand when we progress towards post-structural feminists like Judith Butler who speak of repeated performance.

Note that some of the figures in this post will be out of date, the purpose of this post is to demonstrate how we can show Patriarchal structures in paid employment. Please feel free to post updated figures in the following posts. I will add them as this thread progresses.

In 1986 women earned 74% of men’s hourly rates. The gap widens if we consider average gross weekly earnings, when women earn only 66% of men’s pay. This increased gap reflects men’s longer working hours and greater likelihood of shift and overtime premia. The disparity is even greater for part-time women workers, who earned only 76% of full time women’s rates of pay in 1986.

In 1988 women constituted 46% of the paid workforce. That percentage rose steadily since WW2. However, if we go back to the middle of the 19th century, we find that the female activity rate (the percentage of women employed or unemployed as a percentage of the total number of women) was which in 1861 as it was in 1971, at 43%.

Employment trends in Great Britain, 1961-88

Employees in Employment 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1988
All male 14,202 14,551 13,424 13,097 12,278 11,643 11,978
All female 7,586 8,236 8,224 8,951 9,108 9,462 10,096
% female 34.8 36.1 38.0 40.6 42.6 44.8 45.7
% full time female 25.3 24.3 24.7 25.2 26.2
Part-time female as % of all female 33.5 40.1 41.9 43.8 42.8

Unemployment rates for both men and women are approximately the same. 1984-6, 10% of women and 11% of men were unemployed which is higher than what was shown in the official government statistics, since the latter includes only unemployed people who are also claiming benefits, this excludes many married women who are only allowed to access benefits via the claim of their husbands.

While male unemployment continues to fall from its high point in 1965, female employment, especially in part time, continues to rise.

Different jobs

Men and women typically do not work in the same occupations or industries.

Socio-economic groups by sex, 1981

SEG Men % Women %
Employers and managers 78 22
Professional 89 11
Ancillary 44 56
Supervisory non-manual 52 48
Junior non-manual 29 71
Personal service workers 13 87
Skilled manual 68 32
Semi-skilled manual 68 32
Unskilled manual 58 42
All employees 61 39

Source: Census of population 1981.

Changes in vertical segregation by sex, Britain 1971-81

SEG Men % Women %
1 41.88 101.98
2 10.08 35.10
3 2.78 22.99
4 6.33 12.59
5 28.21 40.45
6 -22.28 8.17
7 11.49 5.19
8 -0.75 19.85
9 -14.34 -28.58
10 3.63 -10.21
11 -25.87 -0.33
12 16.93 2.51
13 -13.68 -18.19
14 -21.04 -35.23
15 -20.26 -12.59
16 -1.71 50.04
17 98.21 9.46

Horizontal segregation shows an extreme segregation of men and increase in extent of mild horizontal segregation of women.

Ethnicity and of women show significant divergence in both economic activity and unemployment rates.

There are considerable inequalities between men and women in relation to access to paid work and the wages received.


The schools of thought that attempt to explain these inequalities:

  • Functionalist (economic and sociological)
  • Liberalism
  • Marxist and Marxist feminist
  • Dual systems theory
  • A small amount of Radical feminist analysis

Functionalist explanation 

  1. Women get paid less due to less skill and labor market experience relative to men
  2. Women have less ‘human capital’ than men because of their position in the household
  3. The household is the unit of rational choice in decision making

The theory predicts certain outcomes for differential wages for men and women and for the extent of women’s and men’s comparative participation in paid work. Women are the home-makers, so are less likely to earn as much as men, or acquire experience on the market. They are more likely to take jobs with less hours and so certain jobs, such as in the cleaning industry and seen as a ‘woman’s job’.

The main problem is that the theory of human capital rests on the assumption of a perfect labor market in which employers pay employees according to their worth. This assumption has been challenged in a number of ways. It is both technical and social. Unions and powerful workers are more likely to get to get jobs designated as highly skilled despite their actual skills.

Women might be skilled in the technical sense, but in the social sense, they are disadvantaged, as they may not be recognized in the same way a man will be for better paid jobs with longer hours.

This is the simplest way to understand the pay gap/wage gap – over time, we have repeated a performance that sees certain jobs as acceptable for men but not for women, even though they are just as capable.


Liberal approaches focus on small-scale processes which differentiate women’s position in work from those of men. They draw on role analysis, broad cultural differentiation of men and women. They analyse dual roles and the relationship between paid work and the family. Women play the role of mother and paid worker. They expose the conflicting demands of motherhood and their time and labor.

the sexual division of labor becomes its main subject. Women face disadvantages in corporations and they describe the proximate mechanisms through which this takes place. The cultural pressures and organisational features which lead to the less success of women than men in reaching the upper echelons of these institutions. Liberals perceive the management ethic as masculine, job hierarchy is the ideology that determines decisions of available job slots, which are gender specific. Male friendship in workplaces were shown to exclude women for instance.

Marxist and Marxist feminist

True to all Marxist analysis – capitalist relations are the determining factors which explain the pattern of women’s employment. Lower pay and lesser participation are shaped by the capital-labor relation. Women are seen as subordinate and marginal as a category of worker whose greater exploitation benefits employers, although a sub-group of this school sees women’s position in the household, rather than paid labor, as an achievement rather than failure of the working class.

  • There is the progressive ‘de-skilling’ of jobs in contemporary monopoly capitalism and that women take most of these new less-skilled jobs
  • The household tasks shift to the factory, reducing the amount of labor to be done in the home and releasing women for waged labor

De-skilling is supposed to increase profits at the expense of the workforce. The amount of housework has decreased as a result of the household buying from the market goods it would previously have produced itself. This is considered to release women from the household to waged work.

Although this has consequences where men are supposed to become more unemployed and housework was supposed to decline, only the latter came true.

Reserve Army Theory

Women are long term labor reserves which is now being bought into employment by the development of capitalism. The function of a reserve, according to Marx himself was to prevent workers from bargaining up their wages and conditions of employment. Married women suit this idea, as they have somewhere to go when employers no longer need them.

There are other elements to Marxist feminism which we can discuss later in this thread, but for brevity, I will quickly cover the other explanations.

Radical Feminists

Only a small amount exists on their literature on this subject. Their answer is that women are subject to sexual discrimination and harassment on workplaces. This has an adverse effect on women in the workplace.


This combines capitalism and patriarchy and they focus on job segregation by sex. Men have an organisational ability to exclude women from better kinds of paid work and keep them at a disadvantage. Trade unions historically, have excluded women.

In the next thread, I will discuss the more recent new approaches towards paid work.

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Patriarchy | What is it?

Basic Definitions

When I ask people what Patriarchy means, some basic definitions come up. Here are just a few of them:

  • Sexism towards women (Misogyny)
  • Wage gaps
  • Rape Culture
  • Expropriation of womens’ labor by men in the household
  • Segregation of the work force
  • Man of the house
  • Denial of right to own property for women

So with that in mind, let’s see if we can better define Patriarchy. The most general definition if we turn to Wikipedia is.

  1. a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.
  2. a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

Both of these form of Patriarchy exist today in society. Jewish families are not Patriarchal by the first definition when it comes to descent, they have a Matrilineal form of descent, but other than that they are still Patriarchal as are other religious, tribal and secular communities.

The most recent definition of Patriarchy in terms of Third Wave Feminism:

Quote:Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Usage in social science prior to feminism

Max Weber in 1947 used it to refer to ‘a system of government in which men ruled societies through their position as heads of households’. This usage has a historical context and, the domination of younger men who were not household heads was as important as, if not more important than, the element of men’s domination over women via the household.

The definition has evolved since Weber as some radical feminists who developed the element of the domination of women by men and who paid less attention to the issue of how men dominated each other, and by dual-systems theorists (a mixture of Marxist and Radical Feminism) who have sought to develop a concept and theory of Patriarchy as a system which exists alongside capitalism (and sometimes racism too).

Incorporation of generational element

The practice of incorporating a generational element into the definition of Patriarchy is viewed by some to be a mistake. It implies a theory of gender inequality in which this aspect of men’s domination over each other is central to men’s domination over women. Heidi Hartmann, one of the proponents of this theory, uses a definition which incorporates generational hierarchy among men, this is not central to her theory of Patriarchy, which focuses upon men’s organisational ability to expropriate women’s labor in paid work, and hence in the household. Inclusion of generation in the definition is confusing. It is a contingent element and best omitted, according to Sylvia Walby.

Walby defines Patriarchy as :

Quote:A system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women.

The use of the term social structure is important here. It implies the rejection of both biological determinism and the notion that every individual man is in a dominant position and every woman in a subordinate one.


Patriarchy needs to be conceptualised at different levels of abstraction.

Most abstract Least abstract
System of social relations. Patriarchal Mode of Production.
Capitalism. Patriarchal Relations of paid work.
Racism. Patriarchal relation in the state.
Male violence.
Patriarchal Relations in sexuality.
Patriarchal Relations in cultural institutions.

More concretely, in relation to each of the structures, it is possible to identify sets of Patriarchal practices which are less deeply sedimented. Structures are emergent properties of practices. Any specific instance will embody the effects, not only of Patriarchal structures, but also of capitalism and racism as well.

The six structures have causal effects upon each other, both reinforcing and blocking, but are relatively autonomous. The specification of several rather than simply one base is necessary in order to avoid reductionism and essentialism.

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Incorporation | You are the world around you |

What is incorporation?

We all like to believe that we are original and autonomous individuals, soveriegn individuals that are authentic. This is an impossible occurence and the concept of incorporation describes the process of our ‘thrown-ness’ into existence. It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘ready-to-hand’; ‘present-at-hand’ or ‘readymade’ quality that affects our ontical-ontology in existence. We are born into a world of history and talking about incorporation is a study of historology (history of being) and historciality (ontical history of a being). Incorporation is a process we can’t avoid, it is a heteronomous will, a determinism of our being in being.

To incorporate something means to take it from the world around you and then make it part of your own body.

For example, when we ingest food we extract nutrients from it and some of these nutrients are transformed into cells in our bodies. In a similar sense, we are educated in society and we pick up ideas, beliefs, norms and practices from other people around us and then make them ‘our own’.

Parasitic and Symbiotic

From the example of ingestion and nutrients in the body, incorporation is not strictly harmful in and of itself. Some forms of incorporation are symbiotic, which means that two bodies co-exist in a way that is beneficial for both bodies. For example, there is bacteria in our bodies that helps to break down food and remove harmful toxins, without them we would not be able to survive. A tic however, which feeds off our blood, is a parasite. The tic needs me to live, but I can live without the tic.

Some of these ideas are dug in very deep in our subconscious and may seem like instincts, they become emotional, unconscious and unthinking, ‘physical’ reflexes and ‘gut feelings’, or knee-jerk reactions. This is usually apparent when what we have incorporated is challenged or violated and a cognitive dissonance occurs.

There are four main processes of incorporation – mimesis, performativity, normativity and the formation of subjects.


Human beings have a strong and largely unconscious tendency to imitate each other, especially from what they consider to be ‘role models’. Some philosophers and psychologists use the Greek term mimesis to describe this phenomenon. Children start to imitate the people around them within hours of them being born, starting with facial expressions. After a few months, it gets more complex and they copy and repeat practices and routines that they are shown.

Mimesis or ’embodied unconscious imitation’ is a very early and powerful way in which we incorporate values, desires and actions of those near to us. The drive is for power – we have an unconscious desire to have more and more control over our bodies and we copy routines and practices, ideas and values from others in order to get the ball rolling. This doesn’t stop after childhood however, it continues through the rest of our lives.

There are even earlier ‘transmission processes’ for appetites that are passed on while we are in the womb, what our mothers eat determines what our tastes are.

Mimesis can sometimes be referred to as a ‘herd instinct’, ‘chameleon effect’ and subconscious ‘priming’.


One way in which we incorporate values, norms and practices is by repeatedly performing and practicing them. When we learn a new song or dance, we start off awkward and rigid, but eventually through practice and repitition, the moves and sounds flow more naturally until it is like a ‘second nature’.

Developmental Psychologists studied how children learn ‘scripts’, or repeated patterns of social interaction. There are determined scripts for bedtime and dinnertime, or ‘going to the park’. Like a theatre script, it can include a typical sequence of events or scenes and can feature and number of roles (mummy, baby etc).

Built into it are expectations of what happens next, desires and emotions about what is happening and values, of right and wrong actions and responses. Basic structures of human memory seem to favour learning through scripts. Infants have little memory for particular objects and one-off events, buthave strong memory for repeated sequences.

Like mimesis, script learning is not something that stops when we grow up, it continues throughout our adult lives too.


Norms and practices – also interpretations, values, desires, or even whole scripts combining a number of these – that people in a group feel to be normal or expected and to be right. Norms are supported through rewards and punished through sanctions.

Norms are unofficial rules, often unwritten that are enforced by nieghbours, informal groups, as opposed to laws, which are more formal rules that are enforced by the state or other ‘specialist’ agent. We don’t have to make the distinction here, some official laws work like norms, if they are accepted as right and normal.

Many norms are implicit, rarely put into words, perhaps even entirely unconscious. Many Developmental Psychologists think children start to learn norms before they can speak. They are ‘moral feelings’ that we learn and then later rationalise into ‘moral concepts’. So they are largely unconscious and can go unquestioned, even when we consciously rationalise and justify them.

It’s another aspect of the ‘herd instinct’ – that we cling to groups seeking approval and belonging.


The traditional way of training people into a groups’ norms is through humiliation and violence for norm-breakers. By contrast, rewards of status for conformity.

Note how norms involve a number of different people in different roles, they depend on the type of encounter. The norms, or what you are expected to do in certain situations – and want, and value, and expect, how you are supposed to interpret the world, will be different depending on how you are identified, what role you are expected to play.


Humans become subjects – who can reflect on themselves and their actions, make conscious plans and projects over time. We can become self-governing or self-policing. For example, I measure myself by what I ‘should be’, strive to become more like the ideal and feel inadequate or guilty if I fail.

This is a paradox of subjectivity – while we seem ‘free’ to make and re-make ourselves in new ways, persuing our chosen projects, what we choose doesn’t come from a pure source ‘inside of us’: we have incorporated these choices, too, from the cultures around us.

You might be a strong, commited and independent subject, but the ideal you aim for comes right off the shelf of norms and stereotypes, let’s say from capitalism, or patriarchy for instance – ruthless money maker, model worker, family guy, housewife, object of desire, gangster, consumer, or playboy.


Thinking about and working on yourself as an individual is an important form of social domination in modern life. Think about how we are sold ‘aspirational lifestyles’ or the need for ‘self improvement’ to name a couple of examples.


Mimesis, performativity, normativity and subject becoming don’t mean that the subject is ‘doomed’ to cultural slavery. Having ‘care of the self’ is a vital starting point for developing new cultures and forms of life, freer ways of living. But just being a ‘soveriegn individual’ is not all there is to being free. Subjectivation, or techniques of the self can be used in a number of ways, they can be used to defend or reinforce forms of life dug deep into our bodies (such as capitalism and patriarchy), or they can be used to destroy and overcome them.


  • We incorporate values, desires and practices of the cultures around us through a range of processes
  • Some of these processes are deeply unconscious, they work on us even when we are not aware of them and without conscious effort on our part
  • These unconscious incorporation processes start in early childhood and continue throughout our adult lives
  • This doesn’t mean we are unthinking slaves of the cultures around us where we grow up and live. We can learn to understand these processes that shape us and use our self-consciousness to help transform our ways of life.

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