The Gay Patriarchy?

I was wondering that if two men get married and have a family, would their family constitute a patriarchy? Conversely, would a lesbian couple with a family be a matriarchy?

I asked two people at once and got two different answers. Ultimately, I think it depends on your definition of “patriarchy”.

Oxford English Dictionary conventiently gives us:

[mass noun] 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; a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

In this context, the social system I am of course referring to is the family unit. Notably, the word patriarchy comes from a Greek word for “father of a race”, compounding two words meaning “I rule” and “lineage” respectively.

Person A’s view: yes, two married men would, by definition, have a patriarchal family. Whichever adult is in charge or is the head of the family – as the key breadwinner or decision-maker – would be male. Or indeed if the couple “holds power” collectively, the people in charge of the family unit would be male.

Person A was quick to note that patriarchy is not bad per se – it is not the same as misogyny, which is defined by a hatred for women. (As I understand it, some forms of feminism would disagree with this.) A patriarchy is simply a family unit organised along male lines. Whether or not that is unjust or unfair, is another issue.

Person B’s view: no, two married men cannot possibly be a patriarchy. It is a logical fallacy. This person argued that to have a patriarchy, the social group in question would first need women to exclude from holding power (and vice versa for a matriarchy). For Person B, a patriarchy is defined not by what gender the family head is, but rather the relationship of power between the sexes. As the adults in a gay relationship are 100% male, you cannot have relations between two sexes. There is no way to have a patriarchy.

The logic in a heterosexual relationship or family is different to our situation. It would follow that generally, an all-male society – hypothetically or, for example, a college fraternity – cannot be a patriarchy. While some members would be excluded from power, these members have not been excluded due to their sex. Likewise, the eldest member of an all-male fraternity or family could be appointed the head due to his seniority, but not because of his sex.

An alternative third view would also consider if the sex of the children of gay parents have an impact on the allocation of resources or attention. For example, according to this view, a patriarchal family would be one where the eldest male is in charge but also if the male child is prioritised over female children for education or if he is expected to carry the family name forward in marriage.

I have no idea which view I take, of if there other ways to see this issue.


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