pa·​tri·​ar·​chy | \ ˈpā-trē-ˌär-kē How to pronounce patriarchy (audio) \
plural patriarchies

Definition of patriarchy

1 : social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power
2 : a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy For 20 years the country was ruled as a patriarchy.

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

With its root -arch, meaning "ruler, leader", a patriarch is a man who dominates something, even if it's just a family. In Christianity, the term is used for a few leading figures who appear early in the Old Testament, including Methuselah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in the Eastern Orthodox church, a patriarch is usually the equivalent of a bishop. Outside of the field of anthropology, patriarchy didn't start to be used much until the 1970s, when the women's movement gained a huge following. Many feminists have claimed that all Western societies are patriarchal—that is, that they systematically enable men to dominate women. But there's plenty of disagreement about how this is done, and the word isn't discussed as often as it used to be.

Examples of patriarchy in a Sentence

For 20 years, the country was ruled as a patriarchy. a region in which patriarchy is practiced

Recent Examples on the Web

For a long time, the answer was obvious, a symptom of the patriarchy: wedding tradition dating back to medieval England said a woman would of course take her husband’s name. Todd Plummer, Vogue, "More Newlywed Couples Are Combining Their Last Names—Would You?," 10 Aug. 2018 Like many women in the 1950s and early ’60s, my mother, Betty, was held hostage by the patriarchy that surrounded her. Marc Myers, WSJ, "Told She’d Never Make It, Christine Lahti Has the Last Laugh," 27 Nov. 2018 Take the Brett Kavanaugh story, for example—one that left many women weeping at their TVs and laptops (while alternately raging at the patriarchy). Michelle Ruiz, Vogue, "Jessica Yellin Is a Veteran Reporter Out to Change the Way You Get Your News," 20 Nov. 2018 Why, a painting of her dog toppling the patriarchy, of course! Zoe Weiner, Glamour, "Someone Gave Meghan Markle a Drawing of Her Dog Toppling the Patriarchy," 3 Oct. 2018 Activists in any number of fields have lately renewed their calls to topple the patriarchy, but classical music is one of the few remaining areas of human endeavor in which leaders are still encouraged to think of themselves as daddies. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, "With James Levine Fired, Should We Rethink Maestro Worship?," 13 Mar. 2018 As my colleague Terry Real says, the patriarchy hurts us all. Esther Perel, Glamour, "One Crazy Idea to Empower Women? Focus on Men," 12 Dec. 2018 And Mariana is working at a tech startup and kind of fighting the patriarchy. Tamara Fuentes, Seventeen, ""Good Trouble": Everything We Know About "The Fosters" Spin-Off," 23 July 2018 The tour, which costs $49 or $59 depending on the city, is a little bit irreverent and 100 percent relevant in this broader moment when the patriarchy is getting the side eye. Kate Silver,, "To bring back visitors, museums are having to draw on their own creativity," 25 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'patriarchy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of patriarchy

1632, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about patriarchy

Share patriarchy

Statistics for patriarchy

Last Updated

2 Feb 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for patriarchy

The first known use of patriarchy was in 1632

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for patriarchy



English Language Learners Definition of patriarchy

: a family, group, or government controlled by a man or a group of men
: a social system in which family members are related to each other through their fathers

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on patriarchy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with patriarchy

Spanish Central: Translation of patriarchy

Nglish: Translation of patriarchy for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about patriarchy

Comments on patriarchy

What made you want to look up patriarchy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to reflect, repel, echo, or resound

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt-painting-a-young-scholar-and-his-tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!