sexual politics – sociological 3a

Traditionally, patriarchy granted the father nearly total ownership over wife or wives and children, including the powers of physical abuse and often even those of murder and sale.
Classically, as head of the family the father is both begetter and owner in a system in which kinship is property.
Yet in strict patriarchy, kinship is acknowledged only through association with the male line.
Agnation excludes the descendants of the female line from property right and often even from recognition.
The first formulation of the patriarchal family was made by Sir Henry Maine, a nineteenth-century historian of ancient jurisprudence.
Maine argues that the patriarchal basis of kinship is put in terms of dominion rather than blood; wives, though outsiders, are assimilated into the line, while sisters sons are excluded.
Basing his definition of the family upon the patria potestes of Rome, Maine defined it as follows: “The eldest male parent is absolutely supreme in his household. His dominion extends to life and death and is as unqualified over his children and their houses as over his slaves.”
In the archaic patriarchal family “the group consists of animate and inanimate property, of wife, children, slaves, land and goods, all held together by subjection to the despotic authority of the eldest male.”


McLennon’s rebuttal to Maine argued that the Roman patria potestes was an extreme form of patriarchy and by no means, as Maine had imagined, universal.
Evidence of matrilineal societies (preliterate societies in Africa and elsewhere) refute Maine’s assumption of the universality of agnation.
Certainly Maine’s central argument, as to the primeval or state of nature character of patriarchy is but a rather naive rationalisation of an institution Maine tended to exalt.
The assumption of patriarchy’s primeval character is contradicted by much evidence which points to the conclusion that full patriarchal authority, particularly that of the patria potestes is a late development and the total erosion of female status was likely to be gradual as has been its recovery.

In contemporary patriarchies the male’s de jure priority has recently been modified through the granting of divorce protection, citizenship, and property to women.
Their chattel status continues in their loss of name, their obligation to adopt the husband’s domicile, and the general legal assumption that marriage involves an exchange of the female’s domestic service and (sexual) consortium in return for financial support.

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