Bargaining with patriarchy

Gender and Society 2 (3):274-290 (1988)


This article argues that systematic comparative analyses of women's strategies and coping mechanisms lead to a more culturally and temporally grounded understanding of patriarchal systems than the unqualified, abstract notion of patriarchy encountered in contemporary feminist theory. Women strategize within a set of concrete constraints, which I identify as patriarchal bargains. Different forms of patriarchy present women with distinct “rules of the game” and call for different strategies to maximize security and optimize life options with varying potential for active or passive resistance in the face of oppression. Two systems of male dominance are contrasted: the sub-Saharan African pattern, in which the insecurities of polygyny are matched with areas of relative autonomy for women, and classic patriarchy, which is characteristic of South and East Asia as well as the Muslim Middle East. The article ends with an analysis of the conditions leading to the breakdown and transformation of patriarchal bargains and their implications for women's consciousness and struggles.

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