Patriarchal BargainsThis is a featured page

Patriarchal bargains refer to the ways in which women negotiate patriarchal conditions, either in terms of negotiating specific relationships with men or more generally negotiating their position vis-a-vis broader social and cultural structures.

The phrase was coined by Deniz Kandiyoti (1988).

Kandiyoti argued that patriarchy was too often considered to be a singular set of conditions. She demonstrated instead that due to different conditions in different societies, patriarchy expressed itself differently (see also Whyte 1976).

Kandiyoti's main example and contrast was between a sub-Saharan African pattern of patriarchy and what she called "classical patriarchy" of South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East (in an area she called the "patriarchal belt"; perhaps stretching from the Mediterranean sea through to China, Japan and Korea).

For Kandiyoti, the literature on sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated conditions in which women appeared to have more substantial negotiating power (e.g. greater control over the fruits of their labors) than was characteristic of societies in the "patriarchal belt."

While women in sub-Saharan Africa exhibited greater overt resistance to men's attempts to control them (or their labor) at the same time, the widespread practice of polygyny meant that their relative autonomy was maintained at the insecurities associated with relative lack of support from men (specifically husbands).

Women in societies of the patriarchal belt, by contrast were more directly subservient to men and less likely to express overt resistance. On the other hand, they developed strategies for manipulating and bargaining with men and systems of classical patriarchy. Among these, Kandiyoti notes the cyclical nature of women's power within family structures (p.279). While women married into their husband's family and assumed the extremely weak structural position of daughter-in-law, under the control in particular of a mother-in-law. Those same women aspired to bear sons, and in time assume the powerful role of mother-in-law themselves.

Kandiyoti demonstrates structurally how in the course of "bargaining with patriarchy" women as individuals become invested in patriarchal systems that do not appear to be favorable to women in general. In addition to the example of the cyclical position of women in families under classic patriarchy, she also cites examples from sub-Saharan Africa of women's enthusiasm for Christian marriage, despite its cultural entailment of a wife's subservience to and dependence on her husband. The reason, again, is because it was seen as potentially insecure position of women in systems of polygyny and weak conjugal ties.

See also Hutson (2001)


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