The Clare Spark Blog

October 7, 2015

The Patriarchal Family: what could possibly go wrong?

patriarchal-familiesFirst read this account of patriarchy as contrasted with feminism:

The call for the strong father-led family did not originate with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s call for the [patriarchal] family: Jindal’s antidote to the Roseburg, Oregon massacre. Like other conservatives, he blames social decadence on moral laxity, accelerated by abortion rights, bad mothers, and video games. “Garbage in, garbage out,” he proclaimed. (

This battle cry hardly originated with social conservatives like Jindal, but, was confirmed yet again during the 20th Century with such liberal mavericks  as D. H. Lawrence, Gregory Bateson and Henry A. Murray, all of whom worried that relationships in the modern family were gravely flawed, as I showed in these blogs: (especially the material in bold face type on Gregory Bateson, objecting to mother-son bonding), this collage taken from various 20th century masculinists, including Henry A. Murray warning about the feminization of American culture, Picasso, and another writer for Survey Graphic:, and  Double binds inherent in social democracies (the unstated conflict between Truth and Order) were blamed on feminization, particularly the rise of the moral mother as husbands left home for offices and factories:

Here are some of the other complications that can emerge with the stern, disciplinary father who compensates for the too-attaching, seductive mother:

Corporal punishment. It was not long ago that whips, belts, and other paraphernalia were wielded by the male. “Wait until your father gets home!” warned the unconditionally loving mother. But even if father eschews beatings, there is much evidence that parental quarreling in front of the children is also traumatic. At every stage in development, we search for safety and family division can be terrifying.

What might be the consequences of spanking and whipping? Over-identification with “authority” at the least. Any form of social protest will be viewed as illegitimate and dangerous to the adult veteran of harsh childhood discipline. Adult sexuality is likely to be sadomasochistic in practice.

Catting around for him, but not for her. I need not belabor the double standard.

Divorce. No-fault divorces, easy to get, may result in the high rate of failed marriages and traumatized children. Romantic love may fade as pre-marital idealizations are shattered by the boredom of everyday life, despite television commercials to the contrary. Community property states are deterrents, so pre-nuptial agreements are demanded before assuming the risk of dividing property half and half. [Update: some readers took this to mean that I am against all divorces, but recent research suggests that single mothers are not to blame for delinquent children; that it depends on the skills of the single parent whether or not children are raised without trauma (look up Rebecca Ryan’s research at Georgetown U.)]

Need I go on? The irony is that authoritarian families (located in either Left, Right, or middle) engender revolt in the children, especially after puberty as the peer group more and more takes over in the inculcation of “values.” Conservatives do what they can to ignore this platitude, but no study in child development will deny its validity. (For a related blog, see





  1. My late best friend told of one of his more profoundly stupid acts. Mom handed out the discipline around his house as the first line. His Mother, Tessa, was the Patron Saint of wayward Boys but ya didn’t cross her, at least I never did. Well George had earned his Mom’s rath over some deed and she applied her remittance on his rear, this is where George really blew it. Being a 6th Grader of some rapport he turned towards his Mother and said “Is that the best ya got?” Father administered all enforcement afterward, never lightly. We were screw ups but responsible ones, I don’t regret the discipline I recieved as a child but it was never abusive, and you learned cause and effect quite well.

    Comment by hrwolfe — July 30, 2018 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  2. […] Patriarchy is still common, even in modern times. Retried from: […]

    Pingback by An Unwanted Lifestyle – Examining English — May 15, 2017 @ 3:49 am | Reply

  3. Why is a patriarchal family automatically authoritarian? What would your ideal family structure be like?

    Comment by Jane Van Horn — April 25, 2017 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

    • I don’t have an ideal family structure. Patriarchy implies male domination (that may or not be legitimate). Some “good fathers” deny females the opportunity for an education outside of the traditional sex roles, so I object to this as a feminist.

      Comment by clarelspark — April 25, 2017 @ 8:48 pm | Reply

  4. I was the one abusing the term “self.” In connection with legitimate authority, the individual must make decisions about which authority to respect. In this sense it seems the individual becomes the ultimate arbiter of authority, or maybe Authority itself. In a collective context, the individual is susceptible to environmental pressures. My concern is that contemporary environmental pressures lead many of us to reject all external authority save the individual. Our identities today seem more wrapped up in “no” than “yes.”

    Comment by Jeffery — September 3, 2016 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

    • A sophisticated education remedies many ills. We aren’t there yet.

      Comment by clarelspark — September 3, 2016 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  5. First of all, what is “female” and what is “male” is largely based on the structure of a society (Let’s leave out certain biological matters to keep the story short). In the patriarchal society the relationship of man and woman ist that of the slave owner and the slave (Either openly or nicely hidden). The man decides what is female (and what is male), the woman has to submit or was (is!) in trouble. (This leads to an asymmetric constitution of the psyche as well as different forms of neurosis etc. Also too long a story to expound here.)
    This patriarchal structure is mirrored in capitalism and the relationship man (!) has with nature (Motto: When this earth is used up, chuck it and buy a new one).
    Therefore both will have to go if there is to be a future: a. capitalism b. patriarchy. (This just in case we still have the time for this). Two sides of one medal.
    And one should not easily be deceived – emancipation is largely nothing but an illusion even though some (small) things have been achieved. Emancipation is simply not possible as you can’t isolate one thing out of the structure of the whole into which it is inextricably bound.
    Only when these questions have been answered (Society changed) does it make sense to figure out a positive relationship between men, women, and of course, children.
    Until such time you will mostly see the conventional marriage as a (hidden) form of hell, you will see countless divorces and quite a few (intelligent) women who will simply avoid being entangled in any such relationship. However, they say that there are at least some really good relationships lasting forever. Maybe. Maybe I simply haven’t come across these yet.

    Comment by yoyo — August 28, 2016 @ 12:14 am | Reply

  6. Reminds me of Adorno’s argument in The Authoritarian Personality that “bourgeois” (i.e., “patriarchial” or nuclear) families are proto-fascist.

    Comment by Mark La Rochelle — October 30, 2015 @ 5:59 pm | Reply

    • As you know, I am no fan of Adorno. But some on the Right are too quick to glorify patriarchal families without describing how they function with regard to crucial issues such as freethinking, punishment, boundaries, and education.

      Comment by clarelspark — October 30, 2015 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

    • Not sure that Adorno understood fascism, if he trashed the bourgeoisie as some kind of coherent enemy.

      Comment by clarelspark — September 3, 2016 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  7. Good survey. Not sure the abuse of power is sex related as much as it is parental polarization into a Good Cop/Bad Cop game with either parent capable of either role. I saw a natural tendency to move toward polarization when parents reacted off one another, e.g., you were too lenient, so I’ll re-balance with more force, which you’ll rebalance with even more lenience, etc.. Instead of Truth and Order, the double-bind seems to me to be between order and freedom, and humans need both in different amounts during different stages of development. Agreed that blaming feminization is misguided, but blaming patriarchal structure seems suspect for similar reasons. Authority can be either legitimate or illegitimate. How does the family discern and exercise legitimate authority? What am I missing?

    I’m reminded of a joke about a long term marriage that makes me think of my adoptive parents were born in 1905 and 1907 respectively. When they got married, it was decided that my dad was “the man,” and as such, would be making all the big decisions, and mom would make all the little ones because she’s the woman. Of course my dad never had a big decision, . . but he was ready! I witnessed their peer group which came of age in the depression and war years and I agree there was a clear “woman’s world” and “man’s world” with exceptions, but there was never a time when it was not recognized how deeply they needed each other.

    Comment by Jeffery — October 8, 2015 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

    • Children are in no position to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate authority. Neither are most adults.

      Comment by clarelspark — October 8, 2015 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

      • We no longer have a culture that recognizes legitimate authority except that of the Self. Why are we surprised that chaos is increasing on all levels of society from the nuclear family to the halls of Congress and beyond?

        Comment by Jeffery — September 3, 2016 @ 6:44 pm

      • The order-loving part of me, agrees with you; but is “chaos” the descriptive term for our present-day malaise or is it polarization?

        Comment by clarelspark — September 3, 2016 @ 6:48 pm

      • I am not a Jungian. Do you have any responses to Eric Knoll’s two books on Jung?

        Comment by clarelspark — September 3, 2016 @ 7:27 pm

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