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Kyriarchy is a complex social system which keeps society’s existing oppressions in place.
Feminist theorist Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza coined the term kyriarchy in her 2001 book “Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation.” The term comes from a combination of the Greek words kyrios, meaning lord or master, and archein, meaning to dominate.
Race and gender identity, along with other markers of oppression such as sexuality and physical and mental ability, are all assessed when determining who is dominant and who is not, in kyriarchy.
Kyriarchy is a term which looks to replace the term patriarchy in the branch of feminism known as intersectional feminism, which seeks to address all types of inequality. Critics of the term patriarchy say kyriarchy recognizes the idea that men oppress and dominate women is too simplistic. Black men do not seem to dominate or experience privilege over white women, because they too are oppressed. While black men may experience some degree of male privilege, their race impacts their experience of the world and the oppression they face.
Kyriarchy also recognizes that people can be simultaneously oppressed and rewarded by the system. Such is the case for white women, for example, who can feel oppressed due to their gender yet receive privileges because they are white that black and Hispanic people don’t receive, for example.
Similarly, kyriarchy acknowledges that people can play a part in their own oppression. It suggests some people in the middle of the social order do not want to fight for equality because they feel doing so may jeopardize their social position. This occurs because few people are totally oppressed. Therefore, most people have something to lose.
Advocates for kyriarchy appreciate its broad social view and perspective. Unlike patriarchy, which suggests gender-based oppression is the only oppression, kyriarchy understands the world oppresses many different groups of people for many different reasons. Understanding and acknowledging this helps people move towards creating a society that is more equal for everyone. Kyriarchy also recognizes people of non-binary gender better than other social systems like patriarchy or matriarchy.
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