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Kyriarchy are the structures of domination working together as a network - not just one group dominating another. Its branches include but are not limited to racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism. In a kyriarchy, our kyriarchy, this kyriarchy, different forms of supremacy on different axes are independent and interdependent.
Kyriarchy gets at the nastiness of privilege by implicating all of it: Almost everyone holds unfair advantages and disadvantages granted by the kyriarchy based just on who they are.
Kyriarchal describes actions that promote the kyriarchy. It is the adjective form of kyriarchy; it describes actions (and other nouns - words, attitudes, habits) that back up, reflect, or otherwise contribute to existing power structures. It can refer to an individual exercise of privilege, or it can refer to actions that reinforce an intersection of oppression.
If you're not familiar with kyriarchy, you may know the second-wave word it modifies, patriarchy. Patriarchy and patriarchal are staples of feminist lingo; it's a common way to refer to sexist actions and systems.
So why do I prefer kyriarchy to patriarchy?
Patriarchy is a strictly defined term: it's just about sexism. And that has its uses. But focusing on only sexism can undermine our understanding of how colossal and all-encompassing the functions of privilege are. Feminism is not just about sexism, because women as a group are not solely oppressed on the axis of sex. Used overbroadly, patriarchy defines social power as belonging to only men, and denies the oppressive advantages that women can hold.
Kyriarchy is more descriptive of the approach I try to take to feminism. The word considers all parts of the oppressive structure we live in evenly - no one oppression is worse or better or more important than another. We are all subject to kyriarchy, and we all benefit from kyriarchy; we all share the burden and the blame in different measures and proportions. (The previous statement may not be universal, but it's close.) But with patriarchy, only men are profiting and only women are subjugated; only women are acquitted of responsibility and only men are admonished.
In intersectional discussions, patriarchy is usually too narrow: patriarchy puts the emphasis on solely sexism and erases other experiences of injustice (particularly the various oppressions men bear). Kyriarchy allows for the complexity of abuse that this world can bring down on al l bodies; it allows for both how we suffer from and participate in its tyranny.
Kyriarchy is not my word; it was coined by radical feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In her book, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation (published by Orbis Books in New York in 2001), Schussler Fiorenza defined kyriarchy as:
Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.The best explanation of kyriarchy I've read comes from Lisa Factora-Borchers of My Ecdysis, who studied with Schussler Fiorenza. In her post, Factora-Borchers writes:
When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination -- they're talking about kyriarchy. When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that's kyriarchy. When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that's kyriarchy. It's about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid. At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it's more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they're not the ones I find most dangerous. There's a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down... So when we talk about woman asserting power over other womyn, we're talking kyriarchy. When you witness woman trying to dominate, define, outline the "movement" or even what an ally should be - that's the kyriarchal ethos strong at work.Did you like this post? Want to see more simple, straightforward definitions of complicated social justice lingo like kyriarchy and cis? Donate to Deeply Problematic, or find other ways to support this site.
This and other "Why I use that word that I use" posts are a 101 space - if there's something that you're not getting, you have greater room than usual to ask basic questions.