For fans of Sapiens and The Dawn of Everything, a groundbreaking exploration of gendered oppression—its origins, its histories, our attempts to understand it, and our efforts to combat it
For centuries, societies have treated male domination as natural to the human species. But how would our understanding of gender inequality—our imagined past and contested present— look if we didn’t assume that men have always ruled over women? If we saw inequality as something more fragile that has had to be constantly remade and reasserted?
In this bold and radical book, award-winning science journalist Angela Saini explores the roots of what we call patriarchy, uncovering a complex history of how it first became embedded in societies and spread across the globe from prehistory into the present. She travels to the world’s earliest known human settlements, analyzes the latest research findings in science and archaeology, and traces cultural and political histories from the Americas to Asia, finding that:
- From around 7,000 years ago there are signs that a small number of powerful men were having more children than other men
- From 5,000 years ago, as the earliest states began to expand, gendered codes appeared in parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to serve the interests of powerful elites—but in slow, piecemeal ways, and always resisted
- In societies where women left their own families to live with their husbands, marriage customs came to be informed by the widespread practice of captive-taking and slavery, eventually shaping laws that alienated women from systems of support and denied them equal rights
- There was enormous variation in gender and power in many societies for thousands of years, but colonialism and empire dramatically changed ways of life across Asia, Africa, and the Americas, spreading rigidly patriarchal customs and undermining how people organized their families and work.
In the 19th century and 20th centuries, philosophers, historians, anthropologists, and feminists began to actively question what patriarchy meant as part of the attempt to understand the origins of inequality. In our own time, despite the pushback against sexism, abuse, and discrimination, even revolutionary efforts to bring about equality have often ended in failure and backlash. But The Patriarchs
is a profoundly hopeful book—one that reveals a multiplicity to human arrangements that undercuts the old grand narratives and exposes male supremacy as no more (and no less) than an ever-shifting element in systems of control.
Angela Saini is an award-winning British science journalist and broadcaster based in New York. Her previous book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and named a book of the year by Nature, the Financial Times, and NPR’s Science Friday. Her book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong has been translated into 14 languages.
“A useful resource for scholars and students of gender studies and cultural anthropology.”
“Saini makes a persuasive case that patriarchy is more vulnerable to change than it appears. It’s a game changer.”
“The Patriarchs...shows that more equal societies are possible and do thrive – historically, now and everywhere.”
“Angela Saini is one of today’s most incisive and important writers about humanity’s troubling turns, twists, and biases. The Patriarchs, a book that is at turns myth-busting, startling, enraging, surprisingly hopeful, and addictively readable, wholly underlines that point. Don’t miss it.”
—Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection
“Based on extensive interviews with leading experts, this wide-ranging book injects new life into debates on the origins of patriarchy. Saini shows how much theorizing about the roots of gender inequality is a ‘racket,’ resting on shaky assumptions about human biology and social norms, and serving to naturalize what it should seek to question: the penetration of household and family relations by predatory systems of power and exploitation.”
—David Wengrow, coauthor of The Dawn of Everything
“Gripping and beautifully written, Saini’s The Patriarchs is mind-bending. The Patriarchs compels us to look beyond what is and what was, and imagine what could be.”
—Jennifer Shahade, author of Chess Queens: The True Story of a Chess Champion and the Greatest Female Players of All Time
“In a world sewn together by the myth of permanence, The Patriarchs offers a portal to possibility: the way things are is not necessarily how they could have been. Male supremacy was never inevitable; it was a political choice. Once again, Angela Saini has the receipts. She is scientific journalism at its best—equally engaging and enraging in her forensic denaturalization of power.”
—Alok Vaid-Menon, author of Beyond the Gender Binary
“The prose is sparkling, the information is richly textured, and the insights are plentiful. The Patriarchs is essential reading for anyone interested in how the legacy of the past continues to shape the relations between women and men, and how women have struggled to throw off its yoke.”
—David Livingstone Smith, author of Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization
“The Patriarchs cements Saini’s status as a writer of the highest caliber. . . . The reader is sure to be informed, infuriated, inspired, and spurred to action by her thorough investigations of how and why bad ideas are recycled and gender-based injustice persists.”
—Dr. Amy Parish, primatologist, University of Southern California
“Saini deftly interweaves interviews with experts in genetics, archaeology, history, sociology, and literature, as well as social and legal activists, with nuanced interpretations of key moments in the history of women to understand how oppression becomes normalized and patriarchy almost inevitable. Filled with important stories and the data underlying them, The Patriarchs helps us grapple with the big questions about the deep histories and present battles over power, gender relations, and women’s experiences in a world that often seems bent on keeping us down.”
—Rebecca Futo Kennedy, chair of Classical Studies, Denison University
“A deep and incisive look at the historical origins of patriarchal structures we are still fighting today. A must-read for every feminist.”
—Rafia Zakaria, author of Against White Feminism
“Bold, incisive, and beautifully told, The Patriarchs is a truly riveting investigation into the origins and consequences of structural power. The depth and originality of Angela Saini’s thought and research are breathtaking and world changing. A phenomenally important and deeply enjoyable book.”
—Elinor Cleghorn, author of Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World