The Patriarchs: The Origins of Inequality

Regular price $ 17.95

by Angela Saini

Beacon Press

2/17/2024, paperback

SKU: 9780807093337


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, prominent thinkers have treated male domination among humans as natural or inevitable. 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 gendered oppression as something fragile, that, alongside other forms of inequality, 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:

  • Matrilineal societies are more common than we appreciate, existing under a variety of different social and environmental circumstances, and in some cases for thousands of years.
  • From around seven thousand years ago, there are signs that a small number of powerful men were having more children than other men.
  • 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, later influencing laws that alienated women from systems of support and denied them equal rights.
  • There was enormous variation in gender and power dynamics 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 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 diversity to human arrangements that undercuts the old grand narratives and exposes male supremacy as no more than an ever-shifting element in systems of control.


"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

"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

"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

About the Author:

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 fourteen languages.