Accepting Kyriarchy, Not Apologies

In my last post, I actually used the word patriarchy.

Ok, now I feel better. ?Let me introduce what I really mean when I talk oppression: kyriarchy.
A few years ago, I studied under a radical feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza who does pretty amazing pioneering week in feminist theology. (Let me say now, if you want to make your head explode with inspiring feminist discourse, dip your toes in feminism and liberation theology…holy schnikes, hold on to your socks.)
Patriarchy, for me, doesn’t cut it. ?It cuts it to gender. ?As you can see, I’m not that simple. Kyriarchy is a term I adopted four years ago and I feel now it’s time to show my true colors of what I think of patriarchy. ?Two words: old skool.
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.?

PatriarchyLiterally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms. ?The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).?

– Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books ? New York 2001

Let me break this down for you. ?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.
Who’s at the bottom of the pyramid? ?Who do you think are at the bottom of the pyramid who are less likely to scheme and spend extravagant resources to further perpetuate oppression? ?I think of poor children with no roads out of hell, the mentally ill who are never “credible,” un-gendered or non-gender identified people, farm workers, modern day slaves…But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom. ? And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother. ?The pyramid shifts with context. ?The point is not to rank. ?The point is to learn.
It’s about recognizing the power-over relationships that exist because of property, religion, security, economics, citizenship, and geography. ?Let’s not pretend that just because there are not many propertied males mucking around the fem blogosphere, there aren’t queen bees and wanna bees exercising the same kind of behavior. ?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.?
So, this is my response to those who have emailed or otherwise asked me what it is I desire.
What I want and what is now the first rule of engagement on my blog is this: Learn Kyriarchy.
If you don’t, then get out of here. ?Go drive up the stat counter on someone else’s blog. ?
Learn it, think about it, consider it.
Not these apologies or the ones uttered recently are for me to accept or deny. ?I tend to view apologies as the beginning, not the end. ?So, if apologies are true and heartfelt, you’ll forgive me for not weeping with joy and instead, again, borrowing this popular term, “Prove it.”
Not to me, but to those who you say you love and have hurt. ?Prove it to them.
Thanks to all who have posted or emailed to ask for permission to use the word kyriarchy and give credit to Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. ?I would only encourage you to use her entire name when giving credit, or when using her last name, be sure to write Schussler Fiorenza. ?She was ardent with her name and let her students know that we could call her either Elisabeth or Schussler Fiorenza, never Fiorenza alone. ?As a womyn with a hyphenated name myself, I can appreciate that one.

46 thoughts on “Accepting Kyriarchy, Not Apologies

  1. Lisa

    No she doesn’t take credit for the concept. She takes credit for creating a word to illustrate her own theologies.

  2. Lisa

    I mean, seriously? You seriously took time to write that?

  3. Bob King

    It's a great word and it nails down a great concept in a solid and useful way. So let's not be annoying about who else has explored the concept before or along with. Women of Color or Feminists with the BDSM movement who have seriously explored the concept of "power exchange" and found that it generalizes extraordinarily well.

    Kyriarchy – just added to my spell-checker. I intend to be using it a lot. BTW, the insight adds a lot to the thinking I've done in relation to 무료 바카라 게임Bob Altmeyer's "The Authoritarians."

  4. Anonymous

    Uhhh, so basically this white feminist academic has named a concept that women of colour have been writing about for decades but this white woman gets to take credit for it??? wtf.

  5. Judy Best

    Schussler Fiorenza's amazing books changed my world view about 15 years ago; really great to see her getting popular credit for coining the term, kyriarchy.

    Kyriarchy is ultimately lifeless and will not last in a living cosmos. But we've had it for far too long in the rule of force, so thank you for bringing a name to that which haunts us. If we can name it, perhaps we can stop playing in kyriarchy wherever possible, stop lending our strength to that which we wish to be free from (to borrow a lyric from singer Jewel). When culture-makers impose kyriarchy, once we can name it, we can better see through its evil to a better way.

    Authors can be fantastic spiritual teachers, intentionally or not. When I met co-authors Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer in Santa Barbara at a retreat a few years ago, it struck me with discomfiture that he seemingly insisted on a continuing need for hierarchy despite their joint book about the masks of authoritarianism as power-over. Now I can name my discomfiture as a natural aversion to an author's unacknowledged kyriarchy. I can also put that name, kyriarchy, to my impression that the vibrant, shining, intelligent Alstad was initially excluded from significant retreat discourse run by 2 men who seemed to have assigned one-up:one-down roles between themselves but then aligned as if two brothers one-up to Alstad as the second named author with Kramer. Alstad took it in stride and physically changed space to add herself to the presentation, which (from my point of view) kept the kyriarchal discourse from being deadly dull.

    Kyriarchy in general is just that: deadly and dull. To end kyriarchy altogether at that retreat, we would have needed acquiescence to occupy the available space collectively, to breathe and communicate, each of us, and together, from what author & acting coach Patsy Rodenburg calls "Second Circle" energy (equality, respect and connection, contrasted with the First and Third Circles which I'd correlate to the submission and domination of kyriarchy in operation). It didn’t happen there, it hardly happens anywhere, but that connections in the Second Circle ever happen at all (and they do, sometimes unexpectedly) foretells the end of kyriarchy.

    Yippee-ki-yay, Kyriarchists.

  6. mareika

    I am not sure about this.

    Patriarchy exists in certain cultures so I can see that it has been hard for cultures like say, “Pacific Island” to deal with their reversed behaviour (women are the head of the house and violent to men) but I find this new term to be too broad. Everyone is equally oppressed but from different situations they may be the oppressor and they may be the oppressed. In fact, I think you could argue that you can be both in a given circumstance.

    But… the man is still the oppressor. Changing into another word doesn’t stop the victim status of women. It just shifts with the idea that women are only oppressors because of their circumstances in life.

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

  7. Anonymous

    Whew, I’m glad sexism is OK.

    From Leave Your Comment:

    “Hey there,
    Before you leave a comment, just remember two things:
    1. You are taking responsibility for a public comment
    2. Anything that resembles racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, or anything based from religion, citizenship, or ethnic bias – don’t bother commenting, you’ll be deleted.”

  8. Anonymous

    Hey there,

    a really good term this! Myself being a man, what I specially greet is a concpt that is not inversely sexist in itself, but gets at the ral issue.


  9. ert

    Yes, “kyriarchy” — excellent word! Thanks for the post.

    I think, though, it might be one step too close to tautological to be driving at precisely the same concept as “patriarchy”, at least by etymology. “Patriarchy” is referring to the fact that some particular attribute, maleness, grants lordship or mastery, while “kyriarchy” seems to say more that lordship exists (the rule of the lord / the domination of the master) but makes no comment on how that position has been attained. (New money vs. old money, for example.) It’s almost an antonym of anarchy.

    But I agree that it’s a better encapsulation of the concept of The Man without assuming that The Man is a man.

  10. (h)apaThealogy

    Hi! I came across your blog through Racialicious and I’m really glad I did. I’m a seminary student focusing on hermeneutics and feminist/critical race/queer/postcolonial theory and empire, so I’m really digging the Schussler Fiorenza reference. Kyriarchy lacks the baggage and is more at the heart of what’s going on in the world. Thanks for bringing this word out of my head.

  11. antiprincess

    totally brilliant post.

  12. SheCodes

    Found your blog via lisa @ blackwomenblowthetrumpet.

    I have never heard that word before, and love this more appropriate definition. Thank you.

  13. jack a

    Got here through Holly’s “I Blame the Kyriarchy.” Thanks so much for introducing me to a new and very useful and relevant term!

  14. Miriam

    Found your blog via various links, and love the idea of “Kyriarchy” – I think I need to get into ESF. Currently I’m on an Althaus-Reid kick, who talks about how liberation theology betrayed women.


  15. Julie

    I just want to add another thank you for articulating this so beautifully!

  16. Anonymous

    Hi, I am a stranger but found your blog via various other links. That’s a great word – I have linked to your kyriarchy entry in my own blog and encouraged people to have a look – hope that’s ok – ideealisme

  17. "Sudy"

    Hey there, Elaine,


    is how I’ve heard it pronounced and how I pronounce it.

    Thanks for your points and clarifications too. -S

  18. Elaine Vigneault

    Thanks for responding.
    I disagree with you that animals are not “individuals with souls, freedoms, emotion, intelligence, choice, and will.” But I’m very thankful that we can agree that animals are not expendable. Thanks for clarifying your point.

    Like AW, I’m atheist. But the term doesn’t bother me. I think it’s interesting that the history of the term does bother some, though.

    How do you pronounce it? Is it like “key” or is it like “kerr” or like “care”?

  19. Linden Tea

    Kyriarchy is such a brilliant word and it works so much better than patriarchy/military-industrial complex/capitalism/[insert personal political vendetta here]. Why have I not heard it before reading this??

  20. "Sudy"

    I think it’s important to think about who is at the bottom. I suggested for folks not to become consumed with who is at the bottom. When people do that, the comparative charts of oppression come out. And not that I don’t see it as useful to talk about the different ways people are oppressed, but when the measuring charts come out, the distractions begins.

    I’ll be honest, I do not know much about animal rights or veganism. I respect a lot of people who make such choices and live in awareness of the cruelty to animals.

    I don’t feel equipped to adequately answer your comment except that while I do not condone or approve of the animal cruelty or the ways animal consumerism has manifested into animal cruelty and abuse. However, I do think it is more significant for me to focus on who is at the bottom of the human pyramid; the individuals with souls, freedoms, emotion, intelligence, choice, and will.

    I don’t believe animals are expendable and I appreciate your point.

    Aw – if that is how you understand patriarchy, more power to you. I don’t think many understood the interlocking elements of oppression that way and understood the label in its linguistic root – man/father power over others.

    And, just a small FYI, even though it’s derived from a theologian, I found the model to be inclusive and not edging out anyone, regardless of religious or non-religious identification.

    But, as you said, you read all of that in ‘patriarchy’ anyway, which, hey, if you find what works for you, have at it.

    Thanks for stopping in, -S

  21. aw, fisticuffer at large

    (came here via feministe) I’m with Elaine in that I’ve been using patriarchy and meaning kyriarchy.

    I just assumed that was what everyone meant. Because I am an atheist I will probably continue to use patriarchy, but it is great that you found a word that better suits your purposes. If you cannot adequately communicate about something, you cannot take it down!

  22. "Sudy"

    Welcome, welcome, welcome…

    Link away!

  23. GallingGalla

    Hi, I’ve been lurking here for a few months (I’m a white trans woman), and I’m delurking now to say that I’m glad to have learned the word kyriarchy. I’ve been uncomfortable with the word patriarchy for a while now, but I’ve had no vocabulary to use in its place. Thanks to you for bringing to everyone’s attention, and to E. Schüssler-Fiorenza for coining it.

    Would you mind if I linked to this post on my blog?

  24. Anonymous

    Interesting, never heard this word, when I saw it, I thought, Kyrie Eleison (a section of the Latin Mass – in Greek, go figure), Lord…huh? Trust a theologian to come up with a Greek neologism! I’ll have to brush up on my E. Schussler-Fiorenza (alway filed under “S”) – haven’t read any of her newer stuff. “Kyriarchy” sure beats a recitation of a long list of -isms and -archies, when one wants to refer to general phenomenon of multiple hierarchies. I wouldn’t throw the specific -isms and -archies away, as they can be useful and still speak to society-wide trends.


  25. Perpetual Beginner

    Hah! I’ve been attempting to use kyriarchy rather than patriarchy ever since I first read Schlusser Fiorenza (about a year ago). It’s such a better conceptualization. But I had almost given up because nobody seemed to get what I was talking about. Your explanation is very clear.

    Thank you.

  26. Kristen



    Perfect word! Now I can stop arguing with my husband about the use of “patriarchy” as a short hand for describing all oppressive regimes.

    Sudy = domestic tranquility.


  27. Zenobia

    also, on a pettier note, “sexist” is a perfectly fine and useful damn word. Old-Testament style polygamy is “patriarchal.” Joe Schmo who can’t stop looking at your tits is “sexist.” also an “asshole,” but never mind.

    Yeah, ‘patriarchy’ has always bothered me, especially when it becomes this kind of conspiracy theory where we’re living in this secretly patriarchal political regime. Or when patriarchy is anthropomorphised and spelled with a capital P. ‘Oooh, I hate it when Patriarchy puts His big clammy hands on me, I keep telling Him to stop but He won’t listen’.

    Kyriarchy seems like a much more useful concept.

  28. RyanRutley

    Sudy, although I’m always suspicious of neologisms, I’m all over “kyriarchy” conceptually. I firmly believe that all the liberation anyone need is to fully accept that you are not better than anyone, and no-one is better than you. All the other good things grow from there.

  29. Anonymous

    Be sure to thank Jill at Feministe for deleting all the links to your blog from her comments section. She’s protecting you from the really bad racists whom only she can handle. You owe her a debt of gratitude.

  30. belledame222

    Here in the U.S., any mention of any variety of religious faith or movements connected with that sends mainstream feminists running in the other direction…..and it doesn’t have to be that way.


    of course part of the problem is that for at least the creeping right-wing fundamentalism attempting to corner the market on “faith” in this country, lo these past twenty-five years or so.

    It’s another reason why I leaned toward Obama rather than Hillary.

  31. Elaine Vigneault

    Kyriarchy is basically how I understood patriarchy or “the man” all along. I wonder if this is the only word coined for this purpose or if other theorists have used different words. It’s a great word either way.

    I can’t help but think about who is on the bottom – it’s animals, because they can’t ever be on top. As long as some humans can oppress animals’ desires to be free, torture animals, eat animals, and do whatever they want with animals, they will. Sorry. I know you told us not to think about who is on the bottom, but it matters who’s at the bottom. And it matters that even 100% vegans can’t escape animal use without leaving our society. There are animal products everywhere from the tires on cars to gelcaps for medicines. Our lives are filled with animal misery.

    I don’t mean to derail your discussion too much, but I do want to say that completely agree that:
    1. all oppressions are related
    2. power is power

    The prominent bloggers in the feminist blogosphere are powerful. And they can use that power in various ways, some better than others.

  32. Daisy

    Catholics believe in GOOD WORKS, so when people start the carrying on about having seen the light already (particularly with no evidence of having seen it), we tend to be skeptical. ??

    Right. Good! We’ll see, then, won’t we?

  33. La Lubu

    Wow! Kyriarchy!! I learned a new word today! Thank you, sudy!!

    Ever since I read Liberazione Della Donna: Feminism in Italy by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, I’ve been impressed with how feminists in Italy were intimately connected with liberation theology, and how effective that convergence was for feminist movement there. Here in the U.S., any mention of any variety of religious faith or movements connected with that sends mainstream feminists running in the other direction…..and it doesn’t have to be that way.

    and have I ever mentioned how much I love your blog?

  34. "Sudy"

    Hello hello hello to all new (or at least new to me!) folks,

    Thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

    Liberation Theology is largely associated with the “preferential option for the poor,” and centralizes liberation with the needs of the oppressed. What I love about that concept is regardless of spiritual belief, religious affiliation or atheists, there’s something beyond “theology” about that concept. It’s something we all, as humans, can understand – oppression, and the inequal distribution of resources, freedom, and privilege.

    Deoridhe – of course you may link, but I would only suggest that when you credit Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, to name her anything but just Fiorenza. She strongly emphasized that her name can be Schussler Fiorenza or we can call her Elisabeth, but never just Fiorenza. So, I’d encourage you to credit her the same. Great word, huh?

    Thanks -S

  35. Deoridhe

    Wow, I’m not sure I’ve posted here before, but I’ve read for a while, and the term kyriarchy is brilliance personified. Mind if i add it to my glossary (with credit to Fiorenza and a link to this post + hat tip to you, or course)?

  36. baby221

    Oh damn. That’s such a better conceptualisation … thank you for sharing it!

  37. Tera

    Hi, Sudy,

    Just adding my voice to the chorus of people who think “kyriarchy” is an excellent word. (It comes in REAL handy for describing a young female support staff’s [abuse of] power over an older disabled man, like here).

  38. brown shoes don't make it

    Liberation theology has something to do with the teaming up of Marxist radicals and the Catholic Church to combat poverty and help the poor in Latin America, correct? Something to that effect? I’ve heard of it before but never had the opportunity to learn more about it.

  39. belledame222

    borrowing this popular term, “Prove it.”


  40. belledame222

    as per apologies, I forget who or where was saying they’re like a down payment, but that’s about right. A beginning. Necessary. But not sufficient. In some cases, very far from sufficient indeed.

  41. belledame222

    oo, nice one, I like that.

    yeah, well, I’ve kind of become allergic to the term “Patriarchy” since coming online, but before that I’d not really seen it as “synonymous with Evil Empire,” you know, which I think way too many people do. as you say: “rule of the fathers.” In some contexts it’s useful, small-p “patriarchy:” f’r instance, when discussing what we call the “Judeo-Christian” influence. Begat begat begat, women as property, yadda, O.K.

    it is not, as you say, the first thing that comes to mind wrt Rosie O’Donnell, or wossname, Seinfeld guy. or it shouldn’t. sure, you can eventually find -intersection- with gender-related shit, but is that the -first- or most important thing there? No.

    also, on a pettier note, “sexist” is a perfectly fine and useful damn word. Old-Testament style polygamy is “patriarchal.” Joe Schmo who can’t stop looking at your tits is “sexist.” also an “asshole,” but never mind.

    and: lipstick and blowjobs really aren’t remotely what it’s all about: please to be getting a grip.

    and the London Underground is not a political movement.

  42. Octogalore

    You’re right — that’s a much better term. Thanks.

    Also nailed it about apologies. That gets you to Go. Actions speak louder, always have.

    Hope to see you again soon!

  43. Kevin Andre Elliott

    Hi Sudy. Delurking here just to say that I love your blog and everything about it and I wanted you to know that.

    “I tend to view apologies as the beginning, not the end. So, if apologies are true and heartfelt, you’ll forgive me for not weeping with joy and instead, again, borrowing this popular term, “Prove it.”

    Not to me, but to those who you say you love and have hurt. Prove it to them.”

    So True, So True. Thank you for saying that.

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