Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bargaining with Patriarchy

Deniz Kandiyoti's article "Bargaining with Patriarchy," describes women's negotiation strategies within the patriarchal system's constraints. Kandiyoti calls women’s negotiations "patriarchal bargains” (137). "Patriarchal bargains" maximize benefits within a oppressive system. Kandiyoti argues, "These patriarchal bargains exert a powerful influence on the shaping of women's gendered subjectivity and determine the nature of gender ideology in different contexts. They also influence both the potential for and specific forms of women's active or passive resistance in the face of their oppression" (137). The bargains women make help clarify how they are oppressed by social constructs and define what women find unappealing or appealing in the face of oppression. This is significant because providing details of women's bargains within patriarchy also reveals how men's power works and is how it is maintained. The gender-specific element of the "patriarchal bargain" can explain what oppresses any woman or what gives any man power in a patriarchal system. Therefore, examining the “patriarchal bargain” is valuable for understanding gender relations.

Kandiyoti contrasts two systems. The first, from sub-Saharan Africa, deals with women's participation in agricultural labor. The other system from the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia deals with what Kandiyoti calls "classic patriarchy" (Kandiyoti 138). Classic patriarchy involves women's accommodation to the sexist oppressive system.

Gender relations among agriculturalists of sub-Saharan Africa come from men commonly receiving plots of land and credit while women lack resources despite their direct contribution to the economy (Kandiyoti 138). When men attempt to lower the value of women’s work, women protest. Kandiyoti explains, “Women have very little to gain, and a lot to lose by becoming totally dependent on husbands, and hence… resist projects that tilt the delicate balance they strive to maintain” (139). If a husband denies his wife access to land, or devalues her work, she shows resistance and speaks up (Kandiyoti 138). The woman knows her work’s importance and seeks to maximize her autonomy instead of merely following man’s direction with the false promise of security.

On the other hand, women within "classic patriarchy" system experience subordination by men, but bargain and receive power in patrilocally extended households as mothers of their sons, as mothers-in-law over their daughters-in-law, and through general power within their kin (Kandiyoti 141). As brides being sold and entering a new family, they face oppression. Their access to power and mobility are stifled. These women know their limitations, but use whatever means possible to increase their well-being. Eventually these women live to be the oppressor of others. Understanding and examining their bargain explains the system’s implications and maintenance.

A form of patriarchal bargaining exists at my workplace. I work in a group home where kids without a suitable home take respite or come for psychiatric needs. At times, the residents become physically aggressive, and part of my job is physically restraining them. My initial goal is recognizing escalating behaviors and reaching them at a stage where we can talk, and they can eventually calm down. This does not always work. If a resident is truly psychotic, missing a frontal lobe, or upset with a situation and lacking the tools to cope, sometimes they get very angry and are impossible to deescalate. At the point where talking does not work and all other avenues are exhausted, they are physically restrained if they act as a risk to themselves or others. When I began working at my job, this seemed horrifying. I am not very fit, I have never been in a fight, and I have never even wrestled anyone for a remote control. Physical restraints appeared to be something I hoped my male co-workers would carry out. Other women I work have the same attitude and allow men to do this work. These women bargain within a system assuming men are stronger and have more physical ability than women have. Initially, not participating in a physically demanding and potentially unsafe work duty seems beneficial, but as it is part of my job, it is something I take seriously. I realized I had to learn and participate in physical restraints not only for my own safety and protection, but also for my coworkers, the other residents, and the out of control resident. If I had accepted the bargain and not learned this part of my job, I risk the safety of others and myself. Kandiyoti’s examination of patriarchal bargaining exists as a useful tool for patriarchal analysis.


Kandiyoti, Deniz. "Bargaining with Patriarchy." The Socialist Feminist Project: A Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics. Ed. Nancy Holmstrom. New York: Monthly Review, 2002. 137-151. Print.

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