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What You Need To Know About The Kyriarchy

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Have you ever had a conversation about patriarchy, and before you know it, you’re in a complex conversation about the shifting, and overlapping considerations of power, privilege, and domination?

Well, my friends, you’ve moved on from the topic of patriarchy – it sounds like you're talking about kyriarchy. For those of us who are new to the term, kyriarchy was coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a radical German feminist who studies liberation theology. Kyriarchy extends the patriarchy to encompass other structures of oppression and privilege, such as sexism, racism, ableism, capitalism, classism and so on. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender.

Kyriarchy recognises that there are complicated, complex power strata – it takes intersections into account.

“Kyriarchy is a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression”

-Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books New York 2001)

An individual may be oppressed in some relationships, but privileged in others. If you speak about privilege and power structures with a diverse range of people, you’ve probably already discussed and debated the nuances of kyriarchy. For example, Gay men and women excluding Trans people in Pride Celebrations. Or a heterosexual women putting queer people down. A Black man dominating a First Nations woman. Or a Black woman exploiting a disabled Black Trans person. These examples of Kyriarchy look at the human propensity to dominate power within a pyramid. In a global system, humans have been conditioned to take whatever power we can get, even if that means taking from those who don’t have ‘power’, access, ability… Kyriarchy recognises this.

As you read this, perhaps you’ve started to rank or list considerations of power, privilege, and domination. There’s an infinite amount of factors that must be taken into account when considering kyriarchy.

So, before you start making a checklist of who is on top and who is on the bottom, I gently suggest – don't. The pyramid shifts with context. The idea is not to systemically rank humans based on what you perceive them to have, the idea is to learn and do better with this knowledge.

Here are a few simplistic examples of Kyriarchy, there are often many factors at play. So please consider these as thought provoking ideas rather than a script to follow. I invite you to think/learn/discuss other intersections that you experience and speak with those around you about theirs.

Gay men and women descriminating against trans people: Intersections = Gender, sexuality 

A man dominating a disabled Black person: Intersections = Gender, race, ableism 

Upper class woman exploiting working class men: Intersections = Classism, gender 

Non-binary person mocking Asian Woman: Intersections = Gender, race

Heterosexual Brown folx oppressing Black Trans folx: Intersections = Sexuality, gender race

Kyriarchy is a term I explore with my clients, and it can make sense of many of the issues they experience in their relationships and day-to-day life. It can feel like such a relief to discover their daily struggles, issues or concerns are part of a larger structure - it’s not them. Kyriarchy can have an impact on sexual confidence, how we feel in our bodies, how willing we are to receive pleasure and how comfortable we feel in setting and respecting boundaries. Understanding how Kyriarchy impacts sexual confidence can allow us to acknowledge ideas that are not our own, but have been fed to us from an unrelenting beast. CHALLENGE messages/people/ideas that say you’re not good enough, you’re not sexy enough, you’re not worthy of pleasure. You are.

Race, Gender and Sexuality: Books and Resources

Credit to the people / teachers who have informed my understanding of Kyriarchy:

Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza

Tanya Koens, Sexologist

Shana Bulhan

Feature image via @nuriaestre.

In reading this, if feel it needs rewording, expanding or amending, and if you have the will / energy to let me know, please get in touch.

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