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
The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD
Pleasure Activism, by Adrienne Brown
10 Steps to Non-Optical Allyship by Mireille Cassandra Harper
So You Want to Talk About Race, By Ijeoma Oluo
How to Be an Antiracist, By Ibram X. Kendi
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay
An Untamed State, by Roxanne Gay
Difficult Woman, by Roxanne Gay
We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality: A Critical Reader (Critical America), by Devon Carbado
Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis, by Kevin Mumford
Credit to the people / teachers who have informed my understanding of Kyriarchy:
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza
Tanya Koens, Sexologist
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.