Understanding Patriarchal Marriage through Female Agency

“Seen in this light, patriarchal marriage, as an institutionalized structure of kinship placing social boundaries on the physical vulnerability of women, offered obvious advantages for a woman. By accepting the sexual and social demands of one man, by agreeing to provide him with heirs and to serve him, a woman could secure his protection from the sexual threats of other men. Such protection would operate most effectively, of course, insofar as a woman was willing to remain in private familial spaces except when accompanied by her male protector. To be present in the public spaces of social recognition and acclaim meant for a lone woman to be vulnerable to multiples glances of male sexual recognition, reduction, and intimidation. We may well associate women’s recognition of the asymmetries of gendered sexual agency with women’s “willingness” to accept the confines of a familial sphere, thereby articulating the drastic male exclusion of women from public spaces of social interaction with a strategic female withdrawal. Insofar as the asymmetry of sexual agency impose kinship boundaries upon women’s social participation, we may directly link male spermatic potency to exclusionary male social agency.”

Excerpt from Mann, Patricia S. 1997. “Glancing at Pornography: Recognizing Men.” Pp.416-439 in Feminist Social Theory: A Reader, edited by D. T. Meyers. New York: Routledge.


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