The Complex Roots of Patriarchy with Angela Saini


In this episode, Angela Saini, award-winning science journalist and author of “The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule,” traces the material and social roots of patriarchy with host Adam Gamwell. The duo explores how anthropology can help us better understand the patriarchy and patriarchical power by contextualizing and breaking down big ideas. Anthropology enables us to examine broad, complex topics through specific cultural and historical lenses. It also helps us dissect grand narrative ideas to reveal their historical trajectories. But perhaps most importantly, anthropology reminds us that we need to think about big ideas contextually, especially emotionally and politically charged ideas like the patriarchy.

They dive into the definition of patriarchy and its ties to social structures, social privileges, and oppression. The conversation also touches on how different cultures interpret and shape the deployment and maintenance of gender and power to reflect their unique social norms. Saini emphasizes the importance of understanding the social variation and how male domination adapts to different changes. Drawing on many forms of evidence, she discusses the multiplicities of patriarchies, how patriarchy today functions and shapes different aspects of our lives, and how we can think big about what form of society we’d like to continue, reinvent, or totally change for ourselves and our children. Saini's work aims to bring awareness to the many different kinds of patriarchies that exist and how they are being recreated and reasserted today.

Episode Highlights:

- [05:57] Why we shouldn’t think of the patriarchy as a monolith
- [09:31] Why pre-history wasn’t necessarily patriarchal
- [13:44] Why thinkers started to question where patriarchy came from
- [17:16] Why James Mellaart believed Çatalhöyük was a matriarchal society
- [23:55] How the Haudenosaunee inspired the beliefs of women’s rights activists
- [26:57] How early civilizations’ concerns about population led to binary gender norms
- [30:24] Possibilities that slavery and patrilocality informed each other
- [36:32] Why freedom and women’s liberation are nuanced
- [43:05] The Kitchen Debate and the clash of capitalism and communism
- [50:40] How Kerala, India now positions itself as a beacon of women’s empowerment
- [55:54] How we can build the society we hope to see in the future

Links and Resources:

- Connect with Angela Saini via
- Check out Angela Saini’s
- Connect with Adam Gamwell via,, or
- to the This Anthro Life newsletter