Image of Professor Alice Evans by Jamie Napier

Ten Thousand Years of Patriarchy

A political excavation with Visiting Professor Alice Evans

Every professor has a signature style for their lectures. Many use their words as a tool to inspire curiosity, while others focus on challenging existing assumptions in an effort to generate progress. Munk School Visiting Professor Alice Evans, also a Senior Lecturer in the Social Science of Development at King's College London, does both. Not only does she do both, she does it while taking her audience on a whirlwind exploration of 10,000 years of human history.

Her objective is ambitious - to uncover the roots of patriarchy as far back as they can be traced. To achieve such a high target, Evans’s energy from start to finish is completely electric. Prof. Evans' conveys a keen understanding of what it might be like to have a home in her regions and time periods of focus.  She clearly explains theories about the economy of daily life through a range of cultures, describing the prevailing values that led ordinary people to make choices with such frequency that it would later show influence on every person living in the modern day.

Her approach is like an archaeological dig writ large, spanning from Anatolia to Ancient Egypt and many of her points are surprising. For example, there is no evidence of specifically female seclusion in early records so submission and seclusion to households must have come later. She argues that each emerging society has a role in its own cultural construction.

Evans says that patterns of patriarchy are heavily influenced by job-creating economic growth. Cultures are shaped by how people respond to economic opportunities.

As her lecture travels forward in time, Evans defines a number of the variables that trigger patriarchal dominance – factors that are widely believed to bring power and influence to men. “It’s not that women in history weren’t needed or weren’t building solidarity but there isn’t a place where a matriarchy has outlasted the pressures of conquest or economic growth.”

Following her lightning tour of history, citing examples ranging from the Transatlantic slave trade to modern female activism in Central America, she brings her audience back to the present for reflection.

After reviewing 10,000 years of history, the audience still has an appetite for more. Questions emerge from fellow researchers about the impact of present-day technology and the path forward. With each, Prof. Evans takes time to decipher what have been the greatest influences and why patriarchy, in almost every case, has prevailed. Each of her responses could each trigger a lecture or an entire semester of lectures on its own.

One can't help but wonder about the fate of future equality but, if a lasting and thriving equitable society does reveal itself, hopefully Prof. Evans will return to the Munk School to talk about the culture achieved it. 

Learn more about Professor Alice Evans and her forthcoming book, "The Great Gender Divergence."