Sylvia Walby: Six Structures of Patriarchy

Wallby’s six structures of patriarchy are paid work, household production, culture, sexuality, violence and the state.

Last Updated on June 5, 2023 by Karl Thompson

To Sylvia Walby, the concept of Patriarchy must remain central to a feminist understanding of society. She argues that there are six patriarchal structures which restrict women and maintain male domination – the existence of these structures restricts women’s freedom and life-chances compared to men.

However, she does recognise that women of different class and ethnic backroads and different sexual orientations experience these structures in different ways.

 Walby also recognises that patriarchal structures can change and they can be affected by the actions of both men and women – and in more recent works she talks of ‘gender regimes’ rather than patriarchy to reflect this greater fluidity.

Six Structures of Patriarchy

Sylvia Wallby argued there were six structures of Patriarchy:

  1. paid work
  2. household production
  3. culture
  4. sexuality
  5. violence
  6. the state.

She developed this theory in here 1989 article: Theorising Patriarchy (1)

Paid Work

Walby believes that paid employment remains a key structure for disadvantaging women in Britain. Today, men continue to dominate the best paid jobs and women are still paid less than men, and do more part-time work. Many women choose not to work, or work part-time because of poor job opportunities.

The median gender pay gap in Britain in 2022 was still over 9% meaning that men earn on average £2.48 an hour more than women (2)

bar chart showing mean and median gender pay gap in Britain 2022.

Household Production

According to Walby individual men still benefit from women’s unpaid labour. Women still do most of the housework and childcare. However easier divorce means women are not as trapped as the once were by marriage and some black feminists see family life as less exploitative than the labour market, where there is considerable racism.



Walby believes that that the culture of Western societies has consistently distinguished between men and women and expected different behaviours from them, but the expected patterns of behaviour have changed. The key sign of femininity today is sexual attractiveness to men, and not just for younger women, but increasingly for older women.


Also, the increase in Pornography increases the freedom of men while threatening the freedom of women. To Walby, the ‘male gaze’, not that of women, is the viewpoint of pornography which encourages the degradation of women by men and promotes sexual violence.


Despite the sexual liberation of the 1960s, there is still a ‘sexual double standard’ in society – males condemn women who are sexually active as slags and those who are not as drags, which males with many sexual conquests are admired.

sexual double standard.png

Walby also argues that ’heterosexuality constitutes a patriarchal structure’ – there is more pressure today for women to be heterosexually active and to service males through marrying them.


Like many other Feminists Walby sees violence against women as a form of male control of women, which is still a problem for many women today, although she concedes that it is difficult to measure how much progress has been made in this area, because of validity problems where the stats are concerned.


The state

To Walby, the state is still patriarchal, racists and capitalist. She argues that there has been little attempt to improve women’s position in the public sphere and equal opportunities legislation is rarely enforced.


Evaluations of Theorising Patriarchy

Wallby’s six structures offer students a useful analytical tool for breaking down ‘patriarchy’ and analysing the extent to which there remains gender inequality in different spheres of society.

I also like here balance between four very specific structures – paid work, domestic division of labour, violence and politics where you can just look at more objective statistics and the two less tangible structures – sexuality and culture which would require a more interpretive, qualitative analysis (IMO).

However while gender inequality obviously still exists in all societies, is it right to ‘hold onto’ the concept of patriarchy? From a purely campaigning and onboarding perspective it might be more attractive simply to talk about gender inequalities and oppression rather than keep on using patriarchy which makes it sound like Feminism hasn’t moved on since the 1960s.

Signposting and Relevance to A-level Sociology

This material will be mostly relevant to A-level sociology students in their second year of study working through the theory and methods topic.

Personally I find these six structures a great tool to use for group work – assign one structure to six different groups, get students to research evidence of inequality and oppression in each of these different structures and then report back and discuss.

To return to the homepage –

References and Sources

(1) Sylvia Walby: Theorising Patriarchy.

(2) DIT Gender Pay Gap Report 2021 to 2022.

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