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date: 23 May 2024


The Oxford Encyclopedia Women in World History
Bonnie G. SmithBonnie G. Smith, Kenneth M. CunoKenneth M. Cuno, Ellen WhitemanEllen Whiteman

This entry consists of three subentries:


Comparative History


Households have been remarkably different over time, ranging from extended households containing many kin to nuclear households consisting of the conjugal couple and dependent children to the single-parent household that has become more prevalent in the early twenty-first century. Until the late twentieth century a common denominator of most households over time and around the world has been the dominance of fathers or men. Written law has enshrined the power of the father in the household. More informal though nonetheless influential customs, such as Confucian principles of obedience to fathers and the dominance of eldest sons, have also served to legitimate male privilege and to command the subservience of women. Women's power in the family has changed over time and varied according to household type and the evolution of politics. In general, however, women's power has been informal and customary, whether through influence in decision making or the direction of work. Despite the pervasiveness of patriarchal dominance, women have made niches for themselves as household leaders, and social custom as a whole has sometimes accorded them a respected place. In some African societies where polygamy was practiced, for example, the eldest wife held sway over secondary wives and over slaves and agricultural labor.... ...

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