The Syndrome and the First Political Order

By Donna Lee Bowen


The First Political Order is a magisterial tour de force that transforms our understanding of international relations. Hudson, Bowen, and Nielsen provide a comprehensive and meticulous examination of how the systematic subordination of women around the world affects every critical outcome in world politics.

~Rose McDermott, Brown University

We are continuing our feature of The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide, by Valerie M. Hudson, Donna Lee Bowen, and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen with this run down of the Patrilineal/Fraternal Syndrome. Husdon and Nielson touched on the topic in their posts earlier this week, and today, Bowen is diving deeper how the Syndrome develops and why it is critical to our social relations.

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In our book, The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide, we hold that the systematic subordination of women in marital, family, and kinship relations sets up what we term a Syndrome that stems from patrilineal and fraternal forces found in many informal social organizations such as tribes and clans. In this Patrilineal/Fraternal Syndrome, men seek to control women precisely because they are dependent upon them to reproduce the group and sustain its existence and power. The group privileges men and boys and parallels this privilege by demoting women to lesser status. The first political order, which is the relationship between men and women in the household, thus becomes a negative force of domination.

In this Patrilineal/Fraternal Syndrome, men seek to control women precisely because they are dependent upon them to reproduce the group and sustain its existence and power.

Why would men be privileged? For many, the fraternal bond of strength and allegiance of men in groups guarantees their security against outsiders and against state power. Tribes and clans have protected their members throughout time by their ability to defeat any challengers and to garner wealth by defeating their enemies. While much of the world has evolved into nation-states whose social contract sets up relations of individual rights and obligations between citizens and their government, tribes and clans follow another pattern. They seek to dominate or collude with state power makers, using tactics such as corruption, subversion, and dominance to advance their group. Their strength is rooted in the loyalty of their group, and group solidarity is assured by the ability to reproduce new generations who support this form of social organization and who are rewarded for their support.

We identify eleven interlocking practices that produce patrilineal practices that strongly subordinate women in Syndrome states. The practices solidify the control of men over women in many households by granting men higher status, decision-making power, conflict resolution through force and domination, and unequal resources distribution. They include, among others, violence against women, controlling women’s property rights, inequitable family law, presence of brideprice and dowry, presence of polygyny, and societal sanction of femicide. We recognize that all men do not engage in these practices and may treat women household members fairly. We also recognize that some women collude in negative practices designed to preserve the group entity.

Syndrome has a negative, even pathological connotation, and we believe that in this case, this connotation is well suited in that these practices produce undesirable outcomes for women, families, and society.

We call these practices and the outcomes that flow from them a Syndrome, “a set of symptoms that characterize a particular social condition,” which leads to “a predictable, characteristic pattern of behavior.” Syndrome has a negative, even pathological connotation, and we believe that in this case, this connotation is well suited in that these practices produce undesirable outcomes for women, families, and society. In our book we provide strong empirical proof of linkage between women’s subordination and negative outcomes in the areas of political stability and governance, security and conflict, economic performance, economic rentierism, health and well-being, demographic security, education, social progress, and environmental protection.

Why is identifying the roots of the Patrilineal/Fraternal Syndrome important? This Syndrome unleashes a host of consequences on states: poor governance, increased conflict and national insecurity, poor economic performance, demographic pressures, deterioration in environmental quality, and poor health and educational outcomes. In general, the citizens of Syndrome states are doomed to a less productive and more conflict-prone existence than those in non-Syndrome countries.


Check back tomorrow for another post by Bowen revealing 6 findings among the Syndrome’s negative effects and learn more from the authors of The First Political Order in these blog posts.

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