A patriarch is a leader of a family, tribe, or community. In religion, the term is used to refer to the male head of a faith, usually the influential founder of a religious tradition, such as Abraham in Judaism or Muhammad in Islam. In many cultures, the patriarch has a powerful role, holding authority over both family and finances. This power can be seen historically in the Middle East and other parts of the world where traditional patriarchal cultures still exist.
The patriarchy in its traditional sense is an oppressive form of power relations, with clear gender divides and expectations which often limit the roles available to women. It is difficult to trace the exact origin of these structures, although they have been present since antiquity. Generally, it is associated with systems of hierarchy and inequality, and is an aspect of many dominant social systems. In recent years, feminist activists have pushed back against the patriarchal systems in many countries, challenging the idea that men should hold all positions of power within the family and society.
In modern times, the term patriarch is often used more generally to refer to any male elder in a family setting, such as a grandfather or great-grandfather. It can also be used to describe certain types of leadership within organizations and communities. Regardless of context, the term connotes a position of authority, respect, and responsibility.