"It took a female thinker, and a feminist, to pull “patriarchy” out of the realm of theory and into the zone of experience. Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938) set “patriarchy” to work on the reality of her own circumstances. For her, it described the dynamics within families like hers – in which the father held economic power and authority, boys were trained for public life and girls were debarred from either a serious education or the opportunity to earn a living. The battle lines were drawn “between the victims of the patriarchal system and the patriarchs”. In other words, it was “the daughters against the fathers”.
Woolf did not here write of “patriarchy” as a social structure that went beyond the boundaries of the bourgeois household. Nor did she have time for feminine essentialism: she predicted that the opportunity for women to amass capital and property on equal terms as men would mean that women could change “from being the victims of the patriarchal system … to being the champions of the capitalist system”. She expanded: “Behind us lies the patriarchal system: the private house, with its nullity, its immorality, its hypocrisy, its servility. Before us lies the public world, the professional system, with its possessiveness, its jealousy, its pugnacity, its greed.” It is an ambiguous picture: she shows little admiration for the capitalist world she describes. And yet in her formulation – an idea that some later feminists would find themselves echoing – the “creative destruction” of capitalism had the capacity to leave patriarchy behind.