The terms patriarchy and patriarchal have come to be used in larger American discourse in ways that are almost universally pejorative and negative — synonymous with masculine oppression and power over women. While the liberal left sees patriarchy as a negative social structure to be dismantled, others believe that patriarchy can be beneficial and is largely misunderstood by the left.

In the left's view, patriarchy is a social system in which men hold unjust power over women. They believe men have social privileges over others that cause exploitation or oppression, such as male dominance of moral authority and control of property. The feminist women's liberation movement is largely centered around the idea that women must liberate themselves from patriarchal male oppression by making their own money, rising to positions of cultural and economic power, and in general, fostering more freedom and independence from men. In this view, the especially aggressive and brutal exemplars of male culture are equated with patriarchy, or seen as arising from patriarchy itself as a root cause. The liberal left believes that patriarchal societies are built around perceived biological differences between men and women, but that patriarchy is an entirely social construct that can and should be dismantled in order to give women freedom from oppression. This view rejects gender roles and societal expectations that say women have to have children, clean, cook, be quiet, be docile, be emotional, and roles that say men have to be tough, strong, emotionless leaders. In rejecting these distinctions and roles, the liberal left believes that patriarchy can be dismantled and women can gain power.

However, for many religious conservatives, patriarchy is not inherently wrong and destructive, and can be practiced in ways that honor women as equal partners. In this view, men and women have distinct but equally important societal roles, which are indeed largely shaped by biology. In this view, patriarchy is a system that naturally arises amid the reality of biological differences between men and women, and tasks men to men protect and care for women. The right believes men and women are equal but different, with men having an interest in engineering the world, directing people, making money, building structures, and guiding businesses, while women are more interested in people and relationships — raising children, being nurturing, establishing community, and setting standards for social behavior. These differences put men in the role of protector and provider, and women in the role of childcare and nurturing community. In this view, patriarchy's hierarchal structure, properly understood, is not oppressive, but protective — it tasks men with bearing certain burdens in society, such as building wealth and civilizational infrastructure, while women are protected physically and emotionally from these burdens as they raise children and care for the next generation. In this view, patriarchy is a naturally arising system in which men provide the structures to make women safe and cared for, while women contribute in the realm of nurturing new life and community.