The term was coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 when she published her book But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation. It is derived from the Greek words κύριος, kyrios, "lord, master" and ἄρχω archō, "to lead, rule, govern". The word "kyriarchy" in Greek (Greek: κυριαρχία, kyriarchia, a valid formation, though it is not found in ancient Greek) can now be used to mean "sovereignty," i.e. the rulership of a sovereign.
Schüssler Fiorenza describes interdependent "stratifications of gender, race, class, religion, heterosexualism, and age" as structural positions assigned at birth. She suggests that people inhabit several positions, and that positions with privilege become nodal points through which other positions are experienced. For example, in a context where gender is the primary privileged position (e.g., patriarchy), gender becomes the nodal point through which sexuality, race, and class are experienced. In a context where class is the primary privileged position (i.e., classism), gender and race are experienced through class dynamics.
Tēraudkalns suggests that these structures of oppression are self-sustained by internalized oppression; those with relative power tend to remain in power, while those without tend to remain disenfranchised.