Women and Patriarchy
Irritated by her mother's over-burdened life, Nisha asked, “Why do you work so much at home? Don't you get tired at the office? Why Papa doesn't help you?”. Her mother’s answer was typical and symbolic to the mindset of most women of the past generations, she said, “Nisha, it’s been like that and it works just fine for me.”
Everything works just fine if you don’t question it. Most outdated, unwise and even inhuman social practices were working ‘perfectly fine’ for centuries until someone dared to raise voice against them to challenge their rationality.
Why do women put an extra effort to prove themselves to others all the time, at work and home? Women in the past had meekly accepted look-down-upon, but deep in their hearts, they knew that this was just not right.
Patriarchy is one such vice that might have served the social needs in the past, but it certainly has no place in modern society if we wish to move towards absolute gender equality and women empowerment.
In this article, we will dig a little deeper into the meaning and the nature of patriarchy and how it negatively affects our society in general and females. We will also see how this mindset has been – and is still – accepted and nourished in our families and society. We will also briefly discuss what we should do to eliminate this obsolete practice to build a society based on fairness and equality.
So, what exactly is patriarchy?
In the simplest of terms, patriarchy means the dominance of male gender in the family and society, in political and financial settings. The male has the power to make all the important decisions related to various issues including property, education, careers, businesses, marriages, moral practices, etc. on the behalf of any other members of the family.
All patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning, all the property of the family is automatically inherited by the male lineage.
Fun Fact: In ancient times, India was initially a matriarchal society. It was only later in the period of the Maurya dynasty that the society slowly shifted towards patriarchy.
In the world, there still are a few matriarchal societies where the eldest female member is the head of the family. However, such societies are very far and few. Patriarchy is the most prevalent system in most parts of the world.
We all agree and appreciate that Men are physically stronger and aggressive, but encouraging them to take charge and treat women as a second class citizen is unacceptable.
How patriarchy is practiced and encouraged in the family
If you are a woman, you must have encountered numerous situations in the family where you must have experienced a clear bias towards the male members. We females have to take the major burn of this prejudiced and unfair patriarchal mindset which is based on gender inequality.
Father or brothers are given obvious priority over the females in almost all the spheres of life. Men were served the food first and women were supposed to eat only after the male members have finished eating. In career choices, the boys are allowed a wider range of career options, while the girls are restricted to a very few, socially acceptable choices. Women become the flag bearer of sacrifice, mostly in the name of family honor and denied the social and domestic rights in some situations.
I know many families, where children cannot raise their voice or talk back to their fathers while no one will object much if they talk back or disrespect their mothers. The patriarchal mindset is so ingrained in our culture that these women willingly suppress their need of equal respect, position in the family, and say in decisions.
When I joined my first organization, I too was the victim of stereotype. My male colleague at the same position were considered superior and more deserving than me. This kind of discrimination was just beyond me but that is exactly how the most section of the society thinks, believes and behaves.
Studies have revealed that the majority of husbands want their wives to work outside for financial reasons, but they are not prepared to share the household chores or looking after children at home. Even in a nuclear family system, most of the men consider it beneath their dignity to help in household tasks; the sole cause of working women’s distress. If she focuses more on work than home than friction may arise and family peace and happiness are disturbed.
I recently watched a short film on YouTube named ‘Juice’. It effectively speaks about the issue of the deeply internalized patriarchy and misogyny in our society. The striking depiction reminded me of how men and women behave differently when they have guests, or they visit someone’s place. Usually, after the brief formalities of greeting each other, the male members sit in the living room chatting, joking around, eating and drinking, while the female members quickly move to the kitchen. They are expected to make the arrangements for the food and drink for the men.
Just for a moment, imagine that the roles of these men and women are swapped. Women are comfortably sitting in the living room chatting and enjoying food and drink while men are preparing food and drink for them in a hot and congested kitchen. Does this scenario seem completely foreign, Hollywood inspired and unimaginable to you? Why it is so unthinkable compared to the first one which is considered completely normal by most?
These roles are so deeply entrenched in people’s minds that no one ever gives a second thought to the unfairness of this practice, just like Nisha's mother could not give a thought about it. Why should women always take up the role of serving the male members – whether it is in their own family or while they visit a relative’s or friend’s house? But that is exactly how patriarchy works in our society.
Women are guilty of encouraging patriarchy, Knowingly or Unknowingly
YES! females, hardly ever notice the fact that, in a patriarchal system, men are being given clear priority and importance over women for no valid or logical reason at all. And this fact is the most disturbing and disappointing to me. The main victims of this practice – women – are themselves not fully aware of its evil presence in their lives and its ill-effects on their minds.
Unfortunately, she was brainwashed that way by her mother to accept that the provider is the in-charge. She never thought of going against it and she doesn’t want you to do so. Whether it ‘works perfectly well’ for her or not, she wants to maintain the superficial harmony and the status quo in the family. Her intentions are good but the underlying encouragement of the unhealthy patriarchal system and the long-standing effects of it, are not.
Even many of the modern and liberal women are guilty of this. Many of them make a great show-off of their feminism on the social podiums while in their real-life; they follow the dictates of the obsolete social norms.
It is not their mistake as they are stuck between ‘what they think is right’ and ‘what they were taught since childhood by society.
The patriarchal system was impressed on their psyche in their childhood and adolescent days so they unconsciously fall victim to those beliefs, biases, and prejudices which reflects in their real-life actions and behaviour.
Effects of patriarchy on the women
The materialistic and money-oriented society has taught to accept the provider as the head of the family. Even when women of today (aware and outspoken) are asking for their rights, society blaming it to their financial freedom.
Following are a few ways in which women suffer the ill-effects of this patriarchal system.
- Limited financial freedom: Many women make equal, and sometimes, even more, financial contribution to their family than their husbands. However, many of them do not have equal financial freedom in the house. Particularly in rural areas, they must hand over their entire income to their father or husband or mother-in-law.
- Limited participation in decision making: In many households, women’s opinion is not paid much heed when it comes to making an important decision such as a property deal, considering a marriage proposal for a family member or purchasing a vehicle, etc.
- Expected to provide free care work: Even though a woman might be working outside for as many hours as her husband, she is expected to take most of the responsibility of the household as well.
- Subjected to harassment at home and work: Many women face harassment at the hands of their boss and co-workers in their workplace and by their husbands and in-laws at home due mainly to the misogynistic mindset of people.
Only family can uproot this unfair system!
Although Patriarchy has outgrown the family and deeply affected the society at large; the education begins at home. It is because the leader for change comes from strong homes and not from society.
As patriarchy negatively affects the womankind, it is a calling of every woman to take accountability to change the system. It is time for mothers to think for themselves whether the patriarchal system has truly been beneficial for them or has it cut their wings that had the power to soar high in the skies of wonderful opportunities.
Men also can support it by introspecting their own beliefs and prejudices against women. They need to become more open-minded to accept this change so that men and women can stand on equal grounds and work together to make our country and the world a truly wonderful place.
Due to the more nuclear family system, it is now easier for parents to stop encouraging patriarchy at homes as they do not have to fight the thought process of elders now. Both parents should never belittle their daughters for trying to think independently and standing against the unreasonable supremacy of the men in the family. Young girls and boys must be educated in the concepts of gender equality. Every household or outdoor labour must be taught and work to be distributed irrespective of gender. Children must be encouraged to take a strong stand against any such practice in their household or work environment that puts them below their gender counterparts.