Women and Patriarchy
Irritated by her working mothers’ over-burdened dual responsibility life, once Nisha asked her, “Why are families are so men-centric where females must put an extra effort to prove themselves to others all the time?”. Her mother’s answer was typical and symbolic to the mindset of most women of the past generations. In response, she said, “Dear, it’s always been like that and it works just fine for everyone. Why meddle with something that works?”
Well, I dare to differ. No, it doesn’t work fine! Women in the past had meekly accepted this dominance, but in the hearts of their hearts, they too knew that this was just not right. They too wanted to have an equal position in the family and an equal say in the family matters and decisions. They just couldn’t muster enough courage to stand against the established system as the social environment was not as conducive back then as it is now for such social reforms.
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 Most outdated, unwise and even inhuman social practices were working ‘perfectly fine’ for centuries until someone dared to raise voice against them and challenge their rationality. Patriarchy is one such vice that might have served the social needs in the past, but it certainly has no place in modern society which is rapidly progressing 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. Generally, this male figure would be the eldest male member in the family. He has the near-absolute authority and power to dictate the terms when it comes to dealing with any issue regarding the family members. This male member has the power to take 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.
He is a representative of the family and he decides how the family functions in the society. All the other members of the family must abide by the rules and regulations set by this family head. 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. There still are a few matriarchal societies in India 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 India.
How patriarchy is practiced and encouraged in the family
We all agree and appreciate that Men are physically stronger and more aggressive in nature, but encouraging them to take charge by treating women as second class citizen is unacceptable.
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 (a widow).
I personally 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 mother always plays the role of a mediator when a family member wants to convey something to their father. These things are common in many families in India and this patriarchal mindset is so ingrained in our culture that it is looked at as just a normal thing to do.
Even when I was working, I have faced the underlying assumption that somehow my male colleague is superior or more important or more respectable or more deserving than me. This kind of discrimination is 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 is 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 and unimaginable to you? Why? 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. 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
Even 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. In fact, for the most part, women themselves encourage this practice in one way or the other.
No one should take it as an offense, but isn’t it a mother who is the first person to scold you if you happen to talk back to your father? It doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong, you get the heating. In this case, she is clearly – albeit unwittingly – practicing and encouraging patriarchy. She is accepting it and forcing you to accept, the absolute, unquestionable superiority and authority of your father in the family.
Unfortunately, she was brainwashed that way by her mother. She never thought of going against it and she doesn’t want you to do so. It has ‘worked perfectly well’ for her and she thinks that it will work just as fine for you too. 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 their parents, teachers, and 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 behavior.
Effects of patriarchy on the working women
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 handle double responsibility: 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. 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 labor 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.