Today is another day of lockdown and while many of us are on the verge of losing count, it is safe to say that coronavirus is not the only pandemic we're dealing with. Patriarchy is the bigger and much more dangerous pandemic we have failed to contain, despite millions of women getting molested, abused, raped and killed on a daily basis. So when the statistics around increasing cases of domestic violence started to come forth with the announcement of lockdown in India and other parts of the world, it didn't come across as a shock.
This is the ugliest side of patriarchy - one that constantly reiterates dominance of men over women in a violent and destructive form. Another, more subtle side is when a family fails to provide equal status to women in their families - a scenario as common as finding pigeons outside your window. Not only this but it constantly reminds her of her inferior position among her peers. This subtle form of patriarchy is manipulative and erodes one's identity and the idea of self-worth. However, as a member of a family where this seemingly benign form of patriarchy is prevalent, I believe I have cracked the code of dealing with patriarchal family members.
Here are some hacks that I know you would benefit from if you, like me, live in a patriarchal family:
- Pick your battles right
Not every fight is worth fighting for. I learnt this the hard way. One Diwali, fresh out of J-School I was brimming with ideas of gender equality and reinforcing feminist ideas every opportunity I got, I refused my mother's order to serve the dinner to my brother. I just told her, he could take it for himself, not realizing, it is only I who has changed - my entire family remains deep-rooted in orthodox ideas that a man shouldn't enter the kitchen and whatnot. As I snapped, I saw my father grieving over the fact that he sent me out to study and now I have come back with these Unsanskaari ideas not wanting to help my mother in the kitchen. He didn't eat his dinner that day.
This very crucial incident made me realize I can't change things in the house until I change people's mindsets. Awareness is key, and for men to take me as an equal, I need to first do things I would normally ask them to do (sometimes unintentionally reinforcing gender roles). It's exhausting to take on the gender fight and we need time to recuperate before we prepare ourselves for the next fight.
More subtle side is when a family fails to provide equal status to women in their families - a scenario as common as finding pigeons outside your window. Not only this but constantly reminds her of her inferior position among her peers. This subtle form of patriarchy is manipulative and erodes one's identity and the idea of self-worth.
2. Financial independence is life-changing
Frankly, turntables never happened in my family as quickly as when I started to earn and progress in my career. Never did I get so much respect in my own family as I was able to manage after I started working and bringing money home. It is so sudden and so incredibly heart-warming that your own parents, siblings, relatives start to involve you in important conversations and take your suggestions seriously just because now you manage a bank account. It has truly been life-changing for me as I went from being never taken seriously and brushed off as the "unwanted child who just happened" to "Oh, what a talented girl! She was always so intelligent, OMG!" I laugh internally sometimes when I meet my relatives and they can't stop praising me - the same people who never bothered about me earlier.
3. Start uncomfortable conversations
Being cooped up in a house and not have the option to slam that door and go out for a walk because you can't face a conversation makes a very good setting to have that exact same uncomfortable conversation. Yes, it is risky and can potentially be hazardous but when everything is said and done, your parents will at least give that conversation a thought from your perspective too. These days I sometimes talk to my mother about sex and sexuality to open her up and to be able to get past the awkwardness. I want to open up her horizon and to broaden her world to the LGBTQIA folks in the society. It's very difficult and every conversation is a small step forward but it is a step forward nonetheless. Remember, we can't change society if our own household isn't a part of that society.
4. Play some games together
No war can be won solely by fighting. I have been playing Ludo and card games every day since lockdown began and that one hour of family time seems truly refreshing.
You know for whatever it is worth, blood is thicker than water. But more often than not, we lose that sense of connection with our family and you can't live with people you feel disconnected with. And what better time than the lockdown to carve out an hour or two from your schedule to sit with your family over a cup of tea, a deck of playing cards or a game of virtual Ludo or whatever your jam is. But find common things to talk about, the more you understand them and the more they understand you, the easier it is for both the parties to get through to each other. No war can be won solely by fighting. I have been playing Ludo and card games every day since lockdown began and that one hour of family time seems truly refreshing.
5. Don't hesitate from taking strong decisions
I realize that it is not so easy or possible at all for everyone to reconnect with their family members. So if you think that this lockdown is causing you more worry than relief. That it may destroy your mental health, while we can't seek physical therapy sessions right now, there are several psychologists and therapists who are offering services pro bono, seek their help. There are NGOs working tirelessly to provide relief to victims of sexual harassment and domestic violence across the country, it's important to be aware of the issues you're facing and the fact that you can deal with it in a constructive manner. Compromise beyond a point is a vicious circle, it only makes you lose your ability to make things right for yourself.
I realize that patriarchy will never be declared a pandemic because it majorly affects women and members of LGBTQIA community. While men also receive its fair share of complexities, there is no denying that fact that they also benefit from it abundantly. This lockdown as we deal with one pandemic, let's try and take the correct measures forward to contain the other as well.
The author wishes to remain anonymous. The views expressed are their own.