The term ‘patriarchy’ has been passed off as a mindless rhetoric by one too many who have been offended by the implications of its existence. So, what does it mean? Patriarchy is a social system that upholds masculinity or heterosexual men over other genders. It is more than a conjecture that got popular recently because of feminists who want to “ravish the world for themselves,” as they say. It is the reason why our mothers and grandmothers had to live out their dreams in the silence of their homes. One might say that gender equality and opportunities have watered down the patriarchy, that once used to be obnoxiously shoved into the faces of the people it oppressed, but is that the case?
The word, ‘patriarchy’, means the rule of the father, which in most of our cases, is not too far from our realities. It is this unseen, invisible backdrop that ties you to another woman who is being abused at home, to the women we gratuitously put up black and white pictures for a few days ago, or even to celebrities who receive more attention for what they wear than who they are. It is structural, and forms the edifice of our culture, laws, and societies. It may be pointed out that it is unfair to club the layers of inequality and oppression under one banner and blame everything on patriarchy. But then is it not true that it is in fact men, who stand to gain from all of them?
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While trying to rectify the colossal impact patriarchy has on our everyday lives, we should never forget the oppression faced by men in any manner due to it, and for all the genders it is important to immediately tackle it. Let’s look at the pervasive rape culture in our country. Thousands of cases of rape are reported in the country (emphasis on ‘reported’) and not all of them lead to convictions. Besides how grotesque the act itself is, our cultural leaning towards identifying why the survivor would have been subjected to it is apathetic. What could possibly absolve someone of ruthlessly assaulting an individual?
Female foeticide, child marriage, the Transgender Persons Act, 2019 all points towards a strategic, gendered, negation of voices. Patriarchy is not an abstract concept. It drives our lives. It is why you struggle for equal pay and respect and clutch your purse while walking alone at night, scared for your life. A friend who is a doctor who worked in rural Bihar once wrote about the women she meets every day at work. One day, she met a woman who was pregnant for the eighth time after having several abortions and had one girl child. She visited the hospital after going to pandits, witch doctors and several clinics. Her husband has chosen another bride for himself lest she didn’t give him a boy. She lost the child. Another day, she joked to a patient about how she looked too young to be wearing a sari. She replied that she was 13 and was a sixth-grader. The girl had her schooling cut short and was married off. She added that the next time she would see her, she would probably be pregnant.
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While it may seem like a tangible problem, patriarchy is much more. It is seen, unseen and elusive and we unknowingly participate in it till we learn what it means to be complicit. It is not a hysterical cry for attention by feminists. It is not an attack on men and most definitely, it is not just men who can perpetuate it. To quote Bell Hooks, “patriarchy has no gender”, but it does push women to servitude and teach men to suppress how they feel.
The views expressed are the author’s own.