Patriarchy has been the norm in nearly all societies through all of human civilization. It has cut across cut across cultures, religions, ethnicities, and geographical boundaries. We are a male dominated society, be it through Scriptures, or customs. Could it be biological nature, or could it be because of the physical strength of males, I do not know. The answer varies across the rest of the animal kingdom. Enough have been written about it, but I am going to write about a couple of specific traits of patriarchy that frustrates me and makes me angry.
Patriarchy is about control and power. Just like sexism, many times it is overt, and many times it is benevolent. But it still treats women as a step lower than men. Husbands, fathers, and brothers still have a bigger say when it comes to a woman’s life. It is the father or the husband who decides if the woman can work, or what she can wear. It is patriarchy when a brother prevents his sister from wearing jeans. It is patriarchy when a father decides what kind of jacket his married daughter can wear. It is patriarchy when a mother cannot support her daughter without her husband’s permission. In many conservative cultures, a girl is raised to be “pure” and “obedient” so she can be the perfect ‘marriage-material’ for another patriarchal family. Such a girl isn’t allowed to go out, many aren’t allowed to make male friends, and having a relationship is out of the question. Such a girl is forced is to dressed ‘conservatively’ because either the father wants it that way, or the family is making sure that they will find a suitable husband. The hypocrisy of such attitude is when parents say – “you can do whatever you want after marriage”, which usually translates to “you can do whatever your in-laws or husband allows you to do”. The in-laws can prevent a woman from working; they might pressure her to have children right away; and they definitely have the final say in how she dresses. If the in-law family is progressive, they might have a liberal attitude towards the woman’s life. But generally speaking, even those families do not want a girl with past ‘histories’. And in real life the best example you get to see is in how the woman dresses. Her father’s family decides how she dresses before marriage, and then her husband’s family decides her future fashion-sense. If the husband is progressive, he might not care how she dresses. If he is conservative, he might force her to cover up in extreme ways. And if he is a faux conservative, he will care how she dressed before marriage, but after marriage he might like to parade her in skimpy clothes just to show-off his “hot” wife. Does all this sound like fiction? To some cultures it might. But to some cultures, there are millions of girls silently nodding to this funnily sad hypocrisy.
This brings to the second part of patriarchy that annoys me – why do women follow and enforce these rules on each other? I am having a hard time understanding that. I have seen time and again how it is women who do not support others who want to challenge patriarchy. It is mothers and sisters and female friends who do not stand up for each other. If a girl wants to take a stand, she is ridiculed and shamed by other women around her. The typical accusations are “how can you go against your family?” or “how can this girl do something like that?” The hypocrisy boils my blood because the same women who would be judgmental of a girl who fought patriarchy would happily accept the same “liberal immoral” lifestyle if their husband allowed it. The same women who would criticize a girl for not being covered from head-to-toe would gladly go out in a lovely summer dress if their husbands preferred that. So to those women I ask – who are you and what do you support? Were you hypocrites before to condemn other women, or do you have no Self and you would blindly follow what daddy or hubby asked you to do? To the mothers I ask – you silently suffered a lot your entire life, and instead of helping your daughters or daughters-in-law, you ask them to silently suffer the same fate. Whether you are a mother, sister, daughter, or a friend – you tell the one who wants to take a stand to “just accept your situation silently and with a smile”. But why? Why won’t you support her? And why do you ask her to accept her fate happily? Because it is good for the family? Because it keeps a family together? How is a family being together good when no one in such a family is truly happy? And if a woman standing up for her own rights can break up a family, then was that family really strong? Or are you just a family because having a family is the cultural expectation, and your just treat your daughters as precious ‘gifts’ to be given to another family? And what really makes me sad is when women tell me again and again “why is society not changing?” It breaks my heart. And these aren’t the women who try to rebel. These are women who have been that obedient daughter and wife their entire life and whom you wouldn’t expect to complain about their situation. So to them I ask – how will society change if you keep following the rules you do not like? How will society change when you do not stand up for your sister or your friend? How will society change when you tell her to accept her situation for the sake of her father? As Gandhi suggested, be the change you want to see in the world. Because if you won’t change, society wouldn’t change either. We men cannot end patriarchy if women keep following it. So please, for the sake of yourself, your daughters, and for the future generations, you must take a stand against patriarchy that holds you back, your rights, your personality, your sense of self, and your identity. The men who make these rules are not going to change because they know you will follow the rules if they are stubborn about it. The only way change can come is through you.