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Dear Aunty Feminist, What Exactly Is Patriarchy?

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By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Hello everybody! Hope your first few weeks of summer have been filled with iced tea, good books and letting people know your stand on sexism in the workplace. Let’s begin.

G asked:

What exactly is patriarchy?

Dear G,

Patriarchy always feels like it should be spelled with a capital-P when you use it. I’m fighting the Patriarchy. It’s all the fault of Patriarchy.

Professor Branestawm

When I was a very young girl, I thought the Government was one bald guy with spectacles who made all the decisions. My parents or teachers would say something like, “It’s a Government Scheme” and I’d think of a bald guy rubbing his hands together, plotting. In my head, he looked a bit like Professor Branestawm, scatty but also a little evil because people kept criticising him a lot. It was a cozy image to have—one guy to blame for everything—and I was almost sad when I found out what the government-small-g actually was.

Well, the patriarchy in most people’s heads turns out to be a single figure as well. One big dude with a long white beard telling you “no” and “you can’t” and “you shall not.” (Hmmm… sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?) Patriarchy is when a society has been geared to consider the needs of some over the needs of others. In this case: men.

Now, it’s not your fault, if you are a man and you’re feeling slightly angry as you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “But I never!” and “Why should women?” You’re probably a decent human being and you respect women and have at least three female role models and would never tell anyone what to do or not with their lives. But, the sad fact of the matter is, that the world is geared to put you first. Your needs are paramount. Your needs also mean that the world (Patriarchy again!) can tell the rest of the people—i.e. women—-what to do and what not to do to make it convenient for men to live happy, productive lives. Which is why for the longest time women were expected to stay at home with the kids while men went out and made the living, because it was easier that way, and this division of labour meant that everything was in its place and no one could easily break out of it, leave husband and children and run off to do her own thing. Or just get a job somewhere without being also expected to be a great mother and wife. This was also the same time men weren’t expected to be anything but good providers—husbands and fathers be damned. Everyone loses—yes, even the men, because how could you say you wanted to stay at home and parent instead while your wife who was bored out of her skull with housework wanted to go out and meet people? You couldn’t.

Back in the day, people made biology arguments. Men were stronger, with more rational minds and so they should make the big adult decisions. Women were weak and scatty, lovely to have and hold but less lovely in a boardroom. Men’s Rights Activists are making this argument to this day. We love women, they’re saying, but we don’t think they can do all the stuff we do. And that, dear G, is empirical bullshit.

Whether you know it or not, patriarchy has touched every single one of your interactions. In the boarding school I went to in my teen years, it used to get extremely cold around October, or February. We were expected to wear standard issue grey wool skirts—completely useless in the face of the elements. A few girls started to make noise about being able to wear pants like the boys (this was a co-ed boarding school), which were laughed at in my day, but I heard a few years later, the noises started up again and louder. Old board members got indignant, there was a lot of hullabaloo, but finally, finally the girls won and could wear long woollen pants on days it got cold. I ask you: should this have been a battle at all? Even in Delhi winter, I see hordes of school girls shivering in the cold as they wait for their bus while the boys are comfortable, even chipper in their long trousers. Patriarchy demands girls look a certain way and boys look another, and that’s just the way it is, please don’t argue with us.

Or take the metro or the local train or whatever form of transport is in your city. The ladies compartment is the ladies compartment, but there’s so much bitching and crying about it from the men in the general coach. In fact, some even call the general coach, the “men’s coach”. It’s not. It belongs to everyone. And in no other country does public transport need to safeguard women from being felt up, harassed, abused, stared at by giving them a compartment of their own. Patriarchy means we get a coach to ourselves, but no one can actually change why we’ve been given a coach in the first place.

Patriarchy. It’s a big word and often gets people rolling their eyes and #NotAllMen-ing, but all it means is the system that has worked to keep us all down. Women and men should be aware of it, and angry, and alert so we can finally change the way things work.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

You must be to comment.
  1. issacthomas3

    wowww… glad to read an unbiased rational article….if we only have more such beautiful beings like you..the world would surely become a much better place to live in….

  2. ItsJustMe

    Your concluding point is right and fair.
    Unfortunately the thing you call empirical bullshit is actually, in the real world an evolutionary fact.
    Over years of evolution, women inherited traits to nurture and bring up young ones.
    Men inherited traits to seek food, hunt and defend.
    Men evolved to be physically stronger than women in general and it has put a lot of pressure on the male gender itself.
    In strict Darwinist notations, only men who were stronger, able to defend and hunt well survived
    and they passed on these traits (in modern scientific terms called genes) to the future generations.
    The ones that exist now are their descendants
    In the world today, only 6% of the territorial defense forces are comprised of women.
    Only 3% of the world’s entire population of soldiers comprise of women.
    Most of the dangerous jobs in the world are almost entirely handled by men
    Over the years it has become almost exclusively men’s responsibility to defend the political entities we live in.
    More men die while on job and consequently men’s lifespans are significantly shorter than women’s all over the world.
    Men and women needs to think about taking steps by which they can make significant changes to gender imbalances in these areas as well.

    These are facts, not anyone’s opinion. So do not call it empirical bullshit.
    These are very real ways in which men are affected by patriarchy.
    By being handed the responsibilities to do the dangerous jobs and be the ones who willingly risk their lives to protect territories
    First step towards changing something is accepting the fact that this needs to change.

  3. Ushasi

    I think this debate comes about “what men can do women can too”, when we talk about a society which lives in cities, and not in jungle where hunting and gathering are the only two major jobs. Women are seen as less intelligent, or even if their intelligence is recognized, they are thought of as a wife and mother first than a corporate leader or an entrepreneur or anywhere in the outside field. But women have proved so many times that that’s a wrong perception.
    This is not an evolutionary fact, because even in the jungle women did the calculations and the organizing and the management of the household, which may not have required killing animals, but did require carrying quite heavy buckets (or pots, then?) of water for quite long and that requires strength too! That is required of women even now, everywhere. Does carrying a 2-3 kg baby for 9 months not require strength? I think the perception of the society is what the culprit is here, not the evolutionary facts; the strength of men which is seen on the spot, in 2 seconds, is called strength, but the strength which is endurance, and cannot be seen that quickly, is ignored!

  4. ItsJustMe

    @Ushasi I think you misunderstood.
    The modern cities and ways of life are but a small part of human evolutionary history and
    constitutes less 2% of the total time human’s have been on the earth. Not enough time to cause huge differences in genetics of each sex
    What I meant to say was because of all these years of evolution (male as hunter gatherers, soldiers and females as care givers) there has definitely been a huge
    difference in the physical abilities of men and women of today.
    If we really need to change this, we need to start now, so that several generations later the female genetics will improve on these traits.
    Today if we look at male contribution to bearing and raising offspring, it is dismal and negligible.
    Humanity is almost exclusively dependent on women to raise children all around the world.
    It does take endurance and strength to bear and raise offspring, whether it be humans or animals.
    If I had written that in my comment, then the likes would have reacted to it differently.
    Somehow stating the significant and all important task of sustaining human life generation after generation, is almost entirely done
    by women, will still be seen as misogyny because then I am the one who sees women as just an apparatus for reproduction.
    My point is that dominant traits in male gene pool and female gene pool are vastly different in all of the organisms on this planet.
    This is still playing a big part in defining gender roles in our society.
    If we need to change that, we need to consciously incorporate gender role reversal and continue doing that for generations.
    And it is my genuine hope that we do. Coming from the gender whose problems you obviously hates to hear, I simply
    put down what the consequences patriarchy has been for men.
    Go on and blame it on men like every keyboard warrior tumblr feminists do

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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