By Astha Rattan:
“Patriarchy: A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.”
The above two lines precisely represent the dictionary meaning of the word, a world where women are neither treated with equal respect nor granted equal rights. While the dictionary defines it in just a few safe words, ask an Indian woman and her reaction would be a fairly glorious introduction to its unbound existence. Look around and see it for yourself. The moment a girl is born, is the golden chance for the world to jump in and present her with a carefully designed rule book, such that her stay is marked by many instances of the realisation that ‘well, you are the weaker sex.’ It is like ‘you were not supposed to exist but now that you do, better follow us.’
I grew up in a family where everyone loved my sisters and me as much as the boys, it was a happy world where I got everything I ever wanted. But unfortunately, that was just my family and things changed as I grew up. While summer vacations meant internships for the guys, it meant the only time a mother could teach her daughter how to cook or sew because eventually she was supposed to do it for her family. Soon I realised that all along, I had been accustomed to patriarchy in subtle ways, so seamlessly infused in my daily life that I failed to recognise it.
So, when I wanted to cut my hair short and get a tattoo, my uncle asked my parents to watch out, stating examples of how his daughter was the perfect lady who carried herself in decorum. Just because I had dared defy how society envisioned a girl, I was a rebel who needed to be shown her place. Things have been this way for years, it is not new. When I look at my mother, I realise how much she has lost to this system and I too would be expected to. When she was born, she got her father’s surname and lived with it unless she was married off and she had to adopt her husband’s surname. I don’t know how often she wonders but I wonder every day about who my mother is? Mr. X’s daughter or Mr. Y’s wife? Who is she minus these imposed identities?
Patriarchy has been prevalent in our society for years, in sometimes obvious and otherwise latent forms. Our movies are a perfect portrayal; with actresses getting far less pay and credit than their male counterparts, the struggle to be heard and seen is real. Moreover, how women are portrayed in movies brings a clear picture to notice. Our actresses are grooving to songs like ‘baby doll’ and ‘chittiya kalaiyan’, in attires made to expose their bodies. As soon as she gets married, she stops getting roles, I really fail to understand the link between marriage and someone’s acting skills. But I guess there has to be one!
Women continue to be at the receiving end of sexual jibes and body-shaming comments. It is a dream to spend a single day without being ogled by shameless men who won’t take their eyes off even after you noticing. It’s not just about strangers, even your own family and friends mindlessly say things that make you realise of being a girl. You are constantly schooled about how you should look, what you should wear, where you should go. Ditch your makeup for a day and people will ask you if you had been unwell, act a little angry and it will be about ‘that time of the month.’
I always have a tough time adjusting to how guys make fun of you in a healthy way, how getting late is all because of the girl taking too much time for getting ready and how compliments are always served with taunts. This one time, a colleague was impressed with my driving skills. He wanted to praise me and so he exclaimed “You are too good a driver for a girl” and all I could do was to laugh it off. I failed to take offense at it because it was not his mistake. This is what he had grown up listening to, no one ever told him not to jokingly pull the hair of the little girl as a kid or to let a girl carry a chair for herself because she could. Instead, he was told that a gentleman had to carry a girl’s bags, open the gate for her and act strong when he made fun of a little girl, people laughed. As he grew up, not much changed; the jokes just went too far. His male ego grew, he started reacting to a ‘no’ with violence and soon became a nightmare.
As if there was any scope left, our traditions make things worse. Patriarchy is served at our dining table, where men get the first meal while women serve. Take a look at marriages – after marriage, a girl is supposed to leave her family and move in with her husband’s family. She is supposed to sacrifice her dreams and begin again. It is not just about women who are struggling to earn an identity, for a woman the struggle seems to never end. Even women who have reached the boardrooms have to prove their potential and fight to be taken seriously.
It is a long fight to go before women are taken seriously and treated with equal respect because somehow not everyone seems to get the idea of ‘equality.’ But given how feminists of today have been successful in creating a non-diluted wave of conversation, things will surely change for the better, later if not sooner.