Patriarchy, from the ancient Greek term patriarkhes, was said to be a society where power was held by and passed down to the elder males. When modern historians describe a ‘patriarchal’ society, they mean that men hold the position of power and have more privilege. They are the heads of the family and the rule makers. Since a family is the smallest unit of a society, which in turn affects the way a society functions, the restrictions laid down on women in a family, commonly reflect in the mindset of the lawmakers of the nation. That’s the reason why we get to hear statements like “women need protection, not independence” by exalted officials.
Feminist theorists have expanded the definition of patriarchal society to describe a systemic bias against women. Rather than saying that individual men oppressed women, feminists noticed a pattern of discrimination coming from the underlying bias in society.
These patriarchal societies are also patrilineal in nature, the male lineage inherits the property and the title, while females are considered the “property” of her in-laws. They are made to sacrifice their comfort and needs, so that male members can have enough to earn for the family. They are denied formal education and nutritious food. They are considered someone else’s property, so investing in her seems like a waste to the earning member of the family.
Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in social, legal, political, and economic organizations in different cultures. Both men and women have to abide by the gender role allotted to them, or they are considered “inadequate”. While the men were restricted to be the providers of the family; women were reduced to child bearers and homemakers.
It is a widely conceived notion that patriarchy only affects women, but it is untrue. While it does pressurize and stereotype women more, its discrimination towards men cannot be denied. After all, feminists demand “equality between genders”.
Harmful practices such as acid attacks, rapes, sexual assaults and female genital mutilation continue to hinder women from having a bigger role in society. Justice for women is tied to the involvement of men. To ensure the involvement in a positive and effective manner, discrimination needs to be addressed as a whole.
Men who fall outside the expected gender norms are harmed in ways that are not always obvious. On one hand, women are taught to be “gentle, polite and feminine”. Men, on the other, are expected to be “tough”. Notions like “ladke rotein nahi hai (men don’t cry)” push men emotionally backwards, equating sensitivity with “weakness”. It promotes toxic masculinity by encouraging emotional detachment and pressurises them to be insensitive towards emotions, be competitive to fit in, ‘act like men’ and reject every ‘girly’ thing. Being emotionally stunted leads to a world of grief, self-destruction and venting out those built up emotions in the wrong way on people around them.
Men choose different grounds on which to rank each other. Many societies use the markers of age and physical strength to stratify men in early years. But later in life, they’re judged on their ability to make money since they have to be the financial support system of their family.
One of the most critical rankings among men derived from patriarchal sexual politics is the division between gay and straight men. This division has negative consequences for gay men and gives all the privileges to straight men. This division has a symbolic meaning as well. It is another means to rate masculinity. A man who cannot stand to others’ expectations in terms of physical activity, is termed ‘gay’. A sexual orientation is used as a form of insult.
“For men in particular, when the patriarchy says that it’s OK to grab a woman’s butt, or tell her what to do, or watch too much porn or deny her space — and you accept this as a way of treating another human being — you deny yourself the opportunity to understand why you desired that comfort of power in the first place. The ego wants dominance and control. And the male ego is currently everywhere,” writes Jordan Stephens in The Guardian.
To effectively tackle such issues, one needs to identify them and challenge these norms in our day to day lives. This will not only help the upcoming generations but will also help to create a positive behaviour.