We live in a society where our everyday behaviours, thoughts, and emotions are shaped by patriarchal notions which prevail in the structure of our society. A woman at every stage of her life, in fact even before her birth, is subjected to the evils of the male-dominated society.
Patriarchy is unique, as even though this oppression is prevalent globally, many of its aspects are undermined by society or remain hidden in its structure so that it is noticed by none. Even people who are subjected to it fail to notice their oppression. In the Indian society particularly, the patriarchal norms and values are also a result of caste and religious inequalities that haunt the society. The most familiar example is the restriction of the entry of women into Sabarimala Temple in Kerala.
The transmission of patriarchal values and ideas from one generation to another occurs in the socialisation process.
Socialisation is the process of internalising the norms and ideologies of society. During and at the end of the process, the individuals- be it men or women- adjust to the group or community in which they socialised, and learn to behave in a manner as approved by the particular community.
This socialisation process forms the basis for the normalisation of patriarchy in society. So, any attempt for a social change that is sustainable and egalitarian should start from the socialisation process.
Socialisation occurs at two levels– primary and secondary.
In primary socialisation, a child accepts and learns a set of norms, values, and attitudes. For example, if a child sees their mother expressing hatred towards anybody, the child may think this behaviour to be acceptable and could continue to practice hatred towards others.
In secondary socialisation, the child learns what the appropriate behaviour is as a member of a smaller group in a larger society. Secondary socialisation takes place outside the home. The children and adults learn how to act in an appropriate way in any given situation. Schools require very different behaviour from home, and children must act according to the new rules.
So, the social institutions involved in the process of socialisation- both primary and secondary- should undergo a radical change from the present, in their approaches of socialising the new generation. Socialisation by any of these institutions are influenced by the patriarchal values of society. Identifying the patriarchal values and norms in these institutions and replacing them with egalitarian values will break the chain of transmission that helps in carrying over patriarchy across generations.
Let us see with some examples: the key social institution in the primary socialisation process is the ‘family’. The behaviour of the parents has a great influence on the child. In Indian society, there is a notion that males are breadwinners and women are homemakers, which itself is a result of the patriarchal norms.
So, any child witnessing their father going to work and their mother doing household chores will accept this as the norm. Thus, the occupational segregation that we see in the labour market has its roots in the family. During this, the child’s ability to think critically about such a notion is not developed. Hence, the child accepts this unconditionally. This is a vicious cycle– the socialisation process leads to an unequal labour market, which again has its worst effects on the socialisation process.
Even the toys given to girls and boys during their childhood has this effect. Often the male child is given a toy bike or toy car, whereas the female child is almost always gifted dolls as toys. Over time, this will give a notion of superiority to the boy child against the other gender, as possessing a bike or car is often seen as a status symbol for the family, and is thus often associated with boys.
Schools are important secondary social institutions. The present arrangement in schools and colleges is such that the patriarchal notions go unnoticed, and are hence normalised. Even women who are subjected to this often accept this without hesitation.
Even today, many primary school textbooks contain pictures of families where the father is depicted as going to work, and the mother is doing household chores. Here comes the coincidence of the primary and secondary socialisation. As mentioned above, a child sees the same kind of situation as in the book in their home. This makes the child believe that this is how society operates.
Another common example is the selection of the school captain. In most schools, there is an unwritten rule that the school captain should be a boy, with the vice-captain position reserved for a girl. It is one of the very apparent features of the male-dominated society, but no one really questions this. This has a worse impact on society, as it makes the youth in school believe that men are superior to women.
So, what really happens here? We are assigning a gender to a term (here, the school captain), which is originally a gender-neutral term. Whenever students hear the term, they associate it with men. This forms the basis of harassment of women at workplaces, despite them occupying top positions.
In my college, for the post of the chairperson for the students union, interviews are held for both sexes, but the final winner will always be a man. So here, though it appears that the process is gender-neutral, the result is already decided. The usage of the term ‘chairman’ instead of ‘chairperson’ in many places, even today, is yet another example.
So here, the socialisation pattern is such that the male finds it difficult to accept female leadership at workplaces, institutions, corporates, organisations, and so on.
However, a big relief is that there are men and women who, over the years become aware of this pattern of socialisation and absolve themselves from the clutches of the patriarchal norms of society and attempt at being gender-neutral.
Redefining the socialisation process will be the solution.
Primary Socialisation: Make your child believe that the world is for everyone through your actions. A working male in the household, cooking for some time with his wife, or helping her in her work will make a great difference to the child. This develops a sense in the child that no job is restricted to a single-gender.
Secondary Socialisation: Making the words and pictures in primary school textbooks gender-neutral can help a lot. Say, a picture of a family can be shown as a father and mother doing household chores together. This will make the child critically question and compare the images in the book to the reality back at home.
Selection processes for any post in schools or colleges should not be based on gender. This makes every student, irrespective of gender, work together under the leadership of another student.
Thus, a permanent social change is in the hands of future generations.
I am not sure whether youths and students are the future of India. However, most of the youth might be parents in the future. So, the responsibility of these future parents should be to make their child- born as either biological sex- grow up being aware of heteronormative binaries which persist in our society.
This article was originally published here.