I explained Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to a good friend, and that is when I realised how it could be used to understand patriarchy. We have come across patriarchy being interpreted and described in various ways, but we still do not have a good understanding of its evolutionary aspects.
For those new to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is a simple illustration of our needs in life and analysed from bottom to top. There are new and hilarious versions of the model now, with internet and mobile batteries being the most important of our needs.
Our needs in life begin with the most basic ones, which is why they are at the foundation of this model. According to priority, our physiological conditions can be further subdivided into
These are our most fundamental needs for survival.
Then comes shelter, which offers us protection, and that is when we step into reproduction.nI will go no further than what Morgan Freeman’s character Prof. Norman says here in the stunning and eye-opening movie ‘Lucy.’
“When the habitat of a living being is not conducive for life, it will choose self-preservation. When the habitat is conducive enough, it will select reproduction.”
An evolutionary fact in all animals is that a significant portion of their energy is meant for reproduction. For the survival of their species, reproducing as many as possible is critical since nature controls the population of all animals primarily through predator-prey relationships and diseases.
So in a challenging environment, animals choose their survival over reproduction because even if they reproduce, their offspring will not survive. This is evidently how turtles and crocodiles survived the asteroid strike that made dinosaurs extinct.
Reproduction leads to security in safety needs because we need to protect our family. Then, to work and take care of our family, we need health and work to do. For the longest time in our evolution, we can meet the physiological and safety needs-led directly to Esteem.
Being physically stronger, the men went out, faced the dangers in nature, and weathered the different climates to hunt for food and find wood to burn. So men who were able to meet all or most of the physiological and safety needs were recognised and respected within the families and community, which led to attaining higher social status and being considered community leaders.
Love and belonging are not characteristics in nature. We get to see in animals during their courtship different aspects of the process involved in mating and breeding. There is no place for love and belonging in the harsh and uncertain nature where life expectancy is very low.
Only after we became more intelligent beings did we become civilised and start leading societal life did our emotional aspects evolve. In those times when we had to brave nature’s extremes, there was only the need to work together to hunt, fish and cut wood.
Friendship and camaraderie are products of our evolution into the social life we live now. Then, life was all about survival, so intimacy was not even known or required, and the only necessary form of love was affection for the children when they were growing up.
Patriarchy is essentially men taking care of physiological and safety needs and expecting Esteem in return from their families. Nothing exemplifies this better than a particular scene in the biopic ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ of celebrated Indian athlete Milkha Singh.
The young Milkha and his older married sister had managed to cross over into India from Pakistan during the bloody partition of India in 1947. They were in a refugee camp, and his sister is shown in a makeshift tent cooking food when her husband arrives. There is no emotional reunion. Instead, he ignores Milkha and heads straight for the tent, enters, sees his wife and closes the entrance. This is how men were from the cave-dwelling times.
All the male testosterone and adrenaline rush from hunting and fishing and bringing home food and wood is further bolstered by the exhilaration of returning home alive. They had no time to understand women and their needs. Women were meant to satisfy them in whatever way made them happy and put them to sleep after a long day outside.
This patriarchy is visible in the epic Ramayan followed in India. Ram, the protagonist, travels from the north to the southern tip of India and crosses over to Lanka in search of his wife, who the demon king of Lanka kidnapped. After slaying the demon king and rescuing her, patriarchy overpowers his love for her, and she is asked to walk through fire to prove her “purity” for him.
We have evolved in all aspects of life, but we are still holding on to some remnants from our past, notably religion and patriarchy, because their effectiveness in controlling us hasn’t waned. Although a lot hasn’t changed from our ancient cave-dwelling history, hunting first got replaced by agriculture, livestock and barter system, and now there is the additional factor called money.
We have created a new world that stands on the foundation of money, and with money, we can buy all the utilities and services we have designed to meet our needs. There is a simple trade-off though, there is a barter system between time and money now. We get more money in return for giving up more of our time. The ancient patriarchal mindset has shifted to earning more money, buying utilities and services with money, and expecting self-esteem and stature in return.
Our patriarchal mindset blinds us to the simple fact that what we build physically is a house. The house becomes our home only with love, togetherness, a sense of belonging and emotional contentment. Ancient Indian texts have a very sensible classification of human lives.
Till 23 years, it is time for education, attaining knowledge and becoming wise of the world. Then from 24-48, it is family time. Finally, from 48-72, it is time to step out of the family and serve the community and after 72, renounce all earthly needs and attachments to make our death and journey to the afterlife easier.
The hidden secret here is the population control part. By the time we become 48, our children have to be old enough to live independently. Only then we can step into community service.
So what we have is 24 years to raise our children with the right balance of physical and emotional health and contentment. Patriarchy and patriarchal mindset ignore these simple things. Without emotional understanding and bonding, we have lost the connection between our souls. We are increasingly becoming individual isolated beings searching in the virtual world for what we have lost in the physical world.