Common Experiences of Patriarchy
In the first module, we discussed Gender. Actually friends, gender is not the problem. Gender is the result of a problem and the problem is Patriarchy. It is because of patriarchy that we are gendered in a hierarchical way. Let me give some examples from the experience of women in South Asia to explain what patriarchy is at the day-to-day level for them. These reflections are from the workshops I organize with women.
"I heard my family was unhappy when I was born. They had wanted a boy."
"My brothers could demand food; they could stretch their hands and take what they wanted. We girls were told not to take food, but to wait for it to be given. Our mother and we sisters had to make and with whatever was left over within the family."
"It was a struggle to go to school. My father thought it was not necessary for us girls to study."
"My brothers can come back at any time but I have to be back before dark."
“One marriage alliance that came for me asked for a dowry of 5 lakh rupees. The family said this is the ‘rate’ for their son, who is a doctor.”
"My father used to often beat my mother."
"The whole family was against my taking up a job."
“One day on my way to office, I screamed at a man who was trying to rub himself against me inside a bus. Surprisingly, very few commuters supported me, most looked away pretending nothing has happened.”
“Last year, my manager asked me to stay back after office to complete some work. As I was working, I suddenly received a text message from him with pornographic material. I was terrified.”
"Both my husband and I work outside the home and earn money, but only I do the housework. Why?"
"I have no share in my father's property. My husband's property is also not mine. Actually there is no home I can call mine."
"I have to submit my body to my husband whenever he wants it. I have no say. I fear sex. Don't enjoy it."
Our Common Experiences…
Such statements are endless. If you are a girl or a woman listening to me now, I wish to ask you a question. Can you say that you have never experienced any one of these situations yourselves?
We find an amazing similarity in our stories. The details may be different but the theme which runs through is the same, that is, our subordination to men in some form or another within the family, at the place of work, and in most institutions in society. Our subordination may take different forms – discrimination, disregard, insult, ridicule, control, exploitation, oppression, and physical violence of all kinds, mental and emotional violence.
Many of us break down while sharing these experiences of patriarchy, of double standards, of injustice, inequality, and exploitation within our own families – by those who are closest to us and who are supposed to be our guardians and protectors. As we begin to reflect, we start realizing that each one of us has had to struggle, in one way or another, to get what our brothers and men get naturally. Even getting proper nutrition and education, having the freedom to play outside, having mobility, and having leisure is a struggle for many women in many societies.
We realize that this subordination is not the fate of some of us who are unfortunate, nor is it some 'vicious' men who exploit or oppress some women. We begin to understand that what we are up against is a social system, a system of male superiority and control. This system is what we call “patriarchy.”