The feminist definition of patriarchy is a social or ideological construct that considers men as superior to women. Feminists challenge the concept where men are considered as the heads of the family and they say that this is the way how men control “women’s production, reproduction, and sexuality”. They further blame that masculinity and femininity are actually two stereotypes imposed by patriarchy.
Let’s see how our society has become patriarchal in nature. In prehistoric ages when men and women were equal, men being the stronger gender found that they were better at hunting and in jobs that needed more strength. So they went hunting for bigger and wilder animals. Women, on the other hand, found it better to stay indoors and engaged themselves in household work or hunting smaller animals, birds etc.
In those prehistoric days, human species found the merits of staying together in a group because that was needed to save their species from attacks of wild animals or other natural disasters or other human groups. So they started forming groups and set up their homes near other human beings. This system gradually developed the concepts of family, society and finally the kingdom or the state.
This is the system that developed some natural qualities in both the genders. Being in the home and safe from the danger of wild animals, women got more time socializing with each other and became naturally better in socializing, debating and articulating themselves.
Men, on the other hand, had to go hunting in groups and do life-threatening jobs very often. So men developed the skill of forming teams, following orders and became natural leaders. The job division thus happened in prehistoric ages where the male species became the naturally dominant gender, provider, and protector for the female species. Women, on the other hand, became caregivers and lovers for the family.
Anthropologist and world-renowned Oxford scholar ‘Desmond Morris’ proved this in his scientific documentary series “The Human Sexes”. He also showed that there are some bodily features and humane characteristics developed in these two genders based on their social roles. For example, women being mothers developed an inherent stronger sense of smells, because mothers very often kept their babies with them and thus become familiar with their smell and identified their babies by smell. His experiment with modern-day mothers showed that a pack of blindfolded mothers can identify their babies by their smell very easily and more accurately compared to the blindfolded fathers.
The above discussion shows that the gender roles were developed in the human world NOT by any conspiracy but simply by natural evolution. And because this was natural, this system has lived for ages. Men being the stronger sex and being the natural leaders (because of their need for hunting) became the dominant gender and became heads of the family and society became patriarchal. This is because we always accept the leadership of the strongest and bravest and not that of the weakest.
Bhasin and Khan (1999 : 3) defined feminism as – “an awareness of patriarchal control, exploitation and oppression at the material and ideological levels of women’s labour, fertility and sexuality, in the family, at the place of work and in society in general, and conscious action by women and men to transform the present situation”.
The famous Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 started the feminist movement where they wanted equal voting rights for women in the US and in the UK. Around 1920 the same is granted to women in both the countries.
Apart from the voting rights, some other rights sought in this first phase of feminism were equal legal rights and the right to education. These feminists are referred to as Liberal Feminists who believed that once women get equal education the distinction between genders would become unimportant in social and political life. In 1970, Harriet Taylor in ‘Subjection of Women’ proposed that women should get citizenship and political rights and liberties enjoyed by men. In one sense Liberal Feminists were reformists who didn’t want to challenge the basic patriarchal structure of the society but wanted equal rights.
Radical Feminists opposed the above approach and challenged the ‘Mystique of Motherhood’ (Heywood 2003: 254) and the basic structure of the society and thus born the second wave of feminism. These feminists argued that the above changes can’t change women’s position in society as these measures don’t address the problem that they have termed as –“Socially Structured Inequalities” (Mandell, 1995). These feminists believed that only political and legal rights were insufficient to change women’s subordination. Feminist ideas and arguments have become radical and revolutionary thereafter.
Radical Feminists say that the ideology of motherhood subjugates women and perpetuates patriarchy. This not only forces women to be mothers but also determines the conditions of their motherhood (Bhasin, 1998). So they believe that motherhood is socially imposed rather than biological in nature.
For radical feminists, sexual relations are political acts, emblematic of male / female power relation. They believe that Family is a place where women get maximum exploitation. They say that the ‘public-private divide’ in a family system legitimizes the exploitation of women. Radical feminists believe that unless sexuality is reconceived and reconstructed only for women, they will continue to remain suppressed by men.
Marxist Feminists believe that with the development of private property concept is responsible for the division of classes and subordination of women in our society. They say that the concept of capitalism based on private property concept defeated the female gender based on private property ownership by men. This completely did away with private property owners through the female line of ownership.
Socialist Feminists believed that only equal political and legal opportunities will not resolve the issue of inequality. To them, child-bearing and child-rearing issues are cultural rather than biological. They claim to transform the society such that the social classifications like class, gender, sexuality and race no longer acts as a barrier to share in equal resources. This class of feminists believes that appropriation and commoditization of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity by men lie in the concept of the Private Property, the institutionalization of slavery, women’s sexual subordination and economic dependency on men.
This group of feminists believes that women confinement to the domestic sphere serves the economic interests of capitalism. They argue that because women liberate men from domestic duties and child-rearing duties men can perform paid work. And hence they say that patriarchal division of labour within the family confines women only to unpaid and unvalued domestic work while the man gets the free time to work outside their home and get paid by the capitalist world.
There are some different types of feminists that emerged since 1980. Let’s take a look at their agenda –
Psychoanalytical Feminists believe biological factors are not responsible for the construction of sexual difference. So they want to explore the hidden dynamics at work to display our sexuality. Freudian psychoanalysts describe women oppression in patriarchy as a process. Feminists like Dorothy Dinnerstein and Nancy Chodorow say that based on the concept ‘object – relation theory’ exclusive female mothering is the cause of gender inequality (Mandell, 1995: 20).
Eco Feminists like Vandana Shiva says that in certain aspects women are superior to men and men can never develop these skills. She said that ecological destruction and capitalist growth are patriarchal projects (Vandana Shiva, “Colonialism and the evolution of masculinist forestry” 1991).
Difference Feminists believe that there is a basic difference between the two genders and these lead to biological differences
Postmodern Feminists claim that female identity can be reconstructed and deconstructed and there is no fixed identity.
Black Feminists prioritized the differences based on colour and race and claim that women in colour are more oppressed. They criticize all other feminists for their ignorance of race in feminism agenda.
Lesbian Feminists advocate the creation of a world through the attachment women have for each other. They promote lesbianism as more than personal decision but an outward sign of rejection of patriarchal sexuality imposed on women. They want to redefine social cultures created by patriarchy and create women centred cultures.
Feminism on Patriarchy
Feminists challenge the patriarchal family system (joint family system in India) or kinship system (prevailing in South Asia) and say this system was constituted by a group of people related in male members where girls are seen as ‘paraya dhan’. (Maine in Uberoi 2005)
Feminists like Gerda Lerner says family system reinforces male supremacy in every sphere of life upto the state level where boys learn to be dominating and aggressive and girls learn to be loving, caring and submissive. They say it is because of this gender stereotype women are subjected and also prone to more violence.
Some theorists believe that patriarchy imposes inferiority on women by projecting ever sacrificing, the self-effacing image of women who is a faithful wife and devout mother (Desai and Krishnaraj, 2004). Laws of Manu says – that since women are by their nature disloyal, they should be made dependent on men and the man needs to be worshipped as a god. They believe that pre-Vedic era women were free of any bias and were treated equally but more restrictions came in through different patriarchal systems imposed on femininity in post-Vedic (Brahminical and Medieval) era.
They say that all major religions suppress femininity and promote patriarchy by different customs be it Parda, Hijab, or by separating public and private space. They say women need to have the sole decision about their pregnancy and termination of the same. Male-dominated institutions like the church and the state impose laws and restrictions where a man controls all these decisions for women.
Feminists like Uma Chakravarthi, Gerda Lerner and others challenge the idealization of chastity and wife fidelity as the highest duty of women and believe that family, religion, class, caste, community, tribe and state are all designed to suppress female sexuality and should be broken free.
From the above discussion, we have seen how the two systems have evolved and tried to understand the concepts in depth. We have seen that even though the development of patriarchal society was not for oppressing the women but simply by natural choice designed for the survival of the human species. Human species came together and started forming groups because they wanted to safeguard themselves from the wild animal attack and the attack of natural disasters. Men took up the natural role of provider and protector as they evolved as the best gender for the same. Our hormonal balance and body construct is made this way by nature to behave in this way and there is absolutely no conspiracy behind the same. However, some form of political and oppression theories projected by the feminists (parda pratha, domestication of women etc) are already broken free in most of the societies.
If women in a normal Indian household engage in household work, there are many men who contribute in a positive way as well. Feminists have an issue in having any duty set for the women, however, men DO NOT show any issue in sharing those responsibilities with their women. Many modern households have seen fathers raising their children or cooking for the two when the wife goes to work. Some men do that even when their wife is not working in the capitalist world. In fact most modern and educated man in India wants their wife to be engaged in some work for the capitalist world so that she can contribute financially to the family. However, in recent times in India, we have seen that it is the women’s groups who demanded alimony to be a right for women and wanted to make women dependant on men.
The feminists’ views regarding pregnancy and especially terminating the same as the sole decision of the mother is also not acceptable as it is related to the survival of the human race. I hope even feminists themselves will be thankful to their mothers for not terminating them in her womb as a right of the mother. Modern-day ultra feminists have raised the demand of not feeding their male child and only nurturing the female babies. These radical theories will only create immense gender imbalance in society.
Feminists’ views on the family being an oppressing system for women is scary for many as this is the biggest strength the human race has. We have formed families because we wanted to safeguard ourselves from the dangerous outside world and have that bonding keep us going even in difficult times. However, we have seen that in recent times our family system is attacked by feminists in designing different family breaking laws and promoting divorces in the name of unshackling the womanhood from patriarchy. This will create an immensely selfish and fragmented world with a high rate of corruption and crime.
In order to make women sexually free, feminists are opposing the theories of monogamy and promoting polygamy instead. It is basically the concept of ‘My Body My Choice’ and ‘I decide who will penetrate the same and when’. This is in a way promoting and legalizing prostitution and adultery. We have already seen steps taken by many feminist groups in that direction. In India National Commission for Women (NCW) has made adultery a non-punishable offence for women. Recently many women’s groups are advocating to make this non-criminal for men as well. In Bangladesh too, feminist groups are demanding Adultery to be legal for women. This is another proposition by feminists which will surely lead to rampant prostitution in society.
If prostitution becomes legal then I am sure even the hardcore feminists will not like a situation when a mother tells her children that – ‘Beta I am now sleeping with another uncle you please take care of yourself for today’..or no one will like their own daughter going next door and ‘asking for sex’ (like they do today asking for milk, or newspaper or maybe sugar). I am sure, no son would have respected their mother if she had abandoned him in his childhood or left him to the street dogs to feed him breast-milk or outsourced that job to a father.
Whereas some forms of rules set by the so-called patriarchal society may be oppressing in nature for women but many of the changes demanded by feminists are not only dangerous for individuals but to the human race as a whole. We have seen that how in situations of natural disaster feminism takes a back seat and only men brave-hearts are pushed to die. This was evident in Uttarakhand recently. We have also seen that for ages men have done the most dangerous jobs or died in wars. Men have not only made this world a better and safer place for women to live in but also protected and nourished them. On the other hand, feminism only criticized men for everything they have today. If women were made to stay indoors that was for their own safety, if prostitution was prevented that was only to create a better world where every child has the necessary protection, love and affection of both the parents and grow up as better and stronger individuals.
As an educated and self-respecting person, it is your turn to decide what you want – Patriarchy or Feminism. It is you to understand the negativity that is brought in by the feminism. If you understand the dangers of feminism now please don’t contribute to any feminist propaganda, do not share or fuel any of those so-called women oppression theories and do not directly or indirectly fund them. Above all, do not think patriarchy is all bad. Because when the human race is in danger, these empowered women will not come forward to save us and will continue to blame the same men who save them.
1.Desmond Morris, Oxford University, The Human Sexes, Documentary for Discovery network
2. Bhasin, Kamla, What is Patriarchy?, Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1993.
3.Bhasin, Kamla, Understanding Gender, Women Unlimited, New Delhi, 2003.
4.Suranjitha Ray, Understanding Patriarchy, Delhi University