Patriarchy: Seeking for a ‘License’ to Co-Exist

Patriarchy Seeking for a ‘License’ to Co-Exist

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This article on ‘Patriarchy: Seeking for a ‘License’ to Co-Exist’ has been written by Anukriti Poddar and Shreya Mittal.

Dominance has been a never-ending phenomenon and as its consequence, many sections of the society, especially that of women have been severely affected. Violence against women has not been a straightforward concept.

This article talks about how the position of women was eventually degraded in the beginning, and to what degree the world needs stability and equity. This could come through the empowerment of all human beings, starting with women which would then lead to an egalitarian society.

Introduction

Many researchers have described the origin of patriarchy not as an evil conspiracy but as a cultural invention. Breaking the shackles of this 4000-year-old system of ideas has not been a smooth process since time immemorial.[2]This legacy has been giving men the superfluous advantage to which they are not entitled. This system was established by both men and women involuntarily due to obligatory conditions.

In ancient times, when women’s average lifespan was less than 28 years and the infant mortality rate was as high as 75%, women took charge of bearing and nursing children for their tribe to subsist.[3] On the contrary, the male was undisputedly looked upon as the bread-winner of the family. This biological division of labour soon turned to be dictatorial and led to the formation of the atrocious concept of patriarchy.

Eventually, women were left with no other option but to succumb to the circumstances owing to their responsibilities for the sake of their tribe. The situation kept exacerbating and until today women have continued to face the consequences of this dominance.

Unveiling Patriarchy

Patriarchy has been described as an institutionalized pattern of male dominance towards women in society. The concept of “Patriarchy” had been planted on two parallel principles- the first being that women belong to men; hence they were accountable to the other gender in acquiring the stamp of approval. The second principle spoke about the dispartment of women into two groups: “saints” and “sinners”.

The women who were not competent enough as “saints”, that is, good mothers and wives, were subjected to violence in the name of punishment.[1] The “sinners”, being the people who did not follow the set of norms rooted by the patriarchal society were also exposed to a similar kind of oppression and punishment.

This practice brought with it inevitable anguish to women in the form of violence, lack of opportunities, dependency, and identity crisis. But if women were said to be weak according to society, they were strong enough to bear the suffering.

Origin of Gender-Politics

“Women are not supposed to develop power over men, but over themselves.” Mary Wollstonecraft.[4]

In the medieval period, the female section of the society became the ‘absolute’ victims to the establishment of a division of labour and the disparity that came with it. They were looked upon as second-rate citizens across the globe. In the beginning, women had enjoyed an equal involvement as men, but gradually they were shown as dependant on men for food and protection.

Their horizons were narrowed by the “primary” responsibilities.[5] This implied that their movement was restricted within the four walls of the house, and their everyday routine involved performing household chores and taking care of her family. On the other hand, the man was assigned to arrange for food through hunting and other methods.

Men started misconstruing their responsibility as the certificate of authorization over women. When a society came into existence, its ideologies supported this mentality, and chastisement was imposed on those who did not ‘subscribe’ to these gender-based norms. The gender gap between the two factions kept widening to a point where there was no turning back. In fact, things further went down the hill for the female folks.

Centuries and decades passed, the oppression and cruelty served to the women clan did not see any remarkable change. Even today, women continue to face similar ill-treatment and are victims of some heinous and inhumane acts. They are considered worthy only for nursing the kids and are expected to live under the shadows of their “significant others”.

This concrete custom of them being treated as ‘subordinates’ acted as a hindrance for them to voice out for the discrimination faced back in the earlier times. Women have also been an easy target for domestic violence by the male dominant society. The origin of this gender-based disturbance traces back to the ultimate cause, that is, “Patriarchism”.

Violence: A By-Product of Patriarchy

In 2013, a report by WHO declared that globally, more than one in every three women (35.6%) were physically or sexually abused, predominantly by an intimate partner.[6] This figure which was given by WHO shows how a significantly large proportion of women in the world have been a victim to some kind of atrocity at least once in their lifetime.

Women are subjected to violence, in every form possible, are demeaned over others, not provided with the same rights as men, and are also deliberately made to feel futile and awful about themselves in the name of ‘patriarchy’. If the countries try to compensate every victim of violence, it would sum up to cost around 3.7% of their GDP- more than twice of most governments’ expenditure on education.[7]

Moreover, it is estimated to cost USS 1.6 to USS 5.8 billion annually for intimate partner violence.[8] The idea of dominance has influenced the people to think that it is their birth-right to make the child-bearing gender go through immense pain without any fault on their part.

The distress that the violence accompanies with itself is inconceivable. The branches of violence extend to intimate-partner violence, sexual violence, physical violence, mental violence, etc.

Intimate Partner Violence

Reports by WHO suggested that intimate partner violence has been the most prevalent worldwide for a very long time. Men often unleash their wrath at home. Intimate partner violence has been said to result in more injuries than the violence inflicted by other family members.

A report from National Crime Victimizing Survey, using data from 2003-2012 showed that out of 21% of domestic violence reported by the victims, 15% accounted for intimate partner violence, whereas immediate family assault was around 4% and relatives contributed by 2%.[9] This data proves how partners are responsible for such acts in the majority of the cases.

Intimate partner violence is closely linked to sexual and physical violence. Many reports have stated that out of the total number of sexual violence cases reported in any year, the majority of them were executed by the partner. On the other hand, some reports show that up to 50% of the sexual harassment cases reported were committed against girls under the age of 16.[10]

These staggering data speaks volumes on what fear and agony women constantly live under. They are not considered safe inside or outside their homes. Many girls have claimed that they have experienced forced sexual acts by former or current sexual partners and in some countries, a significant portion of the female population reported their first sexual experience as forceful.

If not sexually, they are under physical torture. This can come from their husbands, boyfriends, family members, and close relatives too. Many of the cases don’t even get reported as either woman are scared or they are taught to make conscious decisions of “not bringing private matters out”.

Silently, women continue to suffer this kind of violence upon them. Things don’t end here. Mental torture is not often spoken about in open but it has also become a factor in women’s suffering. Married women were and continue to be criticized and reprimanded for anything and everything. They are made to feel unwanted and dependant on their partners or fathers. These things have affected the female gender largely.

The Onerous Task of Discerning Liberty

The throne of patriarchy has always been directly or indirectly aimed towards women. The society around the globe has always focused on how to make the menfolk feel comfortable, how facilities prefer men. A study shows women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features are designed according to men.[11]

This example shows how inconsiderate our society has been and how widely the practise of gender inequality prevails all over the world. They have been deprived of the opportunities they could have otherwise excelled upon.

Literacy rates of girls over boys have never been equal. Girls often are not permitted to pursue their studies beyond high school. The global literacy rate for all males is 90.0% and the rate for all females is 82.7%.[12] This data is of the year 2013 when a society with modern ideologies was making its way.

Globally, 12 million girls each year get married before the age of 18; 33,000 every day and one in every two seconds.[13] These figures show how girls are sent off before they get a chance to prove their worth.

In the corporate world too, women are considered weak and unworthy of performing similar tasks as men. Often, they are not considered for higher positions. The common mentality goes like, “They are women, soon will get married and have kids. They will not have time to invest in the company”. Women were never the in-charge of decision making, even if it was concerned with their own life decisions.

In some countries, conferences were held for deciding on the rights of women, but the irony was, only men were invited and women had to sit back at home while their interests were the topic of discussion. It seems like all over the universe, everything was already decided for women without their consultation. Because of some of these things, they kept questioning their individuality and gradually developed an identity crisis.

The Wounds left Behind

These things have impacted women severely for a very long time. They have been affected physically, mentally, and spiritually too. The acts of violence directed towards women can lead to serious injuries, disabilities, and even death. They may even lead to other health problems and women may develop psychological disabilities.

These effects are commonly seen in abusive relationships. These things can lead to depression and traumatic stress for women. Various sources have confirmed that women who have endured domestic violence are more likely to get diagnosed with depression.

Depriving them of their opportunities, society has been restricting women to grow beyond men. This makes them lose confidence in themselves and can develop self-doubt. It was long before women finally understood that they had to stand independently to form their identity and no one else can help them in this but they, themselves. As we say, in the success of every woman lies an opportunity for another to shine too.

Establishing the Legacy of Empowered Women

“Women empowerment is not about making women strong. Women are already strong. It is rather about changing the way the world perceives their strength.”[14]

A revolution has begun since the past few centuries. Women have developed a sense of their individuality and have grown intolerant to these enormities by men. Hence, they now demand their own and equal rights. The concept of empowerment of women emerged in the Industrial Revolution of 1850 when the need of moving to urban settings was momentous for earning money.[15]

This shift from rural to urban centres brought about an increased cost of living because of which women had to earn too. Hence, when women were given fewer wages for the same work as men they protested and the women’s movement for equal rights began. The line of restrictions had started becoming invisible.

Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Frida Kahlo are some examples of women born in different centuries who ignited and stimulated the spark for the rights of the women.[16] They decided not to sit back and suffer and instead be ready and prepared to oppose and take action against something which is wrong.

For achieving this empowerment, the first step began at an intra-personal level, i.e., developing feelings of self-sufficiency, power, self-confidence, etc. Once an individual had inculcated these characteristics, they were to move to an inter-personal level, where they could then reach out to other women trapped in similar circumstances and inspire them to eliminate the negativity and move towards living a life which they wanted.

As empowerment was a group effort where one needed to extend support to the other, the first two steps combined to lead them to the last stage which involved engaging them at a community level, where they could provide aid and resources to a larger group of women.

With this breakthrough, in the 1960s the Women Liberation Movement began in The United States of America. In achieving the equality of women, this movement questioned the cultural and legal validity of patriarchy and raised concerns over the practical potency of the society, which they used to try and limit the legal rights and physical independence of women in the society.

Since this movement, there have been gains in professional, political, and educational arenas. After this, there have been many movements that have inspired women to come and voice out what they are going through.

Even after so many years, women continue to support each other. There have been many international collaborations that have helped women globally. Many organizations have come up to support women and give them a platform to help them make a place in society.

Recently, the society has emerged out in support of women. In 2016, Global Fund for Women was able to raise a four-year $5.9 million initiative. This fund has supported over 200,000 women and has helped them develop leadership skills and over 5,000 were prepared to run for local office. It also helped them face gender-based discrimination and brought about an increase in their economic potential.[17]

The year from 1976-1985 is referred to as the “United Nations Decade of Women”. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which was adopted in 1979 is considered as the most important treaty of this decade. This bill of rights consists of a preamble and 30 articles and defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets agendas for national action to end such injustice.

Women’s empowerment abolishes all gender-based discrimination in all institutions and structures of society. The struggle for creating a stable position for the female gender has been an unceasing process and its end line is still unforeseen. It is said that it would take more than a century to eliminate the gender gap.

Normalising Women as Human

“Women are the only ones who can dethrone patriarchy, and when that happens all of us will win, men as much as women.”[18]

There is no defiance of the fact that over the decades, there has been an improvement in women’s condition. They have started getting various opportunities and have crossed the threshold of restrictions imposed by the menfolk. Their condition has seen a fraction of improvement in some spheres, while in other areas, the progress remains either very slow or completely stagnant.

The 2015 Report of Global Gender Gap by the World Economic Forum states that in the last decade, the gap linking women and men in education, health, political representation, and economic opportunity has narrowed by 4%.[19] Also, a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2019, showed that in the last five years the percentage of women making to the top position is more, that is, companies prefer or value the leadership of women more.[20] These facts should not be seen as achievements but rather should remind people of the length that still needs to be covered.

Women empowerment as a theory has become the stated target of many developed and even developing countries. But, as a concept in practice, it is yet to be implemented in many forms. Despite many improvements and changes, there still exists a multiplicity of false stigmas attached to women.

In spite of proving their capabilities in various fields, they are still considered to be physically and emotionally weaker than men and are labelled to do only household work. The society has created a mould for women into which she has no option but to fit as, otherwise, it would be called a ‘patriarchal violation’ and would lead to disturbing consequences.

There is a need for equilibrium in society. And for this, the thick layers of patriarchy which have been created over so many years need to be ripped off. There also has to be an equal amount of acceptance by society and women have to be courageous in voicing out against any sort of dominance.

International Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide on 8th March every year. It would be interesting to trace back the origin of this day to the year 1908 when 15,000 women marched all through New York City demanding an increase in the pay, shorter working hours and voting rights. With this, a declaration was passed and this day was celebrated across the United States on 28th February every year.

This idea was spread across the world and ultimately in 1913, owing to certain circumstances, the date was shifted to March 8. This day was eventually adopted by the United Nations in 1975. Thus, an ordinary labour movement went on to become an UN-recognised annual event. This re-inspires and re-empowers women to keep fighting every year until they have an equally respectful position and ‘gender-unbiased’ society.

Women need not be reminded that they matter. When they stop existing, the world does too. They need to be given, if not more, then at least the same amount of value as men. Hence, this patriarchal thought needs to be dismantled and the society needs to be more gender-sensitive because all humans deserve the same rights and opportunities, be it any gender.


Authored by:

Anukriti Poddar and Shreya Mittal

KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneshwar and Amity University Kolkata

This Article was shortlisted in NARI SHAKTI 1st National Article Writing Competition 2020


[1]World March of Women, Violence against women, CADTM (Nov. 28, 2009), Available Here

[2]Glenn Collins, Patriarchy: Is it Invention or Inevitable, The New York Times (Apr. 28, 1986), Available Here

[3]Glenn Collins, Patriarchy: Is it Invention or Inevitable, The New York Times (Apr. 28, 1986), Available Here

[4]Bee Rowlatt, The original suffragette: the extraordinary Mary Wollstonecraft, The Guardian (Oct. 5, 2015), Available Here

[5]Sanchita Dwivedi, Of Unethical And Patriarchal Journalism In The Time Of COVID Pandemic, FII (Jun. 10, 2020), Available Here

[6] Claudia Garcia-Moreno et al., Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, World Health Organisation, 35 (2013), Available Here

[7]Neha Chauhan, How gender-based violence in India continues to rise, Social Story (Sept. 17, 2019), Available Here

[8][email protected], Ending violence against women: Fast Facts, Women Graduates-USA (Nov. 14, 2016), Available Here

[9]Jennifer L. Truman et al., Nonfatal Domestic Violence 2003–2012, U.S. Department of Justice (Apr., 2014), Available Here

[10] Margaret Eleanor Greene et al., A girl’s right to learn without fear: Working to end gender-based violence at school, Plan Limited, 5 (2013), Available Here

[11]Kate Whiting, 7 surprising and outrageous stats about gender inequality, World Economic Forum (Mar. 8, 2019), Available Here

[12]Nancy Singh, Some Of These Stats On Global Literacy Rates Will Surprise You, Youth Ki Awaaz (Sept. 9, 2019), Available Here

[13]Kate Whiting, 7 surprising and outrageous stats about gender inequality, World Economic Forum (Mar. 8, 2019), Available Here

[14] Kristen Fuller, Feminism: Changing the Way Our Society Views Women, Psychology Today (May 1, 2018), Available Here

[15]Sathyavathi, Essay on Women Empowerment in English for Students, SuccessCDs, Available Here

[16] Meghan Cook, 16 women throughout history who famously fought for equality, Insider (Mar. 2, 2020, 10:44 PM), Available Here

[17] Shawna Wakefield, Transformative and Feminist Leadership for Women’s Rights, Oxfam America Research Backgrounder series, 31 (2017), Available Here

[18] Isabel Allende, Patriarchy Quotes, Picture Quotes, Available Here

[19] Oliver Cann, Women only earn now what men did a decade ago, World Economic Forum (Nov. 19, 2015), Available Here

[20] Jess Huang et al., Women in the Workplace 2019, McKinsey & Company (Oct. 15, 2019), Available Here


  1. Patriarchy And Family Law In India: A Transition
  2. Gendered Stereotypes in Adjudication of Rape Cases in India – An Empirical Analysis of the Language used by the Courts
Author: Anukriti Poddar and Shreya Mittal