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Why Is Patriarchy Confusing?

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Google defines patriarchy as a social system that subordinates the female sex and recognises the male sex to be superior in social, economic, and political spheres. Sounds simple enough- patriarchal societies do not weigh the sexes as equals.

While patriarchy’s definition may be a lucid one, its demands and assumptions are far from simple. Through various misogynistic norms, this article reveals the confusing and often contradictory practices of the social system. When the article uses the word ‘woman’, it is referring to cis-gender women in traditional family settings.

“Go but take your little brother”

Feminist theory often refers to how the female sex is considered the “protected sex”. This notion restricts female people to the private sphere. In essence, they are forced to spend their lives under a roof, in the kitchen and beside a cradle.

The extent of the protector/protected logic is such that women of all ages are assumed to be incapable of taking care of themselves. Elder daughters in a family are often told to take their little brother when heading out.

Being the “woman of the house”

When people refer to someone being “the man of the house”, what do they mean? A male person. The most superior member of the family. The “bread-earner”. The person who enjoys the seat at the head of the dining table. The person who is served first.

But who’s the woman of the house? The female person- often second to the superior male or even the younger men in the family. They are often restricted to housework. They sit on either side of the table, have to serve themselves and are often the last person to begin eating.

The association between the female sex and domestic work runs very deep. At age twelve, if older women are not around, a girl in a family may become the “woman of the house”. The fancy title will involve working in the kitchen and performing other domestic duties. ‘The division of household chores’ is a foriegn phrase in most Indian households.

While women of all ages are made responsible for these duties, when it comes to their own lives, their agency is lost. Popular examples are property, finance, romantic partners or even clothing.

Patriarchy and cropped tops

Patriarchy has had an unending obsession with women’s appearance. Older members of families often mask these obsessions as recommendations and tell young women that sarees are elegant and cropped tops, not so much. Indian women can match up to spies in movies when it comes to living double lives. Most young women have carried a change of clothes to avoid stares in the metro or to even in their own living room.

The sexualisation of the female body is part and parcel of this obsession with women’s appearance. Schools will go to any length to have their female students ‘modestly dressed’ while pornography has repeatedly directed the male gaze to school girls.

These contradictions should be enough to counter the phrase that is often used to defend social systems- “things are the way they are”. At the same time, these contradictions are also a medium to question these social systems which have no basis other than a constructed bias.

Shalabha is a student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. She enjoys writing for blogs and acrylic painting. She works as a Kanyaka Foundation Content Writer Intern.


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