What is patriarchy? What constitutes patriarchal notions?The term "patriarchy” is of Greek origin and directly translates to "rule of the father”. It refers to any system where men hold superiority and power over other genders in most, if not all, aspects. For instance, most social systems in India are patriarchal.
Patriarchal notions are the beliefs that take shape innately because of the normalization of patriarchy. For instance, sayings such as "A woman’s place is in the kitchen” are some examples of common patriarchal notions. They stem from the belief that only men can be in positions of power; in this case, being the breadwinner of the family.
What is intersectional discrimination?
Patriarchy plays a combined role with other discriminatory notions in causing intersectional discrimination. Intersectional discrimination refers to the combination of multiple factors (social, racial, economic, cultural, gender and religious among others) that change how an individual is subjected to discrimination depending on their identity.
Is there intersectionality in patriarchal notions?
Sadly, yes. Patriarchal notions affect people of different economic statuses, social classes, genders, and races differently. Let us explore these aspects in detail:
Sexism is one of the primary factors that aids patriarchy. Sexist notions discriminate on the basis of sex. Here are a few examples of common sexist notions -
1.Women are the "weaker sex”.
2.Women don’t understand sports.
3.Women are emotionally expressive and hence, vulnerable.
Such notions correspond to patriarchal beliefs like -
1.Men are meant for physical toil.
2.Men are often engaged in physical activity like sports and women are expected to stay indoors.
3.Men must not show emotions; it makes them vulnerable or weak.
A classic example of sexism can be seen in the evolution of universal suffrage. Women obtained the right to vote as late as the 1913’s, almost a century after men around the world could legally vote. Encyclopaedia Britannica’s research highlights the reasons why women were denied the right to vote. Voting was believed to cause mental exertion in women and that this could lead to infertility. Women’s brains were considered inferior to men’s and it was also believed that voting could distract women from familial duties. Thus, sexism operates in close connection with patriarchal notions.
Classism refers to discrimination based on certain perceived social classes as subordinate to others. Classist notions of patriarchy contribute most to the discrimination viewed in employability. According to OECD’s ‘Employment Outlook’ (2021), the global gender wage gap decile ratio is currently at 12.8%. Further studies by the International Labour Organization depict that globally, women hold only 28.3% of managerial positions at workplaces. These figures are a reflection of classist notions such as women must stay at home and that women do not make good leaders. These notions, thus, directly lead to consequences such as blocking of opportunities and lack of recognition in workplaces for women. Women from economically weaker sections of the society, women having lesser access to education and women from classes deemed as subordinate to other social classes face far worse instances of classist patriarchy in terms of lower employability, longer work hours and lower wages.
In countries like India where caste plays a major role in the culture of the country, patriarchy is intertwined with casteism as well. The sexuality of women belonging to "upper castes” is often associated with "purity”, as seen in mythical figures or goddesses. Women of "lower castes” are treated as the "other” and sexually impure. Rising cases of "honour killing” and violence against women belonging to "lower castes” depict how patriarchy has helped establish casteist masculinity without any accountability.
RACISM AND COLOURISM
Racism and colourism are closely interconnected with patriarchal notions. From matrimonial advertisements that demand "fair skinned brides” to having lower employment opportunities, racism has a huge share in patriarchal notions. A notable incident of racism in patriarchy was highlighted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. A woman of inspiration to millions, she was denied assistance in buying a costly handbag in Switzerland as she, a black woman, was assumed to not be able to afford a handbag designed for famous American actresses. This incident shows how neither a man of black race nor a woman of white race would have faced this situation but the intersectional nature of racist patriarchy led to Winfrey’s humiliation.
These are but few of the many intersections that collectively constitute discrimination and oppression against certain communities. Hence, intersectionality shows us how patriarchy affects different sets of people in widely different manners. This is why feminism emboldened through an intersectional lens is advocated by many activists. It helps us understand how to take corrective action against the various levels of oppression that patriarchy has led to, considering factors such as race, gender, caste, and class.