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Violence against women > Why does Violence occur > Patriarchal Control Mechanisms

Control Mechanisms of Patriarchy

Systems of Patriarchy -  What do men control?

It is important to understand patriarchy as a system because this helps us to reject the notion of biological determinism (which says that men and women are naturally different because of their biology or bodies and are therefore assigned different roles) or the notion that every individual man is always in a dominant position and every woman in a subordinate one.

We can see patriarchy present in the structures around us such as within the family, in the labour market, in relations of sexuality, culture and the media, in religion, the legal or political systems and in schools and colleges, to name a few. Patriarchy is a system of gender inequality that interacts with other systems of power such as caste, class or colonisation. Thus it is a structure that changes and emerges in new forms. It is as much a part of our lives as the air we breathe. This does not mean that these structures do not take up the cause of women or are totally discriminatory. They may allow for the punishment of men who are violent or have gone against the law but their starting premise and ideology is male biology, superiority and power. We will explore a few examples of the operation of patriarchy in different structures.

Family : The Family is considered a haven of love and support. And it is so for many of us. We have fond memories of our fathers or brothers. But it is also the first site, which inculcates patriarchal values and often uses violence to control women. The discrimination between a baby boy and girl starts at birth, goes through childhood affecting major decisions like education and mobility and continues with share of property and right of residence. The marriage relationship is also unequal with the husband and his family making most of the decisions regarding number of children, their education and the woman's work. The power of men become most evident when there is a divorce and women are asked to leave home or not given maintenance. How many married women feel comfortable returning to their natal home?

Education : Some families do not send girls to school at all, others send them for a few years and even those who send them to college believe that their highest priority is to get them married. So the subtle influencing of choice of vocation starts from an early age. Is it any wonder that we have the boys are good at maths and girls at arts phenomenon? Over and above that, teachers and schoolbooks routinely show a sexual division of labour between young boys and girls. It will take the most brilliant girl with support from a teacher or parent to get out of the groove of male and female oriented study and work. What of those who do not attend formal schools? Artisan families train boys into the art of pottery or weaving but girls are made to help out. Fisherwomen are not allowed to sail, farmers wives are not permitted to plough. Without a skill and no school education, they are dependent on their menfolk.

Work : People work for a livelihood, job satisfaction and creativity. Women have very little choice because according to the prevalent ideology of biology, they are put into the predetermined slot of housework. Some may feel comfortable doing housework, others might wish to do something more.  Those working outside have to perform a tightrope-balancing act between their unpaid and paid work. Many opt for jobs with lower responsibility levels in order to reduce the double burden of work. Womens access to work is limited. Employers tend to discriminate between men and women as they see the latter as temporary workers. So women, whether they are from the middle class or working class, find themselves in jobs, which pay less than others, are insecure or temporary. As women cannot support themselves they are dependent on men and their wages.

Culture and Media : The clothes we wear, fashion or style, concept of beauty, rituals like fasting and praying, dance and songs, what we read, see and hear for entertainment are some aspects of culture and the media. Both are powerful forces, which influence us deeply. Both are deeply conservative and portray the sexual division of labour and male and female roles. Advertisements portray women as housewives whilst men buy cars and other high end products. Beauty for women is defined by the fashion and pharmaceutical industries. The mass media like TV soap serials projects women as home bound, traditional and divided into two categories of bad, scheming women and good, sacrificing women. Viewers imbibe not only fashion but values from the mass media like consumerism, violence, notions of femininity and virility and so on.

Marriage : Marriage is seen as mandatory in the life of an Indian woman. Parents are duty bound to get their daughters married no matter what the cost. Girls are socialised into believing that it is their lives goal to be a wife and mother. Unmarried women, widows and divorcees are socially stigmatised.  But the institution of marriage is undemocratic and to some extent stifles aspirations and dreams of women. Marriage itself starts with dowry, which signifies the low status of women. In case of differences or suppression of choice, the constant advice they receive is to adjust. As it is seen as a private space, domestic violence and wife battery go unnoticed and unreported. On the other hand, look at all the advantages the husbands and their family receives. In spite of all the jokes of being trapped in marriage, they are freed from household responsibilities and caring of the elderly and young, Income and social status gives them control over the women and young people in the family. Many do not reveal their income to their wives; others persuade or dissuade them to take up work as it suits them. In case of financial crisis, they migrate or leave their families to fend for themselves. Some set up another home with a second wife without much interference from society or the law.

Institutions : Societal and state institutions like the judiciary, political parties, government, religious bodies are said to be patriarchal because men steeped in its ideology head them. For example, the parliament may pass a law favourable to women because of pressure from the women's movement. But the judiciary may interpret it in such a way that the benefit of doubt is given to men. A study of Supreme Court judgements in rape cases showed that after the amendments to the rape law, there were fewer convictions of rapists. Political parties pay lip service to women's rights but male politicians do not promote women politicians and have fought against the bill for the reservation of electoral seats for women. Religious bodies have different sets of rules for men and women. Women cannot enter temples when menstruating or have to wear the purdah or cannot aspire for higher posts in the Church hierarchy. Why is this so when all religions are meant to guide peoples souls regardless of gender towards spirituality?


Thus by closely examining social institutions, we are able to see how they promote a system of patriarchy and facilitate the control and power that men enjoy over women.

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