Written By: Nabila Zehra || Graphics By: Sushma
The origin of the world ‘patriarchy’ can be traced back to the word ‘patriarchēs’ which means ‘ruling father’. The term patriarchy is used to define the societal system wherein the family is headed by a male member. Initially, the term was used to describe the system of governance by a male person. It was later on that different and negative connotation of the word were developed. In the year 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft in her essay recognized and talked about the “tyranny of men”. She did not, however, use the term patriarchy for it.
The debate regarding the origin of patriarchy
Many philosophers have tried to define and differentiate between the roles of Men and women in society. The ancient thinkers did not believe in equality of genders. The role of each person was determined according to the gender he was born in. Women were responsible for looking after the family and performing other household duties. The males looked into the affairs of economy and polity. The records that have survived show that this was the situation during the medieval period. Even in the previous century, the society continued functioning like this.
However, how this situation came into existence is a matter of debate among the scientists. There are two main schools of thought. The first one ascribe the origin to scientific or biological difference between the two genders. The second group believes that it is purely a societal norm, developed much later.
Scientific theory of origin of patriarchy
The first group believes that during thehunting and gathering’ phase of humans, when a woman was bearing and rearing a child, she required a man to look into the other aspects such as the provision of food. It was during that time that the roles were divided between men and women because they were biologically different. Since it was believed that men were comparatively stronger and women required someone to take care of the duties outside the home, the patriarchal society developed.
Sociological theory of origin of patriarchy
The other group argues and says that the origin of patriarchy does not go that back. It is a modern connotation and we cannot trace it in the initial societies of men. They believe that it developed with the origin of agricultural societies. When men learned the art of cultivating crops and started owning private land, the role of women was confined to perform household functions. With the development of agriculture the society not only became patriarchal but also patrilineal, i.e. property began to be passed from father to son.
Patriarchy in India
India has not been an alien to the concept of patriarchy. On the contrary, it was only recently that some of the laws were amended to give equal rights to women. Prior to 2005, a Hindu women had no right in the ancestral property of her father. Such property could be only passed from father to son. In 2005, these outdated laws were amended and the right of succession of a daughter was legally recognized.
Even in ancient India, apart from a few examples (Rani Laxmibai, Razia Sultana etc), the society was governed by male rulers. Even after Independence of India, it took around two decades to elect the first and only female Prime Minister. The first female President of India was appointed in the twenty first century.
Though the laws of India do not discriminate between men and women, however the ground reality is far different from this. Many households in rural as well as urban areas continue to be essentially patriarchal. Not only the patriarchal system dominates the private affairs of citizens, this system of tyranny or male domination can be seen in the workplaces as well. A 2020 report published that only 20% of the entrepreneurs are women. This is indeed a sorry state of affairs and we still need to empower our females to step out of the house and venture into other spheres.
The Feminist and Patriarchy
The proponents of feminist theory argue that the patriarchal arrangement of society has been detrimental to women in many ways. The role of females has been confined to the four-walls of home which though benefits man, is not equally good for women.
It is has also been argued by these theorists that the inequality in payment to men and women involved in same work has evolved due to patriarchal system. The cause behind harassment at the workplace is also this archaic system.
At the legislative level, these issues have been addressed. Article 39(d) , 41 of the Constitution of India as well as the Equality Act 2010, talk about equal pay for equal work. There is also an Act for prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace. However, we still have to travel a long path to actually implement these properly.
The term patriarchy is used to refer to a society which is in essence governed by male members. This system is as old as civilization itself. The era when societies came into existence, women were declared as weak due to biological differences and were subjugated. We have recognized the issues women faced and legislations have been passed declaring every one equal, and giving equal opportunities to all regardless of gender. However, in depth research indicates that these laws exist on paper and still the society is essentially governed by men. We are moving towards rejecting the negative aspects of patriarchy and creating that society where men and women are equal in reality as well.