Defining Patriarchy


As a high schooler, I displayed no interest in STEM subjects and no one questioned my dropping them, as soon as I could. When I started working, women around me (including me) were paid less than their male peers, were overlooked for promotions or premium overseas assignments. Most projects were allotted on the Fire Exit steps during a Men’s Smoking Break and most women (including me) were surpassed for certain assignments, as the patriarchal relations of Paid work had them believe that women were not skilled enough to handle it. Furthermore, the common view held by most men- that women work only to earn pocket money, also corroborated the issues of limitations of our access to resources, information, equal pay as did the access to public spaces to our career choices.

When I got married, I found myself in charge of the home, just like my mother was, even though I was working outside the home too. As I juggled with my new avatar, I tried to hold on to my maiden name, in spite of explicit disdain from family elders. I finally succumbed to ending the omnipresent confusion about wedding invites, bank accounts, passport forms, etc where everyone wanted one name, ie my husband’s. This was perhaps my first experience of patriarchal relations in the State, but I was too young to see it as an inherent bias of state policies against women. When I was told to not go to a pooja ceremony or told to not water the Tulsi plant, and questioned with shock at the absence of my Mangalsutra (which I don’t wear or possess even today), I was challenging patriarchal relations in Cultural Institutions.

What has been common through childhood to now has been the need to protect my body from the patriarchal Male Violence. From walking in the street as a ten-year old and having a cyclist grope my chest, commuting in overcrowded buses as a college student with men thrusting themselves on me, to now, when I witness and experience digital violence on a daily basis. But its only now that I am able to identify this form of violence from men, as a sanction by patriarchy to penalise all girls and women, who step outside their domain and home, and do something that is not congruent with ‘Oiling your hair and making dal” (Beautify yourself and make good food-for your husband, as Anandiben Patel would say).


To conclude, I believe Patriarchy has been used both historically as well as in contemporary societies as a description of the unequal social relations that women suffer vis a vis men and is widely used, in India and the world, to lay emphasis on the private and public structures that control women, their sexuality and mobility.

The definition has undergone a change in the 21st century though. Today, the manifestation of the privileged position and power relations of gender can be witnessed in masculinity versus femininity, heteronormativity vs queer, global north vs global south nations, Muslims vs Eurasians, of the survivor and the perpetrator, of Me Too and Not All Men. Patriarchy is no longer only a social system of unequal relations between men and women. It has now developed to be an ideology of domination and control, of superiority of the stronger, more powerful group or people, even nations.

By Anupama Kapoor


Anupama is a passionate exponent of women’s workforce participation and the founder of Reboot: A mentoring and capacity building career community for women.

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