The Structure of Patriarchy and its Toxicity

by | May 1, 2018

It is funny how we fail to realize the reach of Patriarchy and all the related ideologies. In lieu of this, obviously a woman’s struggle is then glorified with her being epitomized as the idol of sacrifice and hardships. No doubt, it is commendable that she emerges out like a phoenix rising from the ashes but why did she have to get burnt in the first place?
The struggle of rising above is painful but what about those who are just not able to pick up themselves. and what about men who are unable to adhere to what patriarchy demands from them!

When I walked into the mental hospital, my 1st observation was the worse conditions of female patients as compared to their male counterparts. There was a peculiar method to men’s madness*, unlike women’s whose insanity knew no bounds.

Initial perplexity went away when a large number of female service users held themselves responsible for their present conditions including abandonment from their families. This one incident stands out among all my visits to the mental health institution until now.

It was a routine day at female in-patient department. Signing off on the register at entrance, I walked past the acute ward – where emergency cases and new admissions are housed. A woman runs up to me, takes my hand and starts asking for forgiveness. Unknown of how to react, I just managed to ask her what happened.
Baanjh hone ke liye mujhe maaf kardo. Baanjh hone ke liye mujhe maaf kardo!” , she said.

Baanjh refers to a woman who is unable to conceive. It’s plain biology and definitely not a variable in her control. But, she had been blamed endlessly. With time and more interactions, other such stories crept up. Unfortunately and invariably, they were all different yet so congruent. They were here, for no fault of theirs. A woman who couldn’t give an heir to the family, a woman who fell in love with a man considered forbidden, a woman who got raped, a woman who couldn’t give dowry, a woman married to an alcoholic, a woman whose husband ran away with somebody else.

It was clear to help me understand the reach of patriarchy. All these women had failed to adhere to its norms. Crossing the fence of ridicule was difficult. It wasn’t until the breaking point that they got burnt. The Phoenix was reduced to ashes. Lamentably, what usually happens in the tale of the Phoenix did not happen here.

The patriarch or the man of the house does not only rule woman, but also the younger men. In any case, if he is unable to be the protector or the breadwinner for the family, then he is considered incompetent. Also, protecting the family honor is of utmost priority.

This honor is how a patriarchal society regulates and controls the behavior of its members. The man, being the protector, is the in-charge of family’s honor. It is his responsibility to control how a woman is perceived in the society. As a result, he either decides to bear the consequences of being dishonored or in search of redemption, he dissociates himself from the woman who brought him dishonor.

Lord Ram from the popular Hindu epic, Ramayana was also not spared. When Sita (his wife) was abducted by King Ravana of Lanka, Lord Ram managed to avenge it by defeating Ravana in war and taking his wife back. But before that, she had to prove her virtuousness by walking on a hot bed of coal (agnipariksha) in presence of the entire kingdom. Her innocence was still not proven in the eyes of the society. When people questioned his honor, Lord Ram, known to be Maryada Purushotham (honorable man) disassociated from his wife Sita even though he might have believed that she is right.

Sita was then taken to the forest by her brother-in-law (Lakshman). She was heavily pregnant and was left to fend for herself. It humiliated her and may have been difficult for Lord Ram as well. In fact, it would have been worse for him as he couldn’t even be transparent about his feelings and had to bottle up his emotions. This resonates with the concept of toxic masculinity or the mandate to be tough in any situation. Lord Ram can be seen as a typical example.

This is toxic to the extent that it loses humanity in the process. It has become a common story of almost every Indian household, to force young boys to adhere to harmful masculine stereotypes, which leads to violence and even suicides in extreme cases.

In patriarchy, a blueprint of sorts is provided to both males and females since birth to entrench the roles they are required to take up in their life.** Furthermore, deviating from the blueprint can prove to be lethal or rather burn the Phoenix. It is almost like we foster human bonsai, constantly trimming and customizing to fulfill the requirements of this wretched concept. Almost like immediately cutting off or hampering any unrequired growth.

It is different for both the genders yet the consequences are gruesome for both. For a woman, over-expression of anxiety and worry is normalized while the same thing done by a man deems him as weak. But the fact is that both are unhealthy practices and must be curbed. Therefore, as per my observation in the mental hospital, females find it difficult not to over-express while the males are extremely uptight. Caught in a mare’s nest, they are both delusional.

*Reference from William Shakespeare’s play called Hamlet.

**There is a cognitive theory to explain how individuals become gendered in a society, and how sex-linked characteristics are maintained as well as transmitted to other members in a culture. It was formally introduced by Sandra Bem in 1981 when it came to be called as Gender schema theory

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