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Women -- The Gatekeepers Of Patriarchy

When engaging the subject of patriarchy, we rarely acknowledge the contribution women make in endorsing this evil.

22/09/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 22/09/2017 03:58 SAST
Voices of Africa, Mail and Guardian

When engaging the subject of patriarchy, we rarely acknowledge the contribution women make in endorsing this evil, as it is in the public and exclusive spaces that women hold where patriarchal mannerisms manifest and men are placed on a pedestal, even in their absence. In Patriarchy and Women's Subordination: A Theoretical Analysis, Abeda Sultana defines patriarchy as a system of power dynamics where women are kept dominated and subordinate, and thus, prioritises men in both public and private spaces.

Appreciating that patriarchy is a deep-rooted construct, it means that even within a modern context, it keeps creating obstacles for women to succeed, even if they work on merit. It gives priority to men and the dominance manifests both within homes and in broader society; furthermore, patriarchy finds its strength in that it manages to adapt and find expression even in the changing of social and political spaces, and fundamentally, the buy-in from women to maintaining this 'phenomenon'.

According to radical feminists, in supporting this view, a patriarchal society is one where men appropriate all social roles, placing women in inferior roles, fundamentally so, it is a system which is universal and is not limited to time [Charvet, 1982].

We could then concede that patriarchy will require both men and women to contribute towards changing the status quo, and fundamentally for women to actively participate in changing this culture. Yet the question still remains, how do we place women at the centre of this change?

Firstly, we need to be sensitive to the fact that patriarchy as Lerner [1986:54] argues was not a "one-day event, but developed over a period of nearly 2,500 years at different times and places, from China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Mesoamerica, Africa, Europe and Malaysia, and was formed by both men and women..." [cited in Wood; 2013]. This view was justified by the "rationale that women are emotionally dependent species and men hold the authority and are superior to them".

Women maintain this culture for instance through the glorification of the 'sidechick/makwapheni' phenomenon...

This dates back to the epoch of philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, of which Plato believed that women must be ruled by men because they were not true rational beings and the only way to perfect themselves [be truly human], was for them to die and return to earth as men [Kasubhai; 1996:37, 47].

Subsequently, Aristotle held the view that "the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior... the one rules, and the other is ruled..." [Kasubhai; 1996:37, 47], and in essence arguing that women are intellectually weak. These two thinkers have fundamentally influenced society, both politically and culturally if you like, and their thoughts continue to impact what we consider as 'knowledge' today.

Secondly, when one traces patriarchy within the African context, it becomes evident that precolonial society women had social, economic and political capital, systematic inequality between female and male didn't exist. According to Chengu [2015], African society was matriarchal; however, matriarchy in ancient Africa was not a mirror image of patriarchy today.

The rituals and culture of matriarchy did not celebrate violence; rather, they had a lot to do with fecundity, exchange and redistribution and thus one of the challenges facing African society is observing patriarchy as an isolated practice from African culture.

Women maintain this culture, for instance through the glorification of the 'sidechick/makwapheni' phenomenon, where women would intentionally enter a relationship with a man who is already in a relationship, if not married; and would undermine the girlfriend/wife because the man would have gone outside the scope of their union for pleasure and companionship.

This act, and the feeling of pride that women have in this context, actively places men in a position of power -- where competing for his attention weighs more than that of having being undermined, devalued and 'sisterhood'. This is problematic in the sense that women continue to grow the mindset that they can only find companionship through getting a man at the expense of another woman's pain, or 'taking' from another woman, perpetuating the narrative that women must compete with one another.

The second reference of this patriarchal shielding by women is seen within most African cultures, when a woman is widowed, during the mourning process she is to wear black, cover her head out of 'respect', sit and sleep on a mattress for a week or more. The woman has to continue to illustrate her state of mourning after the burial for about three to six months, through maintaining her all-black attire, and staying away from 'colourful', cheerful spaces, and in most cases, a senior woman in the family has to ensure that the widow upholds and keeps to the 'rules'.

When, 'God forbid' a widow decides not to uphold this tradition, women would be the first to disapprove of such, very rarely will one in this context, find women gathered encouraging a widow to express her mourning in any way they deem fit, [as individuals handle grief differently] instead, the man must be respected even in absentia.

Ananya Roy in her TEDxMarin talk, "Patriarchy-power and gender in the 21c", articulates this as "women being the chief of staff of patriarchy" and that patriarchy plays out at times as a "phrase, a name, a stereotype" [2014].

The standard women are wired to live up to, is always beyond the woman and the identity of the woman herself, it is at the disloyalty of sameness, fairness, equivalence, equality. Instead, we continue to be the gatekeepers of patriarchy, we continue to 'correct and teach' women to 'act like a woman' so that one day they will be the classical ideal 'woman' for men and never for oneself!

Unless that culture stops, and women stop elevating men, until women stop the betrayal of themselves, we will continue to produce a society in which male power necessitates the subordination of women [Roy; 2014], branding it as a culture, custom, tradition, belief. We will one day find ourselves in a world where woman, is a mere figment of one's imagination.