Sunday September 26, 2021

Perils of patriarchy

August 05, 2021

We live in a patriarchal society. Most of us, especially women, understand what this means. It means a society in which men almost from the moment of birth are considered superior and too often grow into boys who believe there is nothing wrong with catcalling, stalking women or harassing them in one way or the other in public spaces.

Harassment or ‘Eve teasing’, as the media so often calls it, is so common in our society that we only talk about it when violent incidents claim the lives of women or some major incident brings the issue to public attention. Even when this occurs, we do not really go back to the root causes that lie behind it.

Parents for the most part bring up boys to be ‘macho’, nurturing in them characteristics that are most often associated with male heroes such as a love for adventure and mischief. Girls on the other hand are scolded sharply if they engage in boisterous behaviour or indulge in activities that are not considered ‘proper’ for their gender. We see this stereotype repeated over and over again in advertising, in television shows, in movies and in other places. We see it also on talk shows.

In one recently broadcast show, a model and actor spoke out strongly against ‘feminism’ as depicted by events such as the Aurat March and proudly claimed that she knew where her husband’s items of clothing could be found, what he liked to eat and ensured all this was done for him. The husband, who could apparently not even look after his own footwear, smiled in silence and perhaps admiration for a wife who worshipped him to this degree.

Similar shows have spoken about how men working outside the home cannot be expected to also work within it. Yet this is the expected norm for women everywhere in the country. Most women who work, whether in offices or for long hours on agricultural fields, also take care of the tough duties involved in running a household and are the primary care-givers for their children. They can consider themselves fortunate if they receive any help at all. Fathers seem to believe that beyond the initial act of conception, they have no duties, no responsibilities.

The licence to stalk, cyber-bully or label women in particular ways over social media leads in turn to the rape culture that is rapidly becoming more and more common in our country. On average, 11 women are reported to have suffered rape each day. Of course many cases may go unreported, while at the same time the number may also be growing because more women and more girls are stepping forward to report rape or assault rather than covering it up.

The culture that we build is an immensely dangerous one. Because women are disrespected and considered lesser beings, it leaves them more open to physical abuse of all kinds. The worst form of this comes in crimes such as the harrowing murder of Noor Mukaddam in Islamabad, and years before that we had the case of Mukhtaran Mai, gang raped on the orders of a jirga because her 14-year-old brother allegedly engaged in a relationship with a girl from a more powerful tribe. Mukhtaran Mai’s story has since then made headlines around the world, as she fought back with astounding courage, setting up schools for girls and centres to educate women about rape. The six men accused in the case were acquitted by the Supreme Court.

This then is how we deal with acts of extreme violence against women, in a society where we like to pretend they enjoy respect and the standing granted to them by their religion. Of course none of this is true given the high rates of domestic abuse, with some international organizations estimating that between 70 and 90 percent of women in the country suffer abuse of one kind or the other. Incidents such as the 2012 murder of at least three girls in Kohistan because they had clapped along to the music while some boys from a different tribe danced, and the subsequent events which ended in the murder of the young man who reported the incident are also simply a part of the society we live in. We hear regularly of the rape of small girls and of similar assault carried out by teenagers with links to powerful families.

Of course, we hear of these cases most often when they involve the privileged. In other incidents, women from far less powerful backgrounds suffer assault or abuse regularly but are not spoken of and certainly do not make headline news.

This then is the impact of patriarchy. It starts by giving boys the licence to act as they choose, and putting in place double standards based around gender. Girls are expected to remain mainly within their homes, and follow particular professions which are deemed suitable. Even people who insist they are ‘liberal’ adhere to this system of control over women. The power given to them encourages them to engage in acts of violence and the knowledge amongst the most influential that they can get away with it can only further promote such actions.

Men are able to get away with their crimes. The calls made by so many to publicly execute criminals will serve no purpose. Such punishments can only further brutalize society. Only if we are able to mete out consistent, appropriate punishment and work towards reform as well as promote thinking that takes away the ideas embedded in patriarchy can we escape the abyss we have fallen into and prevent other women from suffering terrible violence or death.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

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