I don’t cook often. I have the luxury to indulge in my mother’s home-cooked meals almost daily, I am spoilt and not ashamed of it. I do love cooking though. I enjoy experimenting with recipes and always feel like I deserve a lifetime achievement award when my friends and family savour meals I have prepared.
One time, feeling mighty pleased with self; I made my journey from the kitchen fortified with a plate on either hand to dish up for a group of five, 2 men and 3 women. Not one to undo my upbringing I went straight to the furthest end first where the men were seated and handed them the dishes. On my way back to collect more food one of the women sarcastically joked that by serving the men first I had just made quite the patriarchal statement, especially for a fierce feminist as myself. I blushed with embarrassment and tried to brush it off. As I reflected on the incident in my solitude I realised that women are unconsciously the biggest advocates of patriarchal systems in most cases, a reality hardly anyone dares to challenge.
Bell hooks writes in The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love that,
“We need to highlight the role women play in perpetuating and sustaining patriarchal culture so that we will recognise patriarchy as a system [that] women and men support equally, even if men receive more rewards from that system. Dismantling and changing patriarchal culture is work that men and women must do together”.
Before we can get to that stage, we first have to acknowledge as women that on some level or other we sometimes are all patriarchs. We need to pay close attention to how we treat the males in our lives and the kind of stereotypes we promote which infringe on our freedoms as independent beings. For example, how many women dump men because they can no longer provide them with material goodies? How many women whip their men into shape without over-compensating for their men’s inferiority complex by being docile and obedient even when their men are being ridiculous?
Realistically it is important to acknowledge that female patriarchy is not a phenomenon to be undone in one day. Most of us are socialised to be patriarchs particularly by virtue of religion and culture. By tying patriarchal ideals to a morality and ethical utopia the creators of the system have made it easy for us as women to habituate patriarchy as a sort of a reflex. For example, the Lord’s Prayer starts “Our father”… and majority of us never challenge why such an omnipotent being even needs to be engendered. It is a form of subliminal coding that aids our submission and guarantees immunity against being questioned lest one be perceived as heathen.
To dismantle the trend we have to understand what patriarchy is. Carol P. Christ writes:
“Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people”.
From this definition it is easy to see how patriarchy is tied to supremacy, it is a structure created and enforced by powerful men, in which women, children, other men, and nature itself are subjugated. It is therefore concerning when otherwise intelligent women dismiss this actuality simply on the basis that they do not support what they perceive feminism to be.
Contrary to popular belief ignorance is not bliss. When women take the time to study patriarchy and how it plays out in everyday life they will see how oppressed their lives are. For example, remember when you reached puberty and your parents would thro a fit at the mere sight of you smiling at a boy they did not know? Shona culture, much like Sesotho and others in the region is deeply conservative especially about sexual matters. For one, our mothers, aunts and grandmothers constantly wax lyrical about the pertinence of us becoming good wives when we come of age. They seem to forget how they previously drilled it in our heads that males are to be treated with a wary eye.
The subconscious perpetuation of patriarchy
Realistically however, regardless of how well groomed a girl is, biological instincts inevitably win the battle and she enters into sexual relationships. While she is happy to be in a relationship on one hand, because that is indeed something most of us want, at the other end, she feels guilty because of culturally cultivated views founded on patriarchy. According to the International Centre for Human Rights, many cultures express leniency on male sexual behaviour but are very proscriptive when it comes to female sexual behaviour . This is to say that males are free to experiment sexually before marriage whilst females are expected to preserve their virginity until they are married. We internalise this as virtue yet neglect what a violation it is of our privacy.
Patriarchy was orchestrated a long time ago by men who wanted to exert power on women. I firmly hold the stances that it was motivated by an inadequacy complex sparked by their realisation of what powerful and intelligent beings women are. Perhaps if more women would wake up to this then we’ll start being less competitive and judgemental of each other. We will stop thinking ourselves as incomplete unless we have male approval or the envy of other women because we are better domesticated than they are.
There are women and men who broke the stereotypes and actively resisted patriarchy throughout history. Once upon a time the founding father of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe wanted his heir to be his grand-daughter Senate.
We as women together with our male allies can join together to resist patriarchy today otherwise we will continue to be second-class citizens in a world we have as much of a stake in as our counterparts.
Main image taken from mindcravings.wordpress.com