Our therapist Rafath sat down with Ravi, an occupational therapist who works with Ummeed Child Development Center and is also the co-founder of Narrative Practices India, to have a deep conversation  about patriarchy: how to define it in simple form, if there was a particular group that is responsible for it, what makes patriarchy invisible and if there was a possible way to make it more evident and if there was a way to deal with the frustration that comes with the visibility of this system? One of the intentions of having this conversation was to explore and understand what we mean when we say that whether an issue is a political issue or a patriarchal issue.

How to define Patriarchy?

When asked to define Patriarchy in simple terms, Ravi clarifies saying that he is not an expert on patriarchy and that it is the wisdom that he has gathered from reading, working with people and his own reflection. To explain the question of what patriarchy is in simple form, he said that he read a document called ‘Planting Seeds, Flying Kites’, which was made by a group of womxn in Mexico who were responding to gender based violence that was happening in their community. They used to come together in circles to discuss how to respond to this violence towards them and they tried to explain what patriarchy is all about in the simplest of forms. They said that patriarchy is like the game of football, where certain people are treated like footballs and certain people are the footballers, where footballers are kicking the football without the football’s permission. However, the ball is the central part of the game, one cannot play football without the ball. So, when one plays a game where somebody is the player and somebody is being kicked, that’s patriarchy. They went on to say  that they wanted to be the player but then soon said that we should stop playing games like that completely. 

Ravi feels that this is the simplest way of defining patriarchy, what patriarchy looks like – where there is somebody in the position of power and somebody is not and they are using that power to control someone without power. He goes on to saying that patriarchy can be seen in the simplest of acts like laughing at someone just because they are speaking differently or they happen to have a different English accent, or looking at somebody just because they look different and passing a comment mentally. Exerting one’s power on somebody else’s  experience and passing a judgement on how they should be, that is patriarchy in everyday life. 

Rafath reflects on what was said and mentions that she wasn’t expecting this type of interesting answer, that patriarchy could be found in the most simplests of acts. It is as simple as someone with power misusing it or making others feel like they should be a certain way, do things a certain way. Here, Rafath shares her own experience saying the looks she receives while driving a car because she is a womxn. Looking at someone in a judgemental way and doing or even saying things that are oppressing in a way which could make someone feel like they should not be doing these things in this way, that is patriarchal enough. 

Is there someone to be blamed here? Is there a particular group responsible for patriarchy? 

Ravi answers this question by saying that he does not believe in the concept or the idea of blaming or shaming, that this is considered by many people as one of the tactics of patriarchy. The moment we start to blame each other and shame each other, we are doing the same exact thing that patriarchy has taught us. For years womxn were blamed for everything that went wrong in a child or everything that goes wrong in a community. He took the example of a movie “Hellaro”, where women are bound and shackled by the patriarchal system and were blamed for the lack of rain in their village because they were dancing Garba. Hence, it shows that somebody had to be blamed and/or shamed for patriarchy to continue to be invisible. 

To this Rafath asks: Why is it invisible? And Is there a possible way to make it visible?

Ravi observes that the reason why patriarchy is invisible is because for any system of oppression to work or to exist for so many centuries is because it has continued to be invisible. 

So, how do we make it visible? By talking about things that are hard to talk about like patriarchy and toxic masculinity, to create a space of ‘imperfect solidarity’, because none of us can be perfect.

Rafath reflects that holding solidarity without blame and without shame seems like a warm and nice place to be but it’s too ideal. 

Which gives rise to another question: How to become aware and then hold accountability, not only for ourselves but also for others? 

Those in the position of power are accountable to patriarchy and that is mostly men as most positions of power are held by them, knowing or unknowingly, just by identifying as men. Patriarchy exists to support those in power and that is usually men.   

However, as we become more and more aware of the patriarchal system in our daily life, frustration and anger are the most common emotions one feels. And if someone is not experiencing these emotions then it is a worrisome thing as they are completely invisibilised by it because of the privileges they receive from upholding the patriarchal system. Holding on to the feeling of frustration and anger guides the work that we do as it allows us to continue, to persist. Even though we know that this system, which has existed for centuries, is powerful, it does not stop us from resisting in our own ways, responding to it and finding and navigating our ways through it. To exist in the patriarchal world and to simply be able to breathe in it, is resistance enough. 

Sometimes we fail to see how much we are resisting in so many little ways. Queer folx, womxn, trans folx, the marginalised groups, all continue to exist in this world and that is an act of resistance in itself. For a lot of individuals, surviving in this hopelessness is resistance enough. There is a hope that a world without patriarchy might exist if there is a collective accountability and developed practices of accountability where we can help each other. 

Our ideology at Pause for Perspective is that, the people are not the issue here, it’s the system and the world that we live in which gives rise to such issues. Listen to Rafath and Ravi talk more about “Unmasking Patriarchy” in our podcast ‘A Little More Closer’, which is a series of conversations held by our therapists.