Patriarchy is almost like a machine made by men for men. But to keep the machine running, men pass over the baton to women. The beauty of this machine is in how appealing it seems to women, which is also why they guard it, protect it, and teach other women to do the same.

“Girls don’t argue”, “Sit with your legs closed”, “Girls need to know how to cook”, and the list goes on. As women, we’ve heard these phrases but these instructions are often given to us by other women. Our mothers, grandmothers, and other women around us instruct us on what to do and what not to do as a woman right from our childhood. At some point, we even question if they are on our side. Well, they are not against us and they aren’t wrong either.

They know a lot of this conditioning is wrong but they too have been conditioned into believing this is the right way to raise us. A lot of the patriarchal structure that we grow up in is then created not just by misogynistic men but also women. Women internalize patriarchy so deeply that they often do not know what is wrong with their perspective and upbringing.

The Great Patriarchy Machine

We know that patriarchy ultimately benefits men, but it is not just maintained by men, in fact, women often gatekeep this system. Patriarchy is almost like a machine made by men for men. But to keep the machine running, men pass over the baton to women. The beauty of this machine is in how appealing it seems to women, which is also why they guard it, protect it, and teach other women to do the same. So how do men achieve this?

A sketch representation of the Great Patriarchy Machine
A visual take on the Great Patriarchy Machine. Illustration by Mayur Bhawsar (@mayurarty).

The answer is internalized misogyny. This gatekeeping takes place as a result of internalized patriarchy in women. Through gender norms, moral indoctrination, and gender socialization, women often teach other women the ‘rules’ of society. These are sometimes enforced from a young age to mold children to fit into a structure of an unequal society, one that considers women subordinates to men. But if a system does not benefit them, why do women still enforce it?

Patriarchy adorns a cloak of protection for women, convincing them that the institutions of marriage and family exist to maintain a balance in society. Ever heard of the bad girl, good girl conditioning?

It starts with conditioning at a young age. From an early age, women begin to internalize unconsciously that they must serve the family and the failure to do so will bring shame or will harm the whole family. Complying to the grand machine of patriarchy and its working makes you a good girl. Someone polite, submissive, and complying with the decisions made by the men in the family.

Fear lingers on the possible failure of being the ‘good girl’ or the ‘good woman’. A foot out of the line brings its repercussions in society. Qualities of a ‘bad woman’ are made clear to young girls and become the measurement for their qualities for life. Being outspoken, curious and questioning are considered ‘disrespectful’ for elders, especially elder men. This begins the cycle of implementation of patriarchy that is passed on by women to women from generation to generation. All because they want to be good women by being good wives, sisters, daughters, and so on.

The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Mr. Tirath Nath recently found himself in a social media storm over his comments on women wearing ripped jeans. The BJP leader found a problem with women who wear ripped jeans and questioned their values. He took the example of a woman who he came across on a flight. She was wearing ripped jeans and was a mother to two children. He added that she also runs an NGO. Now this entire question of values comes from a very patriarchal understanding of women. Since she was a ‘mother’ she had to reflect the traditional values of CM Tirath’s grand patriarchy machine. How dare a woman choose what she wants to wear? And that too when she is a mother?

Let me also introduce you to another less talked about part of this machine. The part that begins the gender conundrum.

Patriarchy does not just oppress women but also anyone who is not a cis-gendered man. Some people accept the working of the machine but some find themselves not fitting into the machine. Transgender people as well as non-binary people do not fall into the boxes of an ideal ‘man’ and ‘woman’ created by patriarchy and are therefore looked at as the ‘other’. In simple words, anything that does not fall into the patriarchal understanding of a family involving a man and a woman serving their prescribed goals is just not ‘right’. Patriarchy excludes them from the right over their lives, often keeping them convinced that they must be submissive and meek.

As a result, several queer children grow up feeling alone or different from those around them. Patriarchy does its job there. It tells them, “you do not belong”. For the same reason, women who ‘rebel’ or live life on their terms are considered ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ by society. Simply because they refuse to be domesticated.

Society does not accept this ‘otherness’ in them. As a result, several people grow up confused about their gender identities or sexualities and so starts the gender conundrum. Society either alienates you for being yourself as a queer person or you start to mask your identity and fit in.

Like all machines, this machine too can malfunction. And this one is flawed from the beginning. This grand machine hurts its very creators.

Men too are equally hurt by patriarchy. They are asked to be dominant, stern, and devoid of emotions. Patriarchy breeds toxic masculinity, a form of masculinity that requires men to behave in a way that is violent towards women and other men. Men are also conditioned by elder women in the family to behave like a man. Phrases like 'boys don't cry' and 'be a man' are drilled into men to make them into patriarchs- to suppress women and hate their freedom.

The bottom line is that patriarchy is good for no one. It hurts men and women, transgender and non-binary people. So then why are we all taking part, directly or indirectly in this system? Well, unlike Dharmendra, we tell Basantis to dance in front of the dogs to save themselves.

Dance To The Tunes Of The Machine

Women often take part in this oppressive system because of fear of the repercussions. Society has time and again reminded them of the downsides of being a free woman. Films, television shows, advertisements, and day-to-day conversations time and again reiterate themes of violence against a certain type of woman. These are ‘bad’ women who live life freely and step out of the sacred ‘chaukhat’ of their house.

In simple words, women often sympathize with patriarchy to protect themselves. While it is a fact that women who are loud and free do not disproportionately face violence, society’s rules show the side as the standard penalty for women who question the system. We tell women around us to not attract attention, to stay polite and good so we can save them from these penalties. Popular culture and media have for years shown portrayals of the loud and independent woman as a menace to society. This menace however is a threat to the sacred structure of the unit called family because without the women accepting oppression, society’s idea of a family will not function.

Rape culture is rampant in our society. Victims and survivors of rape are often blamed for their assault. Mukesh Singh, who was the driver of the bus in which the horrific 2012 Delhi rape was committed, said in an interview,

"A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Housework and housekeeping are for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good."

When most of society believes that bad women deserve to get raped, women do their best to protect their kin. They believe the system will protect them, but in truth, the system never protects them. They just don’t know this, or they realize it too late.

Although some women side with patriarchy, it must be understood that this is not directly because they have a choice. A lot of women are not aware of their biases or are even open to choices of freedom. They do what they are told they have to do to survive. Patriarchy might be kept in check by women, but they are appointed by men. This also carves out a perfect system where women are pitted against each other, prohibiting them from uniting and fighting back. The grand machine in a way divides and rules.