It’s not patriarchy in itself. That is not the problem. It is how, over the course of generations:
- Men want to do less and less of the major (but not very visible) things that made their women treat them the way they love and currently want to be treated;
- Women want to grab for themselves the things that they are no longer handed; and
- The tussle has shifted society from a place of harmony and congruence to a bitter struggle for power that leaves the balance skewed and the next generation bearing the brunt.
Women were happy to not vote, because their voices were heard when their husband’s spoke, and girls felt safe, because their fathers had their backs. The men held the titles and positions, but all knew that the women were the real society. To take that voice by:
- shaming a man who listens to his wife
- treating a woman as less intelligent/not an equal
led to the breakdown that needed to be solved by the women suffrage movement. Society used to be that the women saw the big outcomes/made the big dreams and expectations, and made the “tiny” inputs. The men mapped out the policy steps that moved society from these tiny inputs to the desired big outcomes. It was a well-oiled system, though it did leave out intelligent women – especially those not covered by marriage – without a voice.
Because men would not acknowledge that such women deserved the right to have the same voice that they – and by extension, their wives; and to a certain extent, their daughters – already had, they did not make room at the table for such women, neither did they leave room at the table for women who were the smarter of a couple dynamic (the intelligence quotient is not domiciled on the Y chromosome after all). This approach sort of gave society the permission to shame such individuals and treat them as less. Marriage suddenly became a powerful currency, a mark of power and an access ticket to a voice, something that a man could bestow upon a woman that he chose, and society’s balance began to break down.
This is one place where the Biblical/Mosaic legal system was not lacking – as seen in the precedence laid by the daughters of Zelophad, Deborah, Hannah, and later Nabal’s wife (Abigail). We see women, who were not covered, not favored, stepping up to fill the lacuna, not because it was the natural order of things, but because the gaps are meant to be filled by the smartest person available without shaming the person who stayed back or stepped up to plug the gap. In the Mosaic law, and as emphasized by Christ’s attitude, words and injunctions in later years, we also see very clearly how society was directed to take care of the weak, so as not to leave them vulnerable or voiceless, yet without stealing their dignity. A major example of a man with a voice who used his voice to cover other people was Boaz. He treated his workers well, even extending that favor to a foreigner (Ruth) way before the decision to get married.
It would seem like our society missed that memo however, because what started to evolve was a complex hierarchy of laws and systems that stripped women and children of the right to willingly and lovingly submit, forcing them instead into a space of subjugation. It is worthy of note, particularly at this point to reiterate that submission is a willing gift: not demanded (subjugation), coaxed (manipulation), or forced (slavery).
Rather than welcome women who fit the requirements (intelligence, interest, education, exposure, self-development etc.) of sitting at the table of legislation and walking the corridors of power, benefitting from their wisdom, unique standpoint as women, and growing together to build a better society, men somehow chose to Soothe the possibility of bruised egos and avoid the need to grow and become better by attempting to shut these women out altogether. And even though progressive attempts to claim ownership of individuals who had hitherto been equal partners in the dynamic has been met with stiff resistance and a vigorous fight back, it is perhaps time to take a step back and fix this problem from the roots.
Even though men have argued, albeit weakly, that women who break the glass ceiling and step into positions of leadership are such deviants from the norm (sometimes not as warm, or loving or nice or “submissive”), it should be pointed out that they would not be as hardened if their journey to have their voices heard had not been so rife with obstacles and battles that left them toughened. Calluses and scars are the signs of a tough ride. By treating women not set within the context of a FAVORABLE marriage less, by discrediting their voices, by dismissing their thoughts and contributions, by being condescending to their efforts and work, we passed the message that they were worth less, and so turned marriage from a dynamic designed to ease individual burdens and amplify team efforts into a symbol of power. Unfortunately, coupled with the growing tendency to see women and children as possessions rather than individuals and partners in building a better society, the value-for-value dynamic in the family system was swept under the carpet and received a puss-poor substitute: money.
And if we take a walk through history, money’s rise to a place of prominence in our value system, as well as its implications (such as the Great depression, the hustle mentality, the breadwinner tussle in the family system etc.) has ridden on the back of the breakdown of the fundamental value exchange and sense of worth that family and the patriarchal system used to be based on.
So, you see, it is not the system that is at fault; and the problem of who pays the bills is really inconsequential in the scheme of things because when compounded value is traded, the bills will sort themselves out. In the end, gender should really be a descriptive adjective, not a qualifying one. It is not about a 50-50 representation in government or parastatals or anywhere else. It is leveling the platform such that women do not have to fight extra to be seen as credible, just because of their gender. It is leveling the playing field, so that they do not have to work twice as hard to get half the access, voice, accolades and authority.
Written by Jane Hadassah OLUWADARE