Some of you may know I’ve been taking part in an interesting discussion on IHM’s blog on whether or not a regular guy like me benefits from patriarchy. It came about in response to a comment from DG who said that men have benefited from patriarchy for centuries so no one should complain when laws like the recent divorce changes are passed. Even though I find the idea of blaming people today for what happened centuries ago questionable, I’m more interested in the other part of the claim. Have I really benefited from patriarchy?
I put this question up and got quite a few responses how regular men like me benefit from it. Here are some of them.
As a man, I:
- I have free access to public spaces at all times of the day
- No one questions my dress or calls it immodest
- Men often earn more than their female counterparts
- No one manhandles me in public
- No one tells me to behave in a certain way
These are all very real disadvantages faced by women in India today. I doubt that any reasonable person will claim otherwise. It’s also equally obvious that most of these problems come from entrenched patriarchy that serves to hold so many women back from living their lives the way they want. It’s also easy to see why this would lead someone to say that I’ve “benefited” from this unfair system. The idea being that no matter how fair and decent a guy is, he will by default benefit from patriarchy whether he wants to or not.
I had quite a long discussion with Anupa this evening about this and here are some observations:
1. My life would not change if patriarchy was abolished
Usually when you tell a person “You’re benefiting from this unfair system”, the implicit assumption is that if it were to crumble, that person’s life wouldn’t be as cozy. But this doesn’t hold true for any decent guy and patriarchy. Sure, there are thousands upon thousands of families where men receive preferential treatment in matters like inherited property. But by no means does it apply to all men. There is a growing number of fair and just parents who do right by their kids regardless of gender.
And while I can roam around at night safely without anyone questioning my morals, I will also be able to do that if patriarchy were to suddenly vanish. In short, the mere existence of patriarchy doesn’t make my any life better. It doesn’t make any decent person’s life better. Which brings me to the next point.
2. Only jerks benefit from it
Patriarchy is about victimizing women. Men are pretty much ignored and have relevance only as the gender opposite to women. Despite the name “patriarchy”, the focus of this perverse philosophy is all about controlling women. Women must do this, wear that, behave in this way, be such and such kind of mother etc. It’s painfully obvious that they are the victims here. The “benefits” of patriarchy are only availed by men willing to take advantage of this brutal system. No decent man in good conscience can avail of the advantages accrued to him by this way of thinking.
Benefiting from patriarchy is a choice. And those who make that choice are – pardon the language – assholes.
3. What is the baseline?
This is a point I’d brought up elsewhere. When a girl meets a guy who treats her normally without any negative overtones, is she supposed to be grateful? Is she expected to thank him? Hell no! This is baseline behavior that every person has the right to demand from everyone else. Being treated like a human being with dignity should be the baseline. It’s not some benefit bestowed upon a person by the other. As a man I’m viewed as a regular human being. There’s nothing special about that. The focus should be on women who are not being treated in the same way.
4. It’s not just semantics
You might feel that this is just arguing over semantics. “Benefits”, “victims”…do the words really matter? In this case I feel they do. If the conversations shifts towards how men have it better than women, then the solutions will be to reduce the disparity by curtailing those “benefits”. You’ll reach a stage where people say “This injustice doesn’t matter because anyway men have it so good”.
It’s a race to the bottom and increases the overall level of misery. Rather, if we start focusing on equality from the bottom up, we can let go of this notion that it’s a zero sum game. Men’s rights do not have to be curtailed for women to be treated decently. There’s room enough for everyone. And this is why the language is important.
For decent people, benefiting from patriarchy is a choice. No one has these advantages thrust upon them without their consent. And there are lots of men who refuse to accept the unfair advantages offered to them by a flawed philosophy.