No Decent Person Benefits from Patriarchy

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.

What do you think of this post?
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  1. Clueless says:

    I guess it is the semantics. The correct statement would be that you, by virtue of being a man, have the opportunity to benefit from patriarchy while women have a) no such opportunity and b) no basic rights.

    For example, the Indian laws regarding marital rape can be considered a direct result of patriarchal thinking where a wife is always supposed to be willing and ready for the husband, hence there can be no rape. I don’t think this law makes any difference in your personal life because, as you said, a decent person will not rape his wife just because he can. Therefore, amending this law is also not going to make a difference to you.

    But the fact it, as long as the law is there – you can take advantage of it. The potential is there but mostly it is never realized.


    • In reply to Clueless

      Yes you’re absolutely right. Marital rape laws are the perfect example of an actual benefit of patriarchal thinking. It’s not ok even if a decent person doesn’t make use of that power. No one should have to live on the largesse of someone else. The situation should be that no one can take advantage against the other person’s will.

      But other examples I feel are invalid because they’re not laws. If a MIL tells her daughter to dress decently, it’s within the power of the DIL to give her the finger. She doesn’t even have to be rude about it. Just assertive. As opposed to aggressive.

      Barring the glaring example of marital rape, I don’t think the laws in India are biased against women. Women in most cases have the ability to fight back. And very often they do.


  2. Clueless says:

    Also, for whatever reason and however improbable, if you did end up being a rapist, the law would not punish you. Even if you shouted at the top of your voice in every courtroom that you are a rapist. Even if you declared that you reject patriarchy. So I guess that’s a ‘benefit’ that is forced on you even if you are unwilling.


  3. zalak bhavsar says:

    Great post! by the way, who says anyone benefits from patriarchy? And if some “assholes” as you have rightly termed those people who choose to benefit from it think they do, they would be basing their judgment only on the crude, material aspect of life, and ignore values altogether. Need i spell it out that they will not be genuinely happy.
    The patriarchal culture that thrives on exploitation of women equally thrives on exploitation of the weaker member as a general rule. Look at the khaps in Haryana: a grown man cannot marry the woman he loves. he is hunted and shunted out, often killed. Look at what conflicted childhood children have in such societies: boys too are exploited physically and are denied choices that go against a particular stereotype. They grow up not respecting their mothers, sisters, wives ultimately, but also live lives thick in conflict with other males, where competition is indeed very high and self-actualisation truly non-existent. Yes they may have their land, but look at the scene now: they are hungry for brides. Their brides are maladjusted. Their kids will grow up hating their parents.
    OF COURSE, women have the raw-est deal in all this but I am saying that men are no better off really. Having means may make you rich, in no way does it guarantee happiness. Do you know how much pressure boys in such a system face when they grow up dealing only with bloodthirsty competition, stifling stereotypes… a place where it’s considered a weakness to cry or even feel something. That is humanity being denied too.
    Patriarchy works for no one. My contention is that the opposite wouldn’t work either, were it to be accepted as a model. What should and would work is equity, equality, humanity.


  4. This article shows the current social situation in a new light. Actually, before debating about who benefits from patriarchy, we need to consider male hierarchy. Men who are high up on social ladder benefit most from patriarchy. These men exlpoit men at the bottom (who toil to provide basic necessities to their family). If we go deeper into the lives of men who commit sexual offences (including those in infamous delhi case), we may discover that they belong to bottom of male hierarchy, frustrated by exploitations resulting from male heirarchy and expectations of patriarchy.

    Of course, these men must be punished. However, to find a long-term solution, such issues need to be viewed from both masculinist as well as feminist perspective….if only, feminists and masculinists spend more time in finding logical solutions rather than blaming each other.


  5. john thames says:

    Baghwad, you are a brainless jackass.

    Let’s discuss the issue in its real terms. Women work to support men who stay home and raise the children. Men take everything women’s money paid for in men take all divorce court (the house, the furniture, all the money, etc.) Women pay automatic custody fathers massive child support and alimony. Women fight all the wars while men sit on the sidelines. Women go down with the ship so that men and children can climb on the life boats.

    Do you think, you Hindu dumb ass, that women are oppressing men? Do you think that men are not benefitting from this system? You upside down think idiot!


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