Patriarchy and Power

Patriarchy is about the social relations of power between men and women, women and women, men and men, and children. It is a system that seeks to maintain its status quo in terms of class, caste, gender, race and heterosexuality — and it relies on various forms of violence to maintain its power. The violence can be crude and oppressive, such as overt acts of violence, and the others are more pernicious, such as laws and policy. The patriarchal beliefs of male and heterosexual dominance and the devaluation and subjugation of girls and women lie at the root of violence against women and children. It then becomes important to understand that patriarchy is a structural force that influences power relations, thus creating barriers to access to equality in many, many ways.


If we understand that patriarchal beliefs are baked into society, we will also have to understand what these patriarchal beliefs are political beliefs as well. Rape is not about the wish to have sexual intercourse, rape is a very specific form of violence, a sexualised form of violence that exercises’s the perpetrator’s power over women and children.


Children are incredibly powerless in society — they rely on the adults around them for comfort, safety, love and survival. They do not have any economic, social or political power, nor do they have any bargaining power. Furthermore, there is a culture of patronisation and dehumanisation of children that sees them as incapable of understanding complex so-called “adult” thoughts. This constant dehumanisation of children compounded with the fact that they do not hold any form of power to alter their realities leaves them in an acutely vulnerable position to abuse.


What really needs to be understood about sexual abuse, of women and children, is that it is not regarded seriously by society — and that it is rationalised and allowed to continue due to various mores and customs that applauds sexualised aggression and denies the humiliation and pain of those who suffer it. Sexual abuse of children is tolerated in our society because it is an unspoken yet eminent factor in socialising them and the cultural psyche to accept subordinate roles — to tolerate power being exercised over them. It is, I daresay, a process of education in patriarchal subjugation. But even more importantly, in a patriarchal society, child sexual abuse, like rape, is needed to continue to be conceptualised in terms of power and gender, rather than pathology and consent.


Child sexual abuse is not rare — it is only considered rare because the sanctions that keeps victims from speaking out about their experiences are excruciating. They are dehumanising in a world that actively denies, silences, shames and stigmatises them for speaking out. Furthermore, even the most objectively righteous act of coming forward (this is not to say that others are less righteous) is still treated with immense structural failure, such as the recent case of a 12 year old girl who was groped outside of her shirt and yet, because it was not “skin-to-skin” contact by the perpetrator against the child, it was ruled that it was not child sexual abuse.


Patriarchy legitimises the dehumanisation of children because patriarchal structures believe in hierarchies, where men typically tend to sit on top of the ladder. In order to maintain that position — the position to exploit interpersonally and structurally — violence is used to keep a hierarchy of order and fear. The desire to dominate and inflict fear upon women and children is a structurally rewarded characteristic. It is rewarded by the law that favours patriarchal values, it is rewarded by corporate policies that do not do anything to enact policies that protect women from sexual harassment or violence at the workplace, or when the gender pay gap is enforced which leaves women — especially people of different races or lower-castes — financially vulnerable to abusive partners, it is rewarded by society that turns a blind eye against domestic violence that is happening next door because it is “not their business to interfere”. There are no real ramifications against those who stay silent and complicit in acts of violence that occurs on the daily — and this emboldens abusers, exploiters, harm-doers to commit and continue to commit acts of harm. And this is political because politics is not simply about the elected servants of society, but it is about how a society is governed — but when governments fail to rightfully address the issues of violence that occurs within our homes, it is essentially set up to reward and applaud aggressions against the vulnerable.


Patriarchy is informed by its need for dominance — but it is also informed by one party having more resources, mobility, and decision making power based on the membership within their privileged social class. Patriarchy — and any system of oppression — concentrates these resources, wealth and power into small percentages of those who are slotted in the arbitrarily designed privileged group. This unadulterated power is set in a way that is only to be abused because there is simply no real punishment to those who do. Which requires us to understand that if patriarchy is synonymous to power, then we must do away with the desire to dominate, to accumulate power, in order to finally dismantle patriarchy.


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