Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Why I Hate The Patriarchy

This seems a rather strange thing for a man to be writing. Why, I should enjoy the perks of being the privileged sex, shouldn't I? It's a man's world and all that.

Two reasons.

The first is a simple sense of justice. The recent media focus on rape and the problems faced by women has rekindled my outrage at the patriarchal societies that dominate virtually every country in the world. The attitudes that blame victims of rape and molestation, that celebrate the sexual escapades of men as somehow heroic even as they condemn the slightest violations of norms of dressing and behaviour by women as "sluttish" and "asking for it", all of these attitudes provoke my anger. Feminism has long ago analysed this societal malaise. It's called the patriarchy, and it's fuelled by the unconscious fear of female sexuality and the tendency to place restrictions on it (with those impulses stemming from the biological fact that a child's mother can be provably identified, but fatherhood has always been a matter of faith).

However, I now realise that it is not just an impersonal sense of justice that underlies my outrage. Every war is personal, and I have my own deep resentment against the patriarchy. It's because of imposed gender roles.

My wife, empathetic to the core, once remarked to me, "It must be hard to be a man. You have to work without a break till you retire."

That insightful remark deserves its own quotation marks, so let me repeat it.

It must be hard to be a man. You have to work without a break till you retire.

Yes, tell me about it.

I've been out of work on two occasions, once when a startup I was working for closed down during the 2001 dot-com crash, and again in 2011 when an insurance company I was working for faced unexpectedly heavy claims and retrenched a big chunk of its staff to cut costs.

I'm relatively sanguine about losing my job, by the way. For some strange reason, being out of work is not a stressful situation for me at all. (Neither is public speaking. I must be wired differently from the rest of humanity.)

What does bug me is the gradually increasing concern from my circle of friends. Oh, don't get me wrong. I absolutely appreciate it when people pass on tips about job openings they're aware of, or the contact details of recruitment agents they know. What bugs me are the questions, the insinuations that my situation is "abnormal" and must be rectified as quickly as possible. A man without a job is a diseased person who must be cured and sent back into the workforce as quickly as possible. "Get well soon" is what everyone is really saying.

Women don't get this sort of pressure at all. That's the flip side of the coin when you consider all the obstacles career women face. A woman can chuck her job at a whim and decide to stay at home, and no one bats an eyelid. But let a man just try the same thing, and watch the social vultures descend. "Have you found a job yet?" "Have you started looking?" And the oh-so-subtle "How's the (job) market these days?" (Translation: Get back to work, you lazy bum!)

Retiring at 65 is OK. Retiring before 65 when you've made a pile is positively envied. It's being out of work when you're not yet financially free that gets you. And the focus is only on the man.

I ask, if a family is not yet financially free, shouldn't both the partners be under equal pressure to work, in terms of social expectations? Why is it the sole responsibility of the man?

This is the pointy end of the patriarchy as I've personally experienced it, and I can tell you I hate it. I would love to be able to say, as many women do, that I've quit my job to "spend time with my family", and have people admire me for it.

Like that's going to happen.

I could go on, but I've got a bus to catch. There's a meeting at 0900, and I can't afford to be late.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ganesh, don't quite agree with several things here.

These days if both husband and wife are out of job, the pressure is on both, not just "the man". I know several couples who took time off to be with their young family. Yr 1 wife stayed with the baby and husband worked. Yr 2 was husband's turn to stay home.

In India I agree this concept will never be understood, but not here.

I think it is very personal Ganesh.

Ganesh Prasad said...

Hi Nidhi,

I agree it is very personal. I was venting my frustration based on what I have experienced. Obviously others will have different experiences.