Patriarchy and the birth of feminism

Guest Post by ‘Mantsebeng Maepe

Photo by chloe s. on Unsplash

Power can be taken, not given. The process of the taking is empowerment itself.

Gloria Steinem

The word feminist evokes so much love or hate depending on the spectrum you are looking at it from. Having been in conversation with many of my male colleagues and friends, it is sufficient to say that most of them do not relate to feminism and are often on the defensive when it comes to feminism.

They believe the world is already equal, man and woman; hence the notion of feminism is just idiosyncrasy and there are bigger problems to solve in the world than to waste time trying to work on the so-called-gender inequality.

To deny gender inequality is akin to denying the existence of racism, white privilege, colonialism, or apartheid. Denying it does not mean it does not exist. It is to inherently choose to live in a world where you mute the existence of others.

If patriarchy did not exist, feminism would not have been born. It was born solely to correct the injustices of the past, to ensure inclusivity and equality among the genders. So, what essentially is patriarchy and why has it fuelled the feminism movement?

To explain, I shall start by making a short example of my first encounter with patriarchy. At a tender age of six years, in my primitive, early impressionable years, this incident became imprinted in my memory and made me realise that there was a difference in how boys and girls were treated.

Growing up with a dad who was passionate about farming, it was natural for me and my little brother to always ride in the van with him while he went to his fields. I loved our trips as I am nomad by nature.

This one morning, my dad shocked me by deciding to leave me behind only because I had not bathed. You must take into account that my younger brother had also not bathed.

When I pointed out this fact to my beloved dad, he simply said my brother was a boy and I wasn’t. As if that was supposed to be reason enough. From there on, I began observing the inequalities in the world, between males and females.

To live in a patriarchal system is to exist in a society where men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property. In such systems, women are at a disadvantage as they are often excluded from political, social, and economic positions of power (Nash, 2009). 

Patriarchy cripples women and increases their chances of experiencing poverty, sexual and gender-based violence and unequal access to resources, goods, and services.  Moving to our local context as Lesotho, in our political sphere, women are underrepresented.

Instead of improving, Gender links (2017) reports that women’s representation in parliament dropped from 25% to 23% after the June 2017 national assembly elections.

Generation equality campaign cheered by UN Women, demands equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to sexual harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, health-care services and their equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life.

It is therefore imperative that we take this challenge upon ourselves to start creating a new narrative among girls and young women, to inspire them to dream beyond just being housewives but to becoming prime ministers, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and STEM related fields.