How I Have Shamefully Benefitted from Patriarchy


How I Have Shamefully Benefitted from Patriarchy

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

When you’ve based your life’s work in trying to make something happen, what do you do when it does, and within your lifetime?

As a feminist, I can’t wait for a time when I don’t spend days and weeks and months with rage headaches over the roaring sense of entitlement that men around me — friends, family, colleagues, even partners — carelessly and unabashedly wear on their sleeves. I can’t wait for a time where worrying about my safety is not a full-time job — for me and those invested in seeing me alive until at least 87. And like my pack of angry, unshaven, potty-mouthed, man-hating wolfish sisters, I can’t begin to put into words how desperately I’m waiting for a time when my vagina and my womb don’t have to pay arbitrary taxes when we want to study, access healthcare, land a job, expect to be paid the same amount that a man would if/when said job has been secured. When I take a break from complaining about how garbage men are on Twitter so I can bask in the delightful glow of being told by garbage men that I’m just bitter because I’m fat and ugly and I actually just need to get laid, I daydream about what it would be like to walk the streets whenever I damn well please, wearing what I damn well please, without men concluding that it’s obviously an open invitation for them to plant their palms on any part of my anatomy that appeals to them most.

The thought of living in a world where equality is a reality and a way of life thrills, excites, and… terrifies me. I’m ashamed beyond words to admit it, but it’s true.

Because no matter how badly I want to pretend it’s not true, the fact of the matter is, I benefit from patriarchy too. It doesn’t benefit me in the obvious ways that it benefits women like, say, Smriti Irani and Mamata Banerjee, who have turned standing by and supporting the patriarchy a full-time occupation, but it does benefit me in the tiny, almost imperceptible ways that it can benefit only upper-class, upper-caste Hindu women in India. It doesn’t benefit me enough to barter my lifelong beliefs for the sake of personal gain, but on some days, it is undeniable that it adds a cherry on top of my already privileged sundae of life.

Let me explain.

I’m a feminist and the fall of the patriarchy terrifies me as much as many men I know.

I was raised in a fairly traditional Hindu household. We were wealthy enough for every child —  girl or boy — to be afforded an education at some of the best schools in the city. However, even as young girls, my cousins and I knew there was a difference between us and our brothers in the purpose for our expensive schooling. While the boys were being put through the rigours of competitive exams and coaching for sought-after colleges and degrees to prepare them for the cruel, competitive world outside, our educations were little more than virtue signalling. Every road, at least in the minds of the people paying for those fancy private schools, ultimately led to the doorstep of our marital homes, but there was much pride to be had in marrying off a daughter who had wasted a perfectly good medical seat by never practising for a day in her life, than one who watched Bigg Boss repeats in the hope of finding sub-plots and missed nuances. None of us were expected to have careers or be employed, and even if we chose to have one, it was never meant to be anything more than a way to alleviate boredom. Maybe earn some extra pocket money for a designer handbag. Clichés and stereotypes often rankle because they hold within them the truths we’d rather not acknowledge.  

This minimising of our dreams and academic achievements was infuriating, but also relieving in a twisted, roundabout way. Since there were no expectations or the big burden of responsibilities on our career choices, we were free to be whoever we wanted to be. No one frowned disapprovingly when I decided I was going to accept the laughable salary I was offered at my first writing job. When a male cousin expressed an inclination for an equally low-paying vocation, he was gently but firmly steered in the direction of the family business. Ten years on, he makes more in a week than I do in a month, but looks miserable every moment of every day while doing it. So yes, it rankles and enrages me when my family continues to uphold values that basically dictate that their honour resides in my hymen, but would I trade my life for my male cousin’s? I never quite know how to answer that question.

This might be patriarchy’s biggest gift to me, but it’s not the only one.

As much as I hate the deafening messages all around me, teaching me that my value as a person is determined almost wholly by how appealing I am to the men around me, I don’t know if that’s any worse than being taught that the size of my bank balance dictates my worth in society.

I hate the male gaze, but I love male protection, and there is protection for upper-caste, upper-class, educated Hindu women like me, who have easy access to resources and platforms, and the agency to make use of the voice education blessed us with. There isn’t a police station in the country that would turn me away if I ever found myself in the need for one.

I hate that most workplaces in the country won’t treat me as equal, but as shameful as it is, I have to admit that it’s a relief to have the freedom to fail professionally, or even choose to have a career at all. And yes, again, upper-class women almost always do have that choice.

I could go on and on while listing the micro and macro ways in which I benefit off of the patriarchy, but it all boils down to this — I’m a feminist and the fall of the patriarchy terrifies me as much as many men I know.

Does that mean I don’t actually want an equal world? No. All it means is that I’m finally accepting that it would require some awkward renegotiation of life rules for me, the recipient of power, as much as the men around me, from whom the power might be taken away.

When you’ve based your life’s work in trying to make something happen, what do you do when it does? Let’s hope I, and other privileged feminists like me, have the opportunity to find out within this lifetime.