IntersectionalityGender Internalised Patriarchy: The Undying Seeds Of Sexism In Our Minds

Internalised Patriarchy: The Undying Seeds Of Sexism In Our Minds

Women have internalised patriarchy so deeply that they don’t even know the wrong in their own perspective.

Posted by Emili Dutta

Don’t tell it to anyone. It’s a ‘shame shame’ thing,” said the mother to her four-year-old sexually abused daughter.
We can’t accept this alliance. The girl has had several past relationships,” said the groom’s mother.
Who will marry you if you join modelling?“, said a super model’s mother
I know he molested my cousin. But he is my husband. I can’t go against him,” said a wife.
I am marrying the person I love. It’s okay if his family wants dowry,” said a bride.

Commonly heard lines aren’t they? They are not coming from any misogynist man. Here, women become the agents. These women are not wrong. They know what has happened or is happening is wrong. But they have internalised it all. It often happens to most of us, we wear a dress, we like it on ourselves but we decide not to wear it outside. The fear of social validation stops us. This is exactly the case with patriarchy around us. Yes, we are slowly moving towards equality in public space. But what about patriarchy within the four walls? What about the seeds of patriarchy which have become the undying tree in our minds? The incidents have become so commonplace that we don’t even realise that they are tiny ropes holding us back.

We are slowly moving towards equality in public space. But what about patriarchy within the four walls?

Women have internalised patriarchy so deeply that they don’t know the wrong in their perspective. Let us go through a woman’s life and see where the seeds have been sown. At least some of them.

1. As A Child

Every grandmother has the story of Sita, being the ideal wife, who jumped into the fire to prove her purity. A woman has to be pure. She has to be her husband’s companion. Another story develops when she is bought a ‘kitchen set’. She has to learn to cook after all. The game chosen for her is ‘ghar ghar’ or imitating her teacher. Teaching is a woman’s category job. It’s safe for her. She can play inside the house. This is exactly where the seeds are sown. Taking this thought in mind, comes the next stage…

2. Growing Up

The tale of shame becomes her identity. Her mother tells her to be ashamed of her stained skirt, to silence her menstruation cramps as a ‘shameful pain’ which can only be shared with women. We all know that wrapping sanitary napkins in a newspaper or black polythene is not necessary. Menstruation is normal. But how many of us stop the chemist from doing so? Or just question our mothers when they stop us from entering temples?

That is where we internalise patriarchy.

Also read: How I Internalised Misogyny As A ‘Teacher’s Pet’ | #ChalkfullBullying

3. The Age Of Dreams

India is moving one step at a time towards acknowledging female rights. But even today, the question arises, “Are your in-laws letting you practice your profession after marriage?” The question here becomes double-edged. Both the person who has asked and who has been asked have internalised patriarchy. The latter, because she has been subjected to this question at the first place is questionable. Quite ironically, women in the urban areas are restricted from working after marriage whereas rural women are not. Yes, the answer to this is it’s a necessity for the poor people. True! But isn’t it a necessity for every individual? To earn his/her own bread and be self-reliant? The urban areas fail to understand that working or reaching for one’s dreams is not necessarily to stabilise financial insufficiency. It is to make an individual identity irrespective of gender. Every woman in her life is accused of being over-ambitious, asked to take a break or quit her professional life after having a baby. It is not a choice which she makes at that time but a subconscious compulsion. It comes under the veil of choice – a result of internalised patriarchy.

In the case of women profession and gender are linked and thus comes intersectional inequality. Even today there are raised eyebrows when we see women taking up professional careers as in ‘mechanical’ engineering, mining, army, merchant navy etc. Women are seen as physically weak without even testing their prowess. The ratio of females to males in the above mentioned professional careers are low. Same goes with men. Even today males going for teaching jobs in schools and colleges, fashion designing or cooking creates a frown and he has to struggle to prove his merit as equal to any MBA or engineer. Jokes portraying women as bad drivers and males unfit for cooking are still prevalent. We have taken it so casually that our mind automatically ignores these minute bias existing in our day to day lives and choices.

4. When The Word Marriage Means Serious Business

Have you ever wondered why this word marriage is something that haunts us in India? Most women run away from this word? It is not the responsibility or the phase that haunts. The reason is the perception of a marriage built in our mind. The idea of “paraya dhan”, the idea that it is a road from where women can’t come back home, the idea that girls are burden to be given off to someone else. Yes, India is progressing but somewhere even the most educated urbanised families utter the line “How can you not get married? You are our only daughter, it is our responsibility.” “Get married before your dad retires, we will be relieved of our responsibilities”.

The fear of non-acceptance in case of motherhood before marriage and the fear no choice from motherhood after marriage haunts every Indian woman.

In India, the word ‘age’ embedded within marri-age takes up the utmost priority. The age to get married has to be perfect. She has to have ripe youth to say ‘I do’. She has to be the young looking wife and the flawless young mother. Again, these are internalised patriarchal choices women make. Maybe no Indian girl would have ever cried if you didn’t tell her she cannot come back home now. Or if you would have said, marriage is just beginning of a new relationship, or just maybe if patriarchy wouldn’t have instilled the fear of getting judged by the society if she doesn’t cry while leaving her parents.

5. Entering Motherhood

The identifying role. The one without which she is “incomplete”. Motherhood. The biggest example of internalised patriarchy lies here. Care, concern, compassion are human traits. But we often confuse them with traits belonging to a particular gender. Women since childhood are taught to carry and nourish dolls. Be a mother. That’s gender performance which is confused with conforming role rendered to women. Yes, womb and reproductive ability rely on women but the choice is often denied. Abortion is a taboo and a ‘sin’ for the most part of the population. The fear of non-acceptance in case of motherhood before marriage and the fear no choice from motherhood after marriage haunts every Indian woman. It is a conscious choice and a right of every woman to be or not to be a mother but she often ends up asking herself, “Am I being insensitive? How will I survive in the society with the tag of a childless woman?” Again, internalised patriarchy.

No, I am not blaming women. The internalisation of patriarchy is not a fault. Its unnecessary, unrealised legacy women are carrying. We don’t even realise when and how patriarchy has seeped into our identity so much that we hallucinate its compulsions as our choice. We don’t realise the darker shades that are much stronger than we realise. The solution to this?

Also read: How I Learnt To Unlearn My Internalised Misogyny

Realising ourselves as ‘womanists’ (as Alice Walker puts it) if not feminists. We are humans. We want to questioned as humans and not people bound to their gender role since birth. We need to realise that woman as a community has to face the battle against patriarchy which not only includes misogyny but patriarchal agents.

Emili Dutta is a passionate literature student and an amateur artist. A true Potterhead, she prides on calling books and words her best pals and the pen her most loyal protector. Her biggest strength? Being born as a woman.

Featured Image Credit: Laura Callaghan


  1. AP says:

    Excellent article. I completely agree.

  2. Shubham Joshi says:

    I want to add few things By naming differently the society Differentiate between girl & a boy Have you noticed the names of girls like भूमि दिपिका पूजा अदिति etc & Boys names like Ranveer Shatrugan Showing Masculinity .Once Veena das Quoted If a men demand for sex that is Masculinity & if a women demand sex than she is a slut Patriarchy Rooted in Every society .Tulsi patel also Quoted Pink collar jobs has been Created for women .

  3. Haiam says:

    Well written Emili Dutta. This is what I am trying to clarify to my mother as well. Being an only girl child, I am always haunted by my mother who says she will marry me off soon after my studies(college). I am totally ahainst that. All my ralatives believe that a girl should be married off at least before 27 /28 years. I think this problem sould be uprooted from the oldest generation existing in this world.

  4. Divya says:

    I am a feminist. But I acknowledge the bias that comes with feminism.

    1. If a mother is concerned about her daughter in law having multiple failed relationships in the past, its not called patriarchy. It called worrying for your child. Fathers aren’t comfortable with their daughters dating fuckbois either, who whore around sleeping with many women. Its basic parental concern to want a good marriage for your child. Nothing to do with patriarchy or matriarchy.

    2. Men in my experience, never give a shit about menstruation. Its not patriarchy. Its women’s own self-created shame.

    3. “I know he molested my cousin…he is my husband” ….sounds like patriarchy but not really. If I find out that my wife molested a child, and the only way forward is imprisonment under POCSO, would you expect me to bail on her? Right and wrong are ideal concepts in ideal world. In real world, you have to think practically. In this situation it could be a personal choice, rather than patriarchal.

    4. Sita ma didn’t jump in fire to prove her purity. That’s a folklore. Probably created by patriarchy defenders. In the real Valmiki Ramayana, Rama ji asked agni deva to take Sita away for her protection and what was left was her rupa or chhaya (image). In the end her image burns and the real Sita emerges from the protection of Agni Deva. Ramayana is our heritage. It is much much more than a “patriarchal” text enforcing stupid gender roles.

    5. Defending abortion isn’t women’s right. No one should force you to have a baby but in case you do get pregnant, killing your unborn child should never be a convenient choice. It is not like turning on the television but then turning it off because you’re no longer in the mood to watch TV. It is a human life we’re talking about. If you don’t want a child, avoid getting pregnant in the first place. In case you accidentally do get pregnant, rather than seeing it as a mistake, don’t go around celebrating the killing of your child and “exercising your right of choice”. You just killed the poor innocent baby because she was an “inconvenience” to you. She deserved better.

    I do agree with the rest of things. Marriage, forced motherhood, playing ghar ghar and kitchen-set etc. My point in writing all the above was that with feminism comes a bias, which all feminists must be aware of. The bias is women are the oppressed, and the society or men or patriarchy is the oppressor. All troubles women face are because they are women. It is imperative to understand that while it is indeed true, all women problems are not a direct result of patriarchy. And there will always be some problems because of being women. Just like men are taken as hostile many times because of being men. Some problems are innate. We can’t complain about not living as long as turtles. Cz we are not turtles. Similarly women and men shouldn’t complain about what privileges other gender has. I’m talking about “certain” privileges only. Others are certainly patriarchal or a social construct and can be gotten rid of. But it is the woman who ultimately has to be the mother. Men don’t have a womb. Complaining that motherhood isn’t fair to women, is idiotic in my opinion. Although we still have a long road to go as far as gender equality is concerned.

  5. Richa says:

    Really good article.. i would like to point out the subtle hints of patriarchy as well everywhere.

    1. Like how to dress up once married. The basic choice of dressing up also is taken away mostly by women (mothers and MILs). “Bindi is a must”, “at least wear a chain and some bangles”, “soona soona chehra lagta hai” and all of this on the pretext that it makes you looks beautiful. It makes you look “married” coz that should be your biggest achievement and all this should be proudly shown off as some sort of trophy. Recently i heard the most ridiculous judgement somewhere given that “if a lady refuses to wear “sindoor” after marriage, she is basically un-accepting her marriage and should be given divorce.”

    2. Subtle things like marriage rituals for a girl can be done by only married “suhagan” ladies and God-bharayi by women with kids. Their feelings for you, your relation with them mean nothing.Again a re-enforcement that a woman is only good till her husband is alive and she has borne him his children. Else she is worthless. We have abolished Sati but equality is nowhere in the sight when it comes to this. For me, I would have loved to have my widow grandmother perform the wedding rituals for me, rather than some neighbor ladies but she herself gladly sat at a distance and watched and shunned me for calling her. The rules of Patriarchy, so deeply ingrained in her.

    There are so many of them around us but above are just to name a few which i see quite often. I hate these subtle ones more than the openly spoken statements coz these are just deep rooted beliefs and cannot be fought from outside. Person has to realize it from within and stand up for themselves.

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