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Patriarchy and the challenge of domestic violence

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Nigeria, October 1: violenceLET us start with an admission: it is not only women who are victims of domestic abuse and violence in marriages and relationships, as recent acts of violence by wives on husbands have shown in Nigeria. But it is also the truth that more than 80 per cent of reported abuses and violence are against women, suggesting that serious discussion of the issue should focus mainly on why women are the usual victims here. However, I do not think that many would contest the fact that most abuses against women are  the direct result of patriarchy—a system in which men hold the majority of the power, and in which masculinity is glorified.  A 2015 study of workplace harassment found out that women filed nine out of 10 workplace harassment complaints, further proving that women are all too often singled out for s3xual harassment in the workplace. the reports in relationships and  marriages are rather quite more alarming and sad.

Besides growing up in families where they are  socialised into and convinced of the superiority of the male species, women are also taught that the success of their marriages lies in their sole efforts. Thus, if the marriage fails, it is her shame not minding that it takes two to tango.  At their worst, such teachings have served not only to keep women silent but also to keep them vulnerable. This mentality is strutted further in marriages, such that the husband believes the place of the wife is underneath and beneath him. Even the adopted religions of Christianity and Islam are invoked to justify and make acceptable, every shred of patriarchy that is imposed on the woman in marriage. It is conveniently forgotten that whereas the two religions make the husband and the man the head of the family, he is not set up as a tyrant as there are enough provisions about how he should behave and carry along his wife to the benefit of all in the marriage. But the patriarchy-infused culture would only talk about and acknowledge the rules and actions making the man superior; the man is the all-in-all in the marriage and the wife is to simply worship him and all his shenanigans.

Yet, evidence shows that the risk of violence in marriage is greater when all the decision making is in the hands of one partner. If a man believes he is supposed to be superior to his wife but he makes less money or is not as intelligent as his wife, his dominance is threatened. He may believe that his physical advantages of size, weight, and strength are the most effective ways of letting her know that he is still in control. She dares to ask for some level of respect and equity and she would be visited with violence. She opts to invest in herself and perhaps end up doing better than her partner – and insecurities and jealousy set in on the part of the husband leading to further violence and abuse. Young women in marriages are then regrettably counselled to curtail their social and career activities so as not to give their husband an opportunity to become jealous or feel threatened to the utter underdevelopment of women and the entire society.

Let it be known that patriarchy is generally not only an explicit ongoing effort by men to dominate women. Rather, it is a long-standing system, especially in Africa, that we are born into and participate in, mostly unconsciously. And like most forms of oppression, it has a way of trying to convince us that things are the way they are because they have to be that way, that they have always been that way, that there are no alternatives and that they will never change as Crunk Feminist Collective puts it. But we have seen the deleterious and negative effect and results of this patriarchal mentality and it should be our duty to point at ways out of this unjust power system in order to save women and the society from its continuing influence. The fixed ideas of and about what is masculine and what is feminine need to be redefined since we realise that these ideas are not unchangeable as they are the products of specific thinking on the part of the society about what set of traits is considered appropriate for each gender to display (e.g. men leading and women supporting).

We must come to the realisation and the conclusion that these ideas are harmful to both men and women as it would seem that a switch in these defined roles and even their perpetuation pave way for insecurities and could activate violence. Also, it has become pertinent for the society to counter the idea that it is a man’s world and that ‘boys will be boys’ and would have to be in charge always. This is the kind of idea that explains why young men in households aim to have total control over the lives of their sisters. This control pattern comes forcefully into the forefront and reckoning when the boy is socialised into this thinking starts looking out for a female partner. He persists in advocating the same standards for his girlfriend and eventually his wife as he does in his family on his sisters. When and where the girlfriend or the wife could not cope with such expectations and perhaps decided to resist, this would inevitably result in the unspeakable: violence! Evidently, this cannot be what the society wants to perpetuate as life, suggesting the critical need for positive change.

We must hasten to say however that the patriarchal ideology and mind set is not and cannot be the sole reason for domestic violence, as there are other factors such as individual problems which can be blamed for violence in the household as well. However, it is a valid argument to suggest that male power and dominance, in the form of a distorted belief that men have a right to control their partners through violence or fear of violence, is a major reason for domestic abuse and violence, hence it is deserving of attention and important and critical attention for that matter if we are to confront the challenge of domestic abuse and violence in our society.Eliminating patriarchy is every feminist’s dream. Yet, it must be stated clearly that we cannot dismantle a system as long as we persist in collective denial about its impact on our lives. This means that we must come to the collective realisation that all of us have a part to play in confronting and eliminating patriarchy in our society. We must search ourselves and ask ourselves whether we are enabling patriarchy in our daily lives and in our different homes as we have seen far too many men and women putting up social media posts about standing up for the women but failing to stand against patriarchy in their homes.

Bell Hooks says it best, “Patriarchy has no gender.” Working together as a society can help eliminate patriarchy and all the negative holds it has on us. Let us let boys be emotional, and girls be powerful. Let us dismantle patriarchy if we must bring domestic abuse and violence to a  halt

  • Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba.

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