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Patriarchy may be a psychological glitch

www.deccanherald.com | September 29, 2022

Despite being on top of the socio-cultural factors, women continue to subject themselves to primordial ways of patriarchy 
Patriarchy is associated with men’s superiority as well as women submitting to their inferiority and de-prioritising their well-being as an outcome. In patriarchal cultures, women often wear their subordination and oppression like a badge of honour and consider egalitarian ideas unnatural. Even men, who project egalitarian thoughts would be disapproved as they are expected to be ‘in control’.

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller in his book Mating Minds implies that many women prefer to be dominated by men and the idea of women being ‘less’ than men is rooted in evolution. The concept of male dominance over females is stronger among humans than in other primates. Smuts (1995) in his paper, ‘The evolutionary origins of patriarchy’, talks about how patriarchy is more prevalent in humans than in the animal kingdom. 

From a sociological point of view, a UN report suggests unpaid domestic and care work, women not being in positions of power and women’s participation in education, social norms and discriminatory laws as contingencies of patriarchy.

While all of that has a sound empirical association, what if it is purely psychological and nothing but a cognitive distortion?

Our brain chooses the shortest way of information processing. The outcome is that we often miss out on perceiving things as they are and develop false beliefs. It is called cognitive distortion. My conjecture of patriarchy being a mass cognitive distortion is based on several years of experience as a therapist defying the socio-cultural context.

One of the many cases that struck me was of a 36-year-old who came to me for therapy. During our dialogues, I was intrigued by how she explained her problems: “My husband is not happy with me.” “I am such a bad mother, I couldn’t check my child’s homework before school because I got held up in a meeting” or “My in-laws want me to do things in a certain way and I am unable to do.” She was convinced that she failed to make her ‘family’ happy. She was a well-to-do paediatrician from an upper caste family in India, residing in a metropolitan city.

Another case was of a 28-year-old software engineer who couldn’t keep up with all the household chores along with her job. She was the sole breadwinner, her husband was out of a job at the time, but she was expected to cook and clean along with providing financial support. All because she is the ‘woman’ of
the house. The software engineer felt guilty because she wasn’t doing her ‘best’ at home.

Despite being on top of the socio-cultural factors, women continue to subject themselves to primordial ways of patriarchy.

Imagine our communities functioning as a singular brain. Depending on the community we are associated with, we mould our thoughts and beliefs, as per the psychological distortions adopted by the community as a whole. To increase cooperation within the community, these false beliefs are further cemented and perpetuated for generations making them so obvious that no one questions the fallacy behind them anymore.

Being a part of the patriarchal culture, I have known young women being prepared to accept their inferiority and be resilient to any kind of gender disparity from a very early age. Beliefs about how a woman should conduct herself by de-prioritising wellbeing of the self are implanted early. Disregarding one’s well-being to appease the husband and his family is considered the right behaviour. This sets the beginning of normalisation of any kind of misbehaviour towards women because questioning and changing what the society thinks at large is cognitively effortful. Such transactions are passed on to the next generations. 

Now imagine this happening in hundreds of families and a mass cognitive distortion begins to brew where subordination or disposition towards women is not considered bad. Several forms of cognitive distortions surge through society and we have cognitive distortions at a massive scale. The longer trail these cognitive distortions have across generations, the more difficult they are to challenge and change.

Perhaps, to empower women and enhance their well-being, we need more than financial independence, education, changing policies and having women in power. We need to accept that our perception of womanhood has been distorted as a result of carrying beliefs and practices that are not valid. We need to break the cycle and prioritise women economically, socially, politically and psychologically.

This article has been authored by Prof. Moulika Mandal, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/panorama/patriarchy-may-be-a-psychological-glitch-1149501.html )