Psychological Society of South Africa
Psychological Society of South Africa

Women are patriarchal – and this needs to end

Dr Shahieda Jansen and Neziswa Titi

Women are patriarchal. We know this from various sources and interpersonal engagements where we had been corrected by women to “remember our place” or understand that when a man violates a woman she should accept that is how men are.

But what about women who work against other women’s anti-patriarchal projects? Is that not also patriarchy? Or what about women who interpret female practitioners who work with men as patriarchal? A particular example of one such understanding came after one of us, a black female therapist, presented her male-focused therapeutic work to an audience of mental health care professionals. One of the objectives of masculinized psychosocial interventions is to address the ambivalence that men tend to display towards psychosocial support for issues such as male violence, morality and belonging. She was questioned by a female colleague about her complicity with patriarchy. The colleague queried the involvement of a female therapist in male-focused mental health care interventions as platforms that automatically promote male domination over women. The time for this type of nuanced support for patriarchy is up.

One of the common concerns facing practitioners who work with men is that their involvement with male focused projects is sometimes interpreted as an automatic promotion of male domination over women. The concern with the risk of complicity with patriarchy in the delivery of mental health (MH) care services to men comes at a time where there is absolutely no time to dance around any notion of male-dominance. The season for women to be silent or silenced about patriarchy is over.

The notion of the connivance of female therapists who facilitate male-focussed interventions equates women who work with men to abusive men or standing alongside men, with the abuse of power. Patriarchy, just like violence and aggression, has come to be located in men, and in Black men specifically.
As far as we know there is no national survey in South Africa that compares patriarchal attitudes between women and men or even between racially different women in South Africa. So we don’t know whether women are more patriarchal than men or vice versa. What we are clear about though is that patriarchy is a form of violence against women.

The assumption that patriarchy is exclusively driven by men is incorrect. There are broader societal institutions, structures and socio-political discourses implicated in the perpetuation of patriarchy, such as religion or employment organisations. Patriarchy concerns all genders and is about gender. Furthermore, in Africa, gender cannot be separated from race owing to our history of colonialism and slavery. This is the reason there is a lot of discourse about patriarchy in black communities and stories about black men mistreating black women. According to Kopano Ratele, it is particularly this inter-section between race and gender that has implications for the paradoxical villain and victim status of Black men. Black men have been simultaneous victims of brutal intergenerational colonial violence and perpetrators of domestic and societal violence playing out as patriarchy.

As feminist scholars such as Ratele and Pumla Dineo Gqola write, patriarchy is an issue that affects all genders. It is not just a male problem. Women have to engage men to bring about change and to set a new agenda to the issues of patriarchy. Men also need support from women to address social ills that affect men whether it is to influence the way they relate (and love) themselves or how they engage with other men, women and children. The same way that violence against women for instance is not just a women and girls’ problem, patriarchy is not just a male problem.

The discipline of Psychology forms part of the mental health care specialist professions in South Africa and is beset by issues of relevance of psychological services for the local Black population. The profession of psychology is known to be both feminised and racialized with an overrepresentation of white females.

The expressed concern with the complicity of female practitioners who work with men with patriarchy is understandable but misdirected. Psychology is a white-centric profession where the racial categorization of whiteness does not connote race on biological terms but lived experience, as contended by scholars of race such Rozena Maart. The concern should be directed at the complicity of psychology in South Africa and the role of mental health professionals in perpetuating the agenda set off by apartheid, colonialism and slavery in normalising patriarchy and making black women and girls second-class citizens. Male and female professionals in psychology have a role in the construction of African situated interventions for addressing forms of patriarchy and gender issues in South Africa.

Dr Shahieda Jansen is a Clinical Psychologist and Deputy Director: Academic Support & ICT at the University of South Africa. Neziswa Titi is a Scholar in Psychology supported by the South African Medical Research Council and a PhD Candidate at the University of South Africa. They both write in their personal capacities. .

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