With gender inequality penetrating every community, and the dominant ‘norm’ being overwhelmingly comprised of middle aged men, it is easy to point toward this patriarchal establishment as the reason for gender inequality running wide, as well as deep. But how many of us have actually stopped to consider how we got here? How did this small, hardly representative group, become the dominant group? The privileged group?
Whilst an array of answers are offered up by the scholars, feminist thinkers and (unfortunately) Sarah Palins of the world, I find the most compelling justification in Carole Pateman’s 1988 publication ‘The Sexual Contract’. Pateman explains the idea for her book originated from taking a feminist reading of existing texts, which led her to develop an extensive critique of the contracts relationality is derivative of. Where most thinkers swept the construct of the patriarchy aside as ‘ahistorical and timeless’, Pateman argued the employment, marital and sexual contracts lacked diversity when they were formulated; they were designed by the dominant group, for the dominant group.
Every contract stated for an individual to relinquish their autonomy and serve as labourers, wives or prostitutes was justified, because such individuals are free to decide do so. Pateman, however, suggests such autonomy in relation to women, ethnic minorities and the lower classes never existed, as they were excluded from formulating the very contracts the concept of freedom is detailed within. It is illogical that women and labourers can freely make the decision to labour, be married, or prostituted, because these contracts were designed to exploit them in these capacities. Furthermore, without such demand from the dominant group for these services, they cannot freely ‘supply’ them.
As well as highlighting a key underlying factor contributing to the oppression of women throughout history, Pateman’s criticisms identify a key component in which change must be mobilised, to be sustained. In order for women to be afforded the same rights as men in the private and public setting, they must be afforded a seat at the table. The international pools of public officials formulating policy can no longer be restricted to the dominant group – they can no longer be restricted to men. However, as modern democracies highlight, it’s not enough to give a woman a seat at the table (or much less your daughter one, paired with no official title); women need progressive, proactive, reliable and accountable figures to influence in visible spaces of influence.
As much as I would like to sit around and blame the patriarchy for the host of issues plaguing women today, instead, I am choosing to invest my time in the women and stories that are changing the game. The women who are progressive, proactive, reliable and view themselves as accountable to every woman in the world. In doing so, I can only hope it inspires you to do the same, because there is a need, if not a duty, for us empowered women, to empower other women.