Published: Sunday October 26, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday October 26, 2014 MYT 8:57:43 AM

Not all societies practice male dominance. Those that do should check how women are bullied.

The Mosuo community in China practices open marriages and women are the head of the house.

THE Mosuo community of China is one of the few matrilineal societies in the world. A closer example to us is the Minangkabau and their adat pepatih in Negri Sembilan.

Like the Minangkabau, the Mosuo traces their lineage through the female side of the family and the head of the house is the female elder. However, the Mosuo don’t follow the conventional family unit and do not recognise the roles of a father or husband. Men and women live separately with their own families, but practice “walking marriages”; men will walk to the house of their “partner” at night and will return to their own homes in the morning.

The relationship is fluid and there is no rule that binds a woman to a man and they may change partners as often as they like, or even have more than one partner. Anthropologists studying the Mosuo would generally agree that they practice serial monogamy.

This might sound unacceptable to some of us but, interestingly enough, the Mosuo women do not face marital problems like conventional families such as divorce, child custody battles, and property battles. The Mosuo family system is stable enough to support itself without the risk of falling apart, because the family unit includes their extended families. Children, both male and female, do not leave home even after adulthood (no such thing as fights with the in-laws either!).

The Mosuo has always been my go-to defence against patriarchy, which is the social system most of us know and practise.

To put it simply, patriarchy is “a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organisation, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.”

It sounds terrible on paper doesn’t it? But it’s so embedded into our social structure that we accept it as the norm; for example, it is the norm for the husband to provide for and protect his family, it is the norm for the father to “give away” his daughter to a suitor, it is the norm for the wife to give when the husband wants (sex).

Patriarchy is also the reason why attacks on women, verbal and non-verbal, are often left with not so much of a smack on the hand. The way male politicians criticise their female counterparts are often gender-based and patriarchal in nature. It is obvious that female politicians do not have equal standing with their male counterparts.

Many gender attacks on women, although they have attracted some criticisms, have been largely left unpunished. The perpetrators were made to look like idiots but nothing more. The inaction against them goes to show how much room is awarded to men and how patriarchal views still dominate our political and social spheres.

Jacqueline Ann Surin in her article about the “Good Malaysian Woman” art exhibition (published in a local magazine wrote): “It is women, so much more than men in Malaysia, who are threatened with violence to force them into silence and compliance. The fact is, in Malaysia, we cannot yet imagine having a woman Prime Minister because the odds are against that happening despite the talent, ambition and leadership available.”

The community that we grow up in inculcate and perpetuate gender roles as we know them. From our families to neighbours and society at large, we learn acceptable behaviours for boys and girls. Our cultures further set these roles in stone.

At the core of many Asian cultures, men hold power (hereditary rights, succession, familial roles and responsibilities, etc). They are accepted as, and expected to be the leader. Whether consciously or otherwise, we have set ourselves to see women as subservient to men. On a critical level, this forms the basis for violence against women. But on a more subtle, albeit just as damaging level, we have gender attacks on women perceived as “bad”.

And at times, it is hard to catch we women ourselves from falling into the patriarchal trap. But before we go to say, “She deserves it”, or before we try to teach someone “her manners”, let’s take a step back and think of what draws us to say such things against fellow women.

Sharyn Shufiyan believes that cultures (and subcultures) adorn a society, much like Tapestry on a piece of cloth.

Tags / Keywords: gender, sexist, chauvinist

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