The hidden impact of patrilocality
As I was growing up, I was always confused by our society's widespread preference for sons over daughters. I encountered this bias when visiting my relatives or my village. You see, I did not have any brothers, and it seemed like wherever I went, outsiders would be overly concerned about who would look after my parents in their old age.
It was particularly confusing to me because, on paper, it seemed like men and women were allowed to do everything equally. As I grew up, the gender norms became clearer. Although women now have the freedom to get an education and earn their living, the major reason contributing to this preference for sons seems to be the culture of patrilocality, where the woman is expected to leave their parents' home after marriage and move in with her husband's family. Upon marriage, women become integrated into their husbands' lineages, and their role within their original lineage no longer persists.
The main issue with this structure of living arises from the fact that men in the family are expected to care for their elderly parents, and daughters similarly are expected to leave their homes to care for their in-laws. This tradition suggests that parents with sons will typically have the support of two caregivers in their later years, while those who only have daughters may not have any.
As I became more aware of this custom as a teenager, the question that kept evading me was its purpose and benefit in today's society. However, I was confident then that by the time I grew up, the outdated custom would not be practised. As I witness my friends and acquaintances marrying around me, I often inquire whether moving to their husbands' homes is a choice they truly desire. Some vehemently oppose the concept, but most respond along the lines that it's a tradition they feel obligated to uphold. What appears to be lacking for the majority of women, even among the educated ones, is the autonomy to make decisions for themselves regarding their post-marital living arrangements.
I think before delving into the whys, it's important to understand where this stems from as well. The advent of agriculture created a significant incentive to maintain land ownership within clans and establish regulations governing its transfer. Friedrich Engels contended that the transition to an agricultural-based society played a pivotal role in subordinating women in matters of lineage and inheritance, leading to the emergence of the family as a new economic unit that allowed men to gain control over the newfound wealth in society.
However, in today's context, with the majority of the population working in corporate offices, is there really any merit in continuing this custom?
While co-living is frequently celebrated as a tradition that strengthens family ties, fosters enhanced social and familial support, and encourages respect for elders, the genuine portrayal of women's status and roles within patrilocal or joint family dynamics remains a topic that often receives insufficient attention. Being told from a young age that the house that you are born in is not your real home and your real home is dependent on the husband you will potentially marry has its own psychological burden.
At the core of a patrilocal society lies the notion of women occupying a lower status than men. Perpetuating such a rigid family structure continues to exacerbate gender disparity and diminish the worth of women. With all the gender gaps that Bangladesh is bridging, this still remains a psychological burden that a woman born in this society continues to carry.
The role of the feminist revolution has always been to provide women and men the autonomy to make choices that suit their needs. In today's society, it is imperative that we also expand the space for individuals to make choices regarding their family structure after marriage. It is important to remove the stigma that resides, particularly for women, in discussing where they might want to live after marriage.
Tasnim Odrika is a biochemist and a writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Views expressed in this article are the authors' own.
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