How Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can help us understand patriarchy

I was explaining Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to a good friend and that is when I realized how it can be used to understand patriarchy. We have come across patriarchy being interpreted and described in a variety of ways but we still do not have a good understanding of its evolutionary aspects. For those who are new to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is a simple illustration of our needs in life and has to be analyzed from bottom to top. There are new and hilarious versions of the model now, with internet and mobile battery being the most important of our needs.

Our needs in life begins with the most basic ones which is why they are at the foundation of this model. According to priority our physiological needs can be further subdivided into

Air and water

These are our most fundamental needs for survival.

Then comes shelter which offers us protection and that is when we step into reproduction.

I will go no further than what Morgan Freeman’s character Professor Norman says here in the stunning and eye opening movie Lucy. When the habitat of a living being is not conducive enough for life it will choose self preservation and when the habitat is conducive enough it will choose reproduction. It is an evolutionary fact in all animals that a major portion of their energy is meant for reproduction because for the survival of their species reproducing as many as they can is critical since nature controls population of all animals primarily through predator-prey relationships and diseases. So in difficult environment animals choose their own survival over reproduction because even if they reproduce their offspring will not be able to survive. This is evidently how Turtles and Crocodiles survived the asteroid strike that made dinosaurs extinct.

Reproduction leads to security in Safety needs because we need to protect our family. Then, to work and take care of our family, we need health and work to do. For the longest time in our evolution, being able to meet the physiological and safety needs led to directly to Esteem. Being physically stronger it was the men who went out, faced the dangers in nature and weathered the different climates to hunt for food and find wood to burn. So men who were able to meet all or most of the physiological and safety needs were recognized and respected within the families and community which lead to attaining higher social status and being considered as a community leader.

Love and belonging are not characteristics in nature, in fact what we get to see in animals during their courtship is different aspects of the process involved in mating and breeding. There is no place for love and belonging in the harsh and uncertain nature where life expectancy is very low. It was only after we became more intelligent beings we became civilized and started leading societal life did our emotional aspects evolve. In those times when we had to brave nature’s extremes there was only the need to work together to hunt, fish and cut wood. Friendship and camaraderie are products of our evolution into the societal life we live now. Life was all about survival so intimacy was not even known or required and the only form of love required was affection for the children when they were growing up.

Patriarchy is essentially men taking care of physiological and safety needs and expecting esteem in return from their families. Nothing exemplifies this better than a particular scene in the biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag of celebrated Indian athlete Milkha Singh. The young Milkha and his older married sister had managed to cross over into India from Pakistan during the bloody partition of India in 1947. They were in a refugee camp and his sister is shown in a makeshift tent cooking food when her husband arrives. There is no emotional reunion, he ignores Milkha and heads straight for the tent, enters, sees his wife and closes the entrance. This is how men were from the cave dwelling times. All the male testosterone and adrenaline rush from hunting and fishing and bringing home food and wood is further bolstered by the exhilaration of returning home alive. They had no time to understand women and their needs. Women were simply meant to satisfy them in whatever ways that made them happy and put them to sleep after a long day outside. This patriarchy is clearly visible in the epic Ramayan followed in India. Ram, the protagonist travels all the way from the north to southern tip of India and crosses over to Lanka in search of his wife who was kidnapped by the demon king of Lanka. After slaying the demon king and rescuing her, patriarchy overpowers his love for her and she is asked to walk through fire to prove her “purity” for him.

We have evolved in all aspects of life but we are still holding on to some remnants from our past, notably religion and patriarchy because their effectiveness in controlling us hasn’t waned. A lot hasn’t really changed from our ancient cave dwelling past, hunting first got replaced by agriculture, livestock and barter system and now there is the additional factor called money. We have created a new world that stands on the foundation of money and with money we can buy all the utilities and services we have created to meet our needs. There is a simple tradeoff though, there is a barter system between time and money now. We get more money in return for giving up more of our time. The ancient patriarchal mindset has simply shifted to earning more money, buying utilities and services with money and expecting esteem and stature in return.

Our patriarchal mindset is blinding us to the simple fact that what we build physically is a house and the house becomes our home only with love, togetherness, sense of belonging and emotional contentment. Ancient Indian texts have a very sensible classification of human lives. Till 23 years it is time for education, attaining knowledge and becoming wise of the world. Then from 24–48 it is family time. From 48–72 it is time to step out of the family and serve the community and after 72 renounce all earthly needs and attachments to make our death and journey to the afterlife easier. The hidden secret here is the population control aspect. By the time we become 48 our children have to be old enough to live on their own only then we can step into community service. So what we have is 24 years to raise our children with the right balance of physical and emotional health and contentment. Patriarchy and patriarchal mindset ignores these simple things which is why without emotional understanding and bonding we have lost the connection between our souls and are increasingly becoming individual isolated beings searching in the virtual world for what we have lost in the physical world.

Business Consultant, Startup mentor, writer, nature conservationist, wildlife photographer