Vukile Dlwati9 August 2023 | 9:37

VUKILE DLWATI: Women are powerful - sit down, Patrick (patriarchy)

As South Africa marks Women's Day, Vukile Dlwati reflects on the insidious existence of patriarchy in society and how recognising it has helped him rise above and celebrate the power of women.

VUKILE DLWATI:  Women are powerful - sit down, Patrick (patriarchy)

Some of the placards held by women at the #TotalShutDown march in Pretoria. Picture: Thando Kubheka/EWN

Women are beautiful. Women are powerful. Women are loving. Women are kind. Women carry and deliver life. Women are nurturers. With this said, in many quarters of the world, women still represent weakness, softness, timidity… I believe in the equality of the sexes, and you can call me a feminist.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defines a feminist as “the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” and I’m with her here. This is lucid and requires no sophisticated grasp of gender studies theories.

I have observed women holding powerful positions, but sometimes that power dissipates as soon as they get home. She has to cook, check the kids’ homework, and by the time she is dishing up, her husband is waiting to be served.

Why didn’t he step up to meet her halfway?

Some women are hawkers – selling fruits and vegetables to provide for their children in the absence of their fathers.

I don’t know what it’s like to carry a life in me. We’re all born of women, gender and/or sex aside.

Women have for centuries fought for equity and fairness with men, and the intensity would give rise to feminism.

I recently watched a gripping documentary about a matriarchal society on an island in southwestern Guinea Bissau – where a unique community dwells, the Bissago.

On the matriarchal island, women are in charge. They run the economy, spirituality, the law, and the family. For centuries, the women chose their husbands, built their houses and became the administrators in society.

Women’s power threatens patriarchy, (Patrick), a construct that gives men dominion over women. It plays out as abuse, rape, control, gaslighting…

Women in power suffer, and their strength oftentimes doesn’t fly, because even the competence of a woman to lead is forever questioned. What the hell?


My first encounter with patriarchy (referred to as Patrick sometimes hereon) happened when I was about the age of 10 but at the time, the construct was beyond my comprehension. It left me with questions that arose from my naivety and innocence.

For some reason, I was aware of it but had no means of articulating what I had observed socially.

Children are usually expected to perform house chores – whether it be cleaning one’s bedroom, taking out the dustbin, mowing the lawn, or washing the car.

This, I believe, is done to instill a sense of responsibility in a child.

I was washing the dishes when I overheard my grandfather telling my father that I would never have to marry because I was domesticated. I thought knowing my way around the kitchen and the rest of the house was wrong or unacceptable.

My 10-year-old self was overwhelmed by the idea that having a wife was the equivalent to outsourcing duties that any human being can learn despite their sex.

Years later, with life experience and intellectual growth, I realised how my grandpa’s statement was enveloped in patriarchy – a construct that affords men social dominion over their women counterparts.

Strangely enough, dad was far removed from the concept as he supported active participation in the household from all of us as children despite our sex. He had never frowned upon me for performing so-called ‘girls’ duties’, like being in the kitchen making eggs or cleaning up after myself.

To this day, dad makes himself tea or prepares something to eat without the fear that he’s stepping into the wrong role, the inferior role of women as defined by patriarchs.


About 10 years ago, in what was supposed to be a celebration, my cousin's wedding threw me off. I was dumbfounded! My blood was raging like a river through my veins; I felt hot under the collar and my palms were sweating.

I witnessed patriarchy at an occasion that sought to bring two families together in the name of love.

How could this be? Am I the only one who can see through this BS? I wondered.

I will never forget how elderly women who had been married for decades had the audacity to prepare her for marriage in the name of reinforcing patriarchy. Those women represented the perpetuation of Patrick.

All in the name of preserving her union, my cousin was told to be servile to her man, never talk back or question his whereabouts. The cherry on top was welcoming him lovingly even if he had not spent the night at home. The teachings were delivered in the presence of her husband. I got the impression that he was given the licence to overlook her. What disrespect is this? I wondered silently in my head.

The keyword to the longevity in marriage for women that was communicated to my cousin was the idea of crippling endurance – which is supposed to shape a strong and resilient wife who should remain unfazed by anything her husband does.

Later, she would have to pass on the toxic advice to younger women who marry – further giving Patrick wings.

At the same wedding, women knew their place – the kitchen – while men gathered around the kraal as younger women were at their service for tea and food, or whatever else they needed. I was short of exploding because I felt out of place during the ceremony.


I so wished I could on full volume play legendary singer Caiphus Semenya’s A Woman’s Got The Right To Be as an antidote to the BS that my cousin was subjected to.

“A woman is an entity; she's got a right to be,” he sings, adding that it’s unbecoming for a man to physically abuse his wife.

When you paid lobola, you said you wanted a wife. What has changed now? She is not your child – Semenya further expresses himself in song.

In another verse, Semenya sings:

When a man wants a family
He's gotta keep it in mind
A woman ain't property
Just like you and me, she's got feelings
When she tells you no
Show her the courtesy

This song was released in 1994, at the dawn of democracy. Semenya sought to grab Patrick – who had permeated societies, the world over, for centuries – by the horns through art.

My awareness of the insidious existence of Patrick serves to empower me and to assume my position in society with so much more grace and broad-mindedness. It has allowed me to look at the social norms through the eyes of women too – not only from a vantage point of male privilege; that many men would stop at nothing to defend.

I understand very well that I am a beneficiary of patriarchy because I can jog at 5.30am in the Joburg CBD and nothing will happen to me. But this is not true for women. In South Africa, women are subjected to violence in many other social settings.

Women fear their shadows in our sick society.

In my upbringing, I rose above the conditioning of actively subscribing to patriarchy because my inquisitive 10-year-old mind would not give in. My grandfather did not win this one.

Children’s minds are impressionable, and socialisation – be it racial or otherwise – sinks deep into their subconscious minds and runs their lives.

Since the age of 10, I knew I would never be patriarchal. It didn’t make sense then. It doesn’t make sense now.