Patriarchy is the cancer that needs cutting out urgently

YOU might have heard the story a thousand times before...

YOU might have heard the story a thousand times before...

A Zulu migrant labourer arrives in central Johannesburg with his backwaters wife in tow.

As he crosses a busy street he realises that his starry-eyed wife is still on the other side and the traffic light has turned red.

The man insists that she cross over immediately. She naturally protests against the order.

The man then asks: "Who between me and the cars do you fear most?"

As a "properly" raised woman she tells him she fears him more than anything. She then crosses the road, gets run over by a car and dies.

This story is supposed to be a joke to show the backwardness or stubbornness of the Zulu man. It is the Zulu equivalent of some of the Paddy the idiotic Irish or Van the stupid Afrikaner jokes.

It is also a classic tale of how much we have internalised and accepted patriarchy as the natural order of things.

I was reminded of this tale on reading the shocking story that there are women who would rather die of breast cancer than cut off their breast because the men in their lives might reject or leave them.

As the Zulu man's story showed, I should not have been surprised. Men have been using the powers society has given them to dictate to women whether they live or die.

Many of us know of women (if we are not those women) whose behaviour suggests that they would rather die than not meet the expectations of the men in their lives.

We know of the many women who know that their partners are involved in dangerous sexual relations but still believe that the woman has no right to demand that they use protection before engaging in sex.

There is no difference between a man who will knowingly infect his partner with an illness that will surely kill her and one who says his partner should not cut off an already diseased breast. If anything, the one is guilty by commission while the other is culpable by omission.

It is because of men that young women risk their lives going to the most hideous corners to terminate pregnancies their men say they don't want.

Without even trying, men are the diet industry's greatest gift.

The reason many women try all sorts of strange diets or perpetually think they are fat is because they believe that the men in their lives want them leaner.

This is not to say that women have absolutely no agency in the decisions they make about their bodies. They do.

Some women are simply wrong to assume that their men will not approve if they came home with one less breast. Some women do not cut their breasts because of religious or some other cultural reasons.

Other women simply exercise their legal right to decide whether they want to keep their babies.

The same applies to women who erroneously think that men are attracted to rake thin women.

But that is hardly the point. One wishes women in these positions would take into account the perennial question asked by one of history's most influential figures, Jesus, who asked what good is it for a woman to gain the world but lose herself.

We know that for many such women things are not that simple. The battered woman syndrome has ensured that otherwise capable women live in fear of men they once loved and are reduced to illogical behaviour.

Patriarchy belongs in the same category of other genocidal doctrines such as race, ethnic or religious superiority. It is the cancer in our collective body that we need to cut out urgently.