Patriarki in Indonesia and Ryosai-kembo in Japan

Dwi Lestari (Indonesia)
Moe Nakaoka (Japan)

1. Introduction

Patriarki in English is “Patriarchy”. Patriarki describes women who have a lower position than men. The structure of Patriarki relations in the private and public areas ensures that women do not have free access like men. According to Israpil (2017) Patriarki has the principle that women and men are different. Women must carry out the household and have affection to maintain the emotional condition of men in public areas.

Meanwhile 良妻賢母 (Ryosai-kembo) is a Japanese word. Since each of the Chinese characters means as following; 良(good), 妻(wife), 賢(wise), and 母(mother), this word is translated as ‘’A good wife and wise mother.’’ The word Ryosai-kembo itself doesn’t include the concept of inferiority of women or the gender role. However, this word had long been used under the background at each era about the gender role. We compared with these two words in the research program of Virtual Cultural Fieldwork, which took place from June to July, 2021.

2. The Origin and The Concept

2.1 Patriarki

In the beginning, women were always positioned under men, because of the formation of the division of roles in ancient times before humans knew writing and were still hunting. This division of roles is supported by the weaker biological factors of women. Therefore, women should be at home, meanwhile men have biological strength, so that their role is mostly spent outside the home. A French philosopher named Engels explained that the beginning of Patriarki took place since human existence on earth. The division of domestic and public work is considered reasonable. Women have to stay at home preparing food, giving birth, and caring for children. While men carry out public work such as hunting. The purpose of the division of roles is to create a harmonious family (Wahyuni, 2020). In Indonesia, the roles of women and men are determined by society and often the positions of the two are not equal. The dominant position of women is under men. In addition, the role of women is identical to domestic work at home, while men work in public areas. According to Darwin (1999) women tend to be in a subordinate position, only in the domestic world, and are restricted from entering the public world. In addition, according to Omara (2004) married Javanese women are often called “konco wingking” in everyday language which means friends behind or “simah” (isi omah), namely the resident of the house. The meaning of the resident of the house in the role of the wife is to create family harmony, to serve husbands, to prepare food, to wash clothes, to take care of children, and to handle other domestic needs.

Patriarki describes women as weak, subordinate, and inferior. Men become the main pillar to be dominant and have autonomous rights over lineage determinants (exclusive patrilineal descendants and carry last names), public and political status (Israpil, 2017). According to Walby (in Omara, 2004) Patriarki is focused on the stereotype of women in household work. The work becomes the nature of women in its implementation and takes place absolutely. In addition to the role of managing the household, Indonesian women may also work in public areas. According to Rahmawati (2015), women’s duties in addition to doing household chores are perceived as being obliged to show good work skills in the workplace. This creates a double burden for working women. On the other hand, men generally do not have a double burden like women and they are only focused on working outside the house. 

In the division of tasks, girls are given the task of cleaning the house while boys are given tolerance not to do that. In some Javanese cultures, boys are forbidden to clean the house and go to the kitchen, even if they only take the plate. When a man does that, Javanese people usually call him “pamali” or prohibition. The meaning of “pamali” is a Javanese cultural belief that if you do it, there will be “balak” or negative consequences.

2.2 Ryosai-kembo

The concept of Ryosai-kembo cannot be spoken about without referring to Confucianism, which has long influenced the Japanese mind and developed in Japan. This originated in China and puts emphasis on interpersonal human relationships to achieve social harmony, such as loyalty of the subject to the ruler, the child to the parent, the younger to the elder, and the wife to the husband (Perkins, 2019). In the Edo era (1603-1868), the philosophy developed so far as the thought that hierarchical relationships are an essence of the universe. Hence women were required to be obedient to men, as a book for discipline of girls Onna Daigaku and the proverb of Confucianism says, 

‘‘The principle of a women is to be obedient. Toward her husband, she is to make humble her face expressions and speech. She has to be obedient to him. (Omitting the middle) This is the most significant duty for women’’ (Kaihara, approximately 1729).

(A woman is to be obedient to her father when she is little, to her husband after growing up, and to her children after getting old).

Tamagawa University Education Museum, 1992

It was in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) that the concept of Ryosai-kembo appeared for the first time. Before that time, education systems were mainly for boys, while girls were brought at home to be obedient to her husband, be responsible for the household, and give birth to children in the future (MEXT). However, since a universal children education system was enforced and girls came to have the same education as boys, it came to be considered a wife’s role to educate her children well (Davies & Ikeno, 2002). In addition, a wife was required not only to be obedient to her husband but also to support him. 

In the Taisho era (1912-1926), women came to have work opportunities. This was encouraged in order for a wife to understand the situation her husband was in and to be able to be a better supporter of his (Davies & Ikeno, 2002). In spite of the increase in female workers, the gender gap between husbands and wives never changed and an ideal of a wife to be obedient to her husband and good educator of her children remained.

As time goes by, such a tendency of positioning women lower than men has come to be a problem due to the trend of gender equalization. Accordingly, the concept of Ryosai-kembo has significantly changed from that in the Meiji or Taisho era. Today, it is understood to literally ‘’a good wife and wise mother,’’ in particular a woman who supports her husband and children well, not restricted to the household or childcaring. Still, however, many people assume the household is wives’ work. Therefore, ‘’support’’ in this sense tend to be “to manage the household.’’ This word is today seen as out of date, since it still provides people with the impression of the gender bias, which implies inferiority of women.

3. Function

3.1 Patriarki

Patriarki has a function to achieve the role of mothers in creating a family and society’s harmony. Mothers take care of the household such as creating comfort at home, educating children to be smart, and taking care of the needs her husbands. Meanwhile, her husband takes care of the work outside the house. This will result in “keselarasan” or harmony within the household.

3.2 Ryosai-kembo

As you see from the Origin and the Concept of Ryosai-kembo, its function today is generally sorted into two.

An ideal woman who is proficient at the household and childcaring in order to support her husband and children.

Ryosai-kembo used to signify this in the Meiji and Taisho era. In spite of the movement of gender equalization, the word still has this effect. In Japan today, the number of dual-income families is increasing. On the other hand, a tendency remains that husbands work to feed their family while wives do not have a job but do the household and take care of their children. Hence quite a few people still imagine such women when they hear the word.

② A woman who is a good supporter of her husband and children.

As gender equalization proceeds, it has begun to be considered inappropriate that the gender bias that women mainly do the household and childcaring. Since then, some people have been understanding Ryosai-kembo as this concept, accepting a variety of married women’s lifestyles.

4. Cases

4.1 Patriarki

At this time, the concept of Patriarki has several changes. This started during the colonial era with Raden Ajeng Kartini’s heroic efforts to empower women by going to school. During the colonial era, Indonesian women were prohibited from going to school, except they were descendants of the king. Kartini was a descendant of the king, so she had the opportunity to go to school until 12 years of age. Her ability to think critically about women, led her to build a school for women. The story of Kartini’s heroic efforts has also been immortalized through a documentary entitled “Kartini” in 2017. Kartini was the first pioneer of Indonesian women in fighting for women’s rights to develop and appear in the public areas.

The role of women in public areas changes society’s view, that women also have the same opportunities as men. For example, freedom of expression, education, important positions in government, non-government, and political activities. Nowadays, Indonesia has popular female figure named Najwa Shihab or known as “Nana”. Nana is a former journalist and currently works at a television station. Her courageous figure, when asking questions to public officials amaze the society. Her courage and critical attitude impressed the society and were often used as a motivation for contemporary Kartini. In addition, Indonesia has also been led by a female president named Megawati Soekarno Putri. She led Indonesia for three years from 2001 to 2004. 

4.2 Ryosai-kembo

As noted above, Ryosai-kembo is not used often today. However, people rarely say it to praise someone’s wife.

Example of Function①

A husband and his colleague are at their office. They are going to have lunch.

Colleague:’’You leave the office so late these days. Your wife is a housewife, right? Don’t you bother her?’’
Husband:‘’I don’t know. Although she gets up early to take our daughter to kindergarten and do the household, she is keeping awake to serve me dinner when I come home.’’
Colleague:‘’Oh, your wife is Ryosai-kembo! You have to appreciate it to her.’’

The colleague is praising the husband’s wife for eagerness to do the household and childcaring. 

Example of Function②

A husband and his friend are talking.

Husband:“10 packs of cigarette a day is indispensable, but my wife wouldn’t understand it and always tells me to quit it.’’
Friend:“No wonder she says so. If you catch illness because of it, even Ryosai-kembolike your wife will desert you.’’

The friend knows how good a supporter the husband’s wife is and warns the husband that he had better quit smoking heavily.

5. Conclusion

Having explained above, it can be concluded that there has been a change in the concept of Patriarki from early history before humans know writing, the colonial era and the independence era. During the colonial era, Indonesian women were prohibited from attending school and appearing in public. After Kartini’s heroic efforts, Indonesian now have the access to formal education. Although Indonesian women can access education, their roles as women and mothers such as taking care of the household cannot be separated. The division of roles in the household between women and men is still common in Indonesia because it has been passed down through generations. The purpose of the division of roles is to create harmony in the house. 

Ryosai-kembo, can be translated as ‘’good wife, wise mother.’’ It describes what an ideal wife is all about, such as a wife who is devoting herself to support and be obedient to her husband, a good caregiver, and an educator to her children. A wife was considered in a lower position than her husband. The word shows women should be at home to do housework and men should work out and provide the women. However, the concept has changed throughout the history of the past 100 years. As time went by, the concept of “a wife is in a lower position’’ became unpopular and nowadays the word itself is considered out of date.

Here are the similar and different aspects of the two words:


  1. Both concepts are/were used in society to maintain harmony by splitting social roles by gender. Men works outside every day to feed his family. Women do the household such as prepare meals to support him, and do childcaring to bring the successor. By and by, women have started to assert women’s liberation, such as Raicho Hiratsuka*, and Kartini.
  2. As Moe stated in the fieldwork,
    “Whereas in Japan in the old days such as the Meiji and Taisho era, a wife was in a lower position. When the husband came home from work, his wife and children came all the way to the entrance and welcomed him. After that, the wife served the husband a good meal, such as fish of the best quality in the family.”

This example is also the case with Patriarki because the both words signify the dedication of a woman to a man.Therefore, the concept of Patriarki is included in the Function ① of Ryosai-kembo, which was most popular in the Meiji and Taisho era.

*Raicho Hiratsuka is a Japanese feminist living from the Taisho era to after the WWII. she insisted independence of women, and the necessity of the women’s right to participate in politics. (NHK)


  1. Japanese women have rarely held high positions in the government. This is supported by Moe’s statement,

“As for work, higher positioners still tend to be men. All the past Japanese prime ministers are men.”

On the other hand, it is not common for Japanese people to speak louder in public, whether men or women. Hence the issue of feminism in Japan is not popular. They just hold back and accept all decisions. Based on Moe’s explanation, the reason the Japanese don’t speak louder is because that they want to maintain harmony in the society. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, feminism has become a popular issue spread across the medias and social media.

  1. In Indonesia, changing roles such as husbands doing housework and wives working outside the home are not common. This is because Indonesian culture has always adhered to a Patriarki culture where men have the instinct to hunt and appear in public spaces. Based on the discussion, the concept in Japan that in the past the wife has always been below the man has been abandoned. Nowadays, changing roles in the household has become commonplace in Japan and the position between them becomes equal when they are at home. The wife is in charge of the household and without her the husband cannot live. As Moe said,

“In Japan these days, some people have started to regard as a normal thing husbands doing housework and wives working. The Gokushufudo (極主夫道) anime the male version of Ryosai-kembo and it looks cool. In addition, even though the wife stays behind and is obedient to her husband, the husband still helps with household chores. The couple is interdependent and needy”. 

Meanwhile, from the results of the discussion, it can be understood that the function of the Ryosai-kembo has changed along with public opinion. When someone has the principle that women should be at home, then the term Ryosai-kembo becomes an expression to describe women who do such behavior and principle. However, nowadays, Japanese people tend to believe that men and women should be treated equally.The term is only used to refer to the meaning of a good wife and wise mother, regardless of whether she works formally or not.

6. Discussion Questions/ Topics

  1. Not many Japanese are religious, while Indonesia is known as a multireligious country. Do any religious beliefs many Indonesians have influence on the formation of Patriarki?
  2. Is there any word in other countries which means the gender role both Ryosai-kembo and Patriarki suggest? If there is, how is such word used in today’s society?
  3. In terms of physical structure, men are generally more powerful than women. In addition, only women can produce children and it requires variety of health care. Recognizing these differences, how should we realize gender equalization in society?
  4. Japanese society holds harmony so that the issue of feminism is not a popular thing. Is this issue possible in the future in Japan? Why?
  5. Is there a gender role in your workplace based on your country? If so, what aspect has brought about it?

References and Further Reading

Darwin, M. (1999). Maskulinitas: posisi laki-laki dalam masyarakat patriarkis. Center for Population and Policy Studies Gadjah Mada University.

Israpil. (2017). Budaya patriarki dan kekerasan terhadap perempuan (sejarah dan perkembangannya). Pusaka5(2), 141–150.

Rahmawati, A. (2015). Harmoni dalam keluarga perempuan karir: upaya mewujudkan kesetaraan dan keadilan gender dalam keluarga. Palastren8(1), 1–34.

Omara, A. (2004). Perempuan, budaya patriarki dan representi. In Mimbar hukum (Vol. 46, Issue 2, pp. 148–165).

Wahyuni, F. (2020). Sejarah budaya patriarki. Retrieved from

Davies R. & Ikeno O. (2002). The Japanese Mind. Tuttle Publishing

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Before 2009. Bakumatsuki no Kyoiku. [Education in the end of the Edo era.] (Latest visited time, July 10th, 2021)

Tamagawa University Education Museum. 1992. Katei-kyoiku — Joshi Kyoiku to ’’Shitsuke’’
[Education at home — girls’ education and ‘’discipline’’] (Latest visited, July 10th, 2021)

Perkins M. (2019). Confucianism Beliefs: The Four Tenets.    (Latest visited time, July 11th, 2021)

Kaihara, E. (approximately 1729). Onna-daigaku. National Diet Library Digital Collections.           (Latest visited time, July 14th, 2021)

Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). Raicho Hiratsuka. (Latest  visited time, July 16th, 2021)