Question. “The patriarchal arrangement of the family and the society has been responsible for the persistent subordination of women”. Analyze the statement from a feminist perspective.
We all look at the world differently and hold varied views regarding disparate issues and that is why views are labelled as perspectives and not as truth. The feminist perspective is rather a challenging and critical view of the society that questions the existing stereotypes and prejudices prevailing in the society as norms. I will now emphasize on the feminist perspective that deals with the issue of subordination
“There is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original.” – Judith Butler
It would be a surprise to many and even wonder to some to learn that gender is something which is not inherent in a person, neither is it god given. Instead, it is a result of uninterrupted human action over the
PATRIARCHY AND INEQUALITY
A male-centred, male-identified, male-dominated social structure is called “patriarchy”, one which identifies male distrust and fear of other men as patriarchy’s core motivating force. (Johnson 2014:37) Patriarchal culture values “control and domination” most, because control and domination of other men would ensure one’s own safety from them.
In the words of Allan Johnson, a sociologist working in masculinities:
“What drives Patriarchy as a system – what fuels competition, aggression, and oppression – is a dynamic relationship between control and fear. Patriarchy encourages men to seek security, status, and other rewards through control; to fear other men’s ability to control and harm them, and to identify being in control as both their best defence against loss and humiliation and the surest route to what they need and desire. In this sense, although we usually think of patriarchy in terms of women and men, it is more about what goes on among men. The oppression of women is certainly an important part of patriarchy, but, paradoxically, it may not be the point of patriarchy.”
Although oppression of women is not the point of patriarchy, a social system that is male-identified, male-controlled, male-centred will inevitably value masculinity and masculine traits over femininity and feminine traits. In such a system, men and (women) will be encouraged to regard women as beings suited to fulfil male needs.
Other social systems of group-based oppression coexist with sexism in patriarchal structures. Race, ethnicity, religion, class, and many other variables structure inequality. Women, as well as men, are privileged or disadvantaged by their positions along these variables. Women, as well as men, can oppress those in more vulnerable groups. How much privilege a person has depends on the social positions she occupies and how those positions are valued in her society. In contemporary Indian society, oppression by caste and class are interconnected parts of sexism.
Many forms of group-based inequality are tangled together in a patriarchal culture. Women’s inequality cannot be adequately addressed simply by working to get women “a bigger piece of the pie.” If this is all we do, some women will succeed. But the women who succeed will be those who are male-centred and male-identified, who conform to patriarchal values; and who do not seriously threaten the patriarchal order. Moreover, these women will themselves contribute to the oppression of other castes, classes, and ethnicities, and of women who are less male-centred and male-identified and who are therefore more threatening to the status quo.
Patriarchy is not stable, but ever-changing in response to resistance. It is also resilient. Patriarchal social structures have been tribal, monarchical, and totalitarian; dictatorial and democratic; nomadic, feudal, capitalist, and socialist; religious and atheistic; primitive and post-modern; tolerant and repressive of pornography. (Becker, Mary 1999:26) If sexism and misogyny are part of a larger set of social forces, it is important to understand the entire structure in order to make significant progress towards a better social order.
To blame just the capitalist setting of the society for the subjugation of women would be a wrong analysis. As noted above, there are other forces too which operate at the same time thus ensuring that the women are dominated over.
RELIGION AND THE SUBJUGATION OF WOMEN
Religious explanations and interpretations claim that men and women have innate attributes that cannot be changed and of which some are virtuous while others sinful. They claim that the bodies of men are the measure of humanity thus directly portraying man as the epitome of perfection. Men are granted the power to define, interpret, judge the world while women and their interests are to be presented by men.
HINDU SCRIPTURES ON WOMEN: Manu, author of Dharmashastra, one of the most radical books in the Hindu scriptures argues that at the moment of creation itself, women were allotted the habits of lying, sitting around, with an indiscriminate love for the ornaments and qualities such as treachery, meanness and bad conduct. It then lays
that every man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them.
BUDDHIST TEXTS: They state that a woman’s innate nature is bad. A Jataka tale states that women as a sex are unable to distinguish truth from the falsehood and lies from the truth. They are unstable as sand and cruel as a snake. Their passions are insatiable for they act
according to their innate nature and that is why their this very nature demands to be controlled and disciplined by men.
CHRISTIAN TEXTS: They believe that God created the man first and the woman next there for men is the exemplary human whereas the woman is secondary and a dependent being. They believe that woman was created as an afterthought from Adam’s rib.
ISLAM: It believes that men were created to rule over and manage the lives and affairs of women. “Men are in charge of women insofar as God has made the one Excel over the other and insofar as they spend
of their property”. It associates women’s bodies with impurity, going to the toilet, on a journey, being sick and touching women are all considered equally impure acts.
HEBREW: Ancient Hebrew text suggests that as agriculture became a settled by of life, the man began to assert that the seed or semen was the source of the child’s soul and the woman was merely the substrate or field in which it was sown. In this way, they were able to deny much of the women’s power over birth.
We already know that religion plays a major role in shaping and governing lives of most of the people around the world. Even in the presence of nation states and the myths of identity they have created, societies tend to live by the cultural norms and traditions of their own which in turn are a direct product of religion. Thus consciously or unconsciously we adhere to the ways of life that the religion prescribes.
Though there have been several attempts to question the authority of religion in governing the life of an individual seldom have these attempts been successful and even had disastrous consequences for the dissenter.
Thus, we have at the end the qualities are attributed to each sex, to which they have to perform well .The qualities of men being virtuous and brave and the qualities of women being docile and submissive. The subjugation is direct.
WRITERS AND WOMEN
ARISTOTLE: He believed that women were inferior to men. In his work Politics, Aristotle lumped women with children and slaves because he believed that they lack intelligence. Another example is Cynthia Freeland’s catalog where she quotes “Aristotle says that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying; that ‘matter yearns for form, as the female for the male and the ugly for the beautiful’; that women have fewer teeth than men; that a female is an incomplete male or ‘as it were, a deformity’: which contributes only matter and not form to the generation of offspring; that in general ‘a woman is perhaps an inferior being’; that female characters in a tragedy will be inappropriate if they are too brave or too clever”. (Freeland 1994: 145–46)
PLATO: Though the “Republic” is a highly egalitarian work, the feminist criticism stresses on dialogues like the Timaeus and Laws, that characterize women as inferior to men
JOHN RAWLS: Famous as it was, the thought experiment known as the “Veil of Ignorance” where the head of the family was kept in the dark and was assumed to be a creature who had a basic knowledge of Politics and Economics, he was now to decide the rules of society. Unsurprisingly no one questioned as to who the head of the family was, in this case, undeniably a male.
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU: He outlined an entire theory of education in his work ‘Emile’ which is based on the idea that woman and men tend to be different in their nature. According to his theory boys and girls were to be educated differently, keeping in mind their temperaments, which were undoubtedly different.
SCIENTISM AND WOMEN
Immanuel Wallerstein while describing “Geoculture” states that the common denominator of Liberalism, Capitalism and Scientism is their universalizing character and their ability to maintain stark differences that entail the crucial elements of Racism or Sexism.(Wallerstein 2000:272-289, 344-352)
Science in the contemporary period has rather played an assertive role in the subjugation of women by legitimizing the myths that are already dominant in the minds of men.
In the times of Greeks, it was assumed that the naturally perfect human body was a male. The Greek physician Galen believed that female sex organs represent an imperfect and retarded state of human development. That is, women were imperfect and flawed versions of women.
In the 18th century, on account of the new ideas of rationality and revolution, it was getting difficult to maintain that women were lesser
versions of men. At this juncture, academic studies of medicine came up with a new definition: male and female bodies were radically and naturally different. 18th-century physicians did not wish to concede everything to god and believed in observable and empirical data. They argued that male and female differences were not merely genital but in fact extended to every fibre of their being.
It was because of these explanations that women in the nineteenth century England were denied modern education. It was argued that too much intellectual work would actually shrivel up a woman’s ovaries and render her both unfeminine and irrelevant.
None of the studies that have tried to study distinctive character attributes, such as aggression and anger in men, in an attempt to link character traits to sex-specific hormones has proved to be inconclusive.
Conventional biology- an area dominated by male scientists until recently viewed the sperm as the active factor in causing pregnancy but later developments have shown an equally and even sometimes more aggressive role of the female egg in causing pregnancy.
Science is as susceptible to the influence of ideas of masculinity and femininity as any other discipline and any system of knowledge, though it always tries to distinguish itself from other disciplines by laying a heavy emphasis on objectivity and logic.(V Geetha 2000:18)
The common usages of sexist remarks supported by the scientific explanations are galore in society. There are stark paradoxes too. Women being seen fit as domestic cooks are given the role of doing the household chores and of maintaining the kitchen but when it comes to professional cooking, when it comes to sharing the stardom and the “lights, camera, action” moments, men tend to get away with all their genuineness and sincerity without women having a share in that.
Another example is the differences in nature that are assigned to men and women. Even when in grief, there are ideal situations built up for how should a boy express his grief and how a girl should react. The boys generally are asked not to cry like “girls” and asked to behave whereas girls are free to share grief and if they do not, they are termed unemotional in comparison to a boy who in such a case would be called brave and courageous.
PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY AND WOMEN
Subjugation of women is not the central dynamic driving patriarchy. Patriarchal culture is deeply misogynistic and hails masculinity. In such a culture women are seen as less than fully human and as less than trustworthy, particularly when “accusing men of sexual misconduct”. Aggression against women is justified by women’s choices and natures.
Women have important roles to play in a patriarchal culture, though the roles often vary with caste, class, and other “differences”. Perhaps most basic is the use of women and femininity to define men and masculinity. Men are men to the extent they are not women: masculine, independent, invulnerable, tough, strong, aggressive, powerful, commanding, in control, rational, and non-emotional. “Real woman” are dependent, vulnerable, pliant, weak, supportive, nurturing, intuitive, emotional, and empathic. “Real women” and “real men” are essentially different in patriarchal culture.
Women assure men that they are real men by deferring to them, by allowing them to set the agenda and do most of the talking, and by stroking their egos in countless other ways. In women’s eyes, men see themselves as they should be: independent, autonomous, strong, and successful.” Heterosexual men expect to see only themselves and their own needs reflected back in relationships with individual women”. But it is not ultimately women who confirm manhood, in the end, men depend on other men – coaches, friends, teammates, co-workers, sports figures, fathers, or mentors for such assurances. (Becker, Mary 1999:28)
WOMEN IN THE FAMILY
The family is one of the pivotal sites where gender relations are produced and reproduced. It is a central place where children first learn about the roles connected to gender, and where power relations built around gender are located. “Patriarchy” as a historically central form of gender relations means literally “rule by the father” and is firmly based on male domination inside of families.(August, Norton 2009:9)
Gender relations are not formed only within the intimate relations of the family; they are constructed within the public sphere as well. But a good case can be made that the family constitutes the most fundamental arena within which these relations are forged.
A central aspect of gender relations within families is the division of labour over domestic tasks. In what has come to be known as the “traditional family”, the wife is a full-time homemaker, particularly when there are children living in the family, and the husband is the breadwinner. As a full-time homemaker, the wife does virtually all of the housework and most of the childcare, except for some recreational activities. Husbands do many home repairs, take care of the car, and do certain heavy outdoor tasks like lawn mowing and snow shovelling. While it is never the case that all families follow this model, it is certainly the dominant ideal in the 21st century India, and the practical reality for a majority of households.
Also, women in the family are mostly seen to take a subversive role when decisions regarding the family are to be taken, a case can be made of shifting to a new house, buying new property or selling one. They tend to be (though having been forced for centuries) docile and submissive thus submitting to the male norm.
This is one of the bone of contentions that have led the Feminists to the most debated and also the celebrated argument “Personal is Political” (Hanisch: 1970) under which they clearly diminish the otherwise visible boundary between the “private” sphere of life and the “public”.
I am eager to ask a question to myself as to when was the last time that I read or heard or listened in the Parliament or any other public forum in India that is directly related to policy making the questioning over the division of labor in the house or even taking a stance that does not reflect the dominant patriarch ideal. Even the bill to introduce 33% reservation for women in the parliament has been pending for years, what to talk about the progress of feminism.
In my local culture and tradition, there is a form of music that is referred as Ragni. I am reminded of a time when I was listening to one Ragni with my father which sang “Ghar ke maalik bane bateu, isi tisi hogi hakdaran ki” (Son in-laws now have become the owners of the house and the true heir i.e. the son will now wander). The Ragni wanted to point towards the legislation that secured for women a share in the ancestral property.
Though there have been various stances that mark towards the empowerment of women through the judicial and law practices but in my opinion that is not enough. I am reminded of Dr. B.R Ambedkar at this time who accurately said: “Rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society… if fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no Law, no Parliament, no judiciary, can guarantee them in the real sense of the word”(Bharathi 1998:77). It is only when that the social forces that operate next to you change, that they change their attitudes, beliefs and values, then can we expect the real change.
There are several things that should be clear to us by now, that the female sex as a category has been at the receiving end, if not throughout then most of the periods in history. They have been the bearer of centuries of subjugation, physical and mental subordination.
There is rarely any subject of interest where there is not the dominance of men, if not the domination over women. From Plato to Rousseau, from the Western to Oriental cultures, reason is associated with maleness.
All the other ideologues of Religion, Academia, Science, and Society have added their weight to burden the women to carry out their predetermined course of life. To question would mean to dare and to dare is not a quality that women are supposed to have, at least the ideal woman.
Having said and done all, the question, in words of Marx is “philosophers have tried to explain the world but the point is to change it.”(Marx: 1845) Though there have been many and still are various attempts to challenge the status quo by the feminists and we can see a selected few speak for change, which in itself is a victory to celebrate but the real change will be when Feminism reaches the masses, which will eventually be a struggle as there have been pointed many fingers towards the status quoits but rarely have they been overthrown.
1.Gender inequality – Norton August
2.Patriarchy and Inequality: Towards a Substantive Feminism
3.Gender as History – V Geetha
4.Excerpts from World System Theory – Immanuel Wallerstein