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FEMINISM IN AN ERA OF PATRIARCHY: FLOUTING GENDER ROLES

Author: Ajay, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam

Co-author: Shreya Nair, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam


Abstract

Representation of the world is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view.”

-Simone de Beauvoir

French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir described in her book “The Second Sex” that since the beginning, the quality of being human, both in terms of philosophy as well as societal criteria, has been mainly from a masculine viewpoint. Even Aristotle equated whole humanity with maleness. Due to this reason, de Beauvoir believed that I or self in philosophical knowledge is presumed to be male and his other pair is by default female known as mere Other. This marks the inception of what we know as Patriarchy, which itself struggles to pass the test of morality today. Even though much has been done to attain equality for women, still the standard of equality has always been subjected to that of men. Most of the literature on human nature has been written by men and while creating such literature, maleness has been taken as a standard against which human nature is evaluated. Women have been defined as per their degree of difference from this standard. Consequently, man is recognised as a human being and a woman as a female.


The problem with the idea of gender roles is, the many myths associated with women being the ideal mother, wife, virgin, symbol of nature, goddess and so on, which is essentially a trap of impossible aspirations leading to a denial of individuality. This article tells one that women need to set themselves free from the stereotype, that for equality, they need to be like men and they need not fit in the societal ideals even if it curtails their existence. Movements like #MeToo are not just an outburst of feminist jurisprudence but also a sign that feminism will always be subjected to criticism and scrutiny by the society drenched in patriarchy.


The authors accept that there exists a risk if a woman truly fosters the idea of authentic existence rather than moulding herself into the societal norms, but it is certainly the only way to equality, freedom and justice of gender.


What is wrong with Patriarchy?

When patriarchy loosens its grip in one area, it only tightens it other arenas”

- Sylvia Walby

In the words of British Sociologist, Sylvia Walby, Patriarchy is a complex social phenomenon originated as a result of multiple intersecting forces. Unlike most of the sociologists who believed that there exists a single cause of patriarchy, Walby recognised patriarchy “a system of social structure and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women.”[1]


Before dwelling into the importance of this definition, let us discuss the six structures responsible for the continuous social menace of Patriarchy, that Walby talked about, only to be astonished, as to how they are still very much prevalent in today’s day and age.


PAID WORK

Paid employment is a key feature for any human in today’s scenario. It is money that matters, that decides one's position in the social strata. Walby identified that in those years, women rarely worked, and even if they did, the work was remunerated significantly less than their male counterpart. All of this was to sustain patriarchy, because the effort put in by a woman to leave the four walls of her house and step out, poses a threat to male dominance.


In simple terms, even if a woman and a man are doing the same job, with the same effort and devoting the same hours, it rarely matters. The idea of a lesser amount on the women’s pay cheque is to only ensure that the woman and the man remain aware that in the eyes of the society, in this case, their employer, the female is subordinate to the male. In the present narrative, what needs to be closely studied is that, even if the amount on the cheque of the woman might be equal to that of the man, it is at the whims and fancies of the male employer. Once again, we see patriarchy thriving.


The concept of gender roles in paid work can be understood with a simple example: Any employer, when given an option between a female and a male applicant, will always go for the latter. This is owing to years of internalisation of gender norms. The idea that a particular gender can only perform a specific set of tasks. This stereotype forces the employer to believe that despite the same merit and qualifications, the man is a better prospect, due to the mere notion his gender carries. The notion can vary from the ease to do certain physical tasks or field trips to the elimination of the female risk of pregnancy, which lands 100% on the female applicant. [2]


THE FAMILY HOUSEHOLD

The patriarchal mode of production is dependent on the idea of family and household. This works on the fundamental principle of imposing gender norms, by way of undervaluing the work of housewives, labelling it as unpaid labour, while valuing them when they are limited to the spectrum of this role. For clarity, the women are applauded for being the ideal wife, mother, sister as long as it is the judgement of the male of the house. The entire propaganda becomes a hoax because the standards of such ideal women are set by a bunch of men, the Patriarchs. In Marxists terms, the females of the house become the working class or the ‘producing’ class, while the males avail the benefit individually and directly. The female, in this setup, receives nothing but constant scrutiny.


Calling women, passive victims of oppressive patriarchal structure, is incorrect. They have resisted both their immediate situations as well as wider social structures. Why do women feel less exploited in family life than the social outline, and continue to exist in the household setup? Easier divorces or increase in single-mother lifestyles are not indicators of the liberty of modern women.[3] The chances and impact of judgement as well as condemnation are far graver and more intense in the public sphere than within the walls of one’s own home. The social atmosphere tends to get so toxic that the internal patriarchy seems comparatively a lesser burden to tend to. This forces the woman to believe that the oppressor back home, is a safer option to live with than the ferocious trap called society. The male continues to thrive on the unrecognised efforts of the female, and both genders move on with the belief that this is how it is supposed to be.


CULTURE

While culture is the interactive ground of the society, it is the creation of agents of socialisation namely education, religion and biggest of them all, the media. What all of them do is create a representation of women within a patriarchal gaze. ‘The male gaze’ simply denotes the core patriarchal idea of how the men of the society wish to see the women of the society. It is the fact that particular sex feels entitled to make such a decision establishes the core of gender roles. Why does the female adapt to such standards? The sole reason is the idea of survival, as discussed previously, amidst public scrutiny and no judicial cover.

When it comes down to religion, there is continued exclusion of women from executive positions which require decision making and restricting them to the ‘caring’ roles. [4] This hierarchy is also from a male viewpoint to ensure that the head of the religious institution is a patriarch, while women exist as accessories for the smooth functioning of the same institution.


While men, in the media, are shown as business heads, corporate head-hunters, executives, CEOs, even to advertise a product like Pan Masala or Music CDs or bottled water. On the other hand, Women, in ads, are shown to be struggling with finding the perfect washing powder for washing their child’s cloth, or buying the perfect shirt for their husband’s interview, or having a man bring them the perfect toilet cleaner. This is for the sole purpose of establishing that it is the men who need to bring home the big bucks, while the women deal with common daily life problems. Such an internalisation of gender roles needs immediate attention.


STATE

Tracing back to the World War II, when the state needed British women to work for munitions factories. The trade unions were not very happy and managed to persuade the UK government to pass the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act, 1942. [5] The step was taken to ensure that women would be suspended from employment at the end of the war. In this way, the men ensured to procure the services, when required, without any challenge to the patriarchal authority. The rationale behind this could be the fact that the more time women are out of the house, the less time she devotes serving men.


The state is a site of patriarchal relations, which is necessary to patriarchy as a whole. In the context of the women in defence forces of the nation, who have been there since 1992 in non-medical roles, it is astonishing how the state continues to imbibe the gender roles, by assisting the male narrative. The conflict between patriarchy and the state can be resolved by the state through positive actions. One such example is the recent judgement of Secretary of Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya, [6] which upheld the Delhi High Court ruling of providing permanent commission which stated that the Centre has to give permanent commission to short service commissioned (SSC) women officers irrespective of their years in service. With this, the Supreme Court hit out at the ‘gender stereotypes’ in the army, where we see the male soldiers not being accepting of the female colleagues. In various situations, women are labelled to be ‘psychologically weak’, or of a ‘lower physical standard’. The Supreme Court rejected all such contentions and strengthened the sheer ideology of equality that shall exist amongst those fighting of the greater good.


The state has also enforced these stereotypes because the law makers sitting in the Parliament are men, unaware and disassociated with struggles of women in the society, with the prime objective of enforcing the patriarchal values for the convenience it offers. Any attempt to improve the position of women in the society comes from a place of authority, it becomes a vicious cycle of asking the oppressor himself for help, which becomes libertarian propaganda over liberty, as theorised by John Locke and various other Libertarianism thinkers. In the light of recent judgements highlighting abortion laws, surrogacy laws and triple talaq laws along with adultery laws, it can be affirmed that the state, within its statutory powers, has the strength to bring the change and deal with any backlash. It is the state that shall tear off the label on the women as ‘the helpless’ and the men as ‘the saviour’.


MALE VIOLENCE

It is the commonality and repetition of male violence against women that constitutes it as a social structure. When the state provides the female with the option of stepping out, certain males tend to turn to violence as a way to keep them within the walls that they have built. It is the fear of losing authority that triggers the male to take up this unjustified stance.


While the violence can range from a single slap to constant thrashing, the impact is the same on the female, the fear of freedom. The physical hurt, over a while, becomes too huge a cost to be paid. When combined with the society’s demeanour towards a woman retaliating against her ‘provider’, the women are forced to believe that the violence ends in a significantly lesser amount of time.


Male violence against women includes controlling, threatening behavioural aspects of women leading to violence or abuse among the intimate partners as well as other family members. These relationships are usually viciously power structured. The prevalent examples of such violence can be seen in the instances of ensuring that the women do not step out to earn more than the husband and if she does so, the husband opts for the violence. [7] In the instance of honour killings, the role of the woman is to be the ideal daughter and get married into the house, decided by her family. If she decides to go against it, the father or the brother opts for the violence, which turns out to be fatal. If the woman is lucky enough to have a family which strays away from such violence, she should ensure to keep a low voice at the workplace; otherwise, the colleagues opt for the violence, in the form of mental and sexual harassment, rape, undue influence etc.


ATTITUDES TO SEXUALITY

The sexual double standard of society is something that needs to be dealt with immediate effect. Rapes are not caused by patriarchal notions of masculinity. Nor is the objectification of women as property or as symbols of honour the reason why rapes happen. [8] This is precisely what patriarchal political leaders advertise and want the uneducated or illiterate masses to believe in the developing countries. Sexuality is a major area where men exercise domination of women. Sexual freedom has become another realm of women’s experience for patriarchy to conquer.


The idea of freedom is derived from the male notion, that it is the men who have bestowed this liberty which obligates the women to be of service to the male. While heterosexual relationships are pretty much the only acceptable standard of relationships in a variety of cultures, it constitutes a patriarchal structure. The men continue to lead the relationship, by way of gender roles. It starts from simple acts like the men always paying the bill, or holding the door open for the ladies to the man choosing to ignore the woman’s constant denial of any intimate experience.


When oppressive laws on sexuality are abolished, some of the hard-won changes turn out to be a trap for women. [9] An example of the same is the fact that the sexual liberty achieved by women is what led to the increase in the mainstreaming of pornography. This indicates the increased exploitation of women in prostitution, the sex industry and human trafficking. The idea of femininity is imposed onto the women as the only notional desire of men, which the women are required to fulfil. This entitlement of the male demographic comes from the belief that it is the men who have given liberty to the female counterpart, subjecting her to obligations, as and when required by the man.


The men are strong, powerful and authoritative while the women are supportive, caring and weak. These are the patriarchal gender roles every institution of any given community professes in a variety of ways. If challenged, they would be reinforced by violence, but sometimes the cold stares or mockery do the trick as well. It is how a crying boy, in need of help or a dominant girl, being the saviour, does not go down well with the society and how immediately it will take steps to transgress these roles back into these individuals.


Patriarchy often curbs the individual rights of women by the way of these six structures. Rights which have been endorsed by any political or social institution loses its essence, if not implemented in the right tangent. The reason why patriarchy fails to uphold the tenets of morality is simple. It fails to do one thing that it was designed for. It fails to provide relief and safety to the people within its reach and only turns toxic for those who question it. Patriarchy tightens its grip in one structure when it loosens it in another and continues to thrive, defying the morals of basic humanity.


Movements like the #MeToo Movement in today’s day and age

Since women have started working and stepping out into society more, taking up meaningful decision-making roles, we also see a shift from private patriarchy to public patriarchy. Women might be exploited less by ‘individual patriarchs’ such as their fathers, husbands, brothers, etc. and more by men collectively, via work, the state and cultural institutions. In the words of many social activists, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. It is a shield held up against the pointing arch of patriarchy. But some women tend to shun away from such political and social movements, especially if they are too radical, and this happens because the fear of being seen in a movement that challenges the male rights.


A major reason why #MeToo had faced such strong backlash despite being set out with a moral motive that it failed to materialise its notion. #MeToo had one message in the undertones of every message, every tweet, every post and that is ‘WOMEN NEED TO BE HEARD’. Listen to the women, is what should have been at the core of every #MeToo discussion but the transition of ideologies is not that smooth. With the loopholes that this movement had, there exists constant tampering with the standards of morals in society.


This is the same society that teaches us to respect women and the same society which propagates the teaching by keeping women shut behind the doors. So, when a woman decides to go to her office to work, which demands her to be available at wee hours, a superior decides to exploit his authority. The first reaction that follows is questioning the necessity of the women in the workplace, rather than probing into the man’s actions. Women are not passive victims of such oppression, what #MeToo was limited to giving courage to women, with a certain amount of name and fame in the society, to come out and point fingers at the known male members of the society, be it the film industry, government, politics, judiciary, etc. The ambit of the movement is limited to social media, to which access might be exponential, but there exists a rather crude and uncivilised understanding of the same. Every post is so open to opinion and judgment that the purpose of the movement dilutes to being called a mere publicity stunt.


It is abundantly clear that over the last decade, the younger demographic of the female population have led a new wave of feminist and democratic protests in different countries. [10] With each movement, there are a new set of questions raised: How do we categorise and identify the recent wave of activism? What is its evolution from the previous feminist movements, and what are its stark differences and aligning similarities and therefore, whether it institutes unity? Is this idea of demarcation of feminist ‘waves’ to understand the periods of feminist history?


CONCLUSION

The genuine urge to call out people, irrespective of their gender or orientation, if they propagate misogyny in the society is the foundational stone of the change we seek to bring around. One thing that can be understood in the entirety of the patriarchal set up in the society is that that solution lies in a change of the philosophical structures that underlie oppression. There needs to be focus driven towards the diversity of women’s social and political reality and attention to the struggles that provide liberty to today’s woman. It also needs to be understood that only tackling patriarchy is not the need of the hour, every issue of race, class and caste oppression is also feminist issues because a united cause is stronger than a divided agenda.


Consequentially, the feminist movement will shift its focus from privilege to merit. The system is drenched in gender roles and comfortable with patriarchy, therefore, any challenge to the same, shall require systemic digression. It is pertinent that we remember that feminism is a political movement against every oppressive ideology. It is not a romanticised notion of personal freedom. It is a complete revolution in itself, and the same needs to be addressed on the grass root level.


NOTES

[1] Theoretical Perspectives on the origin of Patriarchy, Knowledge Book, (16 February, 2022, 5:31 PM) https://article1000.com/theoretical-perspectives-origin-patriarchy/.

[2] Sascha O. Becker, Discrimination in hiring based on potential and realized fertility: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment, Science Direct (February 12, 2022, 7:12 PM), https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0927537119300429.

[3] Karl Thompson, Sylvia Walby’s Six Structures of Patriarchy, Revise Sociology (February 12, 2022, 5:05 PM) https://revisesociology.com/2017/01/10/patriarchy-structure-walby-sylvia/.

[4] Joanna Hoare and Fiona Gell, Women’s Leadership and Participation Case studies on learning for action, 30, Practical Action Publishing Ltd, Oxfam GB, 2009, https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/115530/bk-womens-leadership-091109-en.pdf?sequence=1

[5] Women in the Workforce during World War II, https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/wwii-women.html

[6] Secretary Ministry of Defence v Babita Puniya & Ors. (2020), Civil Appeal No. 1210 of 2020, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2010/20695/20695_2010_8_1501_20635_Judgement_17-Feb-2020.pdf

[7] Tackling Violence Against Women: A Study of State Intervention Measures (A comparative study of impact of new laws, crime rate and reporting rate, Change in awareness level), Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, 2017. https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Final%20Draft%20report%20BSS_0.pdf

[8] Don't eat chowmein, it leads to rape, says Haryana khap leader, India Today Online, ( February 13, 2022, 08:10 PM) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/khap-rape-chowmein-118852-2012-10-16.

[9] Ingeborg Breines, Robert Connell and Ingrid Eide, Male roles, masculinities and violence: a culture of peace perspective, 24, Cultures of Peace Series, UNESCO Publishing, 2000. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000120683

[10] Maxine Molyneux, Adrija Dey, Malu A.C. Gatto & Holly Rowden, New Feminist Activism, Waves & Generations, 8, UN Women, 2021. https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Headquarters/Attachments/Sections/Library/Publications/2021/Discussion-paper-New-feminist-activism-waves-and-generations-en.pdf