The Philosophical Origins of Patriarchy
Time and again little girls are reminded of the norms and rules of the society that they live in and how failing to follow them might lead to bad repercussions. So what are these norms and who has formulated them? Most importantly, we need to approach these issues with an open mind because these norms some way or the other exist in every realm of an individual’s life which makes it difficult to draw allegations on them.
It might be from the French Revolution talking about an individual’s liberty and failing to do the same for the female gender to Science proving the insignificance of female body and religion on the impurity of the female body. Here we would try to analyze gender through the description of its definitions. Norms are associated with the social system which are the work patterns, education and learning system, social environments and so on.
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Social systems carry norms’ and expectations’ hand in hand and the failure to satisfy any one of these would lead to social disapproval’ and humiliation’. The gradual universality of norms makes it difficult to be challenged, leading to some kind of naturalization of that norm. Its same as how if something is made to happen again and again the impact would seem more natural than it did for the first time.
A man trying to follow a behavioral pattern of showing his masculinity in a society through domestic violence is a solid example of this as hence so is the conditioning to this act for a woman. Somehow these norms that are created for both of the sexes complement each other making it utterly difficult to break off from them for any of the sex.
The whole concept of gender rests on the norms of social and economic systems where both norms, as well as socio-economic systems, shape each other. Yet other factors that affect these social and economic systems are things like caste, religion, class, and language that help define the lines between femininity and masculinity. Gender is a grammatical commodity that exists in most languages leading for it to become a matter of habit and convention.
Arguments of female incapability are mainly laid on ‘the body’ and its attributes, ‘the body’, and its capabilities and ‘the body’ and its destiny. Further, these three ideas are explained: Religious explanations mainly stand on how they male and female body is innately different and this genial difference influences their different capabilities.
Majority of the religious allegations are in regard to the female body either being sinful or inferior which gives the man the right to control it. Hindu scriptural texts (while quoting Manu) speak of the lying, indiscriminate love for ornaments, sitting around, meanness and treacherous qualities of women that are innate in nature and hence difficult to change. Buddhist texts (through Jataka Tales) on the other hand show women unstable as the sand and cruel as a snake with allegations as women as a sex cannot decipher lies from the truth.
Christianity contributes by maintaining the beginning of the existence of human through a man and women being born out oh him leading to the women praying to man as the man prays to god. Islam too still stands on the sinful allegations of a woman’s body. Yet an important to note here is that there still exists contradictions in religious statements themselves, for instance, the image of Kali and more such goddesses who possess anger and strength in Hindu texts. Again there are no explanations for these contradictions and these are just concepts accepted for short terms.
Usually, in various Indian communities, the motherhood of a woman is praised and the capability and significance of a women’s life are seen to be limited to the same. The scientific perspective of the body can simply be understood by Galen’s understanding of a female body as imperfect and retarded in nature. For a long time, till the medical period, even scientific arguments were supported by the religious ones stating that this sexual difference is willed by God and supported by nature.
Hence in the name of logic, a very biased perspective was highlighted which again was in favor of men. A research in this medieval period also alleged that too much intellectual involvement of a women’s brain would lead to the shrinking of her ovaries then to the incapability of reproduction. This reproductive significance was later challenged by stating the sperm in the reproductive system is the soul and the most essential part. Which was later challenged by feminist biologists who proved the equal or greater significance of the female egg in reproduction.
Hence we can easily see that history had played a greater role than logic in these scientific allegations. In case of political scenario the French revolution, on one hand, talked about the equality of people and on the other defined unequal roles and didn’t speak against the inequality of women somehow seemed hypocritical. Here Mary Wollstonecraft argued that women appeared stupid and passive not because they were innately like that but because they weren’t told to cultivate their minds and that it wasn’t a matter of learning from childhood for their gender.
The father of political science, Aristotle holds a perception that women are incapable of intelligence and rational thinking and hence all of such related issues shall be handled by their men. Olympe de Gouges, a French playwright issued a declaration of rights of women soon after the one stating that of men where she questioned the right of a father over his child and his wife.
Where she pointed out that this right had nothing to do with nature and everything to do with men in general. The struggles and rights were usually defined in male terms. In the Indian context, there are struggles examples against the sati-paratha and not the equal status of women shows a sheer example of always drawing a limit to the development of a woman by saying that this development might interfere with the natural role of the genders. Moving ahead of the democratic times we can note that the norm implementation and maintenance has majorly taken a shift to media instead of scientific and religious pillars. One thing to another, norms leads to categorization which assumes that men and women throughout the societies and time remain the same.
In a sense that biology isn’t our destiny but gender is, and as Simone Beauvoir quotes, we are not born but become women (men). This can be understood by the simplest notions like girls like humanities and boys like science argument. Now this argument in itself has a cause and effect. Cause of the argument being the inefficient education of the girl child because what is the point of teaching her a set of skills she isn’t good at? And effect being the maintenance of the same by never further educating her.
Complimenting this, Gerda Lerner points out that to do science one must possess time and leisure, for women this has been difficult because of their conditions don’t allow them to diverge from household chores. Caught in these how can women indulge in such thoughts or though in general? One another feminine attribute that is generalized in nature is that of upholding the truth, which is also supported by Gandhi where he states that women are naturally satiyagrahis carrying the war of truth.
Arguments produced from this are that women are more ecologically sensitive and hence should only indulge in the struggle of preserving the environment. Though this has lead to successful movements in the past but has led to the denial of education for women and acquisitions that women are innately incapable of acquiring knowledge.
Not being able to read, women are anyway doomed to ignorance where they would later be controlled by men for their own benefit. This categorical though only had three solutions to it, surrender where both the genders act as complementary to each other, a war of the sexes where women seek to be independent of men or accept that women and men are innately different. Practices and institutions enforce expectations in the role play of masculine and feminine.
A child is introduced to this through his/ her family than school and then the society (and media) that follow particular patterns of norms. This may cause stereotyping which would lead to unfitting roles of a man and a woman which are somewhat impossible to uphold. Say an assigned role may cause inconvenience to a person and curb her/ his development. Say for instance this may lead to a man choosing something they do not wish to in order to fulfill the requirement of a complete man and woman to become one of the guys’ in order to achieve the success that her gender role doesn’t allow.
The masculinity and femininity dictum is supported by religious arguments where the religion itself gets altered in specific contexts. For example, Christianity in India during the colonial rule was seen as a rescue for women as they could acquire knowledge through it yet it was the opposite in the west. It wasn’t really always the men who held the upper hand but it was usually the upper-class white men who did.
Hence the norms and regulations were formed in order to satisfy their own roles. The explanations of masculinity and femininity are dependent on time and place and then influenced by factors such as history. Engels focuses on the ideas of gender through the Marxist theory of gender. In his view, the ideas of masculinity and femininity exist in the aspects of the social and economic system. The history of Marxism is used to understand the subjugation of women in the time of capitalism.
The whole blame is shifted to ownership and the mode of production. Marxism interlinks the process of production and reproduction and explains the male control over it through the historical timeline. Where an instance that the primitive societies had a commune factor to it which was later disturbed with the coming in of the institution of the family is stated.
One thing to another this lead to the concept of chastity of a woman that further pushed the control over her reproduction to the men who already had the access to resources in general. Marxists quote that history is best understood as the history of the class struggle of owning and producing classes. Engels keeps his focus on familial institution saying that in the primitive society men had dominance over the work outside the domesticity and women controlled the domesticity itself.
The settlement of humans into stability or say the concept of family led to the questioning of ownership where the domestic work by women lost its insignificance. For women, capitalism is seen to be a greater horror as for working in terrible conditions and a forceful negligence of her homes. Though these arguments do shape the understanding of the enslavement of women yet certain flaws in this are highlighted in various arguments.
These initiate with questioning the division of labor where Engels calls names motherhood natural and limits a woman into reproductive tasks. The second argument is that male dominance exists not only because of control over production but also reproduction. Using women as commodities and gifts deteriorated their values making it easy to dominate their resources. This indeed led to commodifying of women as a norm in the society and time later led to the normalization of the same. Rape was then seen as one of the methods to tame women where the repercussions of it too were decided by men based on the concept of the chastity of woman as an ownable object (also an argument by Susan Brownmiller).
The third argument focuses on women entering the production to end the enslavement of their gender. Juliet Mitchell lays down production, reproduction, and sexuality as the main areas of control. She says that women need to enter production, be equals in the process of child-bearing and escape sexually dissatisfying relationships in order to change the dynamics of gender relationships. Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy gives stages to it where she includes sexual slavery, control over a woman’s offspring and so on linking historical information with theoretical arguments.
Psychoanalysis emerged with its own understandings of masculinity and femininity. Freud’s theories mainly focused on how in the unconscious mind aspects like id, ego and superego worked. This was in context with the sexual behavior of a child and how the repression of unaccepted behavior due to social norms led to certain behavioral patterns in the coming future. Later various neo-Freudians challenged this discourse which was wholly based on the sexual desires of an individual.
Jacques Lacan describes the phallus and explains that a little boy is more influenced by the idea of a phallus compared to the organ in itself. Karen Horney distracts this explanation by proposing that women are already aware of their sexuality and are only curious of the penis. Alfred Adler on this draws attention to the frustration of the girl child when the boy child is valorized because of his possession of a penis.
Dorothy Dinnerstein considers the pre-oedipal stage as the main root to the arrogance towards anything female by a man. It is the boy child’s frustration and anger towards the mother for separating him from her and later sees the father figure as more achievable and acceptable in the society. Carl Jung’s focus shifts from the original understanding of the unconscious mind by saying that it has more to do with human history and it goes back into early civilization time. Catherine MacKinnon quotes that sexuality is to feminism, what work is to Marxists. Andrea Dworkin influenced by Mackinnon revolves around the sexuality of a woman being the root cause of the subjugation.
Uma Chakravarty on historical clues draws to the distinctions between femininity and masculinity. Sudhir Kakar on psychoanalysis sees it as less effective in the Indian context because the Indian system never fully reject female sexuality. To satisfy the male gaze and for the further objectification of women, arguments question if women are victims or collaborators? Male gaze stretches its reach from the fashion industry to the media where it sets beauty standards that satisfy men’s desires. Standards are also set for men to be particularly involved in these practices of sexual gratification. Lastly, in today’s time, it is essential to note the roles of motherhood and sexual lovers that the media portray somehow are specifically suitable to the male gaze.
Suranjita Ray on Understanding Patriarchy
With a literal meaning the rule of the father in a male-dominated family. Sylvia Walby in Theorising Patriarchy calls it a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, press and exploit women. This men’s control over production, reproduction, and sexuality results in the oppression of women when it designs the definitions of masculinity and femininity.
When it comes to India we must understand the existence of tribal patriarchy, Brahmanical Patriarchy, Dalit patriarchy and so with regional variations according to Suranjita Ray. She points on the fact that gender differences are man-made and get legitimized by the patriarchal structure of the society. Ray sees feminism as an awareness of the patriarchal control and existence of consciousness of oppression of the female gender. Liberal, Marxist, Socialist and Radical approaches are proposed in order to understand the origin of oppression and find the end solution to the same.
Nivedita Menon on Gender
The biological determinism is seen as the main tool for the oppression of women where Menon says that child rearing practice greatly contributes to defining masculinity and femininity. The rearing usually involves looking down upon femininity and valorizing masculinity. Menon also points out the importance to understand that the sexual division of labor has nothing to do with nature and hence isn’t universal in itself. She points out that only the process of pregnancy in reproduction is natural whereas men too can be involved in child-rearing practices.
Later the two sex model is challenged by quoting the examples in Indian texts where various poems reflect the rejection of the same. Colonisation indeed had valorized masculinity giving the justification that it was only masculinity that could help free the chains of their rule. We also need to understand that these strict norms also cause harm to the men who fail or do not wish to follow them and it isn’t only women who suffer due to this. The trace of patriarchy can be seen from the beginning of the agricultural economy in a socio-historical context rather than the biological one.
The inter-village and inter-tribe wars somehow led to the further subordination of women where they were objectified and became a subject to be protected. Migration too significantly played a role in this. As Claude Strauss proposes the commodification and objectification led to de-humanization of women reducing them to nothing more than gifts being exchanged.
We can classify certain pillars of patriarchy, first being the sexual division of labor that has been discussed above, second being the unequal access to resources and third as control over the sexuality of a woman. Catherine M explains state as one of the most essential pillars of patriarchy. Where radicals propose the rejection of the institution of marriage and the concept of motherhood by adopting and surrogacy. In conclusion, understanding and further work on these arguments would lead to the search for truth, for both men and women as for quoting Plato here, Knowledge is truth and truth is knowledge.