UPSC Handwritten Notes Approaches To Gender & Society | Important Notes Free PDF Download

Notes By-

Sachin Gupta

Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3


The unit begins by exploring the definitions of gender and investigates the
interface between the concepts of gender and sex. It highlights the matrix of
relationship of gender with other related spheres like sex, identity, ideology,
stratification, stereotype and the like. It also investigates the issues revolving
around femininity and masculinity. The impact of the discourse of femininity
and masculinity on religion, sexuality and culture are also discussed.
According to Ann Oakley (1972: 18), Gender is a matter of culture; it refers to
the societal classification into Masculine and Feminine. In other words, gender
refers to a specific cultural meaning system that attaches to being a male or a
female. Gender is a sexualised identity of individuals in relation to the customs,
traditions, ways of life and the like. It is the social and cultural construction of
roles, tasks, attitudes, values and qualities of males and females. The formation
of gender differs from one culture to the other, as it is a culture specific aspect.
The community or society as a whole contributes to the definition of gender.
Often, our society influences us about the ways in which we expect males and
females to behave and live in a certain way.


Conceptual Perspectives on Gender interpretation and negotiation are a part and parcel of how gender identities are actually constituted.

Gender gives attention to the socially constructed characteristics of men and
women. Gender is a social construct whereas sex is the biological make-up of
male and female. Sex is what we are born with, and does not change over time,
nor differs from place to place. According to Kendall (1998:68), sex is the
biological difference between men and women. It’s the first label we receive in
life. In some cultures, gender deals with women’s supposed vulnerability, their
identity as the second sex or fairer sex and their need to be protected. The main
gender difference is basically in the biological functions of reproduction. Barbara
F. McManus (1997) also argued that Feminist scholars have been differentiating
sex from gender and view the latter as a socially or culturally constructed category.
She asserts that gender is learned and performed; it involves the myriad and
often normative meanings given to sexual difference by various cultures. She
opines that feminists may differ in the importance they assign to sex, which is a
biologically based category, but the idea that gender norms can be changed is
central to feminist theory. Although sex and gender systems differ cross-culturally,
most known societies have used and still use sex and gender as a key structural
principle organising their actual and conceptual worlds, usually to the
disadvantage of women. Mc Manus has the same opinion with feminist scholars
who argued that gender is a crucial category of analysis and that modes of
knowledge, which do not take gender into account, are partial and incomplete.
The distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, which came to dominate theorisation
in the sociology of gender in the 1970s, is premised upon the idea of universality
of ‘sex’ and variability of ‘gender’. Ann Oakley’s Sex, Gender and Society (1972)
made the sex-gender distinction very popular in sociology. For Oakley, sex is a
word that refers to the biological differences between male and female: the visible
differences in genitalia, the related difference in procreative function. The term
‘sex’ and ‘gender’ can be traced to Robert Stoler, an American Psychiatrist, who
used them to deal with cases of individuals whose biological ‘sex’ did not match
their ‘gender’.
The prominent theorist of feminist anthropology, Henrietta Moore (1988) argued
that there was nothing self-evident or determinant about gender, and that
anthropology with its capacity to understand how differently cultures around the
world conceive of gender and sex, it could not treat the idea of womanhood as
straightforward and unproblematic. On the other hand, Simone De Beauvoir
(2010: 21) states that males and females are two types of individuals who are
differentiated within one species for the purposes of reproduction: they can be
defined only correlatively. At the same time, Ariyabandu (2009) states that gender
refers to the biological or sexual differences between men and women, which
make substantial distinctions in how they behave, relate and respond to needs of
the family, kinship, caste, community, society and the state. These factors are
indications of gender differences and gender roles, which were facilitated by the
process of socialisation, customs, norms, historical traditions and the government

Undoubtedly, the epistemology of sex needs to be briefly examined through
Michel Foucault’s philosophy. Foucault (1976) argued that the role of sex and
sexual activity in the discourse of western society during the 17th century made
a fundamental and radical change. His investigation of discourses on sex arrives
as a consequence to the commonly held conviction that there was a gigantic
repression of sex. Foucault raises questions on whether or not sexual repression
is truly an established historical fact; whether prohibition, censorship, and denial
are truly the forms through which power is exercised in a general way, if not in
every society, and whether there really was a historical rupture between the age
of repression and the critical analysis of repression. He pointed out that through
the evolution of Christianity and its doctrine especially of making confessions
regarding sexual sins, society was compelled to start on an elaborate and
inexhaustible discourse on sex. Simone De Beauvoir (ibid) opined that one is
not born, but rather becomes, a woman. Beauvoir clarifies that gender differences
in society make men superior through their role as breadwinners.
The theoretical framework of gender needs to be drawn further from Margaret
Mead and Simone De Beauvoir. Mead (1928), revealed how the behaviour of
men and women differed from one culture to another and thereby challenged the
notion that all gender differences were innate. On the other hand, Beauvoir (ibid)
argued that the division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human
history. Male and female stand opposed within a primordial Mitsein, and woman
has not broken it. The couple (man and woman) is a basic unity with its two
halves riveted together, and the cleavage of society along the line of sex is
impossible. The critical trait of woman is that, she is the ‘other’ in a totality of
which the two components are essential to one another. Beauvoir argued that
woman is heavily handicapped, though her situation is beginning to change
Even till today, although women’s legal rights such as Dowry Prohibition Act
1961, Domestic Violence Act 2005, Hindu Women’s Right to inherit property
and the like are legally recognised, a long-standing custom prevents their full
expression in the mores. Despite the Constitutional guarantees, Indian women
do not enjoy absolute legal and equal rights with men. Our people uphold the
gender biases and culture of patriarchy that are deeply entrenched in the society.
In Beauvoir’s view, both men and women can also be said to make up two castes
from economic perspective; other things being equal, the former hold the better
jobs, get higher wages, and have more opportunity for success than their new
competitors. She asserted that in industry and politics, men have a great many
more positions and they monopolise the most important posts. Today, women
are beginning to take part in the affairs of the world, but it is still a world that
belongs to men. To decline to be the ‘other’, to refuse to be a party to the deal –
this would be for women to renounce all the advantages conferred upon them by
their alliance with the superior caste.
Leela Dube (2001) deals with the intricacy of gender in her empirical study of
the Gond tribal society in Southern Chhattisgarh during the 1950s. She pointed
out that an encounter between an ‘anthropologist as a woman’ vis-à-vis ‘society’
appears to be a relationship that is determined by gender, with the understanding
that flows from a sensitivity of understanding by the actors involved. Dube,
being a woman anthropologist with a rich experience and having the same
biological and cultural imperatives of marriage, family and childbirth that every
Conceptual Perspectives on
woman encounters in her life, was able to create a conducive rapport in which
she interacted meaningfully with the Gond tribal women and understood about
their struggles.
With regard to gender roles, Macionis (2002: 262) cited Talcott Parsons, an
American sociologist who claimed that complementary gender roles between
men and women promote the social integration of families and society as a whole.
In other words, Parsons opined that gender forms a complementary set of roles
that bond women and men into family units for carrying out various important
tasks. Women take primary duty for managing the family and raising children
whereas men join the family to the outside world through their participation in
the labor force. Parsons argued that distinctive socialisation teaches both men
and women about their suitable gender identity and skills. Boys were taught to
involved in the labour forces and also to be rational, self-assured and competitive.
On the other hand, girls were taught to be absorbed in the process of child rearing,
domestic chores and being sensitive. The processes of socialisation facilitate
children to learn and internalise the norms and values of the family, community
and society and learn to perform their respective roles. Both boys and girls were
nurtured to become men and women through socialisation in child-rearing, family
beliefs, education, various jobs or service and cultural practices. Gender role
deals with different responsibilities and expectations that society defines and
allocates to men and women. These are not necessarily determined by biological
make-up and therefore can change with time and in different situations.
Gender involves the matrix of relationship between men and women, which can
be changed from a patriarchal to an egalitarian one. Therefore, gender is a
collective and societal formation, which is often stereotyped and can be altered
while sex is perceived as unchangeable, as it is a natural institution in the past.
However, with medical advancement, innovation and scientific technological
revolution, sex can be altered in our contemporary society. The subject of ‘sexchange’
or ‘sex-transplant’ or ‘trans-gender’ has become a critical and sensational
public discourse in India today.
Box 1
Trans-gender: Transgender is an individual who is often assigned a sex at
birth, but who consider that he or she belong to the opposite sex and his/her
natural given sexual characteristics is an imperfect description of himself/
Here, we would provide a brief description about gender ideology and how it
influences the process of gender stratification and gender identity. It will also
examine the way in which gender stereotypes take place in the society.

According to Andre Beteille (2000: 18), an ideology is that set of ideas and
beliefs which seek to articulate the basic values of group of people – what they
cherish for themselves and for others – to the distribution of power in society.
An ideology is not a systematic theory, although it has systematic properties and
it often strives to be a theory. It may or may not succeed in articulating basic
values to the distribution of power, but such articulation is part of its purpose
Approaches to the Study of
and design. Greetein (1996b: 586) describes gender ideologies as how a person
identifies herself and himself with regard to marital and family roles that are
traditionally linked to gender. In other words, gender ideology may refer to the
value of distinctive roles, rights and tasks for men and women in their respective
society. Sometimes, it deals with the prevailing legitimate gender inequality based
on caste, class, tribe and the like. In view of Andre Beteille’s idea on ideology, it
can be argued that gender ideology is also a part of beliefs that sustain gender
The noted feminist and anthropologist Sherry Ortner (1996) pointed out the
intricacies of gender ideology in her work in Nepal among the Sherpas. She
opined that in every society, women are viewed as closer to nature, whereas men
are identified with culture, a prejudice that she blames for the universal secondclass
status of women. She also examined at men’s obsession with female chastity,
and their systematic control of women’s social and sexual behavior in traditional
societies. She maintains that this ideology was bound up with the emergence of
patriarchal extended families, social hierarchies and the state.

Russ Long (2012) opined that gender stratification, cuts across all aspects of
social life, cuts across all social classes, and refers to men and women’s unequal
access to power, prestige, and property on the basis of their sex. To be more
precise, through the process of socialisation, individuals encompass gender into
their personalities or gender identities and gender roles. In the context of
patriarchal Indian society, men are given more power and resources as compared
to women. Therefore, gender becomes an important dimension of social
stratification. With regard to resource distribution among the matrilineal society
(a system in which descent is traced through the mother’s line or maternal
ancestor), an individual belongs to one’s mother’s lineage and the children or
offspring would inherit immoveable or moveable property and titles or surnames
from their maternal lineage. In India, the Garo and Khasi tribes in Meghalaya,
the Muslim tribe of Kalpeni in Lakshwadeep and the Nairs of Kerala are
matrilineal societies, although the Nairs have gradually transformed themselves
into patrilineal society at present. Here, gender is a crucial factor of social
stratification even in matrilineal societies.
Gender stratification maybe analysed from a structural-functional paradigm. The
structural functional paradigm is a theoretical framework that perceives society
as a complex system whose parts work together to advance solidarity and stability.
The major insight of the structural functional paradigm is that gender functions
to organise social life as emphasised by sociologist Talcott Parsons. Macionis J.
John (ibid: 332) argued that gender implies more than how people think and act.
It is about social hierarchy. The reality of gender stratification can be seen first,
in the world of work.
Gender identity is defined as an individual’s perception of oneself as male or
female or third gender and it also deals with how society views you. This concept
is closely related to the concept of gender role that reflects gender identity. Madhu
Conceptual Perspectives on
Kishwar (1996) in her article, “Who Am I? Living Identities vs Acquired Ones,”
argued that she became conscious of her identity as a woman only on those few
occasions when she was discriminated against on account of her gender, for
example, when facing sexual harassment or biasness in employment. Otherwise,
her gender identity is only one of her multiple overlapping and crosscutting
identities, which peacefully coexists with other identities. From a sociological
perspective, gender identity involves all the meanings that are applied to oneself
on the basis of one’s gender identification. In turn, these self-meanings are a
source of motivation for gender-related behavior (Burke 1980).
Sometimes, gender identity is imposed on individuals by society. Gender identity
is also self-identified, as a result of a combination of inherent and extrinsic or
environmental factors; gender role, on the other hand, is manifested within society
by observable factors such as behaviour and appearance. The formation of gender
identity is a multifaceted process that commences with conception and it involves
processes during gestation and even learning experiences after birth. In some
societies, the traditional norms insist that every one be classified either as a man
or a woman. When the gender identity of an individual makes her a woman
although her genitals are male, she may experience what is known as ‘dysphoria’
that means a profound depression caused by experience of herself as a woman
and her lack of phallus. Gender role is normally an external expression of gender
identity. Majority of people believed that gender identity and gender role are in
accord. Sometimes, cultural differences proliferate in the expression of one’s
gender role, but in some other societies, such fine distinction is accepted since
gender norms can play a part in describing gender identity.
Box 2
Gender Division of Labour: It is the consequence of how a particular
society divides work among men and women according to what is considered
appropriate to each gender.
Gender stereotypes are one-sided and exaggerated images of men and women
which are deployed repeatedly in everyday lives. Stereotyping is a process by
which children are socialised into sex roles, and by which adults and children
are denied opportunities for more individually varied development (Marshall
1994). Gender stereotype is the assignment of roles, tasks and responsibilities to
a particular gender on the basis of preconceived prejudices. It is also the
assumptions made about a particular gender that may be positive or negative.
Often, we observe that gender stereotyping is based on past speculations although
it may not be true. Gender stereotype barely convey truthful information about
other people. Alternatively, gender stereotype is a basic overview about the gender
characteristics, disparities and roles of individuals and groups. Whenever people
apply gender assumptions to others, they are propagating gender stereotyping.
Gender stereotyping often reveals conventionally simplified visuals concerning
the standard social roles of men and women. Some of the stereotypes of men and
women are: ‘men are not sensitive’; ‘women are not great drivers’ and ‘women
love nagging and gossiping’. Gender stereotypes are beliefs held about
characteristics and activity-domains that are considered being appropriate for
men and women. The typical characteristics of traditional Indian women are
submissiveness, piousness, obedience and passiveness. In other words, a
traditional Indian woman’s role is to be in charge of domestic chores like serving
her husband, looking after her children, cooking and cleaning. Such women were
appreciated as “virtuous ideal Indian women”.
In India, our culture upholds that respectable women are sensitive, caring, dresses
decently and speaks softly which are considered as core values to make women
more feminine. On the other hand, power and authority are traits commonly held
by Indian men. The men are perceived to dominate the activities related to
economics. The economy mode largely determines the social position of men
and women wherein men are the center of family and society, whereas women
are a part of property of men. Such type of gender stereotype creates a negative
impact on women’s lives. Nevertheless, it is a fact that gender stereotypes are
dynamic and not static. It is influenced by the ideology and economic situation
of a particular era. Both men and women carry out their responsibilities according
to the division of the innate characteristics of gender. Gender stereotypes are
reflected in marriage, family and community.
What is gender inequality? Find out how does gender inequality come into
play in educational institutions (in the classroom, selection of courses and
Femininity is a quality of being feminine whereas masculinity is a manly
characteristic that distinctively describes men and boys. The terms ‘masculinity’
and ‘femininity’ are gender categorisations whereas ‘male’ and ‘female’ are sex
categorisations. Both femininity and masculinity are rooted in the social rather
than the biological. Jan E. Stets and Peter J. Burke pointed out that societal
members decide what being male or female means (e.g., dominant or passive,
brave or emotional), and males will generally respond by defining themselves as
masculine while females will generally define themselves as feminine. Because
these are social definitions, however, it is possible for one to be female and see
herself as masculine or male and see himself as feminine.
In India, the main driving forces of socialisation such as family, kinship,
community, peer groups, schools, print and electronic media and the like
strengthens the cultural definitions of what is feminine and masculine. Leela
Dube (2001) made a distinction between the ideas of femininity from the concept
of femininity that is a characteristic of women’s identity at a structural level in
which she saw it as a continuous process in women’s lives. She argued that these
processes have effect in the existing space between biological truth and kinship
relationships. In her argument, women are perceived as upholders of kinship
who also determine the relationships between genders. Dube focuses on the
patrilineal, patrilocal descent pattern of the Gond tribe while studying their kinship
structure that determines the rule of descent and the sharing of property and

Margaret Mead was one of the first to empirically ground the distinction between
the biological and social characteristics of men and women. She did this rather
dramatically through her study of the conceptions of masculinity and femininity
among the Arapesh, Mundugamor and Tchambuli, three non-western societies
in the New Guinea Islands (Mead 1935). She found that, among the Arapesh,
both males and females displayed a “feminine” temperament (passive, cooperative
and expressive). Among the Mundugamor, both males and females displayed a
“masculine” temperament (active, competitive and instrumental). And, among
the Tchambuli, men and women displayed temperaments that were different from
each other and opposite to the western pattern. In that society, men were emotional,
and expressive while women were active and instrumental. Mead’s study caused
people to rethink the character of femininity and masculinity. It becomes obvious
that, different gender-related traits, temperaments, roles and identities could no
longer be inextricably tied to biological sex. On the basis of this study, Mead
argues that the western equation between masculinity and aggression on the one
hand and femininity and nurturance on the other is but one among a number of
possible permutations of characteristics which have no intrinsic relation with
biological sex.

Today, the psychoanalytical studies of gender identity have attempted to
understand the origin and relationships of femininity and masculinity. The origin
of the terms femininity and masculinity emerges after Sigmund Freud (1962)
formulated his theory of sexuality based on the anatomy of men and women.
Sigmund Freud showed interest in the discourse on femininity and masculinity
during the late 1870s in which he attempted to examine this issue from the bisexual
and psychosexual development perspectives. His works in Three Essays on the
Theory of Sexuality (1962), and in his article, “Feminine Sexuality” (1931)
espouse the idea of a bisexuality that involves, in every human being, a more or
less harmonious synthesis of feminine and masculine characteristics. According
to Freud, the antagonism of femininity and masculinity go before the other pairs
of opposites like active and passive, phallic and castrated which pave the way
for it. He also opined that femininity emerges after the reorganisation of the
psyche at the time of puberty. The antagonism between femininity and masculinity
tends to be hazed, in view of the fact that both sexes are amalgamated in the
similar rejection of a femininity that is equated with being deprived of the phallus.
He was not entirely at ease in his approach to the questions of feminine sexuality
and bisexuality. His critics pointed out his limitations in this area, particularly
with regard to his equation of femininity with passivity.
The term dichotomy has become a critical query in contemporary epistemological
debates. The meaning of dichotomy deals with ‘a division or contrast between
two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different’
(Oxford Dictionary online 2011); it can be perceived as dualism which categorises
how we believe. A dichotomy presumes a belief in the reality of dual contradictory
principles in every aspect. In this method, dichotomy operates hierarchical
intentions by defining what is normal and abnormal, what is evil and good, what
is excluded and included. The dichotomy of femininity and masculinity becomes
critical in contemporary society. In our everyday lives, people would expect us
to act, behave and live according to our specific gender. Many people are not
able to live up to standards that are set for women and men.
Often, parents in India would advice their children to behave according to their
gender. For instance, girls are taught to be coy, sober, sensitive, soft-spoken and
submissive whereas boys are encouraged to be aggressive, dominant and tough.
Masculinity is manifested in being strong and tough whereas being weak and
soft are associated with femininity. It is not possible to call these Indian cultural
phenomena “natural”. From the moment a child is born in our family, questions
would be raised whether the baby is a boy or a girl. And, the cultural expectations
are formed around the children, based on gender. Conscious and unconscious
motives of having the family legacy continue through the boy bring delight.
Toys like cars, lions, guns and elephants are bought for him preferably blue and
never pink as it is categorised with masculinity. When a boy grows up, he would
be taught to act brave, valiant and ‘not cry like a girl.’ He is trained to suppress
his emotions as he is told it is ‘feminine’ to express it. He is encouraged to
pursue sports, manage finance, drive, involve in decision-making but discouraged
from domestic chores. He has fewer restrictions while going out owing to his
masculinity, which also defines his primary role as breadwinner.
On the other hand, if a girl is delivered, her room is maybe decorated with the
supposed feminine colour pink and dolls are purchased for her. The infants do
not care concerning their identity being associated with colours. They are not
even conscious of the significance of pink or blue colours which people link
with femininity and masculinity. In India, a girl child is often considered inferior
to a boy child. The thought of ‘giving her away’ and ‘saving for her dowry and
marriage expenses’ may bring misery for her parents. She would be encouraged
to learn cooking, dancing, singing, housekeeping and the like and she may have
restrictions on going out. Her gender would define her role and function at home as
sister, aunt, wife, mother and homemaker.
Are masculinity and femininity related to prejudice? If your answer is ‘yes’,
to what kinds of prejudice are they related?
Box 4
Gender gap: Unfair differences in the situation or access to service of men
and women. These may result from religious prejudices, traditional practices,
social assumption, myths and taboos among others.
Conceptual Perspectives on

Here the question arises as to how does religion affect femininity and masculinity?
Why will religious beliefs, practices, or organisations reflect or deviate from
dominant patterns of gender inequality? To what extent will religious influences
affect gender inequality? It is evident that religion, culture and tradition in India
are commonly used to justify women’s inferior position in the society. The main
religious texts have been interpreted to strengthen the power of men in our society.
Gonsoulin (2005) asserts that women’s usefulness have been defined from a
male’s perspective. This is explicitly witnessed in Hinduism. There is an intrinsic
link of femininity and masculinity, in which the notion of Goddess as ‘Devi’
represents the female characteristic of the divine being among the Hindus. The
concept of ‘Shakti’ (power) symbolises the divine feminine creative power and
also signifies the sacred force that moves through the entire cosmos and the
agent of change. ‘Shakti’ indicates the feminine counterpart without whom the
masculine characteristic, which represents consciousness or discrimination,
remains powerless and negated. ‘Shakti’ is also known as ‘Prakriti’ being the
feminine manifestation of Brahma who is the supreme God of wisdom by which
the universe exists and functions. The comprehensive force known as ‘Yoni’ in
Hinduism is feminine in nature with motivation being the life force of creation.
Indisputably, Hinduism celebrates femininity and masculinity in distinctive
Traditionally, the subject matter of sexuality is a taboo in the public domain.
However, it is remarkable to mention that the ancient Hindu sculptures and idols
positioned in various temples across the country, including the historic Ajanta
and Ellora caves reveals the sexuality, femininity and masculinity associated
with gods, goddesses and religion. The specific carvings and wide-ranging designs
covering several temples show deities in almost every sexual position that you
can imagine. Such portrayals of sexuality may be appalling for some people but
if we understand Hinduism, the display illustrates an Indian conventional way of
thinking about sexuality. In our country, gods and goddesses have always been
seen to embrace diverse kinds of sexuality, and the physical connection between
two beings is perceived as a means to attain spirituality – ‘nirvana’. The center of
attention in Hinduism is not on whether the sexual participants are biologically
the same or different to each other. Interestingly, trans-gendered gods can be traced
in Hinduism too. It becomes clear that gender is socially constructed, and that
sexualities have been displayed in India through its religion for many centuries.
The division between femininity and masculinity represents the Indian traditional
model, where differences between genders are often exaggerated. Both genders
(men and women) are biologically determined and unchangeable wherein they
are distinct, with separate spheres of influence and qualities. Hence, the discourse
on transgender, gays and lesbians are not accepted at ease in India. At the same
time, masculinity is more highly valued in our culture and it is expressed through
certain characteristics like chivalry, power, courage, boldness, achievement,
invention and poise, which are perceived as being inherent to them. These qualities
have been acknowledged as masculine in biological as well as physiological
aspects. It is perceived that the contributions of femininity and masculinity are
different but it should be valued in the same way.
It is important to point out that; the Hindu masculine cultural values refer to the
spirit of struggle, wealth, competition, goal, power and authority. Intriguingly,
the feminine cultures give emphasis to additional value on relationships between
people and attributes of life. On the other hand, the masculine cultures highlights
the differences between gender roles which are more dramatic as compared with
the feminine cultures wherein men and women possess similar values emphasising
compassion and humility. It allows us to reflect and perceive new ideas of gender,
sexuality and religion. India stands for unity in diversity wherein every ethnic
group and caste is different from each other, but we tend to believe that deep
inside all people are the same especially when the question of sexuality arises. In
the sense, we tend to minimise cultural differences with regard to sexuality. In
order to be able to understand and gain esteem with regard to cross-cultural
relationships between different castes, class, ethnic groups, tribes and communities,
we need to create massive awareness of the diverse cultural differences


We are living in the so called modern or by some standards post-modern world,
which is based upon the ideology of egalitarianism and universality but try and
look around and you will find lots of examples that are contrary to the general
conception about this 21st century. We are still carrying the burden of traditional
divided society which was based primarily on ascribed statuses that ensured the
place of a person in a particular community, caste or group by virtue of her birth
in that particular group. Prejudice and discriminatory attitude is something that
has not changed much over a period of time. This is true even in the case of
gender discrimination which is a manifestation of patriarchal mindset and ideology
that stops short of calling this century a truly modern one. While penning down
this unit, there is a debate going on in electronic and print media about the issue
of male dominance and patriarchy. Cases in point are the recent molestation of a
girl by a mob in Gwahati, Assam and pronouncement of patriarchal diktats by
khap or caste panchayats in Uttar Pradesh. In Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh,
a caste panchayat announced that the women of the village will not carry mobile
phones with them and their movement in and around the village will be monitored
and restricted. Similarly in Assam a girl was molested by a mob publically and
in full view of the media. These incidents also highlighted the insensitivity and
callous attitude of some agencies that were supposed to be the custodians of
women rights. This brings us to the point where we should understand and rethink
about how our society is structured in a manner that is biased towards the male
members and overlook the rights and privileges of women (Rajalakshami, 2012).
Sometimes the state apparatus also behaves and is structured in such a way as to
promote male dominance. One can look at the example of Hindu Succession
Act, 1956 which was amended in 2005 but still contains provisions that are in
favour of women’s husband’s family. This act relates with the succession of
property. It is stated in the act that the self-acquired property of a women who
dies without writing her will and in the absence of her husband and children will
belong to her husband’s family and not to her parents. This is a clear reflection
of the societal and traditional norm where a woman after marriage is considered
to be a member of her in-laws family and not to her natal family. Similarly in a
marriage alliance a woman is not considered as an equal partner in marital property
or husband’s property acquired after marriage. This inequality devalues her
contribution towards the marital property in terms of her labour that she provides
under the rubrics of house-keeping and as a primary care giver to her children
and husband (Singh, 2012; Rao 2008; Pal 2004). Beside these examples there
are other more visible instances like sex-selective abortions that indicate towards
a generalised discriminatory attitude towards women. These examples also reflect
a patriarchal mind-set and male dominance. The next section will deal with the
definition and theoretical perspectives on patriarchy and male dominance.
Make an inventory of similar issues that depict male dominance. Look
around for such examples, read newspaper and magazines for such news
that depict a power relation between male and female.

Now one may wonder, how can we define patriarchy. It is a rather tricky question,
as with other kinds of definitions related with social phenomenon and concepts,
defining patriarchy in its entirety is not always possible. It is therefore better to
understand the concept rather than getting into some watertight definition.
However, patriarchy can be defined as “a system of social structure and practices
in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women” (Walby, 1990). This
definition clearly outlines the nature of patriarchy which is engrained in our
social structure that gives it a very fundamental character. Based on this social
Patriarchy and Male
structure, men dominate and exploit women and their action gets legitimised by
the existing structure through institutions like family, kinship, marriage, religion,
class, caste, race, etc. Patriarchy envisages within itself a form of power relation
between men and women. In this relationship a hierarchy exists that places men
in an advantageous position and this makes a complete recipe for female
exploitation. In a more literal sense patriarchy (pitrasatta in Hindi) denotes rule
of father in a male-dominated family. This rule emerges from an unequal resource
distribution like land which is invariably inherited by the male line of descent.
This control over the resources later gets translated into control over the production
and reproduction of women. However later in this unit we will also see that how
matrilineal and bilateral kinship structures alter this power relation in family and
Feminism as an ideology has always tried to deal with the question and conception
of patriarchy. There are different philosophical traditions in feminism that
conceptualise patriarchy differently. Prominent among them are: Liberal
Feminism, Marxist Feminism and Radical Feminism. Liberal Feminism is based
on the philosophy of individual rights. The birth of Liberal Feminism dates back
to the 18th century when it was realised that women should no longer be subjugated
to the authority of males. It was in this context that liberal feminists challenged
the customary and legal framework that reflected a biased understanding of
women based on their inferior physical and intellectual capabilities which were
used as instruments to subjugate and subordinate women. It is with the writings
of Mary Wollstonecraft that one traces the birth of Liberal Feminism as a separate
feminist movement. In her magna carta- “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”,
Wollstonecraft advocates for equal opportunity for both men and women. She
emphasises that it is imperative that women are educated and made aware of
their political and social rights in order to claim equal status at par with men. In
the 19th century John Stuart Mill emerged as the leading scholar of Liberal
Feminism and advocated that women are required to participate equally and
pro-actively in various societal affairs and hence strive for equality (Mill, 1869;
Eisenstein, 1981). Liberal feminists advocated that women should not only be
confined to the domestic domain and there should be equal opportunity for them
to participate in the public and political spheres of life. According to them
patriarchy has confined women to the four walls of the house and therefore they
need to get liberated in order to come out of the clutches of patriarchy. Liberals
attacked the myth that women, because of their feminine behaviour are not suited
for outside world and therefore they seek refuge and security within the domestic
sphere of life. However, Liberal Feminism is being criticised on the issue of
being very individualistic and therefore totally overlooking the structural, societal
and familial basis for male dominance and patriarchy. Liberal feminists do not
take a critical view of family and are focused solely on capturing space and
rights for individual women in the public domain. They are also being criticised
for being elitists since most of the rights gathered in this manner will be availed
by the so-called upper class/caste women. Therefore this stream of feminism did
not voice the concern of other differentially suppressed women on the basis
either of class, caste, race etc. Again, on the issue of origin of male dominance
and patriarchy liberal feminists are found wanting. They do not provide with a
theory that can explain the circumstances that led to patriarchal set-up and male
dominance in society.
Approaches to the Study of
This gap was however filled by Marxist Feminism that deals with the issue of
origin of patriarchy and male dominance. Marxist feminists are of the view that
patriarchy originated with the origin of private property (Engels, 1948). It is
with the emergence of private ownership of property and its transfer through the
male line of descent that patriarchy as a social structure was born. They also
relate the concept of patriarchy with the capitalist mode of production. However
they have been criticised for just adding the issue of gender to their already
existing framework of class oppression. They are also silent on the issue of women
oppression before the advent of private property. There are empirical evidences
that point to the fact that women oppression and male dominance was present
even before the advent of private property. Claude Levi-Strauss observed that
the exchange of women is the basic form of exchange and it took place because
of some taboo on incestuous relationships (sexual relations between close relatives
like father and daughter, brother and sister, mother and son etc.) in each and
every society. This kind of taboo required that women be acquired from a group
outside one’s own and thus clan, lineage, village exogamy originated. This gave
rise to the manipulation of female sexuality and hence the emergence of male
Another group of feminist scholars known as radical and revolutionary feminists
tried to understand and explain the origin of patriarchy and male dominance
through the notion of female sexuality and its manipulation by the male. They
are of the view that biologically women are different from men. This is the basic
fact recognised by this brand of feminism. This biological difference defines the
role of women as child bearers. This biological role is however translated and
interpreted as related to the notion of “motherhood” which defines the role of
mother in terms of both child bearing and child rearing. They are of the view that
biology alone is not responsible for such skewed power relations between male
and female but their cultural interpretation is responsible for the same. ‘Gendering
of sex’ takes place in the socio-cultural context. In other words the control of
male over the reproductive capacity of female is the root cause of patriarchy.
Sheila Jeffrey, one of the revolutionary feminist puts her point on the origin of
patriarchy by saying that there are basically two systems of class that operate in
a society- i) the class based on and originating from the relations of production
and ii) the class that is based on and originates from the relation of reproduction.
It is the second system of class that is responsible for women subordination and
patriarchy. Similarly, Finella McKenzie argued that the first kind of division of
labour was between men and women and it originated from women’s reproductive
capacity and men’s greater strength. This made women dependent on men and
thus gave rise to unequal power distribution. However she also writes that it is
not only because of this differential reproductive capacity that subordinates
women but this biological differentiation is turned into psychological dependency
by men and the social structure as a whole. This stream of feminism is however
criticised for being biological determinist and reductionist. It also does not provide
any alternative to end patriarchy or improve the condition of women. They
advocate that women should be made aware of this kind of subordination which
in turn can help in improving their condition (Beechey 1979; Lewin 2006; James
2010; Ranade 2007).
Patriarchy and Male 2.3 SEXUALITY OF WOMEN AND MALE Dominance
The male control over the sexuality of women is considered to be a manifestation
of patriarchy. This control is exercised by the male within the structure of marriage,
family and kinship. Especially in the patrilineal societies like ours in India the
institutions of marriage, family and kinship becomes a site for reproducing the
patriarchal structures. In a marital alliance a virgin bride is always desirable.
Pre-marital sex is seen in terms of moral pollution which is more severe for the
women than for the men. It is considered that through the sexual intercourse a
woman gets internally polluted whereas a male only gets external pollution.
Internal pollution is related to the pollution of the substance. The concept of
substance holds a great importance in maintaining caste distances (Beteille, 1991;
Dube, 2009). The caste hierarchies and distances are maintained through the
concept of selective exchange of women to a certain caste or castes. In this way
the sexuality of women gets connected with the larger social structure based on
caste. Again the concept of hyper-gamy and hypo-gamy demonstrates a strict
control over the female sexuality. Hyper-gamy to some extent is permitted where
a man of higher caste can have union with a woman of lower caste but hypogamous
unions are strictly prohibited. Even if a woman of higher caste gets
entangled with a lower caste male, it can bring serious consequences to both the
families. There are numerous such examples where honour killings took place
in the name of such unaccepted marital or love unions. This exemplifies that the
control over the sexuality of women becomes an instrument of reproducing caste
hierarchies. This also exemplifies a kind of corporate control over the sexuality
of women. In this kind of control female sexuality gets attached with the honour
of an entire village, caste, community or family and any infringement over the
same can bring a lot of dishonor to the entire group. This kind of corporate
control over the sexuality of women is also demonstrated by anthropologists
like D.N. Majumdar who in his monograph named ‘The Himalyan Polyandry’
on the people of Jaunsar Bawar region of Dehradun documented fraternal
polyandrous marriage alliance between a bride and all the brothers of a particular
household where the marriage gets solemnised. Here the main issue is related
with the right of access to the female sexuality which by such alliances gets
restricted to the family or household as a unit. There are other such studies that
have documented the marriage alliance of a bride with several brothers. Other
studies have also documented that there is an unwritten rule or an accepted practice
where after the death of the husband, the widow has to marry her husband’s
brother. This can be analysed in the light of retaining the women and her children,
if any, within the family or lineage so that the right over the father’s property
remains within the household or family. This indicates a strong feeling of
ownership of women, her labour and reproductive power. The patriarchal mindset
is quite well observable in Hindu marriage rituals and relations between the
bride and grooms family. A kind of power relations exist between the families of
bride and groom. The exchange of gifts and dowry indicate this kind of unequal
relationship. A bride is considered to be a financial liability and burden over the
groom’s family which must be compensated adequately in order to solemnise
the marriage. This undermines the productive work which women generally
perform within the household. Household chores are considered to be non
consequential as their labour is considered to be non-productive and taken for
Approaches to the Study of
granted. Therefore women are rendered powerless both at the level of production
and reproduction.
At the level of family, the sexuality of women is under the control of her brothers
and father. Leela Dubey (2009) explains this with the help of a very general yet
powerful observation that brothers in the context of South Asian countries like
India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are provided with the task of keeping an eye on
the movement of their sisters. They have the responsibility of protecting their
sisters. This kind of responsibility gives them the right to exercise power over
the female and dictate their behaviors according to their own whims and fancies.
There have been several incidents reported where the brothers killed their sisters
who were found guilty of illicit love or wanting to marry against the wishes of
their parents. Exemplifying cases from Andhra Pradesh, Dube states that brothers
often scold their sisters if they found them standing at the doorstep during the
evening as they consider it to be gesture adopted by the prostitutes in order to
invite their customers. However Dube further compares the situation of control
over female sexuality in patrilineal South Asia with that of matrilineal and bilateral
South-East Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. She argues
that the kinship system based on matrilineality and bilateral concept has greater
tolerance and less control over the female sexuality. She argues that in countries
like Malaysia where Islamic influence is seen, there are restrictions on sexual
behaviour placed on women before marriage but such restrictions are also placed
equally on the men. It is quite common in Indonesia for women to migrate for
work to urban centers and leave their husband’s behind to look after their land
and children. In Thailand women take to the profession of prostitution to support
their families but they do return to the ‘mainstream’ and get married after
sometime. This cannot even be imagined in the context of South Asia. The basic
idea that underlines this behavioral attitude pertains to the fact that men are not
the users of women’s sexuality (Dube, 1988; 2000; 2009).
Discuss on the issue of sexuality of women depicted in Indian Cinema and
its impact on the larger society.
The relation of production and reproduction needs to be analysed historically in
order to understand the consolidation of patriarchy. Uma Chakraborty in her
essay on Brahminical patriarchy in early India tries to understand this relation of
production and reproduction during historical periods. She has based her analysis
largely on pre-historical, proto-historical and historical accounts and evidences
that throw some light on the dimension of women’s role both in production and
reproduction. Her argument starts with the contention that in the hunting and
food gathering stages women’s role was not restricted only in terms of
reproduction but they also played active role in food gathering and also sometimes
in hunting which she argues is evident in cave paintings of Bhimbetka and other
archaeological sites in central India. In many such paintings women are depicted
wearing some sort of head gear (depicting power and authority) and are shown
taking part during hunting activities. The reproductive role of women was also
Patriarchy and Male
considered important since they were considered as ‘life givers’ and thus having
close association with the events of life and death. This belief places women in
some sort of mystical and supernatural space which is in sync with the evidence
found related with the cult of mother goddess. During the Indus Valley Civilisation
the position of women and the emergence of patriarchy cannot be established
based on the evidence since the in-situ evidence is not supported by written
documents as they are not yet decisively deciphered. However, there are evidences
of class formation which are depicted and present in the form of rural and urban
centers, citadel, surplus grain stocks etc. Presence of female figurines, mother
goddess icons and dancing girl statues can be seen as pointing towards the
important role of women in relation to reproduction. But nothing can be said
with conviction regarding the gender relations.
It was with the coming of the Aryans that the real consolidation of patriarchy and
male dominance took place. It is intended in early Vedic literature that the Aryans
had to fight with the indigenous people of the land and in this fight they conquered
their cattle, land and women. This is the first ever historical evidence of women
taken as captives by the Aryans. These women then were assigned different roles
that related with serving the Aryan race and were also used as gift items thus
depicting a control over their sexuality. Later-on various texts including the
Arthashastra and Manusmriti outlines the behaviour of women and laid down
rules for controlling their productive and reproductive capacities. There are written
evidences that are sufficient to show that the state also had some control over the
reproductive powers and sexuality of women. In this context it was laid down
that the king can punish a woman for her adulterous behavior. This state control
was guided by the principal that the sexuality of women needs to be controlled
and this controlling power lies mainly with the husband after the women is married
and if the husband is not able to control her then the state can take action against
such ‘culprit’. This also had some effect on the role of production of women.
With such strict control over her sexuality, she was now mainly confined to the
domestic sphere of life. Here also the kind of importance that must be accorded
to a women’s productive role was absent (Chakravarti 1993).
Kinship structures form an important part of social organisation. Kinship structure
of a society decides and ensures the membership of people into various groups.
Like in a patrilineal kinship structure a son remains a member of the family of
orientation whereas the daughter has to leave her natal house and move to the
family of her affinal kins after marriage. She becomes a member of her husband’s
patriliny. It is through these membership rules that the society perpetuates itself
within a definite structure. These kinship structures have special bearing on the
perpetuation of patriarchal social structures. The rule of residence after marriage
is an important reflection of the principles of kinship. Leela Dube has rightly
underscored the relation between rules of residence and kinship principles when
she says- “Residence is a material as well as an ideological expression of
principles of kinship” (pp.- 93). In the patrilocal form of residence, a couple
after marriage resides with the family of the groom. This kind of residential
arrangement is found in large parts of India. It is based on the basic premise that
the daughter is not a permanent member of her natal house and she has to move
Approaches to the Study of
out after marriage. This really has an important bearing on her productive and
reproductive capacities and autonomy. It also influences the rules of inheritance
and daughter’s share in parental property. It is generally argued against the
daughter’s claim over her parental property that if she gets a share of the property
then it will eventually belong to her husband and her in-laws. Also the notion of
payment of dowry dilutes her claim over the property since it is believed that the
dowry is in lieu of her share in the property. The idea of partilocality entails that
a daughter has to sever all ties with her natal house upon marriage. Her in-laws
house is generally a new place where she has limited access and control over
productive resources. Her sexuality is also controlled by her husband and inlaws
in the form of demands placed on her to give birth to a male child (Dube,
As in the case with patrilocality, Karin Kapadia in her study among the Brahmins
and Non-Brahmins of Aruloor village in Tamil Nadu points towards the institution
of matrilateral kinship and argues that with the changing socio-economic context
matrilateral kinship is falling into disrepute and is replaced by patrilineal kinship
and prevalence of dowry during marriage. This in turn perhaps leads to male
dominance and lower status of women in the society. Kapadia explains that among
the non-Brahmin caste of Aruloor village the matrilateral kin in the form of
Mother’s Brother (MB) and Mother’s Brother’s Son (MBS) holds immense
importance in the life of women and her children. MyB (Mother’s younger
Brother) and MBS are considered as prospective grooms for a woman’s daughter.
MB is also obliged to give expensive gifts during the life cycle rituals of his
sister’s children. This ceremonial gift is known as ‘sir’ which is considered to be
a replacement for a woman’s share in her parental property. Thus it is both
obligatory and woman’s share in true sense in contrast with the institution of
dowry and stridhan practiced among the patrilineal groups. Among the Brahmins
of Aruloor the patrilineal kins hold more importance since matrilateral kins do
not provide prospective grooms for marriage. Women are married to complete
strangers as compared to the MBS or MyB in case of non-Brahmins. This accounts
for forming new relations among the in-laws as compared to more familiar
relations in the latter case. However with the passage of time even among the
non-Brahmins matrilateral kins are losing their importance and dowry is gaining
grounds since a dowry marriage is considered as “high-status marriage” and
thus people are keen to make it a part of their symbolic capital (pp-861). This
has far-reaching implications for women subordination and male dominance in
the society as the negotiation and practice of dowry makes bride’s family
subordinate to the groom’s family (Kapadia, 1990;1993;1994). This
metamorphosis from bride-price to dowry in marital alliances is also evident
among the Gonds of Vidarbha in Maharashtra. The reason for such a
transformation can be located in increased interaction of this tribal group with
the larger society where dowry is the norm. It is a result of peer pressure and a
fear of ridicule that is generated if things are not according to the wishes of
dominant social groups in an area. This again bears certain consequences for
female subjugation and subordination (Khattri et al., 2012).
Patriarchy and Male 2.6 MARRIAGE PATTERN AND THE Dominance
Patriarchy and male dominance as related twin concepts are reflected in the
institution of marriage. Marriages in India are mostly solemnised in the form of
some kind of arrangement between the bride givers and bride takers. In such
arranged marriages the consent of the boy and girl are not that important as that
of their household heads or patriarchs. This is also a reflection of patriarchal
mind-set. Kate Millet in her work on Sexual Politics has tried to define patriarchy
in two ways- i) male dominating female and ii) older males dominating younger
male and female. Therefore the notion of arranged marriage is a conceptual
outcome of the older males dominating younger male and females on the question
of choosing their prospective brides and grooms. Dipankar Gupta while analysing
the Hindu marriage pattern states that the notion of arranged marriage is still the
norm in modern India whether in rural or urban settings. We are all aware of the
consequences in the form of khap and caste panchayat diktats that a young couple
has to face in the event of marrying by his or her own choice. Gupta further
argues that such arranged marriages are based on the notion of inequality between
the bride givers and bride takers. A kind of hierarchy is set based on the notion of
male dominance which is evident in the form of bride takers having a superior
status than the bride givers. This male dominance and inequality gets reflected
in certain marriage ceremonies like pao pooja (worshipping the feet) of the groom
which the father of the bride giver has to perform. This reflects a kind of ritual
The notion of male dominance also gets reflected through the kanyadaan (giving
away the virgin girl to the groom’s family in the form of a gift) complex. This is
considered to be the gift of the highest order that cannot be matched by any other
kind. This sets a hierarchical relationship between bride giver and bride taker.
The two categories of bride givers and bride takers as outlined by Dipankar
Gupta can also be understood in the form of institutionalisation of patriarchy
and male dominance where not only the male that is dominating and having a
superior status but the female of the bride takers side (especially the mother-inlaw
of the bride) becomes an agency of negotiating power in a household. This
is an excellent example of how patriarchy and male dominance is so engrained
in the social structure that it takes different forms to get manifested through
power sharing on the issues of production and reproduction. The very process of
giving birth to a male child places the woman on the bride takers side. This is
also the reason that even women long for a male child. The control of mother-inlaw
over the bride’s household activities is a clear manifestation of her acquired
status of a bride taker (Gupta 2001).


Before moving on to understand the nature of discrimination and subordination
in the context of gender, we should first look into the meaning of these two
terms and also how they are linked together at literal and analytical levels. As
per the Oxford dictionary, meaning of the term discrimination implies “the unjust
or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds
of race, age, or sex”. However in the Indian context we may also include caste in
the above mentioned categories. If we deconstruct the above meaning for better
understanding of the term then we may find certain key terms that are present in
the meaning or which are otherwise implied implicitly. The English word
‘discrimination’ is made up of a battery of terms that together convey certain
meaning. To begin with, discrimination is a prejudicial treatment which implies
that it entails certain behavioural patterns that may be labeled as prejudicial
towards a defined category or group of people. Now, one may ask this question
that how these prejudices develop at the first place? The answer to this question
is engrained in the social structure of any society. These structures which are
otherwise non-visible to a naïve eye can be detected and understood by
anthropologists, who have always tried to understand basic structure of a society
and how these structures get translated into behavioural patterns. For example
caste is a reality in Indian context which formed the basis for division of labour
and in turn gave rise to a bitter form of discriminatory behavioural attitude towards
people labeled as lower caste. Such discriminatory attitudes are also patronised
by religious texts and treaties. Similarly in the case of gender, prejudicial treatment
stems from some more basic structural patterns that are passed on from one
generation to other through the process of socialisation.
However the term discrimination cannot be seen in isolation from the term
subordination. These two terms are complementary to each other. Subordination
implies the “action of subordinating” or creating a hierarchy or strata. It can be
argued that subordination validates discrimination. Therefore subordination
becomes a tool or an ideological basis for discrimination. Gender discrimination
in particular stems from the ideology that women are subordinate to men and
therefore are not entitled for equal treatment in various walks of life. These flawed
ideologies are also corroborated and integrated with people’s faith and values
and therefore become well established at the structural and functional levels.
The entire ideology of patriarchy is the result of such assumptions (Dube, 2009).
Discrimination and subordination should be juxtaposed with the ideology of
equality to understand the meaning enshrined in these words. The Indian
constitution is based on the notion that every citizen will have the right to equality
and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, sex, race and
place of birth. The preamble of the constitution states that equality of status and
opportunity should be secured for all the citizens of India. It is in this background
that we should try and understand that instead of state apparatuses designed to
secure equality we still come across discrimination and subordination at various
places and situations. This points towards a reality that there is a difference
between the intention and practice of equality. The codified law is unable to alter
the discriminatory attitude of people against specific groups of society. This in
turn should be a ground for getting answers to such intriguing questions of gender
inequality and discrimination. One needs to look deeper into the social structure
and function in order to understand such gender based discrimination and
We are well aware of the fact that historically women have been agents of change
in every sphere of life. How can we forget the contribution of Rani Laxmi Bai of
Jhansi and her close aide Jhalkaari Bai who fought bravely against the mighty
forces of the British empire in the first ever battle for Indian independence. Our
history is full with such stories of bravery and the industrious nature of women.
Even in the contemporary society women are making their mark and presence
felt in the political-economy of India. But still one can factually argue that women
are being treated as subordinates to the male members and are discriminated
against. This assertion gets reflected objectively in the skewed sex ratio which is
Discrimination and
in favour of the male child. Cases of female foeticide from across the length and
breadth of the country conveys that society has used it as a mechanism for socially
selecting the male child over the female. Dowry deaths, domestic violence, rape,
sexual harassment, etc are just few visible examples of the kind of treatment that
is being given to the women in our society. There are many other covert situations
that are not quite visible but contribute towards gender discrimination and
subordination. One such example is the gendered analysis of the use of public
space. We would not generally think that space has anything to do with the larger
social structure, but the post-modern conception of space argues that the
architectural design and public space is not gender neutral. Shilpa Ranade in her
ovular article on the gendered conception of public space points towards the fact
that the use of public space is largely limited to the male and women have to
legitimise their behaviour in order to use that public space. She writes that “women
can access public space legitimately only when they can manufacture a sense of
purpose for being their (Ranade, 2007; pp. 1521).” She further argues that the
gendered use of space becomes an instrument and an agent of reproducing gender
inequality and power relations that exist in the society. This is an excellent example
of how the use of space negotiates power and authority in the society. “The
control of women’s movement has been central to the maintenance of a gender
regime informed by patriarchy. So long as women reproduce the discourse of the
hegemonic gender regime appropriately through their socio-spatial performance
of femininity in pubic space, they can largely access it safely (Ranade, 2007; pp.
Observe the public places and find out how it is being differentially used
by males and females.
Gender discrimination also gets reflected in the form of women health and child
malnutrition. It has been scientifically established that weight of a new born
baby is directly related with the nutritional condition and health status of the
mother. Especially India, Pakistan and Bangladesh accounts for holding almost
half of the population of malnourished children in the world. This is linked to
the poor health conditions and nutritional status of mothers in these countries
(Mehrotra, 2006). Thus child malnutrition and gender discrimination are linked
together. It has been observed that women are considered to be the primary care
givers in a family set-up. Normally the household workload exceeds the caloric
intake. It is also a normal practice in the patriarchal household set-up that women
eat at last after feeding their children and husband which accounts for improper
food management which works as a hindrance for better nutrition.
These examples and the paradox observed in the behavior lead us understand
and ask certain basic questions regarding gender discrimination and subordination.
One might ask that is the gender discrimination a universal phenomenon or is
restricted to only few societies? A similar question that can logically follow the
above one can be related with the origin of such discriminations and
Approaches to the Study of
The discipline of anthropology, since its inception, has been concerned with the
dichotomy of local and global, idiographic and nomothetic, and universal and
particular. This dichotomy in the beginning helped in explaining the evolution
of society by locating the particular against the notion of universal. To some
extent, any discipline that claims to be scientific in outlook must possess a
universal, generalising character that can be law generating. In this respect
anthropologists have always advocated micro-level studies with macro-level
implications, which in turn helps in locating cross-cultural studies in a broader
theoretical framework. The notion of gender discrimination and its universality
also reflects the basic tension of the discipline.
Another dichotomy that helps in understanding the universal character of
discrimination is that of public domain and domestic domain. It has been argued
that patriarchal ideology has divided the entire world into two specific domains
with specific roles, rules and regulations. The public domain is largely meant for
the male members of the society where they can negotiate their roles and establish
their supremacy over the ‘second sex’. On the other hand domestic domain is
largely restricted to the female where they work as primary care-givers. In the
domestic domain however, women are not entitled to take decisions pertaining
to family matters which is largely taken by the males (Purkayastha et al., 2003).
This dichotomous view has been criticised sometimes for being ‘western’ in
outlook. It is said that it originated in the western modernised world and has
been generalised to other societies without taking into account the specificities
in those societies. This calls for a revisit to the entire debate of public-domestic
domain and take a re-look through the lens of idiographic, particularistic,
contextual knowledge which has become a hallmark of anthropology since the
advent of functional paradigm and re-instated in the post-modern ideology, though
not entirely but partially. Karen Brodkin Sacks breaks the monotony of
universality by exemplifying the Iroquois society where the dichotomy of
domestic-public is not found and women enjoy an enormous amount of decision
making power in domestic, political, religious and economic spheres of life
(Sacks, 1970). Similarly, Leacock has shown that among the matrilineal Native
North-American Montagnais-Naskapi the division of labour between male and
female members of the society is such that women are not dependent on their
husbands (Leacock, 1981). Their economy is based on reciprocal division of
labour between the sexes. In such societies there is no hierarchical division
between the public sphere and domestic sphere, both the sexes produced goods
that are necessary for livelihood. The above mentioned examples and many other
similar cases reported by different scholars have revealed that there are societies
where social relations are based on the principle of egalitarianism and men and
women are placed equally in terms of their contribution to the society. However,
even such cases do not account for superiority of women over men and the
egalitarianism mentioned is only partial and not total.
3.3.1 Status of Women in Tribal Societies
It is a general conception that tribal societies are more egalitarian than the nontribal
societies or caste societies in the special context of India. It is a fact that
tribal societies are not stratified on the basis of caste, but one might ask, that,
Discrimination and
what is the position of women in such societies and how is it different from other
non-tribal societies? The answers to such questions are rather tricky and by no
means straight forward. Considering the ethnic diversity in India, tribe is not a
homogenous category rather it is heterogeneous based on language, geographical
area, physical features, social organisation etc. This heterogeneity stops us from
giving a sweeping answer about the position of women in these societies. If one
wants to understand the position of women in these societies then one must
understand that how work is divided between the sexes, who owns that work
and to what extent it is considered important by the society. A shear division of
work between male and female members of the society does not mean that women
will be treated unequally, but the importance that is accorded to that work is
more suggestive. It has been argued that position of women in societies with
different economic and social organisation is different. Those societies where
hunting and food-gathering/shifting cultivation is the basic source of sustenance
accord better status and autonomy to women since collecting forest produce is
considered important for sustenance. Also women in such societies are more
autonomous since they have control over some resources and its distribution. As
societies progressed from hunting-gathering to settled agriculture status of women
started deteriorating since the ownership of land and its transfer followed the
principle of lineage and such lineages were dominated by males. As Engles has
rightly pointed out that the ‘world’s historic defeat’ of women at the hands of
men began with the emergence of private property. In this context tribal societies
must also be seen as societies in transition or transformation since they came in
contact with the so-called ‘outside’ world. This has led to the emergence of the
concept of private property instead of common property resources and dowry in
place of bride-price which in-turn led to deteriorating women status (D.N., 1988).
Apart from the economic determinant of women’s status in the society, the social
structure and organisation in a tribal society provides more autonomy to the
women. Some tribes in the central India had an institution of youth dormitory. It
is known by different names in different tribes like it is called ‘Dumkeria’ among
the Oraons, ‘Giti-Ora’ among the Mundas and Ghotul among the Gonds. Such
youth dormitories functioned as institutions where boys and girls could mix freely.
They were a part of their socialisation process where they learned their gender
specific roles, duties and reciprocity in behaviour while dealing with the opposite
sex. This also regulated the behaviour between men and women and generated a
sense of unity among them in society. Free mixing of boys and girls before
marriage was never seen as a taboo in these communities (Bodra, 2008).
Collect more such examples from societies around you and discuss with
your friends.
Such autonomy is also visible among the Bhil tribes where the institution of
marriage has certain provisions that accord for greater autonomy for girls and
lesser restrictions and taboo. Bhils are famous for ‘Bhagoria’ marriage where
boys and girls elope together and when they return they are considered to be
husband and wife after paying certain amount called ‘dapa’ by grooms side to
the bride’s side1
. Such kinds of marriage largely take place during the festival of
1 As per the primary data gathered during a fieldwork among the Bhils of Jhabua District of
Madhya Pradesh.
Approaches to the Study of
‘Holi’ (the festival of colors). Such festivals are marked with greater intermixing
of young people who then chose their life partners. This should be compared
with the autonomy and restrictions placed on the women in the larger society
where arranged intra-caste marriages are the norm and any deviance from the
norm is met with dire consequences in the form of honour killings.
Scholars have argued that tribal women also had certain rights over the land.
The rights of unmarried daughters, wives and widows are clearly spelled out.
These rights were largely of two types- a) in the form of having the right to
manage a certain piece of land and b) in the form of having a claim or share in
whatever the land produced. These kinds of rights gave some autonomy to women
in terms of managing and accumulating resources. In this context, the position
of widow in a tribal society is different from the one in Hindu society. In tribal
society, a widow, continues to contribute both in field and forest and thus are
able to generate independent income by selling forest produce or working on the
field. This is in contrast to the traditional Hindu society where a widow is
considered inauspicious and is barred from doing any work and mixing with the
society at large. However, this situation has changed in the recent times and after
several reforms in colonial and post-colonial era related to widow rights and
obligations. With the advent of British rule, the position of tribal women and
their rights in the landed property underwent a change which was a result of the
British policy vis-à-vis land (Bodra, 2008).
The argument centering the subjugation and subordination of women also holds
true in some of the matrilineal tribal societies. Although the position of women
in matrilineal societies are much better than that of their patrilineal counterparts
(Dubey, 2009) but the ideology of patriarchy and unequal power distribution is a
reality that contradicts a very naïve understanding of matrilineal tribal societies.
Tiplut Nongbri while discussing the transformation in gender relations in the
context of Khasi women of Northeast India has highlighted the fact that position
of women in these societies is comparatively better but they are still not free
from subjugation and subordination. It is in the politico-jural domain that men
assert their power which gives rise to a kind of political structure that excludes
women. Men even use their position to generate a kind of ideology that is based
on a hierarchical relationship between men and women. This kind of ideological
churning is taking place with the help of state apparatuses that are being used to
distort the matrilineal system. It has also being argued that traditionally women
were not allowed to take part in the political domain of decision making (Nongbri,
2000). This is quite evident from the fact that women have been traditionally
denied the membership of Khasi durbar (Agnihotri, 2012).
3.3.2 The Case of Matrilineal Nayars
Matriliny is also found among the Nayars of Kerala. Katheleen Gough and other
scholars like C.J. Fuller have provided a detailed anthropological account of
how matriliny is practiced and perpetuated among the Nayars (Schneider and
Gough, 1961; Fuller, 1976; Gough, 1952). In this matrilineal organisation women
were not dependent upon their husbands as they are the members of a matrilineal
group known as taravad. A taravad consists of members belonging to the same
matriline. The institution of marriage among the Nayars is characterised by taliketu-kalyanam
and sambandham relationships. Tali-ketu-kalyanam is a
ceremonial tali (gold neckless) tying ritual that marks the transition of a girl into
Discrimination and
a ceremonial marital alliance with a male member of the enangar (linked lineage).
After this ceremony the girl is permitted to have several sexual unions with the
other male members of the enangar who were also considered as “visiting
husbands”. Children born out of such Sambandham unions belonged to the
mother’s taravad. Even the dissolution of sambandham relationship was easy
and was not looked down upon. Widowhood was not considered inauspicious
and divorce and remarriage can easily take place without any social stigma
attached to it. However, this kind of unique kinship and marriage pattern was
located parallel to the socio-cultural matrix of high caste patrilineal Hindus and
people from other religions. People from such communities do not approve of
these relations and kinship patterns as they use to look at the practice of
sambandham with disdain and disapproval. Many Nayar men with western ideas
and education were also skeptical about their institution. It is in this context that
Saradamoni has tried to understand the changing position of women among the
Nayars and the transformation of matriliny. She has argued that the Nayar men
were made to feel inferior and uncivilised by people who look down upon the
practice of “visiting husband”. This led Nayar men to bring about certain changes
in their institution to make them coterminous with the ideology of the west and
other patrilineal communities. This so-called western and progressive ideology
is based on the principal that after marriage a woman and her children become
the responsibility of her husband and the husband is obliged to look-after his
family. This is different from the Nayar’s institution where the taravad is
responsible for the maintenance of women and her children. From the perspective
of women, such changes resulted into subordination and subjugation of women
in the matrilineal institutional set-up of the Nayars (Saradamoni, 1999).
It has also been argued in the context of status of women that we should not
always talk and analyse in terms of low or high status for women in a society.
Thus a dichotomous understanding in this context is not called for. There are
also intermediary statuses in various societies depending upon rights and
privileges accorded to women. It is for sure that in most of the societies across
the world, the status of women is not as good as that of men and specially in
patriarchal societies it is even worse. Patriarchal societies impose certain
restrictions and taboos that need to be followed by women in order to get the
label of ‘good women’.
This section will deal with the question that, how socialisation as a process is
linked with gender based discrimination and subordination? When we say that
something is engrained in our culture or society at the level of its basic structure,
then we must also realise that this culture and structure gets reproduced over
generation after generation. Changes in cultural traits and social structure do
occur either from within the society or forced and adopted from outside. However
for a very long period these changes co-exist with the older or traditional patterns
and show a spatial difference in their manifestation. This is quite evident in the
context of rural-urban patterns that reflect this kind of co-existence to some

Socialisation is a process through which we learn our cultural values, traits,
customs and rituals. We also learn behaviour patterns that are accepted and
legitimised in the larger societal context. In this context gender specific roles are
learned both at home and outside. This learning is largely observational in nature
and both genders internalise the kind of behavior they receive which is later
projected in their own behavior. Leela Dube, one of the pioneers in the field of
gender studies had discussed about the construction and consolidation of gender
identity. She is of the view that in a patriarchal, patrilineal society like ours in
India, gender roles start taking shape very early in life. The difference in the
enthusiasm of parents at the birth of male and female child is keenly observed by
the female child and is internalised which becomes part of her psyche. Later in
life she observes her mother, grandmother and other female members in the
society and try to become like them in order to gain acceptance in the family and
in society at large. The very notion of women being ‘paraya dhan (someone
else’s property)’ that is largely held in our patriarchal society also contributes
towards constructing the gender identity that leads to discrimination and
subordination. A woman is never regarded as a permanent member of her natal
family as she has to leave that family and move to her husband’s house. This
gives rise to the belief that she will never contribute to the family income and
instead she will take away certain part of the family income as her dowry. In
contrast a male child is considered to be the saviour of the family and as a
permanent member of the family, one who will contribute towards the family
income and take care of aging parents. Such expected roles and identity formation
leads to a stratified system where gender is placed in a hierarchical pattern (Dube,
3.4.1 The Objective Reality and Subjective Experience
It is an objective reality that women are being discriminated against and treated
as subordinates in the society. This fact gets reflected in the child sex ratio across
the country of India. As per the census report of 2011 the child sex ratio in the
age group of 0-6 years is just 914 girls per 1,000 boys. This is more alarming in
the context of the decadal decline in this ratio which was 976 in 2001. Even in
states like Maharashtra which are still considered as progressive and where other
development indicators are better than many other states in India, the child sex
ratio stands at a meager 883 girls per 1,000 boys. In 2001 this ratio was 913. To
understand the meaning of this ratio better, it should be kept in mind that as per
the global trends a normal child sex ratio should be above 950. Therefore, this is
an objective indicator of gender discrimination and preferential sex selection in
favor of male child (Katakam, 2012).
Now one may ask that how this discrimination is manifested in lived experience
of women. Do women really feel that they are being discriminated? What
difference do they observe in terms of their experience in the treatment that they
receive from family members? Such questions became part of a study that tried
to understand the subjective experience of women vis-à-vis discrimination. The
basic premise behind this study was the fact that what we believe has occurred to
us is more significant than what has actually happened. This premise works at a
psychological level where our perception of reality is more significant than the
reality itself. Therefore it is important to know that what women perceive has
happened with them in terms of discrimination and subordination.
Discrimination and
It has been found in the study that there is a gap between the objective reality and
subjective experience of that reality. This study was conducted among the girls
between the age of seven and eighteen. These girls belonged to six hundred rural
and urban households in eight different states in India. When they were asked
that is there any gender-based discrimination that they face, then the answer was
mostly ‘NO’. They did not report any difference between boys and girls with
respect to health care and food either. No difference was reported in terms of
rewards and punishments given to boys and girls. In the domain of education
also more than seventy percent believed that education is equally important for
both boys and girls.
One may wonder that instead of objective discrimination evident in the statistical
data, the subjective experience is not in sync with it. Sudhir Kakar and Kathrina
Kakar in their celebrated book ‘The Indians: Portrait of a People’ gives a possible
explanation for such a discrepancy. They are of the view that such discrimination
is not directly transformed into behaviour and is filtered and diluted through the
institution of family where a girl child finds herself in a situation where one or
more adult member of the family is sympathetic and loving in their behaviour
and attitude towards the girl. This is perceived and memorised as instances
contrary to the patriarchal dominating and discriminatory values. Also, existence
of a sphere of femininity and domesticity gives women an opportunity to be
productive and lively. This sphere includes other women in the household and it
is here that women negotiate meaning of discrimination and subordination and
their reaction towards discrimination gets diluted. However, in folklores, ballads
and wedding songs women do react against discrimination by portraying men as
faithless (Kakar and Kakar, 2007).
The discourse on gender discrimination and subordination has found some new
grounds in the emerging sub-field of the ‘Anthropology of Disasters’. This new
area of research tries to understand that how gender subordination leads to
increased vulnerabilities in emergency situations. Disasters are seen not only in
terms of hazardous climatic and man-made situations but are also largely
understood as socio-economic, cultural and political vulnerabilities that are inbuilt
in the societal structure. This view gives rise to a new understanding and
analysis of women and their status in society and how this affects their
vulnerability during and after natural or man-made calamities.
A study was conducted by a group of anthropologists2
in a flood affected district
of Bahraich in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. It was a case-control study where levels
of anxiety, depression and stress was measured among the flood affected and
2 This study was a part of the European Union 6th Framework MICRODIS Project entitled-
“Integrated Health, Social and Economic Impacts of Extreme Events: Evidence, Methods and
Tools”. A group of Anthropologists headed by Prof. P.C. Joshi, Asia Co-ordinator of MICRODIS
and Professor of Anthropology, University of Delhi conducted fieldwork in Bahraich district
of Uttar Pradesh.

non-affected populations. It was found that in the flood affected zone the level
of anxiety and, depression and stress was more among the females than in males.
The underlying reason for such a disparity was found embedded in the relative
status of women in the society. The patriarchal system has clearly laid down
rules for women and is almost restricted to their domestic domain. The main
task of a woman is to feed their children and take care of the household.
Looking from a feminist political ecological perspective, women are seen as
primary resource users and managers, and in terms of the responsibilities they
have towards the dependents in the household and community (Rocheleau,
Thomas-Slayter and Wangarai, 1996). This argument finds basis in the light of
data collected from FGDs (Focused Group Discussions) among the women of
flood affected area. Jum explains (name of the participant): “Men go out in order
to feel some change but the mothers are the ones whom children want. As a man
and a father, no one ever goes to the extent of seeking help at the cost of his self
respect but women will not be able to withstand the hunger and plight of her
children hence she would even beg for them in spite of being abused and ridiculed.
Her only aim is to feed her children at the cost of her self esteem.” To this Sama,
another participant in the FGD further adds: “There are times when the troubles
of the women are more than that of men because men do not have to look after
the basic needs of the children like where to feed them, what to feed them, where
to make them sleep.” This exemplifies that how women subordination increases
their vulnerability in the context of disasters. This is another objective reality of
gender based discrimination and subordination that has obvious consequences
for the well-being of women in special circumstances and for the society at large
(Khattri et al., 2012).

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