Feminism, Patriarchy and Subjugation
Merriam Webster dictionary defines feminism as theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes as well an organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests (“feminism) whereas according to Cambridge dictionary feminism is the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities to achieve this state (“feminism”).
Jane Freedman in her book Feminism mentions that defining feminism is difficult since the all feminists have divergent core belief but it can be defined through the common characteristics of many different ‘feminisms’. The base line of defining feminism starts with women’s inferior position in society because of their sex and argues for the socio economic political cultural change to overcome the discrimination against women (1).
She further more adds that feminism derived from French word, and was used in medical text to describe a cessation in development of the sexual organs and characteristics in male patients to “signify a feminization of men” and in political terms it was used to “signify Virilization of women”. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 and the struggle of French women OLympe de Gouges and Théroigne de Méricourt were the beginner of women’s advocate but the organized movement for liberty and equality started for women’s rights started from US by the Elizabeth Cady and Susan B. Anthony and England in 1840s. Feminism is thus a term that emerged long after women started questioning their inferior status and demanding an amelioration in their social position (2-3). There are other various scholars putting forth their opinion about feminism. Delmar points out:
There are those who claim that feminism does have a complex of ideas about women specific to or emanating from feminists. This means that it should be possible to separate feminism and feminists from the multiplicity of those concerned with women’s issues. It is by no means absurd to suggest that you don’t have to be a feminist to support women’s rights to equal treatment, and that not all those supportive of women’s demands are feminists. In this light feminism can claim its own history, its own practices, its own ideas, but feminists can make no claim to an exclusive interest in or copyright over problems affecting women. Feminism can thus be established as a field (and this even if skepticism is still needed in the face of claims or demands for a united feminism), but cannot claim women as its domain. ( inquited from jane freedman feminism (3).
Sylvia Wallby in her book” Theorizing Patriarchal” mentions about the four different forms of feminism. Liberal feminism argues that they share same rational human nature as men so they demand of equal right to women education and employment, and change in the sexist attitudes which are traditional and unresponsive to react change. They argue on equal emphasize of opportunities deserving chance for developing women’s rational and moral potentialities. Radical feminism is the analysis of gender inequality in which men as a group dominate female as another group where men are benefited of the subordination of women. Radicalism refers this system as patriarchy and is not the product of capitalism. Sexual practice is seen to be socially constructed around male’s desire and is a major site of male domination over women; through which male impose his notion of feminist on women. Male violence is seen as a part of system of controlling women. Marxism feminism considers gender inequality derived from capitalism and to be constituted as an independent system of patriarchal. Men’s domination over women is the byproduct of capital’s domination over labor. The class relation and economic exploitation of one class by other central features of social structures and these determines the nature of gender relationship. Dual systems theory is the synthesis of radical feminist and Marxist theory which analyzes the contemporary gender inequality as a result of the structure as a capital and patriarchal. Patriarchy provides a system of control and law and order while capitalism provides a system of economy in the pursuit of profit (3-5). She argues that paid work, patriarchal relations within the household, Patriarchal culture, sexuality, male violence towards women and the state are the six patriarchal structures to restrict women and help to maintain male domination.
The subjugation of women is very ancient but the exploitation and oppression has significantly increased in course of time period. The economic system based on capitalism has favored men in all the social-cultural aspects and adversely affected women and children around the world. Johnson (1997) says:
Patriarchy’s roots are also the roots of most of human misery and injustice, including race, class, and ethnic oppression and the destruction of the natural environment….Patriarchal nation states arm themselves to the teeth and develop rigid hierarchies to control their own people and ‘defend’ themselves as the potential victims of other patriarchal states….The war system is a self-perpetuating and self-justifying cycle for control and fear supported by the illusion that there are bad guys and good guys, with everyone laying claim to the latter…Beneath the good guy/bad guy mask is a system controlled by a deadly patriarchal cycle in which control as a response to fear simply causes more fear. (p. 51)
Patriarchy not only creates dominance over women with the power and wealth but also excludes women from the economic and political sphere. Patriarchy creates fear and threatens the society.
The men hold the supreme position of authority in most of the religions of the world and have rights to interpret the religious texts whereas women from the historical periods hold no leadership position and are denied the same authority and leadership today ( culture Gender and Religion16 ). Most cultures today are based on patriarchy system where men hold more political, social and economical power and control women in home and public sphere. Cultures do not only indicate the set ideas, practices and beliefs but also the access to and control of the resources and political power. Thus such practices, social rules and cultures ensure men supremacy and institutionalize the gender roles where women do not challenge the established male dominated order. ( culture religion and gender —-Page 26 yes
Dworkin in her text Women Hating mentions, “Marriage and the family as the twin pillar of all the patriarchy cultures”. Providing the examples from the Chinese culture, she mentions that in an arranged marriage a groom’s parents first inquired about the bounded feet of the prospective bride, and then about her face. Bounded feet were supposed to be her quality of reorganization and the possibilities of being selected for the marriage. Even the concubines were selected “in a tiny foot festival” where the judges and audiences commented based on the size, space and decoration of foot. (104)
Dworkin mentions that, “there are dirty words, dirty noises, dirty laughs, dirty movies, and dirty things to do to her in the dark”. “Her genitals are also dirty in the metaphoric sense: obscene, she is reviled as filthy, obscene in the religion, pornography, philosophy, and in most literature and art and psychology”. (114) . Men were most often not charged of being witch and those who were charged of witchcraft were often the members of “convicted women witches” or those in the position of lower level, or those who had the conflicted ideas with the ruling church, monarchy or local administrator. Men were often safeguarded to be charged of witchcraft not only because they possess the so called superior intellectual but “because Jesus Christ, phallic divinity, died to protect male sex from so great crime since he was willing to be born and die for us, therefore he granted to men this privilege”. Christ died for men leaving women for evil designs and guards the devils themselves. (130) “The word woman means the lust of the flesh and more bitter than death and a good woman subject to carnal lust. The characteristics of women made them amendable to sin and to partnership with Satan”. (131) Women are by nature instruments of Satan —they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation (132).
Dworkin in her book intercourse asserts that a woman has been penetrated by male making her his possession. She has been dominated and conquered by men. She mentions that law defines intercourse as to ensure male dominance and women subjugation in a systematic way. The purpose of laws on intercourse in a world of male dominance is to promote the power over women and to keep women sexually subjugated to men. (Pg 189) The spread of religious fundamentalism throughout the world right now is men retrenching to undo the civil and social advances of women; to reestablish male power as fundamental reality by reestablishing gender as an absolute. This requires rigorous tightening of restraints on male sexual behavior as well as intensifying civil and sexual controls on women. Intercourse 202
According to Judith Lorber, the main point feminists have stressed about gender inequality is that it is not an individual matter, but us deeply ingrained in the structure of societies. Gender inequality is built into the organization of marriage and families, work and economy, politics, religions, the arts and other cultural productions, and the very language we speak. (The varieties of feminisms and their contributions to gender equality). She mentions that feminists have different perceptions about the theories and the ways for the practical solutions. Liberal feminism argues on similarity between men and women and their equal representation in public areas. Marxist and socialist feminism argue on economic dependence as the main source of women oppression and the equal paid jobs for as the practical solutions.(15)
Dohash and Dobash in an exploration of ancient marital laws assert that man is the only patriarchy acknowledging jurisdiction on property and people in a family. A wife has to be submissive and give the moral obligation to rule and punish her in any misconduct including adultery, drinking women, attending public games without his permission or appearing unrevealed in public (inq in Corbett 20-21).
Sylvia Walby in Theorizing Patriarchy argues there are six structures of Patriarchy for women subjugation, which restricts women empowerment, their rights, and freedom and maintain male domination. The domination and restrictions by male culture and society differs on women of different class and backgrounds. Paid work remains a key point for disadvantages of women. They get less change for paid employment and are even paid less than men. According to wallby, women are involved in household production which is unpaid activities and men are benefitted keeping women lower in status. The culture has assigned different roles and expected behaviors for men and women. Women still are devalued and dominated in the name of culture and pattern of behaviors they are expected to adopt. She argues that women should be sexually attractive and service men through marrying them. “Heterosexuality constitutes a patriarchal social structure”. Like other feminists, she finds violence as a mechanism to control women and is a major problem today. To Wallby, State is still “patriarchal, racists and capitalist”. State is not yet success to enforce the principle of equality and equity and end all the discriminatory legislation. Thus according to Wallby, these six structures viz; paid work, household production, sexuality, violence, culture and state are responsible to continue the patriarchy system dominating women in many public sphere. ( gist written in own words)
Patriarchy is the totality of male domination and is the major obstacle for women’s prosperity and advancement. There are various forms of dominance and subjugation as the prime principles remaining in our society through which men dominated women in many sphere of public affairs. Patriarchy institutions are responsible for the inferior status of women in society which assign absolute power to men. Feminists use patriarchy to describe the unequal power relation between men and women and to find the cause and solution for women’s subjugation.
Simon De Beauvior argues that women subordination in the situation where the women are subjugated by patriarchy structure limiting them in inferior position through the limited or no access to resources, and decision making. The unequal power relationship between men and women thus put women in limited self esteem, less confidence, discrimination which contribute to women subjugation (qtd. In sultana)
According to Brittan, masculinism is the masculine ideology that justifies and naturalises male domination. As such, it is the ideology of patriarchy. Masculinism takes it for granted that there is a fundamental difference between men and women, it assumes that heterosexuality is normal, it accepts without question the sexual division of labour, and it sanctions the political and dominant role of men in the public and private spheres. (qtd. in Asiyanbola 4). The term has been defined as a system of male authority which oppresses women through its social, political and economic institutions. Feminists have argued that in any of the historical forms that patriarchal society takes, whether it is feudal, capitalist or socialist, a sex gender system and a system of economic discrimination operate simultaneously. It is observed in the literature that the establishment and practice of male dominance over women and children, is a historic process formed by men and women, with the patriarchal family serving as a basic unit of organization. A patriarchy is considered the head of the household and within the family he controls productive resources, labour force, and 4 reproductive capacities based on the notions of superiority and inferiority and legitimized by differences in gender and generation (qtd. in Asiyanbola 4-5).
Steven Goldberg in The Inevitability of Patriarchy argues that forms of power have existed as de facto in the world. He looks to a physiological explanation for what he terms the universality of male dominance.
The anthropological evidence would force us to postulate a physiologically engendered emotional and behavioral differentiation. … Male physiology is. .. such that the environmental presence of a hierarchy or member of the other sex motivates the male more strongly-makes him feel the need more strongly and more readily-to manifest whatever behavior is, in any given situation the behavior that is required for attainment of dominance in a hierarchy of male-female relationship (qtd. in Chard lee and Richard daly 30).
This approach argues that women have always been subordinate to men. It proposes the concept of universal female subordination, of “man the hunter,” and “woman the nurturer.” Although not all proponents of this view would necessarily subscribe to a sociobiological interpretation, they do deal with the question in an essentialist and a historical manner.
Ashley Crossman in his article, Feminist Theory in Sociology” puts his opinion in regard to various theorist related to oppression. Feminist theorists perceive the world as a platform of equilibrium by eliminating all the subjugations. The theorists of gender oppression argue women are not only treated unfairly and unjust by the men in the society but also they are subjugated discriminated, oppressed and even abused. Psychoanalytic feminists explain power by reformulating Freud’s theories of the “subconscious and unconscious, human emotions, and childhood development”. Psychoanalytic feminists believe that that conscious calculation cannot fully explain the production and reproduction of patriarchy whereas the Radical feminists believe “physical violence as being at the base of patriarchy. They argue that women should be able to identify their inner strength and potentialities and develop a universal sense of sisterhood to challenge the oppression. On the other hand structural feminists point out the capitalism, racism and patriarchy as the major reason behind women oppression and seek to link exploitation with gender rather than class. They argue that even though the oppression on women differs, the force working to oppress women also oppress the marginalized group.
Patriarchal societies view women as inferior and justify the subordinate positions of women in families and communities. Johnson, a sociologist, describes patriarchy as:
A society is patriarchal to the degree that it is male-dominated, male identified, and male-centered. It also involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women. Patriarchy is male-dominated in that positions of authority-political, economic, legal, religious, educational, military, domestic-are generally reserved for men. Heads of states, corporate CEOs and board members, religious leaders, school principals, members of legislatures at all levels of government, senior law partners, tenured full professors, generals and admirals, and even those identified as ‘head of household’ all tend to be male under patriarchy. (p. 5)
Johnson argues that in Patriarchy society men in authoritative position are occupied by men and men in such authoritative power are regarded as natural whereas women occupying such position of power and authority are measured as a challenge against men by the society.
Feminism emerged when women collectively began to take notice that they were subjugated to men. Women’s movements have differed throughout time and place. Freedman (2002) defines feminism as:
a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth. Because most societies privilege men as a group, social movements are necessary to achieve equality between women and men, with the understanding that gender always intersects with other social hierarchies. (p. 7) page 31
She asserts there are four parts to her definition. ‘Equal worth’ is used because the purpose to feminism is to seek equal value for male and female persons and the tasks they do. Freedman says she uses ‘privilege’ in her definition to assert that personal benefits have historically been given to male children because of patriarchy, and women and girls have been secondary to men and boys. Social movements are necessary in order for change to happen on a personal level or group action. Freedman also says that recognition of a “social hierarchy” is a part of understanding feminism because gender is not the sole determinant of inequality: race, class, culture, and sexuality also affect how people will be treated. She says, “If we ignore these intersecting hierarchies and create a feminism that serves only the interests of women who have more privilege, we reinforce other social inequalities that disadvantage both women and men in the name of improving women’s opportunities” (p. 8). Feminism has not been static; rather, it has evolved throughout history to include many different subjective locations. Page 31-32
A sociological perspective toward gender and sex is understood by taking into account cultural practices. Because of the history of male dominance, or patriarchy, women in Western societies have taken notice and action against the inequality they have historically experienced. Feminism has been used to create awareness of gender inequality in society, and it has also been used as a jumping off point in taking action to address the inequality. Li and Bolaria (1994) define feminism as:
an awareness of the special problems women face in contemporary society and a commitment to better the condition of women. It is characterized by political involvement as well as an attempt to understand the roots of women’s oppression. There is also a firm belief that, in eradicating women’s oppression, society itself will be transformed and become egalitarian for all peoples. (p. 84)
In a patriarchal society, it is believed that masculine and feminine behaviors match the physiological makeup of men and women. This perception creates rigid expectations of gender roles that are thought to be unchangeable (Li and Bolaria, 1994). Culturally-determined gender roles have been created by a society that is patriarchal, and it has been the men who have dominated the social, political and economic areas of life throughout history. Patriarchal societies enforce hierarchies 33 where men are thought to be more important than women, and feminism is used to counter that practice where equal opportunity and equal worth for both genders is asserted. Pg -32
Bourdieu draws attention to the importance of the symbolic violence that “is the essential part of masculine domination”. This concept is particularly valuable for the analysis of gender relations, since it opens to the sociological gaze a whole range of phenomena, which, without this concept, would escape systematic analysis. Even if physical violence, constraint, coercion, and intimidation are far from negligible in interactions between women and men, it would be difficult to explain the social power of masculine domination—and even the acts of physical violence against women in everyday life—without recourse to symbolic violence, that violence which is not perceived as such because it is nothing other than the application of a social order, a vision of the world rooted in the habitus of the dominated and the dominant.” Bourdieu describes symbolic violence—”a soft violence”—as a very general model of domination and masculine domination as a particular case of this model. But obviously it is this particular case that provoked him to reflect on the importance of symbolic violence as a “modern” means of domination, the exemplary case wherein the functioning of symbolic violence can be studied. The adoption by women of the dominant point of view—that is, a negative, devalued, humiliated image of woman—would be difficult to comprehend without this concept. At the same time, this submission, or even incorporation, of the dominant point of view strongly brings to light what domination means—it always also means bearing within yourself that which destroys you (qtd. in Beate).
Symbolic power includes the discriminatory implications like gender dominance and racism. The men are the dominator and female are dominated to accept the social values. He mentions that cultural forces are more dominate than economic forces to create dominance and hierarchies of power. The hierarchy power are situated and reproduced across societies.
Li and Bolaria (1994) say that patriarchy is “a societal phenomenon marked by the domination of certain men over other men, all women and children. A system of ruling where power is exercised as domination over others and stems from the historical emergence of the oppression of women” (p. 84) He argues that since the historical period women is made to be naturally subordinate to men through the established norms values and practices. In order to regulate male supremacy and control over women, various practices and ideologies were enforced to women. Page 11