Topics: Feminism, Feminist theory, Gender Pages: 33 (9801 words) Published: August 22, 2013
Foundation Course


Human Rights, Gender & Environment

Understanding Patriarchy
Suranjita Ray•

Subordination of women to men is prevalent in large parts of the world. We come across experiences where women are not only treated as subordinate to men but are also subject to discriminations, humiliations, exploitations, oppressions, control and violence. Women experience discrimination and unequal treatment in terms of basic right to food, health care, education, employment, control over productive resources, decision-making and livelihood not because of their biological differences or sex, which is natural but because of their gender differences which is a social construct. “Sex is considered a fact - one is born with either male or female genitalia. Gender is considered a social construction - it grants meaning to the fact of sex. Conversely, it could be said that only after specific meanings came to be attached to the sexes, did sex differences become pertinent” (Geetha, 2002: 10). Gender based discriminations and exploitations are widespread and the socio-culturally defined characteristics, aptitudes, abilities, desires, personality traits, roles, responsibilities and behavioral patterns of men and women contribute to the inequalities and hierarchies in society. Gender differences are man made and they get legitimised in a patriarchal society. This paper attempts to link the theoretical dimensions of patriarchy with its empirical experiences to engage in the ongoing debates and discussion on “patriarchy” which manifests itself in various forms of discriminations, inequalities, hierarchies, inferior status and position of women in society. Thus it is important to understand patriarchy in terms of its multiplicity, complexities and dynamics.

What is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy literally means rule of the father in a male-dominated family. It is a social and ideological construct which considers men (who are the patriarchs) as superior to women. Sylvia Walby in “Theorising Patriarchy” calls it “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women” (Walby, 1990). Patriarchy is based on a system of power relations which are hierarchical and unequal where men control women’s production, reproduction and sexuality. It imposes masculinity and femininity character stereotypes in society which strengthen the iniquitous power relations between men and women. Patriarchy is not a constant and gender relations which are dynamic and complex have changed over the periods of history. The nature of control and subjugation of women varies from one society to the other as it differs due to the differences in class, caste, religion, region, ethnicity and the socio-cultural practices. Thus in the context of India, brahminical                                                              •

 Department of Political

Science, Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi.

University of Delhi

BA Programme II

Foundation Course


Human Rights, Gender & Environment

patriarchy, tribal patriarchy and dalit patriarchy are different from each other. Patriarchy within a particular caste or class also differs in terms of their religious and regional variations. Similarly subordination of women in developed countries is different from what it is in developing countries. While subordination of women may differ in terms of its nature, certain characteristics such as control over women’s sexuality and her reproductive power cuts across class, caste, ethnicity, religions and regions and is common to all patriarchies. This control has developed historically and is institutionalized and legitimized by several ideologies, social practices and institutions such as family, religion, caste, education, media, law, state and society, which are discussed in the later sections. Patriarchal societies propagate the ideology of motherhood which restrict women’s mobility and burdens them with the...
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