Conceptualizing gender roles in patriarchal Indian culture
In Indian culture, the idea of the male dominance is an inherent societal structure. This idea is so deep rooted that no amount of awareness can be enough to diminish its effect on the Indian society. Since a very tender age the children are taught how their gender identity is equivalent to their biological sex. Talcott Parsons’ sex-based gender role theory was structured according to a more traditional family structure in that the man was the breadwinner and the women was the domestically oriented partner housewives of the man ensuring the home, children and day to day household functions were tended to. Gender stereotypes are a set of preconceptions regarding the role of a certain gender in society. These characteristics are then attributed to every person of that gender, often causing individuals harm and distress. Gender roles perpetuate inequality and greatly affect minorities that may not be in a position to reject these stereotypes.
Girls from a very young age are conditioned to believe that their ultimate goal in their lives is to serve the opposite sex. Those women who dare to break the chains are often oppressed by the dominant chauvinist males. It is sad but also a reality where many women are also equal participants in this system of misogynist ideologies. Moral policing of daughters by mothers and mother-like figures is one of the many examples of patriarchal bargain. The idea of ‘Patriarchal bargain’ by Deniz Kandyoti deals with the systemic patriarchal oppression by the women imposed on other women in order to feel at power.
Through ages, women are taught by their mothers teach them to be calm and composed and ‘adjust’ to the desire of their male partners. Many a times these lead to the instigation of marital abuse and domestic violence. Women since early teenage are taught culinary skills and domestic chores. The elder women in the households are advised to tutor the girls of the family in domestic help. Marriage between two ‘families’ is a huge issue in traditional Indian culture. The image of the family rests in the ‘decent’ conduct of their female members. The boys on the other hand are not encouraged to do household chores neither are they compelled to acquire any culinary skillset. They are conditioned to believe that domestic work is categorically a female centric duty.
Women are mostly compelled to accept set norms. The colour pink is associated to particularly the ‘feminine’ gender or the set identity of “women”. The idea of the hidden ‘Pink tax’, is an offshoot of this notion. Women have to pay more for particular items which are ascribed only for the females. This is not only a discriminatory taxation system in the west but also in countries like India. The sanitary napkins used by the women during their menstrual cycles are not only expensive but also inaccessible to the poorer sections of the women in the society.
Little girls are made to wear pink dresses and boys on the other hand wear ‘blue’. Parenting in India is essentially patriarchal and hyper masculine in nature. Boys are gifted toys which are essentially considered to be masculine like shotguns and cars. Girls are gifted ‘barbie’ dolls, soft toys and coerced to keep long hair. Any exceptions in these binary normativism are considered as disobedience and unruly behaviour on behalf of the children. Men wearing ‘pink’ and makeup are connoted with a personality which is weak and feminine, generally as a slang. Women on the other hand riding bikes and having short hair are considered to be bold and are often slammed with slutty comments. The fundamental impediment is the parenting of their parents, who did not bother to shift beyond binaries.
Defining hyper masculinity through the Indian lenses
Hyper masculinity is an evil which not only affect the females but also the males. Gender fluidity is absent in Indian societies. Men who love cooking and are gentle are mocked and insulted by their misogynist peer. In the modern Indian households however, we can see an increase in the number of male members who are ready to help in the household work as well as look after the economics. The ‘masculine’ traits of ‘tall dark and handsome’ play a negative role into the lives of Indian men as well. Men who portray feminine characteristics are often bullied and mentally as well as sexually abused. A lot of cases are reported everyday wherein the men have been raped and were a victim of substance abuse. These however, cause a havoc on the mental stability of men who want to break stereotypes. Men who are unemployed and married to working women are criticised heavily. They are penalised for their choices. Many women are married to ‘househusbands’ a comparatively new concept in the Indian culture.
The preached idea that the children in a family is the sole responsibility of the mothers has been changing through times. In modern Indian families, due to the factor of expanding economies and inflation in prices, both the males as well as the female members of the family are into workforce. Due to these dynamics the domestic responsibilities are a shared arena. However, the picture is quite different in the rural areas. The workforce in the villages and the small-town areas are largely dominated by the males. The women are mostly working as unpaid labours in the familial setups.
Education sector is also highly male dominated and discriminatory in the country. Women in India are generally encouraged to take up programmes or courses which suits their ‘feminine’ nature. They are mostly discouraged from taking up fieldworks. Natural Sciences are specifically meant for the males in the society and women in these fields are often discriminated. Women in the technical and professional fields are thought to be less ‘intelligent’ than the men. Many a times little girls are taught in the school how humanities and social sciences are a ‘safer option for their ‘cerebral capacity’. Due to the lack of participation from the women in these arenas, the government has tried to amend things. They have taken up measures like reservation of seats for women or depreciation pointers for the female candidates during the admission and enrolment procedures into prestigious government universities. Women are also given various scholarships and grants as well as financial support from various state governments as well as the centre.
Women representation in the security forces is very less in India. Ideas like security, valour, war are linked with masculinity. Women in these spaces are considered to be incapable and weak. Females are not allowed to take up careers in armed forces or in the police. Indian societal status believes that women are only meant for nurturing their babies and looking after their families. The concept of having one’s own career and a professional life is not valid in the Indian society. Women in higher ranks than the males in corporate sectors as well as in government sectors are looked down upon. They have often been the victims of workspace mental harassments wherein the women have often been slut shamed.
Workspace sexual harassment is also very common in India. Women are taught to be coy and obedient in Indian cultures across the nation. This in turn stops the women from speaking up for themselves and leads to mental trauma. Many critics might point out that there has been considerable amount of increase in the rise of female workforce in various sectors, however the reality is something different. Professions like teachers, medical nurses and small industrial labour force are the few spaces where the female labour has increased. These jobs are acceptable by the families and the societies. They are considered to be safe and family friendly. Parents of young women even in cities between the age of 20 to 25 consider these jobs as decent and dignified jobs. These occupations shall fit the conditions of the ‘groom’s family’ suitable for marriage.
Although at first glance many of these gender stereotypes may not seem harmful, they often cause damage anyways. Common stereotypes like women should be nurturing mothers and caregivers may not sound too bad, it can lead to women being excessively burdened with social responsibilities. Other common gender roles are much more hurtful and discriminatory, such as men having sexual ownership over their wives. Naturally, these aggressive stereotypes have been getting less and less prevalent— yet, they are still common in certain parts of the world. These stereotypes lead to hyper masculinity and oppression by the dominant patriarchal society. There is a huge gender gap in various other occupational fields in the country. Through the above examples the reality of the Indian discriminatory culture of a hyper masculine society has been highlighted. Gender specific roles in a society always restricts the space of wholesome development. This is a vicious cycle where the sex centric roles of the men and women are not given a chance to break these stereotypes and pursue their free will. Society can only grow if the traditional and normative ideas are forsaken and new ideas are introduced.
About the author ….
I am currently pursuing my final year masters in Politics with specialization in International Relations from Jamia Millia Islamia. I graduated from the University of Delhi with political science honors affiliated to Gargi college. I have a keen interest on various foreign policies of different countries and on the issues of migration, refugee crisis, border conflicts, sustainable development, global warming, maritime security and many more. I am an aspiring academician and preparing for a doctoral degree in International relations in the coming years.