Perspective on Gender and the nature of inequality

Gospel Songate

Modern education system has become a mere professional ground to convert man into a money-making machine. It triggers the sense of competition to acquire position, money and power. For me, education is building values in man. What is learnt in the books must be followed and corrected by practising it in social life. Be it skills or consciousness upon one’s nation, the tastes should be dispersed in the society. This is what I wish to convey as a preface to esteemed readers of 54th H.S.A. General Assembly Souvenir 2016. I am very much indebted to the souvenir editorial board for the inclusion of my work amidst the innumerable works of various talented writers.
 As a student, the mind is always uncertain on to how much marks the examiner would allot to our answerscripts. Because, the scripts are  composed within a limited given time as a result of which our answer may not satisfy the examiner’s expectation. Nevertheless, after completion of six months course on Gender History, I have been able to grasp the concept of Gender Studies clearer as if I have become wiser. Further, the present subject impressed me and has become a recurring idea for which it has been elaborated here. Coming to our topic, hundred years have passed since the Hmars have been Christianized. Despite the fact that Christianity  encourage equality to all, gender differences continue to exist. However, this does not meant that the entire institution is defective. But there’s something that needs to be reflected upon in our socio - cultural and religious establishment.  The question,  to what extent perspective on gender be re-constructed, is to be answered by readers as well.

What is Gender?  :     “Sex” and “Gender” are often used in erroneous way. To define what “Gender” is, one must know how it is different from “Sex”.  When we are born, we are assigned sex, that is to identify individuals as male (boy)  or female (girl). Sex is a biological composition which includes physical attributes such as genitalia, sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones and internal reproductive structures. Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. For some, their gender identity is odd to their biological sex. So, hormonally or surgically they change their sex to more fully match their gender identity. Nowadays, the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) are not a new thing. Our culture as well as religion recognizes  two basic sexes: Male (masculine gender) and Female (feminine gender).  People who step outside these two sexes are referred to as LGBT.

Our assumption of what male and female are and what they are supposed to be is created by the society in which we live. That is why many people say that gender is “socially constructed”. To social scientists, the term “Gender” refers to the socially constructed differences between men and women. Gender construction is the behaviour of  deciding what is masculine and what is feminine that has occurred and is occurring in a society. Also, the process of making and altering a society’s vision of what man and woman means to be.  The toys that parents buy for their children also aid the socialization process, for instancea girl child is given dolls or kitchen utensils to play with whilst the boy child is given toy cars, guns, puzzle games and all toys that require physical energy or mental ability. As a result, the girl child is socialized to become a mother, soft, emotionally sensitive, and to have all motherhood features. Furthermore, boys who cry easily, are shy or avoid fights are often scolded by their parents for behaving like girls.
Simone de Beauvoir in her work, The Second Sex  published in 1949, writes that ‘one is not born as a woman but becomes a woman’. Her statement speaks a lot as how societies construct gender.

Prevalence of  gender inequality in the society: For long, gender roles and equality have been a debated topic in almost every developed society. For people who suffered a state of inferiority being of feminine, it is always good to see more people to take a stand on their cause and speak against inequality. Men are censured for creating the problem of gender inequality. Many feminist writers have the notion that men, being the creator of gender inequality, they should come up to help in fixing this issue. It is the need of the day to have equality, whether in work or home. If our rites and rituals  obstruct women’s participation which would be equivalent to men’s, that should also be rethought and amended. Gender studies does not wholly focus on women’s society. It is about the ways women and men interact and their ability to access resources and opportunities in the community depending on their being a woman or a man. Therefore, when any type of survey or analysis of a society in undertaken, it is necessary to have data that reflect the status of women in comparison with men and vice versa. Based on class, wealth, race, gender, disability, age, or other cultural factors, various inequalities come up. All these hinder progressive swings of the societal atmospheric condition.
 From theoretical perspective, women are now in a much advantageous position. But admist all these improvements, there are subtle hierarchies and stereotypes which still exist in a society. We may take the Hmar society as an example.  In private spheres, if a woman marries  and stays at her in-laws’ house, it is seen as natural happening. The society begins judging her whether she qualifies herself as a traditional Hmar wife. The paramaters are whether she can cook well or not, how much she put efforts to adjust in her marital home, etc. Our society observe the custom that married couple should live with the male’s family. The idea of patrilocal marriage  generally persists in our society. But, if a man decides to stay in his wife’s home, he is outlaughed and even his parents disapprove him. There are some comments thrown to him like ‘handpacked husband’ or ‘thaibawi’. As society mocks at him, he feels insecure to take part in public affairs, thereby causing hesitation in him  to participate  in social life affairs. There are also labels like ‘supportive’ husband; a husband is not socially expected  to be supportive. Doing household chores is seen as a sign of ‘thaibawi’. Everyone would be astonished to see a distinguished man washing his children’s garments. Whereas women are supposed to perform all tasks in and outside the house. Only when all  services are  fully done by women at her in-laws’ place, they are regarded ‘excellent’ wives or ‘ideal’ daughters-in-law.
In marriage, the husband can have as many wives as he wants and can have extra-marital affairs as a bonus. When such a scenario happens, however, it is the wife who is blamed for  failing to satisfy her husband or for failing to curb his sexual desire. However, it so happens that if married woman involves in an extramarital affair, she is not spared, she is labeled as ‘loose’ and has to be sent back to her parents so that they can instill some discipline into her or she is divorced straight away. Messer (2004) states that women are expected to satisfy the sexual desires of their husbands; having simple authority over kitchen, work as a bedroom prostitute. As a result, when a husband wants sex, the wife should comply because that is regarded as part of the marriage contract.

Divorce is a bad happening for a couple. But the experience of divorce is worse for women . In case of a widower, people generally encourage his next marriage citing the need necessitated by children and other emotional consideration. But for widow remarriage, perception always goes negative. Society has different terms to qualify such widow remarriages like ‘too early’ or ‘neglecting children’, and most malevolently that it is ‘pre-planned’. After both the parties accept the legal divorce or customary separation, one cannot criticize the other for not showing post-divorce fidelity. Discussing on the hierarchy between women and men and the gender stereotypes anchored by it, one can also check the attachments given to men and women. A word sufficient to men is not always sufficient to  women. There are ‘authors’ and ‘feminist authors’, ‘activists’ and ‘women activists’, ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘women entrepreneurs’, ‘drivers’ and ‘women drivers’, ‘preachers’ and ‘women preachers’, etc. But at least something is better than never, I have no qualm to say that I would keep on expecting to see a ‘women pastor’, ‘women Church elder’, and so on. I believe, promoting women status in religious affairs would vehemently elevate their spiritual stance. “The spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual,” (1 Cor 15:46).
Further, the celebration over a newborn child is also something to mull over. Families should not creat anxiety over whether the child is a boy or a girl. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is God’s reward,” (Psalms 127:3). Therefore, any distinction is against the law of the land.  Again, upon growing, different guidelines are designed for boys and girls. A girl is expected to be sober, feminine, modest, vulnerable, cultured, kind and beautiful. All these are good qualities envied by everyone. But if such attributes are possessed and shown by a boy, he is called ‘womanish’ or ‘tuai’. Many parents prefer to have the same rights for son and daughter. But when it comes to decision making, daughter has no say even for her personal life.
In theory, people around the world advocate to bring equality regardless of gender. Women are not overtly excluded from public life but they face inequality and discrimination in the society, for example, in paid work. An equal work is done by man and woman, but wages become the maker of difference. In the real sense, society fails to care women in many cases. In such a situation the question of LGBT is totally in oblivion. As of now, our (Hmar) society has not yet witnessed a group of gender other than male and female. But we can never predict that the third gender will never  come up in our society. Finding solutions to fix present gender issue before the emergence of a new class gender is of utmost importance.

 Patriarchy and its influence on gender inequality :  It may not be totally wrong to say that gender inequality is the outcome of patriarchally built society. There are many instances in our socio-cultural life that can prove this claim. An early and still relevant critique of the concept of patriarchy was made by Beechey (1979), Connell (1987), Walby (1990) and others. We shall have a quick look on some, before that, let us first try to understand what exactly ‘patriarchy’ is.

 Patriarchy literally means the rule by male head in a family or society.  Patriarch, typically a societal elder, has legitimate power over others in the social unit. However, since the early twentieth century, feminist writers have used the concept to refer to the social system of male domination over women. Patriarchy has been the fundamental concept in gender studies.

Conflict theorists have seen the family as a social arrangement benefiting men more than women, allowing them to maintain a position of power. In the family, the male child is preferred to the female child. In fact, males rule females by right of birth and even if the male child is not the first born in a family, he is automatically considered the head of the household who should protect and look after his sisters. In case of father’s absence, son represents the family surpassing first born daughter and even his mother. The female child is further discriminated upon due to the fact that eventually she marries out and joins another family whilst the male child ensures the survival of the family name through bringing additional members into the family (Human Rights Monitor, 2001). This attitude very much prevails as some parents prefer to educate boys to girls, because of girls’ capacity to bear children and that they are soon to leave the family.

The root of patriarchal attitudes is also found in Christianity. Patriarchal attitudes have strengthened the traditional customs, which men use to control women’s sexuality (Human Rights Monitor, 2001). To exemplify, the alleged creation of Eve from Adam’s rib has made women as second creation occupying a subordinate position in the Church as well as in the family. Women are therefore viewed merely as second-class citizens who were created as an afterthought. We do not ignore the fact that the Bible has instructed wife to be submissive to husband, more often, husband excessively uses this provision as if he is the irrefutable supremo. If only the father leads his family according to the instruction of the Lord, he is the head. The Bible is not sanctioned to legalize wife’s oppression; but still, it seems women are silent sufferers. The patriarchal nature of our society has shaped and perpetuated gender inequality to the extent of allowing male domination and female subordination. This sad state of affairs has been fuelled by the socialization process. Therefore, to amend the situation, the call for re-socialisation is a must.

Conclusion:   The seed of female education in India was planted when Savitribai Phule and her husband Jotirao Phule started first women school in 1848 at Bhide’s Wada in Pune. It was only in 1850 Indian women got opportunity to change their status through education. Bringing gender equality is not an easy call to achieve within a decade. It will take time depending on our educational mechanism, especially on women’s education. When more and more educated women come up, their social roles would eventually go up. Up to now, undeniably improvements do take place; yet, society in general has certain habits, customary actions and attitudes which have a scope for a relook.

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