Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Putting Women on a Pedestal: A Patriarchal Trap

The India society is patriarchal to the core – simply stated, men rule the roost. The society in general seems to have resigned to this, while women have been forced to reconcile to be the ‘fairer sex’. However, we are a society that worships women. Our goddesses of strength, wisdom, love, and power, are all personified as women. I cannot understand that irony here; India has one of the highest rates of female infanticide and dowry-deaths, while the society and the government claim to vigorously promote the girl-child and women’s emancipation. How can a society that boasts of a rich, ancient, and varied culture simultaneously glorify and dehumanize women – how can mythical womanhood be celebrated and worshiped in the form of a goddess at the temple, while helpless women are subject to eve-teasing, torture, abuse, discrimination, and unspeakable indignity.
These fascinating observations come from a post from my dear colleague and friend Catherine Xavier. What Catherine observes is very true not only of India but of all patriarchal societies. Putting women on a pedestal, worshipping women, idolizing them - these practices do not contradict patriarchal values in the least. Just the opposite, these are some of the techniques that the patriarchy relies upon for its very existence.

The main goal of any patriarchal system is to keep women subjected to the needs of men. Female choices, desires, the multitude of differences each individual woman represents have to be reduced to one clearly defined set of roles and expectations that the patriarchy imposes on women. Putting women on a pedestal achieves this goal admirably. Idolizing somebody always translates into imposing a very high set of expectations on this person. As a result, the idolized group of individuals cannot live freely, according to their own desires and needs. They have constantly to  render accounts to the society that places them on a pedestal as to whether their actual behavior is in keeping with the set of expectations imposed on them.

There is another role that this women-worship plays in patriarchal systems. In order to exist as long as the patriarchy has existed, every system, no matter how oppressive it is, has to offer some compensation, some benefits to each of its members. Women are compensated for their participation in the patriarchal system in a variety of ways. This is simply one of them. Your life choices are limited, your mind and body are not your own, but in return, you are worshipped and told you represent the "fairer sex."


cringe-all said...

This idolizing translates to women being reduced to repositories of "virtue" and "family honor", where the goddess like virginal virtue of the woman is supposed to hold home, earth and nation together. This is very central to the Indian notion of family and society. The man can philander around with prostitutes but for a woman, adultery would be considered a heinous crime. Rape, acid attacks, different forms of sexual harassment, female foeticide are rife in South Asia. In fact this attitude is strikingly brought out in the use of language, one of the euphemisms for rape is "izzat lootna" (Hindi) which literally translated is "despoiling honor" and can be used as a weapon of war or mode of punishment. Indian feminists and progressive thinkers are trying hard though, and attitudes are changing...slowly.

NancyP said...

Woman on a pedestal: Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

In contemporary Western Catholic culture, there seems to be a reasonable correlation between degree of devotion to Mary and degree of conservatism regarding women's roles. After all, what woman can be both virgo intacta and mother? It boggles the mind, but some Catholic theologians have debated about whether Mary's hymen was restored after birth.

Anonymous said...

Of course, conservative Catholic men put women on a pedestal too much but then again, the more a woman is put on a pedestal, she'll cheat with other men.

Clarissa said...

This is not why women cheat, my friend. They cheat because they are sexually unsatisfied. Give them amazing sex, they won't cheat.

Anonymous said...

Well, putting a woman on a pedestal suffocates her and therefore causes her to run off because she's feeling too restricted and needs room to breathe and explore.

Also, it's usually women who are brilliant, rational, logical, and successful that are more subject to eve-teasing, torture, abuse, discrimination, and unspeakable dignity because they're often seen as unfeminine, not just in India but in America, which is also patriarchal, as well. For example, sexual harassment of women working in high-earning companies, high-earning career women with possessive, controlling, husbands or boyfriends, high school or college male athletes and male coaches sexually abusing female athletes (or even female coaches, which could happen), etc. Of course, patriarchy does restrict the sexuality and sexual desires of women as well as other choices. Like, for example, if women philander with gigolos, look at naked men in pornography, court men, make other mistakes, etc.-they get abused. It's dangerous. And when women are put on a pedestal, they are expected to obey and listen and not make any mistakes. They're expected to be flawless. One mistake, no matter how small or big, they're in huge trouble and not forgiven. While men, on the other hand, can be forgiven for their mistakes and be human. As for women, they can't. It's an unfair double standard.

Clarissa said...

"One mistake, no matter how small or big, they're in huge trouble and not forgiven. While men, on the other hand, can be forgiven for their mistakes and be human."

-Ah, well, that depends on the mistake. If a man commits the mistake of not having a job, not making a lot of money, being openly emotional in public, or not being very successful sexually, those things don't get forgiven easily. While a woman can do all these things and not be ostracized for them.

Patriarchy hurts and rewards both men and women, albeit in different ways.