Women With Authority in a Patriarchal World

Women With Authority in a Patriarchal World

In the contemporary world, the cultural and literary spheres acknowledge female interests and activities. Females have overtly exerted their rights by demanding their due status in society, thereby being accepted as important societal members. But the scenario was vastly different about a hundred years ago. Females belonged at home, with the general society believing that raising children and taking care of domestic affairs sufficed as their emotional fulfillment. Between 1850 and 1900, societies were chiefly patriarchal and dependent women had to fight to enjoy equal social status. They were governed completely by a male-fashioned society, and had to be the image of the era’s feminine ideal.[footnoteRef:1] In this paper, female authority within patriarchal societies will be addressed, with particular emphasis on the many restrictions when it came to them exerting power and what effective strategies they applied. [1: Pamela, Balanza. “The Role of Women in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Aglaun. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.]

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Women with Authority

Balanza emphatically asserts that throughout the course of history, females remained perpetual victims of societal ideals, depicted as mentally and physically the ‘weaker’ of the two sexes and subservient to males in every way.[footnoteRef:2] Society imposed specific norms and principles for females to abide by. They simply had to adhere to societal standards and, consequently, enjoyed limited opportunities. Further, their societal significance was curtailed. The ideal twentieth-century female was required to reach standards and maintain roles that are, perhaps, disagreeable and insulting as of today, but that era was vastly different from our present world. The period from 1750 to 1800 saw males and females living in distinct spheres. The basis for the above ideology was the definition of innate male and female characteristics. Females’ suitability to domestic life and its becoming their “sphere” was on account of the fact that they were deemed to be physically weaker but morally stronger than males. Clearly, female societal contribution was restricted and governed completely by male authority.[footnoteRef:3] [2: Pamela, Balanza] [3: Pamela, Balanza]

Additionally, Balanza indicates that females were chiefly required to get married and participate in their spouse’s business.[footnoteRef:4] Female participation in the political, economic and legal domains was prohibited; these were considered solely male spheres. In short, females were barred from participating in the public domain. Consequently, they received inferior education and no outside knowledge, since the external world was a man’s world. As males felt threatened and challenged by female attainment of knowledge and expertise, patriarchal society ensured females never grew to be at par with men in the intellectual domain and fiercely opposed females’ college attendance. Domestic life represented the cultural manifestation of female life. Social visits and activities, fashion, household furnishings, religious engagement, charities and etiquette all outlined a world wherein females could exert authority and illustrate their ‘soft’ skills.[footnoteRef:5] [4: Pamela, Balanza] [5: Pamela, Balanza]

It is a regrettable fact that, prior to the 1900s, the only legal identity held by females was that of their spouses. Owing to their perceived physical weakness, they were barred from labor-intensive workplaces and whilst their male counterparts had various career avenues open to them, females were confined to home-related paid jobs. They managed the household, performing domestic tasks and routine errands, raising children, and overseeing their cooks, maids and other servants. They were even, on occasion, forbidden to leave the house without their husband’s approval. They lacked any appreciable economic and social status. Society accepted matrimony and motherhood as their ideal occupations. Besides maintaining the right comportment and propriety, they had to possess a “lady’s” qualities and have superior household management skills.[footnoteRef:6] [6: Pamela, Balanza]

Context in Different Societies

History World International claims that a majority of agrarian societies lowered female potential and status, at least with regard to contemporary Western standards as well as implied hunter and gatherer standards. With agrarian societies’ development and prosperity with time, they grew more intricately organized, but female status dropped from its original level. Households came to be typically established on the basis of patriarchy, and the head of the family determined basic conditions and made important decisions. The rest of the household, particularly its female members, were required to be humbly subservient to this patriarchal domination. Typical patriarchy conditions first arose in the Mesopotamian society, in which marriage entailed an official, arranged agreement between the bride and bridegroom’s family. The husband held power over his family the way he controlled his servants. However, initial Sumerians might have accorded females more freedom as compared to their descendants. The Sumerian religion believed female sexuality held immense power. Initial Sumerian laws afforded females key rights which meant males couldn’t treat them as downright”property.” Nevertheless, Sumerian law meted out death sentences to married adulteresses but treated adultery on the husband’s part much more leniently, which is a typical patriarchal double standard. Post-Sumerian Mesopotamian civilizations started stressing on the significance of female virginity at the time of marriage, mandating veiling of respectable ladies in public for underscoring their modesty. The above changes indicated a steady narrowing of female freedom and status in society. Throughout, a considerable share of the Mesopotamian civilization’s law (including the code of Hammurabi) was reserved for instructions for females, ensuring particular fundamental protections but explicitly stressing their inferiority and restrictions.[footnoteRef:7] [7: History World International. “Women in patriarchal societies.” 1992. Web. 5 Dec. 2016. ]

Patriarchy conditions differed between agrarian societies as well. The Egyptians accorded its elite females more credit: the society has seen several powerful women adorning its throne. Akhenaton’s wife Nefertiti apparently had a central role in the era’s religious conflicts. Some agrarian civilizations accorded females significance by tracing their lineage from mothers and not fathers (e.g., Jewish societies). Still, these societies considered females inferior (Jews, for instance, demanded for separate male and female worship). Thus, despite variety’s importance, it often functioned within a primarily patriarchal context.[footnoteRef:8] [8: History World International. ]

One can safely assert that patriarchies infiltrated female authority. With agricultural improvements using superior methods, female labor, although still very essential, decreased in significance as compared to earlier. This was especially true in elite and urban settings where males often assumed political control, productive jobs, or craft making. Elite female inferiority was generally more perceptible as compared to peasant females, whose labor continued to be crucial. More generally, agrarian civilizations were founded on property-related concepts, commencing with land organization. Property relationships formed the basis of initial law codes. Such a scenario apparently mandated male certainty of his heirs, requiring that he monopolize his wife’s sexual activities. This explains the legal focus on female sexual fidelity as well as female treatment as her husband’s property. This framework successively allowed conceptions of females as inferior to males and partially for show. Hence, prosperous societies tended to demonstrate their prosperity by further relegating females. This was observed clearly in China, and also, perhaps, India and Western European societies. Briefly, patriarchy reacted to agrarian civilizations’ property and economic conditions and may deepen with time.[footnoteRef:9] [9: History World International]

On the positive side, few females acquired relief via religious functions in several societies, offering them a chance at operating separate from family structures. But patriarchal laws outlined a few female rights, at least theoretically safeguarding married females from extreme abuse. For instance, the Sumerian code allowed both males and females to divorce under particular conditions if their spouses failed to effectively carry out their obligations. Furthermore, females in patriarchies wielded informal, indirect, covert emotional control over their sons and husbands. Strong women, however, could harness this power to attain a dominant role in society. Females also formed networks, at least in their large families. Older females forcefully directed family activities by commanding their unwed daughters’ and daughters-in-law’ obedience.[footnoteRef:10] [10: History World International]

From Moghadam’s research, clearly, kinship-ordered communities considered childbearing as a chief women-labor undertaking.[footnoteRef:11] However, akin to capitalism (workers’ production is not their property), patriarchal societies regarded female products (e.g., children) as the husband’s family’s property. From this standpoint, it may be concluded that patriarchal societies are, in no way, oppressive towards females: females bore the serious responsibility of childbirth and raising, considered a divine and prophetic art, as it creates, guides, and educates. Hence, God excuses females from the burden of economic duties to allow her to peacefully carry out this divine, prophetic activity. Thus, males are required to support them economically to ensure there is no economic vacuum within females’ lives.[footnoteRef:12] [11: Valentine, Moghadam, “Patriarchy in transition: Women and the changing family in the Middle East.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies (2004) p. 141.] [12: Valentine, Moghadam, p. 139-141]

Successful Strategies Reliance on Imagery and Language

For countering the drawbacks of negative female imagery, they devised strategies for elevating their social status, commencing with the initiation of a movement that redefined their conventional societal roles. This was witnessed largely via literature: females justified their rights in writing, which described their desire for a novel role in society and matrimony and their opposition to society-imposed standards. Notable female writers, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Adrienne Rich, Jamaica Kincaid, and Marge Piercy, challenged patriarchies and the view that the sole careers ideally suited to them were matrimony and motherhood. These writers were commended by male as well as female readers; their impact reaches the present generation as well.[footnoteRef:13] [13: Pamela, Balanza]

As suggested by Bobby, concentrating on the past few decades’ social realities, organized campaigns emerged to raise female consciousness.[footnoteRef:14] These movements vehemently resisted bias, aggression and persecution againstfemales, and found organized expression to assert female rights. Females were portrayed as victims to historical forces, governmental dictatorship, and egocentric order, false pride, deviousness and extinct convention. The campaigners supported females seeking liberty and equality and challenged age-old beliefs and principles. This idea has been explicitly brought forth by portraying a clear though measured assertion of female confidence, generation after generation. Such insolence against societal gender bias and political and social sexists really promises females a better tomorrow.[footnoteRef:15] [14: Susan, Bobby. “Resisting Patriarchy-A Study of the Women in The God of Small Things.” Language in India 12.10 (2012).] [15: Susan, Bobby]

Invisible female authority application is a second effective strategy, strongly reliant on imagery, which has emerged in literature. This concept stresses that underneath ostensible male authority, a real female authority exists, realized from females’ actual presence at home, where boys and girls actually socialize. Moreover, males’ physical detachment from this sphere helps females cultivate a favorable domestic environment, through which they may seek a wider decision-making sphere. In the sharia law, particularly, if females entered the decision-making sphere here, it is still counted under patriarchal society (i.e., with the permission/approval of male members of the family, authorized to divest them of it (that is, delegated authority) whenever they desire. Further, such “delegated authority” places added burdens on females in the area of domestic tasks, household finance management and child-raising, in aspects concerning home and familial affairs. Thus, although worth examining, invisible authority claims shouldn’t be overstated to make them dominant undisputed myths.[footnoteRef:16] [16: Nader, Said-Foqahaa and Maziad. Marwa “Arab women: Duality of deprivation in decision-making under patriarchal authority.” Hawwa 9.1 (2011): p. 239]


To conclude, patriarchy was clearly a strong theme in a majority of agrarian societies, from early on. The harsh reality is: females’ biological role — childbirth and rearing — was regarded as their chief and sole job. The enforcement of patriarchy, via culture and law, aided these civilizations in regulating citizens and achieving order. Although patriarchies mostly didn’t relegate females to a virtual servant’s status, they came close. Females’ options were strictly limited. While girls grew up to accept and adopt patriarchal conditions, boys were fully conscious of their individualism and superiority.[footnoteRef:17] [17: History World International]

Works Cited

Balanza, Pamela. “The Role of Women in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Aglaun. 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.

Bobby, Chippy Susan. “Resisting Patriarchy-A Study of the Women in The God of Small Things.” Language in India 12.10 (2012).

History World International. “Women in patriarchal societies.” 1992. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.

Moghadam, Valentine M. “Patriarchy in transition: Women and the changing family in the Middle East.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies (2004): 137-162.

Said-Foqahaa, Nader, and Marwa Maziad. “Arab women: Duality of deprivation in decision-making under patriarchal authority.” Hawwa 9.1 (2011): 234-272.

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