Women in Traditional and Totalitarian Societies

Looking into the history of the cultures at large, it becomes evident that all human societies, from the most primitive to the most modern, have been divided into different groups, communities and strata. This stratification is on the basis of caste, class, clan, community, race, region, religion, ethnicity, gender, age and socioeconomic status. This social stratification gives birth to discrimination in behaviour, role, performances, rights and obligations on the basis of division of society.

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Gender discrimination is also an important one among others. It is a bitter fact beyond doubt that human societies have always been observing male domination, where discriminative behaviour against women prevailed to the greater extent. The women have traditionally been treated as a low stratum of the social set up and the delicate sex has been undergoing prejudiced behaviour since ever. Literature is replete with the examples and stories of biased ness against female gender by men. It is not the case with the ancient and medieval cultures only; rather, almost the same prevails in the contemporary cultures too, though intensity has seen abatement during the twentieth century.

Twentieth century can be declared as the era of women freedom and protection of their rights. Since many laws were passed in their favour winning respectable place for them at modern societies of the world, yet prejudiced attitude towards them could not be diminished altogether. Women are still struggling hard to achieve equal status for them in the society; feminist movement is also the part of the long struggle of obtaining this status for them. The idea of division of labour on the basis of gender gave birth to feminism. It was a strong voice against the inequalities between men and women in respect of social status, division of power as well as work and gender discrimination.

Historically, radical feminism started with the assumption that the sexes are adversarially poised, that men have power over women, and that society and its various social relationships can be best understood in terms of their relationship to that situation (Eisenstein 1983).

Low status of women has been descried in different pieces of literature depicting the unequal opportunities of growth for them. The works of prominent feminist writers including Virginia Woolf, Tony Morrison, Margaret Drabble, Dorothy Allison and others reveal how incorrectly and mistakenly considered as individuals of low worth. Woolf’s wonderful “To the Light House” also describes the same. “Strife, divisions, difference of opinion, prejudices twisted into the very fibre of being, oh, that they should begin so early, Mrs Ramsay deplored. They were so critical, her children. They talked such nonsense. She went from the dining-room, holding James by the hand, since he would not go with the others.” (1927:5)

Woolf is of the view that roles have been fixed by male stratum of society on the basis of gender, from where there are no chances of betterment and improvement. Major part of the novel describes the emotions and thoughts of the main characters especially Mrs. Ramsay and the novelist-painter Lily Briscoe. Women’s thinking, according to the novel, is seriously condemned without any reason just to display male domination at home as well as in society, and they are not allowed to exercise their abilities in an appreciable atmosphere.

To the Lighthouse assures the patriarchal system of society from the beginning of the novel till the end, where men’s comments reflect their views regarding women. When Mrs. Ramsay planned of visiting the lighthouse, she was compelled to drop her idea altogether by her husband. “Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Mrs. Ramsay. “But you’ll have to be up with the lark,” she added. “But,” said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window, “it won’t be fine.” (1927:1) Thus, Mr. Ramsay displayed his authority by neglecting the plans made by her wife without taking any care of her wishes or sentiments.

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It not only creates conflict situation in the family, but also raised feelings of hatred in the breast of their children. “Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement.” (1927:3)

Not to talk of authority over fate, humans have not obtained acquaintance with even where they are to be born and open their blissful or baleful eyes in the world and what will be their parentage, race, ethnic group, religion, region, caste, creed, nationality and origin. It is the will of the Nature, before which man has to surrender willy-nilly. The same is the case with the fate of women in Woolf’s novel. When Mrs. Ramsay admired the qualities of Tansley, he not only accepted it, but also tried to reveal his prejudice by declaring women containing low intellect. “He should have been a great philosopher, said Mrs Ramsay, as they went down the road to the fishing village, but he had made an unfortunate marriage.” (1927:8)

Her remarks boost Tansley’s morale and he got an opportunity of making fun of the women folk. “It flattered him; snubbed as he had been, it soothed him that Mrs Ramsay should tell him this. Charles Tansley revived. Insinuating, too, as she did the greatness of man’s intellect, even in its decay, the subjection of all wives…” (1927:9) Tansley not only ridiculed Mrs. Ramsay, but also mocked at Lily stating that women could neither be a good writer, nor good painter at all. By this, he meant to say that women contained inferior status in society due to lack of wisdom, capabilities and intellect.

Allison (2006) intended to remake the world where there would be no disturbance or annoyance for any group or community of the world. The world where there is neither suppression nor containment of any of the child or woman can occur. It is in the pretext that she shares her ideas of becoming too strong to be surrendered. “If we, as writers”, she (2005:211) argues, “are to continue, we need more people of large ambition, people who refuse censorship, denial and hatred, people who still hope to change the world.” Thus, she looks extremely determined to eradicate the exploitation mania from the existing world by implementing best of her courageous capabilities and trust. “For Marxists”, Woods (2001) suggests, “the root cause of all forms of oppression consists in the division of society into classes. For many feminists, on the other hand, the oppression of women is rooted in the nature of men.”

Friedan’s feminist perspective is based on what she saw as a cruel myth perpetrated on mainstream women after World War II—that all women should find total fulfilment in the role of “husband’s wife, children’s mother, server of physical needs of husband, children, home, and never as a person defining herself by her own actions in society” (1963, p. xi).

Mary Wollstonecraft demanded the same rights for women as they were for men. She advocated the vindication of the rights of woman in 1762 proclaiming that the new French constitution should be extended to women. “Feminist jurisprudence, Grove and Laks (2006) observe, “is a philosophy of law based on the political, economic, and social equality of sexes. As a field of legal scholarship, feminist jurisprudence began in 1960s. It now seizes noteworthy influence many debates on sexual and domestic violence, inequality in the workplace, and gender based discrimination.” J. S. Mill demands the power of vote for women, while Engels finds the need of transformation in economic uplift of them. Women long for political equality between the two genders. They view sexual identification a category to reconstitute legal practices that have excluded women’s interests.

References

  • Allison, Dorothy. Survival is Least of My Desires. An Extract from “Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature. Firebrand Books, 2005.
  • Allison, Dorothy. Mama. An Extract from Trash. Firebrand Books, 1988.
  • Eisenstein, H. Radical Feminism, Humanism and Women’s Studies. 1983. Quoted in Innovative Higher Education Journal. Springer Netherlands, 2004.
  • Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Web.
  • Woods, Alan. Marxism versus feminism – The class struggle and the emancipation of women, 2001.
  • Woolf, Virginia. To the Light House.
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