Keywords: Gender politics, Gender inequality, Masculine State, Hegemonic Masculinity
1. Gender Politics and the State
Gender politics, by its simplest definition, refers to a society's position on gender roles, on what is acceptable or unacceptable for males and females. It changes with differing situations. However the term gender politics incorporates different components of women’s political action, such as involvement in social movements, elected councils, political parties, and the State. It also focuses on femininities and masculinities, and connections between women and men during their activities in different political settings. Finally, gender politics involves power relations and causal relations within meanings of gender, sex and sexuality.
The patriarchal system, which exists to different degrees in the majority of today’s societies, creates a range of explicit social conflicts regarding gender, sex and sexuality. Gender politics imbue all societies and every aspect of our lives, from the minute level to the large scale level. Gender politics are obvious in our intimate relationships with others, in our decision making practices, as well as, in most societies, in the family systems, institutional structures, cultural organizations, political systems and the State. This article focuses on the State, which is an “institutionalization of gender”(1), and the major impact of its gender politics on gender relations.
Inside the masculine State: *1) State elite are the exclusive province of men, very few women are serving as Ministers or heads of state; *2. staff members of the administration offices exclude women in conspicuous and remarkable ways. *3) The masculine State supplies men with weapons and prevents women from being armed. For instance, although President Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment, he refused to assign women to combat positions in the military. *4) the ideologies of dominant masculinity that chooses force, provides the context for the formation of most States’ diplomatic and military policies. Examples are North Korea’s nuclear testing in February 2013, the bombings of Afghanistan since 2001, and the bombings of Iraq since 2003 on the orders of the UK and US governmental administrations.
The states around the world are involved in multiple ideological activities concerning sex and gender, such as Iran’s imposition of the hijab on women, China’s and India’s implementation of birth control policies, and the European attempts at raising women's participation in economic activities.(2) States often try to control sexuality by varieties of measures such as passing laws on the age of consent for sexual activity and/or marriage, banning homosexuality, criminalizing the intentional spread of a sexually transmitted disease, especially AIDS. There are other dimensions of the states’ gender politics such as equal opportunity policies, the UN declaration of the International Decade for women, sponsored immigration for women, the Equal Rights Amendments in the United States, and the counter-organization that challenged UN policy as in the case of the women’s repression in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Thus, the State could have both negative and positive effects on the lives of citizens. However, this article focuses on the repressive and violent actions that characterize most States, because the State is a patriarchal and capitalist institution, mainly created as an agent in both gender politics and class politics.(3) According to David Fernbach, the State has been historically constructed as the institutionalization of masculine violence.(4) Two different examples of the State violence are the arrest, imprisonment and mistreatment of women (and pro-feminist men) who have been gathering citizens’ signatures to change the discriminatory laws against women in Iran, and the bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq by the American military, as an apparatus of the American State.
2. Gender inequality
Gender inequality is about disparity in rights, opportunities, social mobility and privileges between individuals due to their gender. In other words, it is the differences in the status, power and prestige women and men have in groups, communities and societies. As Gerda Lerner (1986) puts it, gender is the "costume, a mask, a straitjacket in which men and women dance their unequal dance" (5).
In Western societies, the dramatic transformations in gender roles and identities have opened greater opportunities for women, while men are still struggling to adapt themselves to the new situation. Although men’s violence against women, especially domestic violence, persists despite having been illegal for a long time, more and more men are learning not to take the attitude that "boys will be boys”, but to find new ways of solving conflicts instead of resorting to violence.
In Western countries, legally women cannot be discriminated against in the workplace, yet the “glass ceiling” prevents them from rising higher than management position and from holding top positions in companies and governmental organizations as often as men. Furthermore, even if they get ahead in the workplace, women are still expected to have the primary responsibility for taking care of home and family. Working mothers do twice as much housework as working fathers, with repetitive chores being considered a woman’s work.
In the developing countries, especially in countries where women live under Sharia Law, gender inequalities are much more severe: from women’s testimony being half that of a man in the court of law, to women not having the right to divorce, not having custody rights, having less access to education, no right to travel without the permission of a man, being forced to wear hijab, being victims of State-sanctioned street and domestic violence, not having the right to consensual sex outside of marriage, not having the right to be a judge or a president, and finally being victims of infanticide or dowry murder in countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The patriarchal dividend, a term coined by Connell (6), grants men benefits and power at the expense of women, is extra wealth and generally higher income than women, more respect, more control over their lives, and more access to resources and to institutional power. Therefore, the function of the patriarchal dividend is to bolster and preserve the gender order and gender inequalities, to make these inequalities appear natural, and to reinforce patriarchy in contemporary societies.
Women’s access to this patriarchal dividend is a necessary condition for the eradication of gender inequalities. However, it is not enough. Besides economic dependency or disadvantage, women also have to deal with repressive traditions and values that male-dominated societies impose on them.
It is true that certain professions that are related to male dominance and hegemonic masculinity, such as high political positions, being in the army and participate in the war, participating in the arms race, and doing strip mining, are either dangerous or stressful. In these professions, the harm to men exceeds the benefits of the patriarchal dividend. This is the price men are paying in order to maintain patriarchy and capitalism.
The current patriarchal gender order, which is deeply embedded in societies across the globe, serves to maintain the advantages of the men of a few social classes and ethnicities. These global gender inequalities are a form of violence and albeit the most universal form of violence. It will be difficult to remove this violence from societies all over the world, but not impossible, as we negotiate our way towards absolute gender equality.
1. Connell, R.W. 1987. Gender and Power, Society, the Person and Sexual Politics. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK.
2. Keating, Michael (Editor). 2007. Scottish Social Democracy: Progressive Ideas for Public Policy (Regionalisme & Federalisme/Regionalism & Federalism). Bruxelles, P.I.E. Peter Lang.
Nicholls, Kate. 2007. Europeanizing Responses to Labor Market Challenges in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal: The Importance of Consultative and Incorporative Policy-Making. PhD. Dissertation.
3. Eisenstein, Zillah R. 1979. Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism. Monthly Review Press: New York.
4. Fernbach, David. 1981. The Spiral Path. Gay Men’s Press: London.
5. Lerner, Gerda. 1986. The Creation of Patriarchy (Women and History). New York: Oxford University Press. P.238.
6. Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press. P. 64