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Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment

Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das



Gender roles are formed through socialization process that begins at birth and and is extended in
our lifetime. Do you know how? Through: family, education, peer groups, and mass media.
These are the agents of gender socialization, which continuously teaches and reminds us our
socially accepted and appropriate gender roles, according to the norms or standards created by
our society.

Almost in all world societies, man’s gender roles (known as ‘masculine roles’) are recognized as
power, control, and dominance. On the contrary, woman’s gender roles (known as ‘feminine
roles’) are recognized as passive, nurturer, and subordinate. These are binary opposite gender
roles between men and women. These gender role differences certainly lead to inequalities
among sexes in society.

In some societies, the gender roles between men and women are markedly different! Such
societies are more gender unequal. In other societies, men and women share similar kinds of
gender roles. Such societies are more or less gender equal.

But no society is absolutely equal – giving equal opportunity to men and women at the same
time. Therefore inequality exists in some form or other. The global aim is to eradicate gender
inequalities by all means and make every society gender equal.

According to Subhasini Mahapatra in her book on the Status of Women: Towards Empowerment,
“equality is proclaimed in principle but inequality reigns supreme in practice”.


The objective and learning outcome of this module is:

1. To introduce gender roles, which originate from gender-based division of labour.
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

2. To point out male domination, power and control on women and society. This is
popularly known as ‘patriarchy’.
3. To develop the understanding of how sexual inequality leads to social inequality.


Role is the socially expected behaviour from individuals like us in society. Roles are performed
by all of us, according to the accepted social norms and shared rules found in each of our society.
Roles guide our behaviours in a specific social situation or setting. Roles give us ‘social status’
and determine what social privileges and responsibilities we have under our individual social

Social status is an individual’s position in the society - how he or she is defined or treated in the
society and by the society. Social roles and statuses are always gender-based. For example: as
female and male, mother and father, daughter and son; we have different social statuses,
dependent on different normative roles required from each of us in our society. The role and
status of woman, wife, mother, and daughter is socially ascribed or expected as loving, caring,
nurturing, self-sacrificing, home-making, and peaceful. The role and status of man, husband,
father, son is socially ascribed or expected as head of the household, breadwinner,
disciplinarian, home technology expert, ultimate decision maker in family and society.

However, society sometimes allows us some flexibility in performing our social or gender-based
roles. But in most cases, gender roles are rigid and conservative and the society hesitates to allow
us to exchange our given gender-based roles. During the times of rapid state of social change
(like revolution, civil war, social movement, etc.), we are confused of the socially acceptable role
limits that create uncertainty in our minds about what appropriate role behaviour is accepted by
the changing society.
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

Do we need any change in our status or position in society as ‘women’? To change our status
we need to change our gender-based roles or adopt ‘other’ gender-based roles (or men’s roles).
Changing gender roles are difficult in both ways - to initiate and to achieve in society. Since
socially appropriate roles of male and female are formed within us through the process of
socialization and division of labour, we see widely in our family and society.


We find striking dualistic difference in male to female gender roles in family, in

schools/colleges/institutions, in workplaces, in governmental and non-governmental
organizations, in political agencies, in public places, in private places, and we can go on……….
We socialize gender-based roles from childhood to adolescence, so that we can adapt easily the
socially accepted behaviours permitted under the norms and customs of our society and culture.

In almost every cultural, religious, ethnic, class, caste, and other social groups, ‘gender’ is an
important dimension of socialization. Parents and family members are the main people
responsible for gender role socialization. They provide their boy and girl child different kinds of
dresses, toys, games, skills, training, education, experiences, and environmental surroundings.
All this is to ensure that socially appropriate and accepted gender-based roles are socialized
firmly within every child at family level.

Parents and family members may or may not treat son and daughter differently. But consciously
or unconsciously, family teaches boys and girls different approaches for problems solving, to
challenge themselves, and towards their life decisions. Researchers argue that differential
behaviour by parents towards children may create gender differences in their thinking patterns
and problem solving skills. (EXAMPLE in PPT)

This process of gender-role socialization in childhood is extended from parents to family

members to teachers to peers. Gender-role socialization in childhood focuses on – looking up to
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

‘role-models’. During childhood socialization, we can see boys behaving more aggressively than
girls, because they learn it is socially accepted. (EXAMPLE in PPT)

While in adolescence, gender-role socialization focuses on two major issues: ‘vocational

decisions’ and ‘sexuality’. During adolescence socialization, we see girls act more like adult
women, making more compromises between work and family relationships than adult men.
Jo Freeman in her book Women: A Feminist Perspective, says that ‘minor’ differences in
childhood can lead to larger differences in adolescence and greatest differences in later life.


We have to understand that gender roles are actually reproduced from gender-based division of
labour between men and women in society. Every society and culture has division of labour by
gender, differing from men to women. It is rooted in man’s and woman’s socio-sexual needs and
positions in the society. Gender division of labour occurs from gender discrimination in
household responsibilities and tasks, between unpaid and paid work, within paid work, in public
and private domain.

According to the International Labour Organization, the way work is divided between men
and women according to their gender roles is usually referred to as the ‘gender division of
labour’. According to the gender division of labour, men do specialized, skilled and paid work
outside home. Women tend to do non-specialized, unskilled, unpaid work inside home. Gender
division of labour determines work, tasks, and responsibilities assigned to men and women in
their daily lives and gender division of labour is even extended to the labour market. Sociologists
and feminists often argue that gender roles and gender division of labour are ‘sexist’ in nature
and are the result of biological traits and differences between men and women. Division of
labour is regarded in society as traditionally appropriate for both sexes.
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

In most cultures and societies, women are solely responsible for house-keeping chores, like –
cleaning, cooking, washing, fetching water and fuel, and small-scale agriculture. Women are
also solely responsible for family care, like – food, health, child/adult/elderly care, and
value-education. On the other hand, men are responsible for only technical household jobs,
like – electrical and mechanical works. Gender division of labour in household leads to
‘occupational segregation’ in the labour market. It also leads to vocational education and training
imparted along the gender-line.
Women participate in service sectors, sectors related to care-giving, sectors that require
lesser skills and lower ranks/wages/salary, and sectors that lack decision making and
career advancement. While men hold hierarchical and superior position in society and therefore
participate in manufacturing sectors, sectors related to socio-economic-political control,
sectors that require more skills and higher ranks/wages/salary, and sectors that promise
decision making and career advancement.
However, gender division of labour is never permanent. It changes with social, economic, and
political changes in wider society, state, nation, region, or global level. But traditional gender
division of labour is not usually found among migrant men and women. They may perform
non-traditional gender roles in the society, may take-up non-traditional jobs in the labour
market, and/or may even do non-traditional tasks in the household.

Gender role socialization and gender division of labour are founded on the patriarchal power
structures of society - which give socially ascribed or credited or recognized hierarchical status
to men over women.


The word ‘Patriarchy’ stands for power and authority. ‘Patria’ symbolizes possession,
control, and belonging. Women are the majority to be oppressed by patriarchy. But patriarchy
also oppresses all marginalized categories: like- gender, age, caste, class, colour, ethnicity,
religion, language, and whatever else caught in its web of authority.
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

Patriarchy can be extended to almost every direction – philosophy, law, governance, economy,
society, and family. The roots of patriarchy lie in the myths of every religion, as if the Almighty
or Creator or God has created the world revolving around ‘the power of man and the
subordination of woman’. It is the myth that men hold power of protection and control of
society; and women hold power of reproduction and motherhood. Thus nobody should
question patriarchy, since it will then critique religion, human society, and our wellbeing!

Patriarchs are thought as men who are wise and strong, who are stern and unforgiving in
nature, who conserve their energies and their wealth, including their women. Patriarch
symbolizes ‘Master’ and ‘Father Right’. They have the right of ownership over the ‘other’,
those who are ‘powerless’. Patriarchy has constructed the social belief that men are
physically powerful; perfect human beings; have right to authority, respect, and dignity in
society. He is not a person but an institution, a mindset, a hegemony, an absolute
superiority; and thus not only a protector but also an oppressor. (EXAMPLE in PPT)

Patriarchy in India has become more powerful through the historical journey of human
development and progress. As a result women’s space in society has shrunk more and more with
time. The relationship between Indian men and women works only across polarities, binaries or
opposites, like – men-inside / women-outside, men-old / women-young, men-rich / women-
poor, men-physical / women-emotional, men-abuse / women-love, men-powerful / women-
vulnerable, and more like that. The patriarchal or male-centred view of human life gives
privilege to one gender over another. This has led to inability for men and women to co-work
towards holistic development of our society. (EXAMPLE in PPT)

This conflict and opposition against ‘other gender’ are rooted in the basic concept of one-sided
‘power’ of man which does not respect women’s perspectives and needs. This notion dominates
over all areas of human life: myth and culture, history and religious practices, language and art,
socio-economic-political constructs, and above all family and society. Therefore, patriarchy
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

leads to widespread gender-based violence and discrimination and inequality against women in
all aspects of life. Patriarchal oppression may differ in degree, kinds may also differ from society
to society, but gender discrimination and inequality persists in all societies.


Let us best understand inequality in opposite to equality. Equality means greater freedom,
visibility, and voice. It means more space for women in private sphere like- home and public
sphere like- society or world. The dreams of women may differ, their struggles may differ, but
all women need equal space in society to protect their human rights.
Women have been excluded from human rights, from its perceptions, and from its
practices; since time immemorial. Social discourses have always been mindless and ignorant
of gender issues. Political thinking and institutions have been based on the legitimate
discrimination and degradation of women. These social, economic, and political paradigms have
denied and excluded women from all its affairs. In the words of Simone de Beauvoir, “woman
is not regarded in society as an autonomous being”.

Cultural fundamentalism constructs femininity; woman’s virginity, virtue and morality;

restrict her social roles; prescribe dress codes; and control her body. Throughout history,
there is an over concern with female body. And male members of society are equally attracted
and threatened by female body. Thus, society practices sexual to social exclusion, segregation,
division, ‘purdah’, and other avoidable circumstances. Female menstrual blood is socially
treated as impure, her choice and role in procreation underplayed, her strength in
domestic chores are overplayed.

Education, which is an agency of social change, is also in the hands of patriarchal power,
controlled by the rich and mighty men. Gender dimensions of subordination and inequality
are extensive and act as a vicious-circle in society. In all social patterns – birth, education,
relationships, marriage, wifehood, motherhood, and citizenship – women are caught in the
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

power struggles under men-dominated social structures. According to Virginia Woolf, society
has blocked its own potential for progress by depriving women of equal participation in
socio-economic-political affairs, and by depriving them of equal opportunities of growth.


It is now clear from the tables, figures and examples of gender inequality and equality present in
India – that in our society ‘gender equality’ is a promise that is merely expressed in more
words than needed. Gender equality is a fact, but not necessarily perceived as a legal right
of women. Women have therefore continued to be invisible, silenced, and submerged. The social
institutions and structures, as well as the cultural milieu, continue to be apparently dominated
throughout by patriarchy. Patriarchal ethos reinforces the discrimination and inequality against
women. This discrimination in India begins before birth and the very right to take birth as
a girl child against cultural trend of ‘son preference’. As a result skewed sex-ratio, unequal
gender power and realities prevail in society.

In spite of these unequal experiences in their lives, women individually or collectively work
toward visibility and cohesion. Women as producers of goods, of knowledge, of prosperity, as
carriers of tradition, and as agents of change refuse to be passive objects of desire and
subordination. Women have raised voices, agitated, faced social exclusion, and also died in
protest. Women are still at work, still hope to create harmony and equality out of this
confrontation, and wish to change the definition and function of gender roles and power.

At this juncture, let us make our own voice against dominance of social power and inequality. It
means raising one’s own feminist or gender consciousness towards means of ‘equity’ and ends of
‘equality’ in society.
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das


 This module has addressed gender based division of labour, the power of
patriarchy, and the extension of sexual to social inequality.

 ‘Sex/gender system’ revolves around a hierarchy that advantages men over women
by giving them higher status, wider opportunities, greater and more consistent
material and psychological benefits.

 Hierarchy is a social structure that levels people or groups so that some have more
and others have less in the way of opportunities and benefits. Such system of
inequality is known as ‘social stratification’.

 Domination is a hierarchical reality in relation to some individuals or groups, who

are socially constructed to routinely exercise their rights to regulate other people’s
actions, opportunities, and outcomes; leading to social exploitation, social injustice,
and social problems.

 Oppression is an experiential notion of domination, concerning how people in the

lower ranks of social hierarchies – those who are more dominated than being
dominating – react over time by way of their identities, emotions, and social actions.

 Patriarchy is a social organization marked by the supremacy of male head of the clan
or father in the family, the legal dependence and control of women and children, the
recognition of descent and inheritance in the male-line, and having a
disproportionately large share of power in society.

 Gender role is a set of societal norms dictating what types of behaviour are generally
considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on their actual or
Paper Code and Title: H14WD Women’s Development and Empowerment
Module Code and Name: H14WD02 Gender Roles, Power & Inequalities
Name of the Content Writer: Sayani Das

perceived sex in a given culture or society. Gender roles are the behaviours, attitudes,
and activities expected or common for male versus female in society.

 Sexual or gender inequality refers to the unequal treatment or perceptions of

individuals based on their sex or gender. It arises from biologically inherited
differences to socially constructed gender roles. Sexual or gender inequality is the
dominant part of social inequality that violates human rights and social justice.