Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Precious Few: Women's Agency, Household Progressions and Fertility in Rajasthan Village

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Precious Few: Women's Agency, Household Progressions and Fertility in Rajasthan Village

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The issue of supposed male authority and its counterpart, the `structural mutedness' of women (Ardener, 1975) draws largely from the naturalness of the link between the dominated status of women and their role of mothering. Largely because of their reference to biology and nature, gender representations are often used to naturalize inequality and obviate dissent within as well as beyond the household. In this light, both the concepts: supposed male authority and `structural mutedness' of women, suggest for a deeper search.

Within the culturally available sets of symbols, there are also multiple layers of ambiguities and possibilities for relations between men and women. A large body of work (Ortner and Whitehead, 1981; Rogers, 1975; Lamphere, 1974; Nelson, 1979; Bledsoe, 1980) has demonstrated conclusively that although men are represented as dominant in many societies, women actually possess and wield a considerable amount of power (See also Kumar, 1994 for retrieving the female subject in South Asia). Weiner (1979) and Leacock (1981) among others suggest that women as individuals wield power in their own right which they exercise in their near exclusive domains. The question of female subordination and their simultaneous holding of power thus becomes a contradiction in terms and requires probing. Strathern (1981) argues that though formal authority structure of a society may declare that women are impotent and irrelevant, close attention to women's strategies and motives indicates that even in situations of overt sex role asymmetry women have a great deal more power than conventional theorists have as sumed (cf Raheja and Gold, 1994 for North Indian women's compelling traditions of proactive cultural dissent vis-a-vis the male dominated expressive ones). Also, women are not a monolith category. There are social differences like age, kinship hierarchy and other interest groups in which women are situated, and do cooperate with and exploit each other. Women's lives in varying material conditions, i.e., the social, economic and political, also vary in terms of the behaviour expected of them. The material conditions so to say interact with norms of women's behaviour in a society. Caplan and Bujra (1978) Dwyer (1978), Bledsoe (1980) and Patel (1994) among others have shown how women in different interest groups are not the same. It is important to analyze how they operate, especially with regard to fertility, constituted largely, in the domestic domain. Further, power is not a monolithic system, but a system of overlapping complexities and contradictions. It is increasingly realized (Foucault, 1979) that where there is power there is resistance. The field of supposed male authority and structural mutedness of women (Ardener, 1975) being no exception.

It is essential to understand the household and the family dynamics to grapple with lives of their members, particularly with regard to their fertility behaviour. How is the interior of the household relationships constituted? How do layers upon layers of relationships unfold in the more intimate interiors of the household? And what shapes and shades do these relationships acquire over a period of time? These are very often missed in concentrating on the normative and the apparent. To avoid being misled by treating women, mothers and couples as internally undifferentiated general categories, though adequate as a first approximation, their behaviour is to be seen as a long duree. There are ambivalences and tensions in the range of developmental and dynamic paths and their interconnections. The project of life accommodates love as well as oppression. This may be studied through a closer examination of life histories. Personal history is seen as a construction of one's social relations through time. In other words, life is not seen just as a collection of roles learnt, expectations enacted or structural locations occupied. Complexities in personal life arise out of structural contradictions that go beyond a particular person. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.