Women in Maintaining
Elizabeth A. Mann
"In nearly all societies a number of roles and characteristics of womanhood are manipulated to develop the female image into one of the most potent symbols, which is exploited in a variety of ways in the organisation of interest groups and in the struggle for power between them". 1
In analyses of Muslim society, the traditional anthropological view has been that Muslim women are absorbed into a subculture loosely tied to Islam, but more influenced by local (often pre-Islamic) custom and indigenisation. 2 Traditionally Muslim men are portrayed as representing power, authority, superiority and access to formal Islam, backed up in the persons of the maulvi, maulana, mulla and mufti, all men with highly specialised knowledge of Islam. This is consistent with the image of women as submissive, deferential and inferior, with little or no access to formal Islam. Such views are supported by ethnographic material demonstrating gender-specific forms of ritual which enhances the exclusiveness of the male/female worlds, and the uniqueness of these worlds in relation to each other.
Although in India the functions of Muslim men and women are well defined and adhered to, largely conforming to images of what men and women should do in a shared system of ideals 3, their respective duties are invested with implications beyond simply maintaining gender roles. What women do affects men in both ideological and practical ways, exerting influence as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, with ties of affection and responsibilities, of socialisation and education, and of property rights and financial expectations.