Women: ‘Property’ of Men – Part 1

In a three-part series, Gursharan Singh takes a dig at the various views on women. In Part One, he observes how some societies view birth of daughters as a ‘curse’ or ‘liability’.

Gursharan Singh | Opinion | 30 Jan 2016 | Asia Samachar |
A scene from a penh (village) in Punjab. – PHOTO / ASIA SAMACHAR

1.0 Introduction

Women have been perceived as the ‘property’ of men and they have been subservient to men since time immemorial. This subservient status of women can also be noticed in the scriptures of most religions that are dominated by men and where every thing is stated from the man’s viewpoint. Also ‘GOD’ or ‘Almighty’ by any other name is referred to in the male gender and that man has been made in ‘HIS’ image. The female is deemed to be of lower status in some societies and impure due to her periodical menstrual status [though natural] and thus not fit to take part in religious rituals/functions except in supportive roles. The absence of any female prophets or why the ‘rewards/benefits’ that can be enjoyed in heaven are all male orientated, has never been explained.

1.2 It has been the practice in some societies to have many women partners either in the form of wives, mistresses or slaves and the man’s wealth could be measured by the number of slaves [including women] or of other women in his ‘household’. It is reputed that one maharajah in India had over 3,000 ‘wives’ until they were ‘released’ by the son on his father’s death,  the Moguls had harems that had women in the hundreds who may have been brought in as wives, bought as slaves or received as ‘gifts’ and similar situation may also have existed in many other countries. The Chinese royalties/nobles/rich had ‘concubines’ while the European royalties/nobles/rich had ‘mistresses’. The instance of multiple ‘wives’ had been officially declared illegal in most countries but the practice continues  in certain sections of societies that are described as tribal such as the ‘Mormon’ society in the USA.

1.3 In fairness it may be noted that there is one case in Hindu mythology where one woman had five husbands. In Mahabharat it is mentioned that Draupadi married the eldest Pandawa brother but when he told his mother that he had a ‘gift’ the mother told him without looking at Draupadi, to ‘share’ the ‘gift’ with his four brothers. Sadly the eldest husband ‘lost’ her when he used the ‘wife’ as a wager in a gambled in a rigged game and the other four husbands just stood by idly as did the elders of the family.

PART 2: Women: ‘Property’ of Men – Part 2 

PART 3: Women: ‘Property’ of Men – Part 3

1.4 There have also been royalties/rich women in European-American-Asian-Chinese-Indian-other countries who have had several male ‘concubines’ or ‘escorts’ and they have been able to go against the society/religious norms due to their power, statues or riches.

1.5 This situation commences from the time women are conceived/born and continues until they return to their Maker. The subjugation of women continues from childhood when they are indoctrinated via religion and man-made customs to accept their subservient role to the male members of the family and society.

1.6 The women are reminded repeatedly that the woman’s main function for ages has been to serve the sex and other needs and ‘wants’ of the males [willingly or unwillingly], maintain their households and provide children. Women are regularly reminded through the various ceremonies, seminars, lectures and social leaders of their responsibility to serve the men whereas the men are rarely reminded of their responsibilities toward women though the same scripture provide for responsibilities of men towards the women whether they are own mothers-sisters-wives-daughters of others.

1.7 Unfortunately the role of indoctrination and subjugation is also [willingly or unwillingly] supported by the female members of the family, society and women who may have ‘achieved’ [in name with male support] the ‘leadership’ status in the society. This situation is common in probably all societies whether in the east or west, developed, developing/undeveloped countries, urban or rural communities and also in most religions. The probable cause of this practice could be attributed to the rules and norms that are designed and dictated by the male dominated society. Countries like India-England-Germany-Israel and many others have had women Prime Ministers while many others have had many women in high political-corporate-society positions and many have been instrumental in enacting laws to protect women but the enforcement is still with the male dominated agencies/judiciaries and thus the provided laws may be little more than cosmetic in nature to placate the women.

1.8 In several societies the birth of daughters has generally been looked upon as a ‘curse’ or ‘liabilities’ resulting in termination of pregnancies [‘murder’] of female fetus while awaiting birth or ‘murder’ soon after birth or through pregnancy tests for selective male birth. This practice is prevalent even in the modern days [including] among the ‘educated’ and ‘enlightened’ as it continues to be so reported periodically in the media of several countries though more prevalent in the conservative and rural poor families. The educated women may object to the practice but they appear to be helpless due to their own subservient status and lack of support. This has resulted in shortage of women for marriage purposes in several societies that could be attributed to the practice of preference for male children. Further the well being of daughters is neglected especially in conservative societies, in the field of upbringing, health and education in favor of her brothers.

It is reported that there are less than 72 women for every 100 men in Punjab, India. The position in other Indian States may not be any better. The other country that may be guilty of this mass murder of females by termination of pregnancies of females could include China due to its ‘One-Child’ policy and the preference for male children. The problems associated with insufficient women have given rise to ‘importing’ of wives from other countries and may be rape cases including gang rapes of young women in countries like India and may be some others. The position in many other countries is little different and yet men want more than one wife while limiting women to one husband or share in one husband.

1.9 In some countries/societies though the females may not be dumped or ‘murdered’ it may be a common practice to ‘sell’ their young daughters/sister some of whom may not even have reached puberty, to old and moneyed males in the name of ‘marriage’ where these rich/old husbands may either divorce them or abandon them leaving them to become prostitutes. The sad part is that the ‘sale’ of daughters is done by the fathers who could be poor and thus not able to support them.

1.10 However the same fathers rarely ‘sell’ their sons who are expected to bring wealth and are expected to assist to support the family including the unemployable sons who migrate to foreign countries and promise to remit part of their income back home. Sadly there have been cases in most countries where the sons ‘dumped’ their old unproductive and without any wealth parents in old folks homes or abandon them in Government hospitals and then forget about them. These ungrateful sons forget that their parents sacrificed all their wealth and sometimes health-welfare-wealth for the education and careers of the sons including some who make achieve high positions in society and sadly their wives also become ‘partners’ in the ill-treatment of the husbands’ parents.

1.11 It is the daughters/sisters/mothers who normally lose their birth surname and original identity on marriage and take on the surname of her husband and be referred to as the Mrs. or wife of so-and-so and thus denoting that her ‘ownership’ has changed from the father to the husband and may be likened to change of ownership of land in the official records of land offices. Women’s marital status is displayed in some societies with a ring on their finger, a ‘thali’/‘mangal sutra’ around the neck of the bride, putting red color [sindoor] in the parting of their hair or a mark on the forehead [Indian custom] to denote their ‘ownership’ by the husband. This is similar to the western custom of branding the cattle or similar to Indian custom of putting a ring in cattle to denote ownership]. In India it is also a custom to ‘gift’ a bell [payal or ‘anklets’] that is attached to a piece of jewellery which the women wear and the bells make music when they walk. The objective is more to know the whereabouts of the women. Sadly the women prominently wear and display with pride these signs of ‘subjugation’ or ‘ownership’ as they have been convinced by the male dominated religious-society leaders that it provides them with honor, respect and protection.

1.12 Sons never lose their identity and similar identification is not mandatory for the husbands and they are free to be ‘predators’ who can ‘hunt’ other women for their pleasures. A ‘multiple used’ man is acceptable as a husband by women but the bride must be a virgin. Old widower/divorced men are still in demand whereas a young widow/divorcee is looked down upon by society including those of their own kind who include sisters, mothers, friends, female relatives. Though many women led organizations [NGOs] talk about women’s rights not many may be willing to make sacrifices that may impair their own status and positions in society. The only difference today is that the financially independent women when they marry an older man/widower the marriage, it is an informed decision made voluntarily and not dictated or forced on them by the fathers or the male dominated society.

1.13 In the Indian society there is another custom [rakhi/raksha bandan] whereby the brothers are required annually to pledge their protection of their sisters as long as they live. Unfortunately the brothers do not live up to their pledges for whatever reason and in some cases are the culprits. It appears that the promises are only valid as long the promises are not required to be fulfilled. Women also appear to lost confidence in these male promises resulting in them wanting to become economically independent that begins with higher education and financial independence. This double standard is another indication of the man’s dominating status and the women’s subservient/lower status. Fortunately the urban educated/professional-financially independent women appear to have learnt to be self-sufficient and not be dependent on the male relatives for protection.

What is important is now to teach the rural women but then this is a herculean task.


2.0 Women as a ‘Commodity’

2.1 Women have also become a ‘commodity’ whose ‘bodies’ and ‘services’ was and is tradable in societies even today in most countries [developed or otherwise] regardless of the economic system. The price would be depended on the age, beauty and origin of the females and on the supply and demand of the market forces. In some countries the trade in women is a significant contributor to the national economy either directly or indirectly. Trade in women is normally referred to as ‘procurement’. In most urban areas there are specific areas known as the ‘red light districts’ that are center for this sex trade where the commodity is normally women. The ‘trade’ has become international in nature and its contribution is estimated to be crucial to the national economy where women go to foreign countries and repatriate their income which has become major contributors to the countries’ forex earnings.

2.2. The trade has been legalized in some Western countries with a view to control the diseases that are associated with such trade while their ‘trade’ is ‘accepted’ by the Authorities in some countries. The sex trade is declared illegal in most countries but enforcement of laws is ineffective. Action is normally not taken against those who organize the trade and profit from it but against women who are victims of the system. The social leaders provide token opposition through slogans and periodical call to authorities to take effective action on those responsible for the trade. Leaders deny the existence of the sex trade but it flourishes due to weak enforcement/penalties.

2.3 Some women have become entrepreneurs and sell sex services or parts of their bodies such as ‘ovaries’ and become surrogate mothers while others sell their breast milk for those who are not willing to breastfeed. The trade flourishes as professional women do not want motherhood as it may have adverse effect on their career prospects while others   for fear of losing their firm breasts. Young and old educated women have realized their own body’s commercial value and their services and this have resulted in some of them entering this market willingly even when some of them may be financially rich. It is perceived that the tourism industry is one of the major contributors to the escalation to this increase in women trade that is expanding with younger women. Another contributory factor is the immigration policies that allow single men to migrate to developed countries who are sex ‘customers’.

2.4 Physical/mental violence and ill-treatment of women has been existent in societies and any complaint against the perpetrators receives little remedial and deterrent action and the full force of the law is rarely applied. Regular reports about rape/gang rape/children rape and other violence and the delays and ineffective action of the relevant male dominated authorities is evidence of the perception is that this injustice is due to the insincerity of the relevant male dominated enforcement agencies/authorities. The absence of effective action by the few women leaders in the society and system allows the men to continue their ill-treatment of women except for periodical slogans and concerns.


3.0 Status of Men

3.1 This situation does not apply to sons as who are deemed to be to-morrow’s men [‘owners’] who will ‘carry’ their father’s name but replace their father’s name on wealth documents and enjoy the rights. Thus the arrival of male babies is a cause for grand celebrations whereas the birth of a daughter is just an event that may be celebrated for the first birth but deemed to be a disappointment or curse for subsequent births. Regrettably it is also the mothers who are blamed and perceived to be ‘defective’ and at fault for the birth of daughters or if they fail to conceive, Furthermore the male dominated society and the women members of the family/society also refuse to even consider the possibility that the fault could be with the male partner who is not required or is reluctant to undergo medical examination to ascertain the truth. Society forgets that it may be the man whose seed determines the sex of the baby but the woman is the one who is punished and even the female members of the family/community/society do not support their own kind.

3.2 A son is referred to as an ‘asset’ but a daughter is referred to as a ‘liability’ as she is deemed to be held in trust by the father to be maintained, looked after and to be handed over to another man [husband] at some future date. Some Indian religions call the marriage of a daughter as a best good deed [or punya’] that is received by the fathers but the mother is not even mentioned. The cost of looking after this ‘trust’ property and cost of ceremonies for the ‘handover’ can be substantial and beyond the means of many especially the poor. The families consider sons as assets which is used to extract dowry from the bride’s families resulting in some families becoming bankrupt in their efforts to accede to the demands of the groom which is normally made by the father. In some cases last minute demands are made by the groom’s party who threaten to leave the ceremony which can ruin the lives of many brides and their sisters not to mention the reputation of the bride’s parents.

3.3 Dowry problems may also exist in cases of some wealthy families where it is deemed that the family wealth will be reduced on marriage of the daughter to an outsider. This has resulted in marriage between related siblings or in-breeding which can result in health risks in the next generation. It is for this purpose that in some countries the prospects are required to go for medical check-ups to ascertain that there are no health risks.

3.4 In most societies it is perceived that the sons will take care and look after the welfare of aged parents and thus may be referred to as old age support. With this assumption many fathers use up all their savings for the education/career of the sons and may have little financial resources to cater for their own old age referred to as the ‘golden years’.   Unfortunately it has been proven time and again that sons generally neglect their aged/sickly/financially needy parents when they need the most support even when the sons are financially rich and can afford. The senior citizens homes and the many Government/charities funded welfare homes in many countries are evidence of this.

3.5 The growing number of old folk’s homes is testimony to the neglect by sons of their parents.  A visit to any hospital, nursing home or old folk’s home will show that the daughters and wives are the ones who look after the men in their time of need. Normally it is the daughters who generally standby and provide care to their parents when they are in ill-health/old age/financially need. It has been observed that in most cases there is strong bond between the parents and daughters.

Gursharan Singh, C.M.I.I.A., a retired audit officer from the Malaysian civil service, is also a trainer. This article was written in November 2015. He can be reached via emails at gursharan38@gmail.com or sharwant38@yahoo.com, or via mobile at +6019.2927178


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