Fatherhood, gender and power

Fatherhood, gender and power
By: Kamal Raj Sidgel
Posted: 11/5/08
During the American Women's Liberation Movement, controversial writer Germaine Greer publicly claimed that blurring the identity of father would liberate women. However, the blurring of the father's identity raises several ethical and moral questions centered on the fact that in women's reproductive potentiality lies the ultimate power - and both men and women can exercise it to rule over each other.

In the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, control over females began with God's declaration to Adam, "Thou shalt rule over all the creatures of the world," including Eve (females were categorized as "creatures" created for men). According to this tradition, Eve was seduced by Satan. Another story holds that Eve and Satan fell in love, and Adam, seeking a way to control Eve, crafted the ideas of "chastity" and "sin."
Ever since, this rule has been formalized. The Manusmriti, a lawbook of ancient Hindus, says that women, animals and rivers should never be trusted and should be controlled at all times. Islam says the same.
Some historians say that males learned methods of female subjugation from animal husbandry. They discovered that if a black-spotted bull copulates with a domesticated cow, and the cow is put under control, the reproduced spotted calf assumes the identity of the spotted bull, not the unspotted cow.
According to this theory, males observed and applied the same theory to their wives. They began to control female reproductive capacity via enforced domestication, enforced chastity, enforced pregnancy and other forms of sexual repression designed to ensure that men can confidently claim ownership of the children their wives give birth to.
We know that a father is necessary for child bearing, but, until the advent of paternity testing, we didn't know how to identify him. Today, then, women are learning how powerful they are compared to men. In the same vein, the identity of children without fathers has been a matter of fear and, therefore, most countries do not grant them citizenship. This legal framework is maintained through links to ethics, religion, chastity and morality.

Surprisingly, however, some women in far western Nepal have been able to keep the ball of power in their hands. They are not the talented and highly educated women living in the luxurious cities; they are women practicing polyandry in remote districts. All of the women have decision-making power in their families. In fact, the family is matriarchal. Women are privileged because the father's identity is blurred. One wife has multiple husbands in her own home and, fortunately, the males of the area have not yet discovered paternity testing.

If we understand how to deal with facts and utilize them for a positive cause, there may be a way to transform the "second sex" into the first. What is interesting is that power never remains in the same hand. It is inevitable, then, that gendered politics will one day be turned upside down. (The writer is East West Center fellow in Hawaii, USA)
© Copyright 2008 Ka Leo O Hawaii, USA

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