Wives and mothers : a survey of Indian womanhood

Traditional portrayals of females in Hindu India reveal a dual character: they are seen both as weak and dependent, and as powerful and aggressive personalities. Underlying the notion of power is also a deep fear of women. Therefore, the Indian woman is never without male guards, first her father, then her husband, and finally her sons. Among contemporary women, a similar duality emerges in the contrasting roles of wife and mother. As wives, women exert little power, but as mothers and mothers-in-law, they exercise significant power within the patrilocal joint family household. A social hierarchy within the joint family contributes to conflicts among the women for status and power. The perpetuation of women’s roles is reinforced by religious ideology, societal attitudes and the joint family social structure. Changes in the status of women remain within traditional social boundaries. It is predicted that little change will occur in the status of women as long as the joint family remains the foundation of women’s power.