Socio-economic Status of Women in Patriarchal Societies
Kinship patterns affect the social alliance of individuals in all society along with providing identity to them. It is the kinship which further acts as a criteria of social and economic status of an individual in their respective social groups. Raymond Scupin argues that kinship plays an important role in modifying position of women and women have a higher social status in societies with kinship systems that emphasize matrilocality (i.e. living with the wife’s family) and matrilineal descent (i.e. determining inheritance and descent through the female line) compared to societies with kinship systems that emphasize patrilocality and patrilineal descent. In order to analyze Scupin’s hypothesis, the Minangkabau of Indonesia and the Yanomamo of Amazon region, South America are examined. The reason for selecting these two social groups is that Minangkabau follow matrilineal system of descent whereas the Yanomamo follows patrilineal system of kinship.
Minangakabau tribe is known for its matrilineal social system despite being an Islamic tribe. It is important to note that in Muslim culture, men are given more dominance as a head of the family and main decision maker. Furthermore, Muslim societies usually have chain of decent traced back to fathers. In Minangkabau, the mother decides social status of the child and men are considered as a weaker part of the spousal relationship. In addition to that, men are pledged by mothers to their wives
which makes them live at the wives’ homes after marriage (Sanday 81). However, this arrangement works only at nights and men return to their mothers during the day. Hence, men tend to belong to their mothers and have their loyalty towards them while bearing their responsibilities as well. On the contrary, the Yanomamo of Amazon follows the patrilineal system of descent. Marriages take place among allied lineage groups where members of the families are consulted for the final decision (Chagnon 121-126). After marriage, women move to their husband’s house. It is important to note that marriages are also decided by the elder male members of the clan.
Women are of immense social importance for this tribe and the male adult caregiver for a child in this tribe would be mother’s brother instead of child’s father (Sanday 94; Taylor n.p). Secondly, a child is known by his mother’s name and is expected to add to her wealth by playing his role as a part of the family (Sanday 37). On the contrary, children tend to belong to their fathers’ kinship in Yanomamo tribal system however names of the kinships do not follow any specific pattern.
Another important aspect of this tribal arrangement is presence of male head in a corporate descent groups making this tribe patriarchic while staying matrilineal (Sanday n.p; Taylor n.p). Women of the clan choose one of their uncles or older brothers to be the head of the clan who is responsible for negotiations, economic decisions and conflict resolution. However, these decisions often reflect the will of female members as well. Secondly, properties in such corporate structures especially immoveable are not owned by individuals i.e. neither men nor women, but groups. Usage rights are assigned by the groups to specific individuals. Outside clan, men and women both can own individual properties. Unlike, Minangkabau, Yanomamo does not follow the system of joint property (Early and Peters n.p). Furthermore, this tribe does not have named kinship groups (Chagnon 133-137). Exchange of women as a result of marriage leads to strong relationship among brothers-in-laws however relationships among cousins are often reserved. Polygamy is also evident in this group (Early and Peters n.p; “Marriage and Family” n.p).
Minangkabau further follows a duo-local residential system (Sanday 83-95). Husbands work on the ground of their wives and help them in cultivation however the produce will remain the property of the wife. On the other hand, if a man owns any form of property, it is inherited by its sisters’ children and not by his owns or his brothers’. Fathers are considered as outsiders or guests in this matrilineal system whereas the main decision maker is maternal uncle (Sanday n.p). Interestingly, if a man does not find employment in the local markets, he works on his wife’s descent’s property but for no major gains. However, if he decides to do the same on his mother’s property, he shares some profits with rest of the profits going either to his mother or sister. Young boys are also made to leave the house after the age of ten and make the place available for their sisters and their husbands. They tend to return only for meals (Sanday 47). However, the system changes after their marriage and they are required to move back to their mothers but are also required to make themselves scarce when their sisters’ husband visit.
A critical analysis of these two tribal groups helps in understanding that patterns of kinship and descent play a major role in deciding socio-economic status of women in different societies. It was found that women tend to have more rights and respect in matrilineal society in Minangkabau however this partially proves Scupin’s hypothesis. Despite having ownership of the property, major decisions of the family are taken by the male head of the clan (irrespective of mutual consent among men and women). Furthermore, existence of male heads is mandatory for every social group in Minangkabau. Therefore, having title to property and entitlement to income still does not eliminate a complete need for men in this culture. However, Yanomamo is a tribe with dense social authority given to men. In such structures, men are given more importance however with whom their daughters and sisters have been married acts as criteria for social bonding among men. Therefore, it can be said that Scupin’s hypothesis is partially correct however kinship of women does not act as the only criterion for their socio-economic status in matrilineal and patriarchal groups.
Chagnon, Napoleon. Yanomamo: The Fierce People. New York: Holt McDougal, 1968. Print.
Early, John D. and Peters, John F. The Xilixana Yanomami of the Amazon. Gainesville: University of Florida, 2000. Print.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. Cornell University Press, 2004. Print.
Taylor, Jacob. Matrilineal Descent Patterns in Contemporary Cultures. Explodie.org. N.p, 2012. Web.
“Marriage and Family”. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. N.p, 2008. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.