Women and Gender in the Modern World


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Women and gender in the modern world

Women’s power has been translated into control over their ownlives, rather than the notion of exercising control over another.This is despite the fact that power has been defined as the abilityto exercise one`s will over others (Ward &amp Edelstein, 2009,p.110). As such, women’s power does not look the same as men’s.Often, people assume that women’s power does not exist. However,anthropologists know that power is expressed differently in everyculture and historical circumstances. They have also, at the sametime, found that there society in which women exhibit the same typeof political structures as those which are found in politicalsystems, which are often ruled by men. This however does not meanthat women’s power is non-existent. This recognition is onlydownplayed by male biases. According to Ward &amp Edelstein (2009,p.110), many of these forms of power are “tied to economics,kinships, and households, rather than to the public, politicaloffices”. This paper looks at one ethnographic example of how womenhold power as tin Minangkabau Matriarchs and compares it to similarbehavior in the society.

Women’spower in Minangkabau Matriarchs

The definition of matriarchy postulates a hierarchical politicalsystem, which is a reflection of a patriarchy, a political systemparadigm where men are the rulers. This definition therefore positsthat women would occupy the same roles and positions that are held bythe men in the patriarchal definition. If this happened, the womenwould produce the same domination as the men (Ward &amp Edelstein,2009, p.110). However, anthropologists have not substantiallyidentified a system of matriarchy. According to researchers, if therewas a shift from the definitions of matriarchy that puts women in thesame roles as the men, this would identify the females as thematernal-based forms of power and authority. According to Ward &ampEdelstein (2009, p. 110), however, there has been an emergence ofsocieties where there is a new and more sophisticated understandingof matriarchy. One of such people is the Minangkabau of WesternSumatra.

TheMinangakabau, in number, are the largest groups of matrilineal peoplein the whole world. In one village of this society, most people arerice farmers. There are also other economic activities such as laborand trade. The society is organized into clans and lineages, withinwhich there are other ranks which classify the families. These ranksare used to determine the people’s social status and access topower and positions in the society. Despite the fact that thiscommunity is Muslim, the religion has not destroyed the local beliefsand customs. These customs are the ones that privilege women’sroles in the society, and gives the roles that empower them withintheir own society. According to Brettell &amp Sargentn (2012,p.211), the Muslim culture identifies certain aspects of power, suchas kinships, which are constructs of social lives that are reflectedand reinforced in various aspects of Muslim living. The Minangakabauare Muslims and are matrilineal. Within their culture, they havelocal customs, known as adat, which define many forms of powerin the hand of the women. This power paradigm helps the women to holdpower by owning land, holding positions in the social networks andceremonial customs.

Thematrilineal culture is the one that reveals the importance of womenin the Minagakabau society. This power is in the form of Kinships andeconomics. To show the power that the matrilineal big houses had,they had rooftops with two peaks, just like those of a buffalo. Thisis a manifestation of the centrality of women to the Minangakabauculture (Ward &amp Edelstein, 2009, p.111). A senior woman would bethe head of about three of four generations. In these generations,the senior woman’s husband, her daughter’s husbands and childrenlive within these matrihouses. As such, by making the femaleresidents the core of the entire group, women power was passed fromone generation to another.

Atthe helm of this lineage hierarchies, the senior woman held a lot ofpower within the society. This control did not essentially have to bemanifested in terms of social positions or political power. The womanhas the responsibility of overseen all the members of the clan whichshe heads. By this, she controls all the household economies and isgenerally in control of the ancestral lands and houses. Additionally,these women are influential when it comes to making decisions aboutmarriages and how people conform to adat. Theirresponsibilities, according to Ward &amp Edelstein (|2009, p. 111),extend beyond control over their own children, extending to clientsand other kin. Their culture allows the women to have a right to makedecisions about the ancestral lands and houses. This management powertends to give the women authority over others. As such, the women’s’power does not necessarily have to be the same as that of men.

Comparisonto the American society

In the American society, matrimonial power is also experienced. Thisis however not driven by culture, as in the case of the Minangakabau,rather, by activism and movements by feminists. According to Yenor(2013, p.1), radical feminists have ridiculed the traditional familyas a remnant of the remnant of patriarchy, and thus, a threat toautonomy. As such, there has been a redefinition of the ends ofmarriage, in terms of individual fulfillment and development. Bystrengthening matriarchy in the American society, women’s roles inthe society and possessing power have improved significantly (Wayne,2007, p.101). They have more say in marriages issues, such as thenumber of children they wish to have and also importantly, issues ofmarriage terminations. In the court cases, the women are given anequal say as the men, and in case of divorce, they get to controlpart of the estate that they built with their husbands. This is aform of power that is not necessarily manifested in terms ofdominance or such, which is most commonly associated with men’spower.


Women’s power is not necessarily the same as men’s power. Itexists in al societies, in different degrees and forms. As such,women have an agency, which enables them to hold power by makingimportant decisions, playing importance roles in the structuring ofthe society and making daily choices over important issues. Thisagency does not allow the women to hold power by controlling otherpeople’s lives, rather, playing important roles in the decisionmaking process. However, the agencies do not exist in the same way inall societies, as some societies highly restrict it, while othersallow for many freedoms and opportunities. As such, women hold powerin everyday activities, such as raising families, making importantdecisions which affect the social organization and shapingideologies.


Bretell, C.B. &amp Sargent, C.F. (2012). Gender in cross-culturalperspective. Pearson Education.

Ward, M. C., &amp Edelstein, M. (2009). A World Full of Women (6thedition). Pearson. ISBN-10: 0-205-87280-8

Wayne, T. K. (2007).&nbspWomen`sroles in nineteenth-century America.Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Yenor, S. (2013). The True Originof Society: The Founders on the Family.&nbspFirstPrinciples: Foundational Concepts to Guide Politics and Policy.