Social Justice and Political Dealings

Political Culture and Patriarchy: The United States and India

downloadThere are several similarities between American political culture and India’s concerning women’s rights and patriarchy. This may seem like a stark, overwhelming contrast as women in India have been fighting brutal and unjust treatment in the country for centuries, however, the same could be argued for the women of the United States. Although the United States is not considered a patriarchal society, evidence of patriarchy within the social construct of the country is evident. Some examples of this are seen in American wedding tradition and women’s movement for equal pay. In India, the same is true in regards to marriage traditions and equal pay, but Indian women face more life-threatening occurrences. For example, the prevalence of rape in India coupled with the low conviction rate of offenders for the crime illustrates the undercurrent of patriarchy and political culture within the country. Likewise, the gender pay gap in the United States demonstrates that women are still affected by patriarchy, even on two very different ends of the world community.

One of the main women’s rights issues in India is concerning dowry death or dowry murder. A Dowry can consist of many things such as rupees, jewels or property. This first started much like the wedding traditions in the United States, with the giving of gifts to the bride and groom at their wedding or bridal shower. Over time, this tradition was transformed into the requesting of these gifts in exchange for marriage. Today, dowries

Women in India protest rape culture.

are still requested in India and dowry deaths are still happening as a result of failure to meet the demands of the groom and his family, by the bride and her family. Failure to comply with the demands of the groom’s family can result in the murder of the bride by either a member of her own family or a member of the groom’s. Many of these cases go unnoticed by Indian courts and are deemed accidents leaving many Indian families devastated, with no legal recourse. It is estimated by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) that one woman dies or is severely injured every hour from a Dowry related crime. In 2013 alone there were over 8,000 Dowry related murders (NCRB, 2013). The NCRB also recorded crimes such as Molestation, cruelty against women, rape and sexual harassment. In addition, the conviction rate in 2012 was only 32%, most of whom were acquitted of their crimes, this rate even dropping from the previous year. Further, these figures do not account for the hundreds of cases that go unreported each year, both from survivors of attempted Dowry murders or those whose death has been ruled an accident regardless of the suspicious circumstances.

Although the dowry system has been outlawed in India since 1986 and is punishable by death or life imprisonment sadly, most offenders are never convicted and those who are raconvicted of murder and other violent crimes against women, are acquitted (Oldenburg, 2002). A lot of this is due to police and judicial corruption, in addition to the failure to report a crime due to fear. In the cases of dowry death, judges and law enforcement with traditional ideological views, tend to place blame on the women and her family for the unpaid Dowry, rather than the man who committed her murder. This is also true in rape cases in India due to certain societal expectations and standards placed upon women. For example, a woman is not traditionally allowed to leave her home at night and if she must, she has to be escorted by a male relative. Women who break this tradition and venture out with friends or by themselves after dark are often classified as sex workers which often results in their rape and murder. This practice is often reinforced by judges and defense attorneys who acquit violent offenders for committing such crimes on the basis of the women’s indiscretion (Documenting Rape in India). Many of the cases tried before the Indian judicial system are overturned because of the “tempting” or “seductive” actions of the victim, or are portrayed as accidents.

Because of the deeply rooted conservative values, the corruption of Indian politics and practices is evident. In the article, Women’s Low Status and Power, the author discusses the motive of men in India, “Through violence men seek both to deny and destroy the power of women” (Burn 24). The concept of eliminating women’s power and asserting male dominance is clear both within the Indian judicial system and law enforcement. Other examples include honor killing after a woman has been raped or sexually assaulted due to her “impurity” and inability to be married and feticide in which female fetus’ are aborted (Burn 20-32). These examples paired with low offender prosecution and high acquittal rate for offenders who are prosecuted provides a clear picture of the political culture of the country and the way in which conservative views hinder women’s rights and liberties in India.

Despite the policies the Indian government has tried to implement to outlaw practices such as the exchanging of dowry’s and implementing harsher punishments for violent offenders, the traditional viewpoint of the individuals who enforce these laws, are such which hinder these policies from being effective in protecting women’s rights. Because this corruption is so bad, women are afraid to report crimes or ask the police for help in sexual assault cases. As stated in the New York Times article Documenting Rape in India

Women in India protest violence against women.

(2015), women are ostracized and sometimes disowned for reporting a rape or sexual assault. The author also discusses the horrendously poor treatment of rape victims, even by the medical staff caring for them in hospitals. As discussed in Working the Night Shift by Reena Patel (2010), this type of unsympathetic behavior is commonplace in India today. Generally speaking, Indian women are afraid of the police and in fact, feel as if it is a waste of time to report a rape or sexual assault, meaning that even if something of this nature happens to a women in India, it is unlikely they would receive any kind of real help (Patel, 2010). Instead, victims of rape are cast out and for being “impure” and acting in such a manner that would afford them such treatment. These occurrences of rape, sexual assault, and even murder, are directly linked with the patriarchal practices of Indian culture and in turn, fuel their internal political culture and policy.

Although patriarchy in Indian society is clear, it is harder to identify within the United States political culture. Historically, women in the United States have had to fight for rights such as the rights to education and the right to vote. Both of these things being restricted from women because women were thought to be too emotional and irrational to make important decisions such as voting on government positions or obtaining higher education. This hierarchy exalting men to the forefront of political culture is a tradition that still occurs today whether it is realized or not. The existence of the wage gap is especially an example of this. In the United States, movements to encourage equal pay for women and feminist movements call for the closing of the wage gap and acknowledgment of equal social standing with their male counterpoints. Evidence of patriarchy in American society can be seen in both of these issues. As it stands, men earn more money annually than women who are employed in the same types of positions reinforcing the idea of the male as the family breadwinner and omitting the education, training, and skills that women in these same positions bring to the table. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women make only $.80 for every dollar earned by a man (IWPR, 2016). That illuminates a wage gap of nearly 20% between men and women (IWPR, 2016). Although the legislation was passed in 2016 to require women to register for the draft when they turn 18 years old, United States Congress has yet to establish a policy which bridges the wage gap between genders (Becker, 2016).

Additionally, debates about “rape culture” in America also highlight the similarities between Indian political culture and American political culture. According to Robert Jenson, author of the article, “Rape, Rape Culture and the Problem of Patriarchy”, the prevalence of rape in the United States is directly related to its patriarchal society (2014). The idea of rape culture in which women are assigned blame for some or all of the crime of rape can especially be seen on college campuses. A recent example of this is the case of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner who was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in January of 2015. Throughout his trial, Turner’s defense teetered on what he called, “the party culture” of the Stanford college campus blaming his poor judgment on the environment he was put in (Levin, Wong, 2016).  Turner’s denial to take responsibility for the assault and his insistence that the college culture was responsible for his actions rather than himself, suggests that certain crimes should be expected and even justified when conditions, such as those at a fraternity party, are present to cloud one’s judgment.

Jenson argues that by refusing to take the blame for their assaults on women, men exhibit power over their victims shifting the power dynamic from the victim, back to themselves. In fact, he states, “rape is all about power and the way men are trained to understand themselves, and how to see women” (Jenson, 2014, para 22). This highlights

Many television and print ads depict women as submissive to men or as sexual objects used to sell merchandise such as Hardees’ cheeseburgers and perfume.

the main underlying issue of patriarchal society. In this type of culture, men are taught to “seek control and pursue conquest in order to feel like a man” (2014, para 23). In order to display masculinity, men tend to discuss their private sexual encounters with their friends, are more likely to buy products advertised using the objectification of women as a draw, and separate themselves from activities that are seen as feminine (Jenson, 2014). By drawing the line in the sand, patriarchy is reinforced through cultural norms and stigma, even if the moral value of American culture tends to contradict this. Masculinity then, in some cases, equates to the control of women whether it be sexually or otherwise. Further, the case of Brock Turner and the light sentence for his crime also resembles that of India and the lenient at best and non-existent at worst sentences for convicted rapists. Additionally, the lack of compassion for rape victims is also reminiscent of Indian culture as the idea of rape culture transforms the victims into culprits leaving them no outlet for recourse against their attacker.

Another aspect of the ‘rape culture’ debate surrounds the way some American children are exposed to obvious gender separation in the public school system with the implementation of school dress codes specifically for women. In many American schools, young girls are restricted from showing certain parts of their bodies such as their shoulders, chest area, and parts of their legs. Some public school systems argue that attire such as tank tops and shorts that rise above the knees are a distraction for their male counterpoints. In this way, young men are portrayed as “savage”, “untamed”, “uncontrollable” beings and young girls are expected to combat male impulses by covering up.  In her article, “How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture”, Laura Bates discusses the message these dress codes send to young men and women. She argues that this type of sexism in schools teaches children that “girls’ bodies are dangerous and harassment is inevitable” (Bates, 2015, para 1). The notion that because of gender, a woman is guaranteed to be harassed at some point in her life is one of the main claims Bates uses to demonstrate how these dress codes breed rape culture. Through these policies, young boys are taught to think their desire or attraction to a classmate is no fault of their own, but in fact, the women’s fault for tempting them. It also shifts accountability and makes the women responsible for preventing natural male emotions through dress code restrictions while also implying that because of their gender, men are incapable of controlling their own bodies, actions, and emotions (Bates, 2015).

Likewise in India, women are forced to cover parts of their body including their neck, ankles, and head. In many rape cases in India, convictions were not achieved due to the way in which the women presented herself at the time of the crime whether that be the time of night she was out, what she was wearing, or who was escorting her (Burn, 2003). Similarities can also be drawn between that fear of women in India to report a crime and the social stigma that surrounds sexual assault and harassment cases in the United States. A good example of this being the recent firing of many prominent Hollywood actors, news anchors, and directors due to sexual misconduct allegations, some dating back decades. Countless women have now stepped forward, years later, to share their stories and expose workplace sexual assault and harassment even after not reportingimages.jpg any crimes to the police. Additionally, there are many accounts of women who say their stories have been “hushed” through monetary incentive or the threat of legal action, simply because of the social status and power of the men accused (Lanktree, 2017).

In conclusion, patriarchy and the idea that men are superior to women has led to certain traditions within India and the United States which have affected political culture and policy. Despite the government’s efforts in both India and the United States to enact policies which promote equality for women, political ideals and culture have made this nearly impossible. In India, the failure to convict and enforce current punishments for violent crimes against women is just one way in which the political culture of the country has affected the enforcement of the law. Failure to enforce these policies has certainly not helped the situation for women in the country and has, in fact, acted as a way in which men are asserting their dominance over women in the area. The same could be said regarding the United States’ policy requiring women to register for the draft before being given equal pay in the workplace. Although India’s predicament is far more pressing than that of the United States, similarities can be drawn between the political culture in the countries, and the way in which citizen’s lives are lived, the law is created, and women are treated within these countries.






Bates, L. (2015, May 22). How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture. In Time. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from

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Teays, Wanda. “The Burning Bride: The Dowry Problem in India”. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 7.2 (1991): 29–52. JSTOR. Web.

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