Gender Roles in Northern India

Subject: Sociology
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Asian countries are known for being conservative. This is manifested in the patriarchal nature of Asian states such as China, India, and Japan. In these nations, women are given fewer, less influential roles. In Northern India, gender roles are distributed unequally, with males being given powerful positions compared to their female counterparts. One of the most dominant communities in Northern India is the Punjabis (Baruah, 2014). Like most Indian communities, Punjabi society encourages masculinity. Women are expected to be submissive to men, and their main role in society is to rear children and take care of house chores. Despite India’s reputation as a modern, successfully developing country, in some of its regions women are so powerless that they are often deprived of even the right to life.

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Communities in Northern India, such as Punjabis, are divided and organized into social contracts such as race, color, age, and financial position (Imam & Bano, 2015). Gender is also one of the social determinants that are highly adhered to in the community. In the region, women are so demeaned that when a man is not strong enough to perform some of the masculine roles, he is labeled as a woman (Sen, 2018). Most of the gender roles assigned to different family members are similar to the roles in a patriarchal community. In the family’s structure, the father is the head of the household. He is the one making decisions in the family. The rest of the family members only make suggestions on decisions. Indian communities are mainly patriarchal; hence a woman’s role in society has dwindled.

Gayle Rubin defines gender as the societal interpretation of roles and traits of biological sexuality (Imam & Bano, 2015). Therefore, gender roles are defined by a specific community or society. In a family setting, the main gender role assigned to a woman is child-rearing. In the institution, the primary goal is the procreation and continuity of their generation. Therefore, women are encouraged to marry and bear children and continue the family’s bloodline. Some of the major restrictions include the fact that a woman cannot be the head of the family (Baruah, 2014). According to the community’s stereotypes, the female gender should not learn to read and write; they cannot lead and should not speak up against a man.

Some of the major beliefs about women that led to the restrictions faced by women in northern communities, such as the Punjabis, include the belief that they are weak. This contributed to limitations, including that a woman should obey and respect men without questioning or challenging them (Imam & Bano, 2015). The belief that a woman’s role is childrearing and housekeeping has also led to prejudices such as that they should not read and write and should depend on men to provide for their needs. Most of the traditional beliefs have limited women’s life to being reliant on men. In this case, a woman would fear challenging a man even when they are wrong because of the perception that women should be submissive. Therefore, women are likely to disregard bad decisions made by men simply because they are made to believe that men are always right.

However, the stereotype that the main role of a woman is childbearing honors them for their contribution to procreation and continuity of generations. Although some of the old attitudes and restrictions are still present in the current society, most of them have been abolished. Beliefs, including that women should not be educated, have been disregarded today. One of the most common stereotypes and attitudes held by communities in Northern India is that a woman is weak and cannot be a leader. In a community such as the Punjabis, most of its rulers are men; there are a few women occupying leadership positions in society.

Communities in Northern India, including the Punjabis, encourage heterosexuality. Based on the heteronormative culture, everyone is presumed to be heterosexual which means that everyone is attracted to the opposite sex based on their biological sex. A woman will act like a woman, thus be attracted to a man. The culture is conservative regarding the community’s beliefs on sexuality. Members of the community are encouraged to disapprove of contemporary practices such as domestic partnership, living together prior to marriage, or single parenting. The culture highly values marriage and stipulates that marriage should be between two people of opposite sexes.

Masculinity is one of the most elusive terms to be defined. One of the reasons why this is true is because one cannot define masculinity without referring to the feminine gender. In short, masculinity draws its definition from femininity (Daniely & Lederman, 2019). Unfortunately, it is hard to talk about masculinity without belittling or demeaning the female gender. While one is either born male or female, masculinity is a construct of society. Since masculinity draws its definition from gender roles that are constructed and defined by society, masculinity is given emphatic prevalence. No one was born masculine or feminine; it is society that makes individuals believe in the prominent difference between these genders. It is the society that distinguishes which role is considered feminine and which ones are deemed masculine. The community also defines what roles to assign to a specific gender. Since most of the values, norms and traditions are set by elders, with a majority of them being men, it is more likely that they will assign themselves the most powerful roles in the society.

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Indian communities such as the Punjabis can be said to be encouraging toxic masculinity. This is where members of the community conform to what it means to be “male,” which is often exaggerated and discriminative of women (Bandyopadhyay & Saha, 2020). Masculinity can be traced to early-modern Europe, where women were regarded as slightly different from men. While women were given inferior roles and seen as having fewer masculine capabilities, men were expected to be domineering, interested in sexual advances, violent, and authoritative. Any man who had less of any of these qualities would be considered feminine or less masculine. Definitions of masculinity are often taken from a cultural standpoint; hence, masculinity is a cultural construct (Daniely & Lederman, 2019). It varies from culture to culture and shares some general roles associated with masculinity, such as being domineering. One of the reasons why masculinity continues to be dominant over femininity in Northern Indian communities such as the Punjabis is because women’s lives are so privatized that they are not part of public discourse; hence, masculinity continues to gain popularity.

Indian marriages were patriarchal, meaning they were built on the foundations of masculinity. Women were expected to be submissive to their husbands and perform domestic roles (Daniely & Lederman, 2019). Moreover, marriages between the two opposite sexes are widely accepted while the relationships between same-gender individuals are highly discouraged. Heteronormativity structures the everyday belief in Northern Indian communities that heterosexuality is normalized. Children are taught from a young age that they will marry a man if they are girls and vice versa. They are also told that there are only two genders: female and male. Other identities, such as transgender, are not recognized in the community. Members of the society are also encouraged to practice monogamy in marriage, where exclusive and monogamous relationships are more celebrated and acceptable than other types of relationships.

In a patriarchal society such as the Punjabi community in Norther India, women are reduced to roles such as making ornaments using beads. This insinuates that they are valued for their beauty, their aesthetic value, and not for who they are. In this case, women-only play the ornamental or aesthetic role in marriage; they are to look good just to impress men. A woman is expected to be obedient and respect their husband (Bandyopadhyay & Saha, 2020). Moreover, a wife’s offense against her husband is punished gravely. On the contrary, if it is a man who makes a mistake, it is considered to be a woman’s fault. In communities such as the Punjabis, women are expected to submit to the demands of men and not challenge their positions as heads of families. Men are allowed to marry as many women as they wish to. In this case, they are only valued for their role in reproduction.


Bandyopadhyay, N., & Saha, A. K. (2020). Watercentric roles and women’s spaces. Gender, Space, and Agency in India, 120-132. Web.

Baruah, M. (2014). Book review: Tiplut Nongbri, development masculinity and Christianity: Essays and verses from India’s northeast. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 21(3), 485-489. Web.

Daniely, D. L., & Lederman, S. (2019). Gendered cultural differences and change in gender roles among displaced refugees. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 26(3), 364-384. Web.

Imam, Z., & Bano, S. (2015). Patriarchy, community rights, and institutions for education: Counter-discourse and negotiation for rights. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 22(2), 282-299. Web.

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Sen, S. (2018). Indian masculinity: An important intervention in gender and masculinity studies. Anthropological Quarterly, 91(3), 1105-1118. Web.