Modern society is built upon the history and traditions of the past, with the events and beliefs of future descendent being shaped by their shared culture in a major way. Culture can influence one’s life to a varying degree, dictating one’s disposition towards themselves and others, as well as toward the society they live in. The history of human civilizations is passed down through legends, stories, and records of preceding events. They allow the people to learn where they came from, find their place in the world, or gain a better understanding of humanity’s gradual development. Both culture and tradition can vary wildly from area to area, with the values and beliefs of people being affected as well. This can manifest in a difference of attitude towards various societal issues or events and is the core of what makes each corner of the world unique. Religious faith, similarly, can be used to give people a higher purpose and help them understand abstract concepts of a wide scale. Religion can spread and influence the way people live, behave in private and in public, and what things they can consider moral or immoral. One’s gender role, for example, is a social concept often informed through the lens of tradition or faith. A person’s ability to assign themselves a particular role to fulfill in a family unit stems from their understanding of themselves and their purpose in creating a family. An individual’s disposition can vary wildly between cultures and periods. For this essay, the gender roles prevalent in Hinduism and Buddhism will be discussed. In the context of Buddhism and Hinduism, the roles of men and women were largely restrictive and rigid. Men were expected to be heads of the household and the de facto leaders of the family, while women were ought to fulfill the role of a housekeeper. While both worldviews established the positions of men and women as equal, their tasks in society were separate and the relegation contributed to the mistreatment of women. After further exploring the concept of gender roles, an examination of their peculiarities for each of the two groups will be attempted.
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Gender and Gender Roles
For the sake of a proper discussion, the concept of gender roles needs to be first discussed. Gender Roles are a social concept that encompasses one’s behavior by a particular set of characteristics usually prescribed to their respective gender (Blackstone). Different cultures had their perspective on this concept, with some believing people to be capable of having different, or changing, gender. In western societies, however, it is common to assume the existence of at least two distinct genders – male and female. The difference between the two is displayed in their behavior and the expectations society places on them. While one’s allegiance to a particular gender is not biologically necessary, society places great importance on people’s ability to adhere to its principles and act by their needs. In the western world, the roles of males and females were historically distinctly different, with the former assuming the role of the provider and protector, and the latter being delegated to homemaking, childrearing, and support. Such an arrangement was created due to a multitude of reasons, including the economic and social history of Europe and America, religious tendencies, conservative views on strict societal roles and hierarchies, as well as much more. In Asian societies, the trends are similar, with even harsher restrictions placed on the female gender. Studies and reports show that women are still being treated as unfavorable children in India and being expected to both work and take care of the children in Japan. Conservatism and adherence to tradition maybe some of the reasons the trend is more prevalent there, seeing how the woman’s role has not expanded much over the years. In the more recent decades, people’s perceptions and attitudes towards the concept of gender are starting to shift, with many either finding the notion to be too restrictive or striving to further expand it to better accommodate different kinds of people. Ultimately, gender roles in a large part stem from cultural beliefs. Worldviews formed in different parts of the world are used to understand and structure the world people live in, giving them the ability to form order. Such ideologies a Hinduism and Buddism are two of the many systems of beliefs that can inform societal gender roles.
Gender Roles in Hinduism
Hinduism is one of the major world religions known today. It is hard to pinpoint an exact system of organized ideas and beliefs for Hinduism, as its broad concepts are used to encompass all aspects of a person’s life, including their actions, behaviors, decision-making, and values (Das). Hindu belief is highly flexible in its ways and allows people to practice the ideas of other religions as well (Das). Much like in other worldviews and religious leaning, Hinduism prescribes both men and women equal value, while noting that their roles within society are distinctly different. The worldview’s main tenets have led to a separation between the genders, which, in turn, contributed to the subjugation of women. Males and females are expected to pursue different values by ancient tradition to continue creating new families. The distinction between the two genders serves not only for them to fulfill their duties in life, but also to ensure happiness and salvation in the future (Jayaram). The Hindu belief reaffirms that human souls exist beyond the concepts of gender, meaning that all people should be equal in their standing and respect extended towards them (Jayaram). This notion, however, is severely tainted by the real-world treatment of females throughout Indian history and the status of women in society. From ancient times, big communities were dominated by males, with female freedom being severely restricted and denied (Jayaram). Law books authorized male supremacy and authority towards women, who were once again relegated to caring for children and serving as housekeepers (Jayaram). Such attitudes towards women have persisted to the present day, with many Hindu societies being conservative in their views towards women. While both genders were originally intended to be equal, the source of history has misshapen this notion and subjugated women to servitude to their families and husbands.
Gender Roles in Buddhism
Buddhism is a special set of ideals and beliefs, uniquely different from all others existing within the human civilization. Buddhism seeks human improvement in its most pure and essential form, striving for enlightenment and a deeper understanding of the concepts of the universe. It can be argued that gender distinctions do not play as much of a part in the worldview as does the difference between monks and laypeople (Gender And Religion: Gender And Buddhism, 2020). Many of Buddhism’s core tenets were only applicable to people that left ordinary life behind on their mission for knowledge and self-improvement. This created a large rift between the practices of Buddhism for normal folk and staunch practitioners. Although in many cases seclusion and detachment from worldly desires are considered to be a part of the Buddhist belief, their practices can also be reflected in a family setting. The importance of gender itself in the Buddhist faith is a contradictory issue, with experts both stating that gender is irrelevant and highly important at different periods (Gender And Religion: Gender And Buddhism, 2020). In cases of the latter, it was believed that being male gives a person several societal privileges, making it a better position. The importance of gender was specifically used to bring males into higher positions and excuse women’s subservient role. In ancient times, females were generally seen as inferior to males, and their position was largely restricted to taking care of the children and being responsible for the shared household. Women were expected to be subservient to men, fulfilling their commands, and act by a strict hierarchy (Buddhism and Women). Women were thought to have not been deserving of freedom, with a need for a man to constantly be present and give orders to the woman (Buddhism and Women). Generally, though, buddha emphasizes that both genders have equally important roles to play in society. Females should succeed as mothers and wives, helping to raise future generations, but should be able to be an equal partner to a man when it is needed. The relationship between the two is expected to be balanced, with both parties sharing their responsibilities within a family (Buddhism and Women). Overall, Buddhism’s attitudes towards gender roles are mixed, but the core beliefs or the worldview support equal opportunities and responsibilities for both genders.
In conclusion, both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs have a strained relationship with the concept of gender. While in the two cases men and women are supposed to be equal in their rights, privileges, and responsibilities, the realities of the world have restricted women’s ability to be considered on the same level as their partners. In Hinduism this problem was not mended to a substantial amount even today, presenting women with having to follow the authority of their husbands. Buddhist outlook is somewhat better in that regard, with the woman being able to represent the wishes of her husband and share the duties in an equal fashion, their role is still limited. These two examples have shown that the concept of gender roles stems from the historic tradition and particular laws established on a specific territory. Their substance changes over time, attempting to meet the needs of the people while keeping the rigid structure of society intact. Gender roles have allowed Hindu and Buddhist societies to address the need to take care of families and develop society, as well as contributed to creating the modern social hierarchy.
“Buddhism and Women.” 2020. Buddhist Studies: Buddhism & Women: Position of Women.
“Gender And Religion: Gender And Buddhism”. Encyclopedia.com. 2020.”
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Das, Subhamoy. 2020. “Do You Know the Main Tenets of Hinduism?” Learn Religions. Web.
Jayaram, V. 2020. Hinduism and Gender Equality. Web.
Blackstone, A. 2003. “Gender Roles and Society.” Pp 335-338 in Human Ecology: An Encyclopedia of Children, Families, Communities, and Environments. Web.