Are women a sexual caste?
A caste is a division of society that is perceived as socially distinct, primarily identified by differences in privilege, wealth, profession, or race. However, there is also a caste in society created by a division of the sexes, characterised by the different societal expectations projected onto women based solely on their female status. Society’s division of men and women as unequal categories creates a fundamental male supremacy and the formation of the patriarchy. These social structures form the basis of one of the most pervasive ideologies of modern culture.
Women’s oppression within society is not singularly determined by their status as a female, but also differences in race, class, and sexual orientations, denoting the complexity of the various power systems that govern society. Evidently, the forms of oppression that females face are multi-levelled and specific to each individual, but a common struggle of all women’s lives are the expectations placed upon them by the patriarchy. The Theory of Sexual Politics asserts that the sexual hierarchy “punishes the female quite effectively” as every avenue of power and authority in society are dominated and governed by male. The concept of a societal system manufactured to aid in the dominion of men is supported by An Agenda for Theory. This paper states that the primary method of the subjugation of women is their sexual objectification, claiming that a “woman is a being who is identified as one whose sexuality exists for someone else, who is socially male”. However, it is inaccurate to allege that society’s sexual caste is derived primarily from female objectification and men’s control over women’s sexuality, as “womanhood is not necessarily the most salient factor of oppression” for all females. Despite this, both texts support the contention that all women are disadvantaged on the singular basis of their sex, creating a sex caste within society.
The presence of a sexual discrimination is prevalent throughout every aspect of modern culture, from the legal dictation of women’s reproductive rights; the prejudices accompanying women’s sexual choices; the various inherent qualities expected of women e.g. to be nurturant, soft, docile and vulnerable; and the dominance of female-victim sexual abuses e.g. rape, incest, sexual harassment and the illegalisation of prostitution. The prevalence of domestic and/or sexual abuse, with one in five Australian women being victims of sexual violence, and the multi-billion dollar industry of sex trafficking, with its victims being predominately female, all indicate the insidious ideology promoted by the patriarchy that females are subjugate to men. Additionally, discrimination of women is present even in education. Some society’s female participation is suppressed in industries not seen as ‘acceptable’, and some entirely deny females access to education. All of these social constructs serve to oppress women and demonstrate the necessity to recognise and reform the sex caste, in the pursuit of dismantling the patriarchy and other methods of sexual subordination.
The subjugation of women is multi-faceted and often incorporates additional forms of oppression other than sexism. However, it is undeniable that it is a unquantifiable disadvantage to be female, and the existence of a sex caste is evidenced by the detrimental distinction of man versus woman.
Millet, K., Mackinnon, C., Mead, R. Theory of Sexual Politics, Columbia University Press. 16/12/2016
Mackinnon, C. Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory, The University of Chicago Press. 1982
Gunnarsson, L. A Defence of the Category ‘Women’, Obrero University. 2011
Domestic Violence Prevention Centre, Gold Coast, 2020. https://www.domesticviolence.com.au/pages/domestic-violence-statistics.php
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