The status of women in a society is determined by the prevalentldeals and functions. These ideals and functions are, however, not universal. Therefore, the status of women if not similar in all the primitive societies. The status of women is determined by the functions allotted to them, the social attitudes towards them, the behavior of males and the social contribution of the women.
An example of this criteria may be seen in the Toda tribe of South India. The Todas are pastoral. Their main economic occupation is rearing buffaloes. The buffaloes are considered sacred, and the place of dairy farming is treated as a religious place. Priests are engaged in taking out the milk of buff aloes. Women are not permitted to go near them.
Even the chief priest has to remain a bachelor. The disabilities of the women concerning dairy farming are also applicable to cooking food involving milk. This, however, does not mean that the status of women is lower in every respect. They are generally treated well and respected.
The distinction of the patriarchal and matriarchal families makes significant changes in the status of women. Among Khasi tribe of Assam, the family is matriarchal. The husband has to live with the wife’s family after marriage.
The lineage name is given by the mother. Therefore, in terms of location as well as lineage, the status of a woman is higher than that of a man. The originator of the tribe is also believed to be female.
The inheritance of propertysucceeds from the mother to the daughter. The mother has the right to the earning of the male before marriage and the wife after marriage. Religious functions are generally performed by a woman. Ancestor worship is prevalent and most of the ancestors are females.
The Khasis believe that goddesses will protect them and keep them free from disease. In the political field also the administration is mostly in the hands of the females. This, however, does not mean that the status of males is pitiable in any sense.
On the other hand, they are respected and their desires are fulfilled. Divorce requires mutual consent and both are free in their personal affairs.
Another tribe in Assam, which is matriarchal, is Garo. In this tribe the descent is traced from the mother. Ancestors are females and goddesses are worshipped. Daughter succeeds to the property.
The husband may use property of the wife but in succession it is given to the daughter. Polygyny is prevalent. There is no custom of bride price. Widows are not allowed to remarry. They are, however, given freedom in sexual matters. While the male is given death punishment for adultery, the women are given less punishment at least in several cases.
The description of the status of females in the matriarchal societies as given above is precisely reversed in patriarchal societies, the examples of which can be seen in almost all civilized societies.
Patriarchal societies have patriarchal families. After marriage the woman has to reside in the house of her husband. The husband is head of the family and enjoys higher status in every way. The property and wealth succeeds from the father to the son. Myths and beliefs derogatory to the status of woman are prevalent. For example, in Toda tribe the women are considered impure due to the processes connected with menstruation, child birth etc., resulting in the imposition of social taboos and economic disabilities. This, however, does not mean that the status of women in patriarchal society is invariably low. For example, one may find henpecked husbands in Toda tribe as in any other primitive society.
In every society the status of a woman varies in accordance to her function in social organization. As social functions change so do social status. If the socio-economic functions of a woman are higher and more valuable in a tribe her status is naturally higher.
On the other hand, if her economic functions are not very important she does not enjoy a high social status. For example, among Todas, the functions connected with dairy farming are the most important but women are not allowed to do important jobs in dairy farming, with the result that their status is considerably lower. But, on the other hand, women get a lot of love and affection which compensates in their social status and raises it.
Social function, however, is not the sole factor determining social status. For example, in Andaman Islands women work side by side with men in social and religious functions. Hence they have to work with men also along with their own functions.
This makes their social status even worse than that of Toda women. Among Kadar people, the division of labor among women is more scientific and exclusive. Thus the status of both men and women is equally satisfactory and comfortable.
The above examples are from patriarchal societies. The status of women in patriarchal societies is determined by the restrictions attached to their functions. The restrictions may be preventive or productive. For example, the women in Toda tribe are prevented from working in dairies as they are considered impure.
This lessens their social status. But in all the patriarchal tribes the status of women is not lower to that of men. Among Gond people the women enjoy equal freedom with men. For example, they are free in the choice of mates, pre-marital relationships and divorce, but in other fields they work like laborers employed by men and most of the men evaluate their importance as laborers. Therefore, there are few bachelors among Gonds.
Tharu tribe again, is patriarchal but their women dominate their men. Tharu women are beautiful and unrestrained in sex relationships. They are known to possess magical powers. In Knasi tribe there is the custom of fraternal polyandry. This naturally leads to much physical and psychological pressure upon women, but this is relieved through a strange custom.
According to it though the woman has no freedom in the house of the husband, she enjoys all freedom in the paternal home and since she often visits her parents, she gets ample opportunities to relieve her tensions.