Relative Status of Men and Women

In Bali, women are generally subordinate to men, and considered to be socially and culturally inferior to men.

Balinese society is strongly gendered: "The most important point is the complementariness of the sexes, male and female together making up an entity, complementing each other" (Belo, 1949, p. 14). However, gender complementarity does not mean equality; in community and family life men hold a superior and commanding position over women, and women are defined in relation to men. Men are the heads of households and families, and they occupy the apical position of patrilineages. Women should respect and honor men. Sons are more highly valued than daughters and to an extent receive preferential treatment and enhanced access to resources (education, inheritance, etc.).

Balinese gender ideology is in general reinforced by the state gender ideology, which also sees men as the heads of households and the heads of public institutions, female state president notwithstanding. The state gender ideology is based on the idea of the state as a family writ large. The apical position is taken by the father (bapak), who leads the family in furthering their common interest. Since the late 1960s, the common interests identified by the national government have been national unity, stability, and economic development. In this "family model," women's duties are to be, in order, producers of the nation's future generations, wife and faithful companion to her husband, mother and educator of her children, manager of the household, and, lastly, citizen.

Balinese women are often said to be good managers, to be financially astute and independent. However, as we have seen, their economic activity does not necessarily enable them to become economically powerful and it is not associated with high status; indeed, women's very "getting and spending" enables men to operate on a "higher" plane of existence. The image of the "fishwife" or market woman—bossy, brassy, loud, shrewd, even wealthy—has its counterpart in the image of the intimidated "henpecked" man, but ultimately the highest-status behavior is that which is restrained and refined. Men's distance from the grubby business of the market and women's need to be shrewd, practical, and careful in economic management justify men's higher status and women's lowlier status.

In the formal political arena of local politics, hamlet households are represented by married men; women are largely absent. However, the principle of rua-bhinneda, the two that are different, is often invoked as a principle of complementarity and equality, and some commentators have perceived the husband-wife relationship as a relationship of equality (Geertz & Geertz, 1975, p. 56).

The patrilineal basis of the kinship system means that men are central while women are marginal to the structure of social life. Of course, women are absolutely central to the operation of social life through their fertility, ritual and domestic work, and productive labour. Among the triwangsa, inheritance of the descent group's wealth is usually by primogeniture (i.e., the oldest son of the primary wife); among the wong jaba it is sometimes the youngest son who inherits, though this can be a bone of contention. The practice of nominating substitute heirs when a patriline cannot be otherwise continued is called nyentana and is reasonably common.

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