Feminists argue that traditional theories of the state are either descriptive i.e. deal with characteristics like sovereignty, territory, power, or deal primarily with their role as instruments of coercion or social cohesion. States according to feminists are patriarchal in structure and support patriarchy. For feminist states are extensions of society. Thus the feudal state, the capitalists state ,the socialist state all have features of obvious as well as covert or hidden patriarchy.
Although patriarchal practice preceded state formation, states became structured because patriarchal and class systems got institutionalized. Gender and class relations were backed by the power of the state and this hierarchy was reproduced and ensured by a complex of legitimizing ideologies. Women lost their right to property and came tom be treated as property. The individual household Unit rendered women vulnerable to and dependent on fathers/brothers/husbands. This weakened their access to countervailing power and support from larger kinship networks. Inheritance, sexuality and reproduction were regulated by the state. For instances, adultery by women became a crime against the state and was publicly punishable. Women’s role in the domestic/household sphere was regulated by the state. Women’s role was confined to private spheres and men to public spheres. For example, women had to wear a veil and were subjected to harassment. States gave legitimacy to this practice because of the concept that women were to be “protected”. For this protection they had to give up their autonomy. Men are the “natural” citizens of their state, but women have had to fight rights. Thus women got the right to vote only after long struggles by the women’s movements.
The state ensured the organization of power relations on a gender basis. The state has formalized gender power relations by retaining male domination at the level of top personnel within states. Gender differentiation is evident in the presence of the disproportionate number of men in the coercive structures of the state like army or police and women most visible in the service sectors i.e. teachers, health workers and clerical support. In fact, women were supposedly “protected” from the so-called “tough professions” in order to exclude them and to prevent them from equal rights. Men were born eligible for better jobs and higher pay while women managed to wrest these privileges only after struggles and debates and were given these rights only when society was haunted by the spectre of social anarchy and breakdown of family values.
Writers like Spike Peterson and Zilla Eisenstein have shown how the state mystified its patriarchal base by the construction and manipulation of the ideology that sees the distinction between public and private life. Feminist writers like Sylvia Walby systematically deconstruct the state to show its patriarchal character and point to women’s labor and reproduction as objects of control by the state. Even through the state has some amount of autonomy and is not a monolith, it is structured in a patriarchal way. Its actions are more often in men’s interests than women’s. It is because of the long history of patriarchy and exploitation and its legitimization by the state and its structures that the patriarchal state system is so acceptable and appears apolitical and natural. The state also reflects dominant ethnic communities and class biases.
The state has changed with time. These changes are often in response to pressure from social movements like the women’s movement. Sometimes changes come from the democratization process and electoral pressures. For example, pressure from the women’s movements for equal inheritance rights or for reservation of seats in parliament for women. Changes can also come from international pressure, for example, pressure from international organizations on states to sign the convention on the elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).Through changes have been made to improve the status of women through laws and various schemes ,women still face patriarchal structures of the state and society. Whether in terms of employment, dual burden, violence culture, etc. women continue to be discriminated against. Patriarchy has been challenged and altered but it exists. The tasks of the feminist movement thus remain.