The Private-Public Distinction: Through a Feminist Lens:

From the beginning to this day, women have always been oppressed be it by men in their family or by the state that was and is still highly patriarchal. Earlier, the private (households) and the public (political, business world) were strictly kept separate. State had no roles in what was happening in the private sphere. And the major factor of this separation was that public was controlled by males and private appeared to be in control of females.

The separation between private (home) and public (work) made a significant difference in the lives of males and females, and of course, it was negative for women. For example, males were expected to work out and hence they dominated the outside world while females were expected to stay at home and decide the household decisions and thus they happened to be the controllers of the households.

However, the above situation was far away from reality. In most cases, as public was controlled by males it used to have a direct influence on the private sphere. And therefore, the then feminists and scholars labelled this distinction as baseless and started demanding for political rights of females like voting rights, reproductive rights and like. It was through the second wave of feminism in 1960s, feminists began to bring up more such marginalised communities and issues into the picture.

Earlier only a “white heterosexual male” normative was followed in the world and especially in western civilisations.
Feminists have rejected the public-private boundary as an acceptable rationale for legal action or inaction. A feminist argument is that such a separation disadvantages women of their rights and advantages privileged groups like white heterosexual males.

Three major arguments that were brought by feminists which aimed to challenge the public-private distinction are, first,
politics and society, both had ignored the domestic sphere, second, public-private distinction is deeply gendered and
sexist as its assigns roles to people based on their biological characteristics and because of this women become the most affected underprivileged group, third, calling “family” a
private sphere was an attempt to hide domination and abuse in the relationships in families from legal discourse.

To put an end to all of this ignorance, women activists fought against the injustices and demanded the states to intervene in household matters like laws against domestic violence, divorce rights to women, abortion rights and other rights to choose. Along with these domestic protection rights, many other rights on the public sphere were also demanded.

Feminists from the second feminist wave asked for equal representation in politics, law-making and other decision making procedures which were of both public and private significance.


1) Paid Work:

Even though working environment has
changed nowadays as compared to earlier times, females suffer from hard labour but less payment. From corporate houses to films and television everywhere females are paid less than their male counterparts even though all of them do the same work. At times, female actors do more work as they have dance sequences in addition in the movies but still get paid less for the work. This has witnessed a change in recent times where female actors have begun to charge lump sum amount.

2) Patriarchal State:

States can be extremely patriarchal to
women in terms of legal and political rights. This can happen in two ways- one by creating patriarchal and misogynist laws for women, two by not doing anything progressive for women (because not interfering into women’s rights is also equal to creating misogynist laws for women). Over the past few decades, this has also witnessed a change where we have seen governments making women friendly laws like reservations and special commissions for women or anti dowry and anti-domestic violence rights.

3) Male Violence:

This can mean anything that happens both in public and private sphere. Sexual harassment at workplaces is at peak all over the world. Thanks to social activists and NGOs in India who all fought for implementation of sexual harassment act back in 1990s when a social worker was brutally sexually assaulted for stopping a child marriage in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

At the end, we all as a society collectively need to understand that opposite of patriarchy is gender equality, that is, feminism, nothing else.