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Patriarchal Accommodations


This paper begins from a paradox. In the 1980s and 1990s, women became increasingly mobile, especially in the developing world. Scholars generally attribute this shift to global economic pressure or to the spread of (Western) gender egalitarianism. Yet, in some places, women gained mobility just as local institutions extended policies excluding them or segregating them from men. Here, we look at two such cases: first, how women of Tehran, Iran, became the majority of bus riders just as the city segregated public transportation, and second, how women in the rural, Mexican village of San Pedro came to predominate among emigrants to the United States, even as they were excluded from participating in village politics. We use what we call “linked ethnographies” to put these two cases into dialogue. While attending to the particularities of each site, we find that in both, women gained mobility through the very policies that appeared to confine or exclude them. We call these policies “patriarchal accommodations.” They were patriarchal, because they enshrined formal gender difference associated with male dominance. They were accommodations, because they adapted existing standards of “appropriate” masculinity and femininity to global economic pressure, enabling women to work, study, and consume. We argue that patriarchal accommodations may facilitate women’s entry into the public sphere, particularly in non-Western regimes.

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