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Gender defines more than just being male or female, it associates your day-to-day interactions and your culture to identify who you are. Shostak studied the !Kung San. The !Kung San group are hunter and gatherers. The !Kung women have a unique role in their culture. They provide for their family, while they care for their children. Shostak’s book, Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, was a personal memoir. The goal of ethnography is to analyze the culture of a !Kung woman. Her first visit she focused on matters related to sex and their view on marriage and traditions. Shostak revealed that a !Kung woman, Nisa, was more self sufficient and independent than most. The !Kung women had more responsibilities than just to reproduce. Shostak tried to show that sex for the !Kung women was not done for the particular purpose to reproduce. At a young age sex was introduced to !Kung women. The young children would actually observe their parents engage in sexual activities. Since their huts were small they had little privacy and had no choice but to have sex when their children were lying right next to them. Usually if one of the older children would wake from their sleep they would watch there parents have sex. This paved the entrance to the start of their sexual life. The children will begin to mimic their parent’s movements during their playtime with the other kids. “Sexual play of younger children begins with boys playing together and girls playing together, and then changes to boys and girls playing with each other, with the boys as the usual-sometimes aggressive-initiators.” (Shostak 1981, 1337-1338). As a child, Nisa usually tried to avoid such play, child sexual play, claiming that it was bad. Eventually girls would give into the temptation and engage in sexual play with the other girls and eventually with the other young boys. They were introduced to sex a young age, but the girls didn’t actually engage in actual sexual activities until after they began to menstruate when they got older. In !Kung culture sex is embraced and is a part of their lives, in comparison to other more conserved cultures that the purpose of sex is to reproduce. When explaining the meaning of sex in her culture she stated, “If a woman doesn't have sex, Nisa claimed, her thoughts get ruined and she is always angry” (Shostak 1981, 406), to emphasize that sex even for women had a deeper meaning and was embedded into their culture that eventually started to become a defining part of them. As you can see, sex is a characteristic that is apart of their gender identity, it has great cultural significance. Sex is a universal activity and contributes in one-way or another to the define the cultural aspects that solidifies what its like to be a women. That’s not to say that sex is universally accepted the same way in each culture, I am merely saying it is incorporated into every women’s life.
Marriage and their first menstruation are both huge milestones in a !Kung woman’s life. !Kung women usually marry young, typically in there late teens. Men aren’t considered eligible for marriage until they have proven that they can provide for a family by killing an animal and bringing the meat home to eat. Therefore, the men are typically older than their wife by as much as 10 years. Usually !Kung men and women are married more than once, especially if married young, but also have at least one long term relationship. This may indicate an individual’s freedom of choice. Of course their pledge to marriage is not so relaxed that it lost meaning, but usually a divorce will happen within the first year of marriage. The women usually initiate the divorce but will still choose to listen to her villages testimonies for and against their separation. !Kung women do not feel obligated to have to love their husbands, many times they are forced into a marriage young that creates a shallow connection between the two, which often times lead to divorce. “The !Kung generally express, rather than suppress, strong emotions, so an unhappy young wife is free to act out her displeasure.” (Shostak 1981, 1791). This is usually because of a girls young age and refusal to want to grow up. Another significant moment in a woman’s life is when she begins to menstruate. Huge ceremonies are held, just like those of a wedding. For !Kung women the start of mensuration does not indicate the entrance into adulthood, but it does mark the start of their sexual life if they’re married. Once a women begins to menstruate it indicates their sexual maturity. Once that maturity has been reached her refusal to have sex will be rejected and should give into her husbands sexual advances. It is not until a women delivers her first baby until she is considered an adult. The topics of sex and marriage are both common characteristics that are used to define gender. They both have widespread influences on a women’s life that contributes to defining who they are. As I mentioned before, I believe gender is a very complex topic to define. Gender has standard characterizes that are prevalent in human life (i.e. sex and marriage), but also has different influential contributors.
Anthropologist had for several years studied the !Kung culture and they soon had developed certain expectations for the anthropologist that came to study them. By the end they relied on the goods anthropologists brought and demanded jobs. When they got ready to leave they begged for money and the anthropologist questions whether it was a good idea, since their society was not built off of money. It is arguable the effects that currency would begin to have on their culture, also the impacts it would have on their hunting and gathering society. Does money influence a more westernize culture? As years pass it is inevitable that money will soon be of value to nearly everyone. My question is do economic influences change the definition of gender, by either influencing it in a negative or positive way? The !Kung try not to differentiate between the two sexes and support equality amongst the sexes, but will that change once they are forced into a industrialized society, where they will be in competition for goods and forced not to see each other equally? The opportunities of education and new employment changes what it’s like to be a woman/male in their society. In a number of general ways, independent of culture, Industrialization alters women's role in a country's economy. (Brinton,1993). The patterns of an industrialized society continually change. The development of strong economic markets pushes away family farms to make way for big commercial farming and factories. This in return changes the responsibility of women. Brinton argues that profitable margins are beginning to redirect societal tasks. Women that were once stay at home mothers are now being forced to inter the work force. “Employers' demand for more labor has been complemented by strong forces on the labor supply side pushing married women into the work force.” (Brinton, 1993). The economic pressures undoubtedly are changing the roles of women. More time is being contributed to work and is changing the number of children couples have and declining the average number of years women spend in child rearing and the care of young children. Economic influences pressures society to change, thus redefining gender. The qualities of childcare are embedded into a women’s nature, yet economic influences can still have governing properties or it. this is a scary though because the economy is a very strong system that can potentially force a predetermined life of constant change and competition. These influences dictate many different aspects of our life.
Gender can describe a range of characteristics, physical, mental, and behavioral, to distinguish between masculinity and femininity. To be more specific, gender also uses social and cultural constructions, instead of just biological ones. When incorporating all of these different aspects into defining one word, the word and its meaning actually starts to become ambiguous. So ambiguous that the word can be individualized, meaning that there’s a different interpretation not only for each culture but as unique as each person. There are many ways to be a woman or man and that is uniquely based on an individuals social surroundings. What are some influences that change either cultural or individual gender identities? Specifically I will focus on economic influences that change the definition of gender or its influential ability to potentially change individual’s gender identity. It’s easiest to start off by analyzing the common things that define gender amongst different cultures, like marriage, sex, and family. These are a couple of topics that are significant in most women’s life that contributes to define who they are.
We begin to recognize that gender has some definite characteristics that are universally incorporated in an individual’s life. These characteristics contribute to their identity, but since life, culture, an individual’s future experiences are unpredictable gender will never have a definitive definition. Life is dynamic and will continuously change. Gender has an individualized definition and can be virtually impossible to try to clearly define what it means to be a man or woman in the different cultures. It begins to get complicated when associating influences that individuals have no control over, such as the economy. Lastly, I believe gender has to be defined differently for every individual, since no two individuals are the same even within the same cultural atmosphere.
On that note, I would like to take the time to introduce another ethnographic resource to compare sex in different cultural contexts. The ethnographic film, Woman Being by Qin Wen-jie, is an insightful documentary film about the changed culture of the chines women. She chose to analyze what her native culture had become over the years from what she last remembered it as when she was little. Wen-jie emphasizes throughout her film how much things have changed in her culture form what she had remembered. The older generations lives were more concealed. When it came to topics relating to sex and marriage perspectives have changed from what it was in the past even though the thoughts relating to these topics are variable. For instance, Wen-jie asks a Chinese woman if she had ever kissed her boyfriend and she response, “Of course I have. It was the first time I ever kissed a guy. But I don’t like to kiss in public. I even feel shy about holding hands in public.” (Wen-jie, 1997). Although she’s talking about just kissing, kissing is related to sex and portrays the same message that needs to be emphasized. Her response effectively captures the point I’m trying to highlight. That point is that sex (or the intimacy of kissing) is culturally embedded into nearly every women’s life and constitutes their gender identity. Wen-jie interviewee is content with her relations, however prefers not to publicize such intimate moments. On the other hand, the !Kung women are very open with topics concerning sex and often times had joked freely with Shostak about sex. Although sex is universal it can stir up different reactions and emotions based on their culture. It is also worth emphasizing that social and cultural influences are dynamic, which allows for new interpretations of life. From this premise I will argue later on the economic influences on gender. Whether its economical, ecological, or spiritual influences, they all contribute to change. Also individuals within the same culture don’t always have the same views. For example, when Wen-jie asked others about their feelings about sex before marriage conflicting answers were given from those within the same culture. One woman claimed that without sex love isn’t true; that sex is a way to communicate, and full supports sex before marriage to create a greater bond. Whereas a man stated that his future wife’s virginity is a prestigious gift and opposes sex before marriage.
In Ong’s ethnography, she focuses on inequalities and differences that arise from new forms of globalization as well as from older histories of colonialism. She also explains, in terms of transnationalism, how economic and cultural shifts transforms national boundaries. Education is becoming more and more important in individuals life. It could be because society has associated the values of education with the economy. For instance, in order to obtain a well paying job one would need an education. Diplomas and degrees enable individuals to get a high paying job, in most cases. Since education can grant individuals financial stability, “Among young educated women, some have begun to chose to be single. It is not that difficult to support oneself; all the women have jobs.” (Ong 1995). Women are now becoming more independent. They now have the means to support themselves. I stated previously that marriage is a huge characteristic associated with defining an individuals gender identity but is still grounds for change. What it’s like to be a woman is no longer defined by their roles as taking care of their children and house duties. The complexity is renown. It has never been that simple, because society will always have economic influences that persuade the roles each individual would have to take.
Brinton, M. C. (1993). Women and the Economic Miracle : Gender and Work in Postwar Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ong, A. (1995). Women out of china: Traveling tales and traveling theories in postcolonial feminism. (p. 358). Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Shostak, M. (1981). Nisa: The life and words of a !kung woman. (Kindle ed., pp. 13-1365). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Wen-jie, Q. (Producer) (1997). Women being [Web]. Retrieved from https://d2l.arizona.edu/d2l/lms/content/viewer/main_frame.d2l?ou=304799&tId=2248500
Brinton, M. C. (1993). Women and the economic miracle gender and work in postwar Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ong, A. (1995). Women out of China: traveling tales and traveling theories in postcolonial feminism. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Shostak, M. (1981). Nisa, the life and words of a !Kung woman. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Wen-jie, Q. (1997). Woman Being. Documentary Educational Resources. Retrieved from ‘;https://d2l.arizona.edu/d2l/lms/content/viewer/main_frame.d2l?ou=304799&tId=224850