Gender systems

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Gender systems are systems of gender roles in societies. A gender role is "everything that a person says and does to indicate to others or to the self the degree that one is either male, female, or androgynous. This includes but is not limited to sexual and erotic arousal and response."[1] Gender identity is one's own personal experience with gender role and the persistence of one’s individuality as male, female, or androgynous, especially in self-awareness and behavior.

Gender binary is one example of a gender system. A gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine. It can describe a social boundary that discourages people from crossing or mixing gender roles, or from creating a third form of gender expression altogether. It can also represent some of the prejudices which stigmatize intersex and transgender people. The gender binary often involves gender roles and gender identities as a means of identifying a place for someone to fit in a male or female role in society.

Non-Western gender systems[edit]

In cultures where the gender binary is prominent and important, transgender people are a major exception to the societal norms. Intersex people, those who cannot be biologically determined as either male or female, are another obvious deviation. Other deviations come from gays, lesbians, crossdressers, and transsexuals. Other cultures have their own practices independent of the Western gender binary.

North American Indian[edit]

When European settlers first arrived in North America, they discovered different American Indian tribes had different concepts of sex and gender. In the Native North American society “berdaches” were given that name to identify them as gender variants. The Europeans “attempted to explain the berdache from various functional perspectives...in terms of the contributions these sex/gender roles made to social structure or culture.”[2] The term “berdache” was deemed inappropriate and insulting as time passed and awareness increased, so a new term was coined in 1990, “Two-Spirit.”[3] There were many roles for male and female Two-Spirits, productive specialization, supernatural sanction and gender variation. Some widespread features of the variety of gender roles are: transvestism, cross-gender occupation, same sex (but different gender) sexuality, recruitment to different roles, special languages, ritual roles, and associations with spiritual power.[4] Cross-dressing was the most visible marker but has proven a variable and less reliable indicator of status as a Two-Spirit. However the main interest is that these people are an accepted portion of their society. In some cases they were even given special respect and various honors. The roles varied greatly between tribes. For example, a male variant might have to wear male clothing during warfare, but women’s clothing any other time. These gender roles were often decided at a young age. If a boy was interested in women’s activities, or vice-versa, a gender variant role would likely be undertaken in adulthood. “In some societies, same-sex sexual desire or practice did figure into the definition of one’s gender variant role, in others, it did not.”[5] In the case of the Navajo, there were four genders: man, woman, masculine female-bodied nádleeh, and feminine male-bodied nádleeh. Intercourse between two people of different genders, regardless of biological sex, was not stigmatized. However, any sexual relationship between two of the same one gender was considered homosexual, and was strongly disapproved of. In the majority of American Indian societies however, biological sex played no part in any gender variant role.[6]

The Mohave Alyha[edit]

In Mohave society, pregnant women believed they had dreams forecasting the anatomic sex of their children. These dreams also sometimes included hints of their child’s future gender variant status. A boy who “acted strangely” before he participated in the boy’s puberty ceremonies in the Mohave tribe would be considered for the transvestite ceremony. Expressing interest in dolls, the domestic work of women, women’s gambling games, and inquiring about the female skirt were all ways a boy may be considered for the transvestite ceremony. Before the ceremony, relatives would try to dissuade him, but if the boy persists, they would assist in the preparations for the ceremony The ceremony itself was meant to surprise the boy. It was a test of willingness. Other nearby settlements would receive word to come and watch. A circle of onlookers would sing special songs. If the boy danced like a woman, it confirmed his status as an alyha. He was then taken to a river to bathe, and was given a skirt to wear. The ceremony would permanently change his gender status within the tribe. He then took up a female name. The alyha would imitate many aspects of female life, including menstruation, puberty observations, pregnancy, and birth. The alyha were considered great healers, especially in curing sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.[7]

Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico[edit]

A documentary film entitled Blossoms of Fire, produced in 2000, depicts the people of Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico. It follows the daily lives of the women as they run their businesses, wear colorfully bold traditional clothing and hold their heads firmly high as they carry the weight on top. The film clearly depicts the empowered women and the tolerance of homosexuality and transgender individuals. The community exemplifies an alternative gender system unlike the gender binary that has been established throughout the world. On many occasions this community has been criticized and labeled as a matriarchy; however, the individuals who are interviewed throughout the film tend to say otherwise. They strongly believe that their community is able to function because gender roles are not placed on individuals but rather that everyone is equal—for example there is no identifiable “bread winner”. Children are taken care of by whoever can help; food is cooked by anyone who is able to and drinking beer and smoking is not only okay for the “men” of the community. Gay, lesbian, and transgender people tend to feel more accepted in this alternative gender system. Juchitán's society operates under a more egalitarian gender system in which men and women have different, but not exclusive roles, and in which these roles are not necessarily expected. Due to liberal gender performance, third genders also have more prominence in Juchitán than other parts of the world.[8]

Machi (Mapuche Shamans) of Chile[edit]

The machi are the shamans of the Mapuche people of Chile, and are viewed to a large extent by both Mapuche and the Chilean state as keepers of Mapuche political, cultural, and spiritual tradition and power. In many ways the machi represent an alternative gender system in that homosexual acts are more accepted, gender switching occurs, and the practice of polygamy took place.[9] However, though it appears there is more gender freedom, gender switching occurs based on different shamanic practices performed, and the gender associated with the practice is either derived from physical sex based on reproduction etc. or from the hegemonic gender system of the nation of Chile. For example, political participation has become a masculine practice, while spiritual practices are considered feminine. While one does not have to be a physical "male" or "female" necessarily to perform these practices, they must channel that gender to perform them.

The machi were inevitably influenced by the dominant western gender system of Chile through state sponsored evangelization, (most Mapuche today are Catholic)[10] and by the Indigenous Law. The Indigenous Law further politicized the machi and further subjected them in national discourse to the gender norms of the Chilean state, changing the way that machi perform gender. "Machi juggle various gendered systems of knowledge and identities according to their intentions, who is present, and in what context"[11]

Indian Hindu[edit]

In Hindu India, there also exists different concepts of what is socially accepted when gender is in question. When compared to the native North Americans, the gender system is essentially binary, but the ideas themselves are quite different from Western thoughts. These ideas often come from religious contexts. Some Hindu origin myths feature androgynous or hermaphroditic ancestors. Ancient poets often showed this idea by presenting images with mixed physical attributes between the two sexes. These themes still exist in the culture, and are even still institutionalized. The most prominent group are the hijras.[12]

Hijras[edit]

A Hijra from India.

“The recognition of more than two sex/genders is recorded in India as early as the eighth century BCE”.[13] In modern India, the term hijra is most commonly meant as “eunuch” or interesexed, and is a term of sexual impotence. In the culture’s definition, a hijra is one born as a male, but adopts the clothing, behavior, and occupations of women. Their status in society is neither male nor female, neither man nor woman. When hijras are asked whether or not they are male or female, most often they respond with comments like “We hijras are like women”,[14] demonstrating their place in culture. Hijras walk, gesture, speak, and use facial expressions more common to women in India. They even take feminine names as part of their gender transformation. Becoming a Hijra however is not outside of Indian society. Being a hijra means making a commitment that gives social support and some economic security, as well as a cultural meaning, linking them to the larger world.[15]

“A male who is not born biologically intersexed who wishes to become a hijra must transform his sex/gender through an emasculation operation”.[16] This operation is a rebirth for the hijras, and contains elements of childbirth to symbolize this. The process includes castration, bloodletting, and special rituals.[17] Among the hijra society there is a hierarchy of gurus, or teachers, and chelas, or disciples.[18] In order for one to be accepted into the hijra society they must be sponsored by a guru, who in turn teaches them and helps them form a family.

As of November 11, 2013 the Prime Minister has decided to begin a third gender birth certificate. " There are at least 10,000 hijaras living in the country". this announcement is a giant step in the right direction for acknowledging humans neither male or female into society.[19]

Sādhin[edit]

The sādhin are similar to Hijras culturally. Their development is quite different however, and their existence is much less prominent. It is a girl’s choice to become a sādhin. They wear men’s clothing and keep their hair short. They commonly keep their female name and are still treated as a female in society, although the status of sādhin, like hijra, transcends the gender labels of India. A sādhin candidate must be a virgin, and swear to celibacy.[20]

Brazil[edit]

Like in Indian culture, Brazilian culture does follow a gender binary, just not the traditional western one. Rather than men and women, certain areas of Brazil have men and not-men. Men are masculine, and anyone who displays feminine qualities falls under the category of not-man. This concept is a result of sexual penetration as the deciding factor of gender. Any one who is penetrated becomes feminine, and is not-male. Everyone else, regardless of sexual preference, remains a male in Brazilian society.

The most commonly discussed group of people when discussing gender in Brazil are the travestí, or transgender prostitutes. Unlike in native North America and India, the existence of the travestí is not from a religious context. It is an individual’s choice to become a travestí. Born as males, they go to extensive measures to try to appear female. Some inject female hormones and get silicone implants to more closely imitate the curves of the Brazilian female body. The travestí recognize they are not female, and that they cannot ever become female. Instead, their culture is based on this man/not-man premise. Unlike hijras, the travestís do not want to get rid of their penises.[21] They do, however, manipulate themselves to hide their genitalia. They feel that castration would not get them any closer to becoming a woman. Homosexuality also follows the man/not-man binary. If a travestí has a boyfriend, that man is not considered a homosexual, because the travestí is not a man. If, at any time, the boyfriend expresses interest in the travestí penis, the travestí will immediately lose interest in him as a partner because he has also become a “not-man.”[22]

Polynesia[edit]

In Polynesia there are many different terms for gender roles, for example in Tahiti the role is called māhū. In Samoa the male gender variant is called fa’afafine which means “like a woman.” Tuva and Tonga have terms also. In Tonga the term is fakaleiti and in Tuva the term is pinapinnaine. All of these terms are used when a male engages in women's work, clothes, speech tones, and nonverbal gestures. However in Polynesia when a man crosses genders and “acts like a woman” he is not viewed as becoming a woman, but is suspended between male and female, being neither at the same time, but having the elements of both.[23] They tend to be effeminate and interested in women’s household tasks, but do not dress exclusively as women. They often seek oral sex with men, who may ridicule them in public, but seek them out for pleasure in private.[24]

Thailand[edit]

Kathoeys on the stage of a cabaret show in Pattaya.

Kathoey is the term used by both males and females that allows them to be alongside the normative masculine and feminine identities. Up until the 1970s hermaphrodites and cross-dressing men and women could all come under the term kathoey, however the term has been dropped for the cross-dressing masculine females who are now referred to as tom.[25] As a result of the shifts, kathoey today is most commonly understood as a male transgender category. Kathoey is derived from the Buddhist myth that describes three original human sex/genders, male, female, and a biological hermaphrodite or kathoey.[26] Kathoey is not defined as merely being a variant between male or female but as an independently existing third sex.

Philippines[edit]

The notable gender variant role in the Philippines is the bakla. Bakla are males with a feminine spirit, or core identity, who cross-dress and are assumed to take the receiving role in sex. In the Philippines, a “real man” is simply one who is not bakla. Since there are negative connotations of local terms for gender diversity, many bakla prefer to self-identify as gay, rather than a new gender. The baklas’ partners are not considered homosexual by the Philippian society. Over time, baklas have tried to gain status as a third sex or gender as an attempt to normalize their nonconformity and be equal to males and females in society.[27]

Africa[edit]

Lugones observes that among the Yoruba people there was no concept of gender and no gender system at all before colonialism. She argues that colonial powers used a gender system as a tool for domination and fundamentally changing social relations among the indigenous.[28]

The cultural definition of homosexuality[edit]

In cultures where the difference between male and female in the gender binary is masculine and feminine, it is important to look at how same-sex sexuality changes between cultures. In some cultures, like the travestí, homosexual behavior moves one from one part of a gender binary to another.

Homosexuality, and its effects on the individual’s place in society is sometimes drastically different in various other cultures. In certain Sambia people of New Guinea for example, it is believed that a boy is unable to reach puberty or maturity without first ingesting the semen, considered life-force, of an older male.[29] In addition, these Sambian people believe that a man is unable to replenish his semen on his own, so the ritual continues until a certain time, usually marriage, when he is told of a tree that exudes a milky semen-like sap he may ingest instead.[30]

In Basotho society in contemporary Lesotho, girls and women may exchange long kisses, engage in cunnilingus, and even fall in love and form a marriage-like union. In this society however, sex requires penetration, and marriage requires a man as a husband. Therefore, in this context, there is no concept of lesbianism.[31]

The Alternative Model of Gender[edit]

In "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough", Anne Fausto- Sterling explores the possibilities of the intersex and how these individuals fit into the traditional labeling of “male” and “female”. Her “Alternative Model of Gender,” is a proposition that allows for the inclusion of intersexual individuals into the traditional gender labeling system. Anne Fausto-Sterling proposes that a body does not necessarily have to fit into the orthodox gender binary set by a society, but rather can be categorized under the possibility of male, female, merm, ferm, and herm, which are labels given to individuals born with a variation in sex characteristics. Fausto-Sterling’s “Of Gender and Genitals” discuses the fate of the individuals born with “ambiguous” genitalia and the need to surgically correct the deviations these individuals propel into a male-female society. She explores the need for allowing the body to be labeled as is, rather than configuring it into the expectations of society, as the traditional binary gender labeling calls for. The Alternative Model allows for this type of gender labeling.[32][33]

Gendered violence[edit]

Gendered violence can be similar to a hate crime in which physical violence is specifically targeting the victim's gender. These violent acts are usually aimed at women or more typically of transgender victims, but are not solely limited to only these groups of people. This act of violence occurs in the public as well as the private domain and can be easily overlooked. Countless deaths have resulted from these severe crimes as seen in the film Two Spirits.[34] Organizations nationwide such as California Coalition Against Sexual Assault help to support and aid the Latino communities in particular to put an end to domestic violence. It is also a matter related to the dominant gender system, which often underlies the motives for gendered violence. The dominant gender system also creates structural violence.[35]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1990. Print. Page 114
  2. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 11
  3. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 13
  4. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 14
  5. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 19
  6. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 13
  7. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Pages 21-23
  8. ^ Blossoms of Fire. Lydia Nibley. Say Yes Quickly Productions, Riding the Tiger Productions, and Just Media, 2010. DVD.
  9. ^ Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella. "Mapuche Shamanic Bodies and the Chilean State: Polemic Gendered Representation and Indigenous Responses". Violence and the Body: Race, Gender, and the State. Ed. A.J. Aldama. Bloominton Indiana: Indiana University Press. 2003. 322-343.
  10. ^ Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella. "Mapuche Shamanic Bodies and the Chilean State: Polemic Gendered Representation and Indigenous Responses". Violence and the Body: Race, Gender, and the State. Ed. A.J. Aldama. Bloominton Indiana: Indiana University Press. 2003. 327-328.
  11. ^ Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella. "Mapuche Shamanic Bodies and the Chilean State: Polemic Gendered Representation and Indigenous Responses". Violence and the Body: Race, Gender, and the State. Ed. A.J. Aldama. Bloominton Indiana: Indiana University Press. 2003. 334.
  12. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.pg. 27,28
  13. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.pg. 29
  14. ^ Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1990.pg xxiii Print.
  15. ^ Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1990.pg 54 Print.
  16. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.pg. 29
  17. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.pg.33
  18. ^ Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1990.pg 42.
  19. ^ "Bangladesh’s Hijras Win Official Recognition as Separate Gender". online article. Global Voices. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  20. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.pg. 40,41
  21. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 47
  22. ^ Kulick, D. "The Gender of Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes." American Anthropologist 99.3 (1997): 574-85. Page 578
  23. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Pages 57-70
  24. ^ Rupp, Leila J. "Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality." Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001): pp. 287-302. Web. Page 334.
  25. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 73
  26. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 73
  27. ^ Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print. Page 78-84
  28. ^ Lugones, María (Winter 2008). "Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System". Hypatia 22 (1): 196–198. doi:10.1353/hyp.2006.0067. 
  29. ^ Peoples, James G. "The Cultural Construction of Gender and Manhood." Men and Masculinity. 1st Edition ed.Cengage Learning, 2001. 9-18. Print. Page 17.
  30. ^ Peoples, James G. "The Cultural Construction of Gender and Manhood." Men and Masculinity. 1st Edition ed.Cengage Learning, 2001. 9-18. Print. Page 18.
  31. ^ Rupp, Leila J. "Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality." Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001): pp. 287-302. Web. Page 336.
  32. ^ Fausto-Sterling, Anne (March–April 1993). "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough". The Sciences: 20–24. 
  33. ^ Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books. pp. 44–77. ISBN 0-465-07714-5. 
  34. ^ Two Spirits. Lydia Nibley. Say Yes Quickly Productions, Riding the Tiger Productions, and Just Media, 2010. DVD.
  35. ^ Lugones, María (Winter 2008). "Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System". Hypatia 22 (1): 188. doi:10.1353/hyp.2006.0067. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Duberman, Martin. "Gender Diversity in Native North America: Notes toward a Unified Analysis". A Queer World. New York And London: New York University Press, 1997. 65. Print.
  • Kulick, D. "The Gender of Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes." American Anthropologist 99.3 (1997): 574-85.
  • Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.
  • Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1990. Print.
  • Peoples, James G. "The Cultural Construction of Gender and Manhood." Men and Masculinity. 1st Edition ed.Cengage Learning, 2001. 9-18. Print.
  • Rupp, Leila J. "Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality." Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001): pp. 287–302. Web.