Native American Gender Roles Essay, Research Paper
Native and European Americans:
Women have not always had an easy life. In order to fully understand and analyze a period of time, a full examination of women?s everyday life is necessary. Although, through history, inferior to men, the roles of and status of women in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century America, contributing to a prosperous society. The gender roles and status of women had some similarities, but overall differed greatly between the Native American women, the European American women, and the enslaved African Women.
Women had very active roles in Native American culture. They were always busy in the camps, often carried heavy burdens, attended to the household duties, made the clothing, and prepared the food for the family. The women have been depicted as the slave of her husband, but a patient beast of encumbrance whose labors were never done. This was not true at all. The men and the women often shared the obligations of life. ?Men took responsibility for fishing as well as the hunting, whereas women harvested and prepared the products of wild plants, including the grinding and milling of seeds. The men?s work activities entitled travel, while the women?s activities were to stay close to the village where they bore and raised the children?. (Boyer 4)
Women sometimes had more influence over the men. They sometimes served as sachems, or chiefs. Property usually passed from mother to daughter, and the husband joined his wife?s family. He was more of a stranger and yielded authority to his wife?s eldest brother. Moreover, the husband was unlikely to become an authoritative, domineering figure. ?Women could end their marriages by tossing her husband?s belongings out the door and sending him back to his family?. (Boyer 13) Women had certain common tasks. Many of these include; cleaning and maintaining the living areas, tending to the children, gathering edible plants, pounding corn into meal, extracting oil from acorns and nuts, cooking, sewing, packing, and unpacking. Certain crafts were also usually their responsibility: brewing dyes, making pottery, and weaving such items as cloth, baskets, and mats.
In the Southwest, men sometimes made the baskets and pottery, and even weaved cloth. In Southwestern ownership, mean and women shared the agricultural labor. When hunting was the main food source, women were responsible for processing carcasses of game, preparing hides or furs, and whatever food gathering or farming that could be done. The women primarily worked in the fields and the men built the frame of their living areas. The men built plank houses and helped with the processing of animal skins.
Property possession, inheritance, power, and influenced rested on whether a tribe?s structure was matrilineal or patrilineal. Although a few universal females designated work tasks existed (cleaning, nurturing, edible plant gathering, food preparation, cooking, packing, and unpacking), other varied by region, means of food production, and social organization. Such variances in gender roles further exemplify the diversity that existed among Native Americans.
The European Americans shared many of the same views on gender roles. A woman played the role of wife, mother, and manager. She had to please her husband, bear and raise children, educate her children, and manage all daily household activities. In the home, the woman was the jack-of-all-trades. Part of the role of the woman was to take raw goods and turn them into useful items, such as food, candles, and clothing. Woman had to clean and butcher all game that was brought to the home of the family. A woman was a household factory. Women create many items in the home. Spinning, weaving and stitching made all clothing. All cloth was washed by hand with out the aid of any machines. Before a woman was twenty-five years of age, she was expected to be married with at least on child. The woman preformed most, if not all, domestic tasks, and most domestic goods and foods were prepared and created by woman.
Many of the roles of women greatly differed from those of the Native Americans. Unlike the Native Americans, The only decision that the woman was allowed make was her husband. ?Once married, she lost control of her dowry (money or property brought to a husband at the time of marriage)?. (Boyer 93) Married women?s rights were legally limited, but her rights in the home depended on her husband. Women were treated as property, and her husband?s attitude on his wife?s role in the home decided her rights. A man who believed that woman were separate (but equal) to men would give his wife more freedom than a man who believed that woman were inferior to men. Woman could have more legal rights depending on their marital status and attitudes of her husband if she was married. Women?s life was both freedom and punishment.
A woman did not have to marry a man that would treat her poorly. In most New England colonies, a woman could sue her husband for a divorce if he treated her without respect and abused or neglected her. Although women had the legal privilege to divorce a bad husband, she did not have any legal right under the law. As soon as she married her husband, she lost all legal existence. Single women had more legal rights than married woman. On the other hand, unmarried women were looked down upon as being infertile. Women could marry, have children, and lose all legal rights or remain single and bear no children (or have children out of wedlock) and retain own independent legal status. Single women were looked down upon by society, unless they were single due to the death of her husband.
Widowhood offered to opportunities of the single woman to a once married woman. The widow was able to take over her husband?s business, trade and property. Many widow?s ran farms and plantations, became shopkeepers, merchants, blacksmiths, and tavern owners. ?Widows did control between 8 and 10 percent of all property in eighteenth century Anglo-America.? (Boyer 93) These women are lucky compared to the hardships that the Africans had to endure as slaves.
Throughout history man has endeavored on a mission to conquer and gain additional wealth. Powerful kingdoms throughout times have explored the unfamiliar parts of the globe to seek out new markets, whereas it might be beneficial to their economy. Slaves worked for a far longer period of time then any other woman had to. Slave children went to the fields as early as seven years old to help out part time. They began to work full time at the age of fourteen. Whereas most white women worked in their homes, barns, and gardens, female slaves routinely tended to the tobacco or rice crops, even when pregnant. (Boyer 96) Many women slaves worked till they died. Those who did survive were not subjected to hard labor.
Many of the ways that the women slaves were treated was the same as the way that the Native America women were treated. They both did many of the work around the house and they took care of all of the cooking and the raising of most children. Colonial women did not have much part in raising their children if the husband owned slaves. The mother?s did serve as a teacher, but not as a mother figure, the slave did. As for the Native America women, they were expected to do all of the work that they did. Slaves were forced to work day and night and punished if they didn?t. Slavery started in America as a means for cheaper labor.
There were not that many women that were forced to be slaves. The ratio was 3-1. (Class Discussion May 24 01) No wives or children were forced to be slaves. The slaves had a bad chance of surviving. Most enslaved women gave birth to at least ten children. ?Of those ten children, three died before the age of one. Half of the remaining children died before they were five. Four of the five left over lived to early adulthood, and only one or two lived to there forties. (Class Discussion May 42 01)
The Native Americans, European Americans, and the African women slaves have had many different lives, but they all had one thing in common, they had to play an inferior role to their husband at least once in their lives. The Native Americans could change their lives if they wanted to, the Europeans Americans could do the same but be scorned for life, and the African American women were unfortunately forced to do the duties that they are told to do till the say they die. Women?s roles were so incredibly different in these three societies, even though they all occurred during roughly the same period of time. Women?s roles have drastically changed through time. As time has gone on and times have improved, women have gained the respect and rights that they have always deserved. One question that still remains is; What if our economy and industry had not improved, would women still be the inferiors of the two genders?