Stratification By Gender Essay Research Paper Social

Stratification By Gender Essay, Research Paper

Social stratification is a system which exists in most

societies, and distinguishes between individuals and/or groups

according to their socially-defined attributes, and gives them

different statuses according to these attributes. This system is

so widespread because humans invariably show variation, with some

being better skilled at certain things than others, and these

differences lead to people becoming more or less

"useful" to society. What this essay will look at is

the ways in which gender division is treated in two different

societies; the Kwaio of the Soloman Islands, and the Yanomamo of

South America. The reasons for this stratification will be

explored, and conclusions will try to be drawn about whether it

is biological factors or cultural values which determine the

stratification. One ethnography is that of the Kwaio of the Solomon Islands.

In this society, women are excluded from all sacred rituals, and

are generally viewed as inferior to men. Their inferiority is

based on the view that the Kwaio have of women"s bodies

being potentially polluting. The Kwaio believe that the

urination, defecation, menstruation and process of childbirth in

women are polluting agents which can cause negative effects on

the men and the extremely important sacred rituals. The

organization of this society revolves entirely around this notion

of pollution; their settlements are organised so that the

domestic dwellings are in the center, but there is a scared

men"s house in the north, from which women are banned, and

a polluted women"s area from which men are banned.? When a

woman is menstruating or giving birth, she must retire to the

polluted area, away from any male members of the society. What this division results in is the praising of the male

members of the society. Only they are considered superior enough

to communicate with the adolo (ancestral ghosts), and only they

may perform any scared rituals. The question this raises is

whether or not this stratification by gender is in truth based on

biological factors. Although processes such as menstruation are

biological, the Kwaio have no real evidence that women"s

biological processes are polluting. One could therefore argue

that it is in fact cultural values which are operating within

this society; as the Kwaio have imposed their cultural values

onto the biological factors of women. This is probably because

this gives the Kwaio men a reason for viewing women as inferior.

It is interesting that menstruation and childbirth, the two

processes which men are physically unable to perform, are viewed

as the most polluting. The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said

that "Men envy women because they can give birth and

sustain lifeî. It seems as if this statement applies to the

Kwaio; because the men in this society cannot experience these

processes, they have turned them into negative qualities which

enhance their superiority instead of making them seem

inferior. Within the Yanomamo society of South America, there exists a

clear male-female division within the social organization of the

community. This society is male dominated, with females regarded

as inferior. This is evident in the way in which the female and

male children are raised; female children begin to help with the

household chores and baby-sit their younger siblings long before

male children even begin to think about such things. Most girls

are promised to men for marriage long before they reach puberty,

and, once they are married, their status, as well as their

quality of life, does not improve significantly. The husbands of

these women frequently scold and beat their wives, and expect

their wives to be willing and able to carry out tasks such as

preparing the evening meal as soon as they return to their

homes. It could be assumed that since there seems to be no biological

reason for there being such a division in the status of women and

men, that this stratification is due to the cultural values of

the Yanomamo. As women are given tasks such as the collecting of

firewood and household chores, it is clear that they are viewed

as being physically capable of performing most tasks, so this

biological difference is ruled out. There seems to be no view of

women having negative biological factors such as in the case of

the Kwaio society, so it would seem as if it is the

Yanomamo"s culture which has developed as viewing men as

superior not for their biological differences to women, but for

another, or a combination of other, reasons. It is virtually

always the case in societies that one sex is viewed as superior

to the other, and the reasoning behind the men being superior in

Yanomamo society is probably linked to their being those who hunt

and therefore are the main providers within the society. In both the societies examined in this essay, it has been the

male gender which is the superior gender in society. The lack of

real evidence for biological factors being responsible for this

stratification has led to the conclusion being drawn that it is

in fact cultural values which govern the division, even though

these may be masked as being due to biological factors. What has

not been mentioned so far is that these cultural values include

the attitude of the women in these societies towards the social

stratification. The fact that the women in both of these

societies have not taken a stand against their inferiority

further supports the theory that cultural values are responsible-

it is certainly not the female biological make-up which prevents

these women for trying to make a difference, but instead their


? Men in Tahiti and Semai Tahiti, an Island in Polynesia, has a much less marked

differentiation between masculinity and femininity then most

societies. Furthermore, the Tahitian concept of masculinity does

not require men to act as providers and protectors. There is

little need for men to take physical risks since there is no

warfare, and there are few dangerous occupations. The lagoon

offers a plentiful supply of fish so risky deep-sea fishing is

not necessary. Families co-operate together in economic

activities and there is no social pressure to be economically

successful. It also encourages men to be timid and passive, They

are expected to ignore insults and very rarely fight one another.

Tahiti men are neither protective of their women, nor possessive

towards them. A French explorer found that Tahitian men were

extremely hospitable and even offered him their daughters. The Semai people live in central Malaysia. Both men and women

are strongly opposed to violence and aggression. Aggression is

denoted by the word "punan", which also means

"taboo". The Semai try to avoid anything that

frustrates another person and goes against their wishes. As a

consequence, both women and men are usually expected to agree to

a request for sex, even if they are married and the person

requesting sex is not their spouse. There is very little jealousy

and Semai men and women tolerate the extra-marital affairs of

their spouses as being no more than a loan.

The Semai do not engage in competitive sport, and are not

materialistic. Men do not have to compete with each other because

farming is co-operative and if one man has too little to get by.

he simply asks another man for some of his. It is punan to

refuse. Although the Semai do hunt, and hunting is reserved

exclusively for males, the hunting is not dangerous or difficult.

They hunting nothing larger or more dangerous than small pigs,

they stop hunting before noon when it gets too hot, and "if

they encounter danger, they run away and hide without any shame

or hesitation". There are some differences between men and women in both

Tahitian and Semai society (although amongst the Semai they are

not particularly pronounced), neither has a cultural image of the

"the real man". Gilmore suggests that the unusual

characteristics of masculinity in these societies may result from

the material circumstances in which the societies exist.




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