Gender could be seen as a topic in Social Structure, but as it is a vast topic I really care about I’m writing a little bit more about it. When I hear gender, some words bump into my mind like gender equality, feminism, third gender, LGBTQ+ community, sex and so on. Those are important things, but gender in Ethnology is even more, as you can read here.
One thing I could have realised earlier but was shocked about in the lecture is that women had no voice in Ethnology. And with that I’m not talking about only existing male ethnologists (that was the case as well until the early 20th century), but that during investigation of societies women did have no voice. The ethnologists only talked with the men. Women and their behaviour were noted in the same way as an ethnologist observes cows. They exist, but they don’t talk. Ethnologists didn’t speak with women and their thoughts weren’t part of the research. When this male bias was detected, female and male anthropologists began to investigate women and take gender into account in every investigation.
One of the first female ethnologists was Margaret Mead, a student of Franz Boas. She did her investigation about the attitudes towards sex in the South Pacific and set up the theory, that not the nature (your genes, e.g. if you’re female/male) but nurture (your environment, e.g. the way you have been raised) determines your behaviour. The nature versus nurture debate opened a whole new world, as suddenly a wo*man’s behaviour wasn’t based on her*his sex anymore, but something that was constructed through society. This knowledge changed a lot and pushed feminism further ahead.
Another pioneering work is the book “Woman, Culture and Society” from M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere. It is a collection of 16 papers of female ethnologists and the response to the above-named problem of the male bias. One big thing in it is that women and men were assigned to those dichotomies nature - culture and private - public. Because a woman gives births and looks after the children, she is closer to the nature and in the private area whereas a man is closer to culture and the public area as he deals with politics. Although we made an effort to come off this dichotomies, it is in fact still the case that in most families the father works more and the mother has the task to look after the kids and stays at home. I don’t think that this is wrong, I just want to point out that everyone should have the opportunity to choose between working and staying home or even combine the two and that none of them should have the better reputation.
At the end I want to tell you the difference between sex and gender and introduce a woman in relation to that. Sex is biological (body anatomy) and gender is social (constructed through society). Whereas it is difficult to change your sex, changing gender would be easy if tolerated by society. One good example for that are the Varias in Indonesia. Varia is a gender as female and male and consists of men that are living a life as a woman. They dress and act like women and look out for men as partners, pointing out that they are heterosexual. Now coming to the ethnologist related with sex and gender: Judith Butler said that sex and gender are performative categories. She went one step further with saying that we are not only doing gender, but also doing sex. So with our actions, our behaviour, our language and our attitude towards sex and gender we construct the categories. They aren’t a natural thing, but something our ancestors have constructed and we can change if we want to.