Gender and social stratification
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Gender and Social Stratification. Gender and Anthropology. interest in hierarchical relations between men and women has been a feature of anthropology since its earliest days 19th century evolutionists and their explanations for the rise of culture

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Gender and Social Stratification

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Gender and Social Stratification

Gender and Anthropology

  • interest in hierarchical relations between men and women has been a feature of anthropology since its earliest days

  • 19th century evolutionists and their explanations for the rise of culture

  • promiscuous horde gives way to socially organized marriage and kinship, for example

Gender and Anthropology

  • anthropology of gender has been key in establishing that sexual inequality is not a biological fact but instead and cultural and historical one

development of the study of sex, sexuality and gender in anthropology

  • Anthropology of Women early 1970's attention to the lack of women in standard ethnographies

  • Anthropology of Gender challenged the basis for understanding social roles of male and female

  • Feminist Anthropology challenged the biological basis of sex and sexuality

    • and the foundations of anthropology as it had been done


  • not the same thing

  • all societies distinguish between males and females

  • a very few societies recognize a third, sexually intermediate category


  • differences in biology

  • Socially & culturally marked

  • the body is "simultaneously a physical and symbolic artifact, both naturally and culturally produced, anchored in a particular historical moment" (Scheper-Hughes & Lock)

The “Four Bodies”

  • Individual body

  • The social body

  • The body politic

  • The mindful body

The Individual Body

  • lived experience of the body-self, body, mind, matter, psyche, soul

The Social Body

  • representational uses of the body as a natural symbol with which to think about nature, society, culture

The Body Politic

  • regulation, surveillance, & control of bodies (individual & collective) in reproduction & sexuality, in work & leisure, in sickness & other forms of deviance

The Mindful Body

  • the most immediate, the proximate terrain where social truths and social contradictions are played out

  • a locus of personal and social resistance, creativity, and struggle

  • emotions form the mediatrix between the individual, social and political body, unified through the concept of the 'mindful body.'

SEXUALITY (reproduction)

  • all societies regulate sexuality

    • lots of variation cross-culturally

  • degree of restrictiveness not always consistent through life span

    • adolescence vs. adulthood

  • Varieties of “normative” sexual orientation

    • Heterosexual, homosexual, transexual

  • Sexuality in societies change over time


  • GENDER - the cultural construction of male & female characteristics

    • vs. the biological nature of men & women

  • SEX differences are biological - GENDER differences are cultural

  • behavioral & attitudinal differences from social & cultural rather than biological point of view


  • gender roles - tasks & activities that a culture assigns to sexes

  • gender stereotypes - oversimplified strongly held ideas about the characteristics of men & women & third sex-third gender

  • gender stratification - unequal distribution of rewards (socially valued resources, power, prestige, personal freedom) between men & women reflecting their position in the social hierarchy

universals versus particulars

  • universal subordination of women is often cited as one of the true cross-cultural universals, a pan-cultural fact

    • Engels called it the “world historical defeat of women”

  • even so the particulars of women’s roles, statuses, power, and value differ tremendously by culture

Friedl and Leacock argument

  • variation among foragers

  • male dominance is based on exchange, public exchange

  • versus that exchanged privately by women

  • Exchange of scarce resources in egalitarian societies, gender stratification, and universal subordination of women


  • opposition between domestic (reproduction) & public (production) provides the basis of a framework necessary to identify and explore the place of male & female in psycho, cultural, social and economic aspects of life

  • degree to which the contrast between public domestic (private) sphere is drawn promotes gender stratification-rewards, prestige, power

domestic sphere

  • clearly drawn in societies where division of labor encompasses more than age & sex differentiation (complex societies)

  • inequality in material rewards for labor

  • less clearly drawn in societies where division of labor beyond age & sex is minimal (egalitarian)

  • rewards are highly valued social roles with prestige rather than material goods

Domestic : Public Spheres

  • mobility & gender

  • Domestic : public dichotomy not only distinguishes activities, but culturally encodes space

M. Rosaldo and the Ilongot of the Philippines

  • positive cultural value placed adventure, travel, knowledge of & experience with the outside world

  • Ilongot men as headhunters visited distant places, amassed experiences & returned to express their knowledge-receive acclaim

  • Ilongot women - these activities not available to them

Mobility, Public : Domestic (Private), and Gender Straitification

  • mobility not just through geographic space but social space (forms of association)

  • veiling & Islamic women

  • factory women in Malaysia

  • US & Canada - WW2 & factory women for war effort

  • 1960s, 70s, 80s - changing gender composition of economy

persistence of dualisms in ideologies of gender

  • a particular view of men and women as opposite kinds of creatures both biologically and culturally

  • nature/culture

  • domestic/public

  • reproduction/production

Reproduction and Social Roles

  • roles - those minimal institutions and modes of activity that are organized immediately around one or more mothers and their children

  • women everywhere lactate & give birth to children

  • likely to be associated with child rearing & responsibilities of the home

Production and Social Roles

  • roles - activities, institutions, and forms of association that link, rank, organize, or subsume particular mother-child groups

a long running controversy in anthropology

  • Sherry Ortner’s famous article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture”

  • argument is that across cultures, women are more often associated with nature and the natural and are therefore denigrated

  • Ortner - in reality women are no further nor closer to nature than men - cultural valuations make women appear closer to nature than men

The “Third Gender”

  • essentialism of western ideas of sexual dimorphism - dichotomized into natural & then moral entities of male & female that are given to all persons, one or the other

  • committed western view of sex and gender as dichotomous, ascribed, unchanging

  • other categories - every society including our own is at some time or other faced with people who do not fit into its sex & gender categories

The “Third Gender”

  • a significant number of people are born with genitalia that is neither clearly male or female

    • Hermaphrodites

  • persons who change their biological sex

  • persons who exhibit behavior deemed appropriate for the opposite sex

  • persons who take on other gender roles other than those indicated by their genitals

Third Gender: Western Bias

  • multiple cultural & historical worlds in which people of divergent gender & sexual desire exist

    • margins or borders of society

  • may pass as normal to remain hidden in the official ideology & everyday commerce of social life

  • when discovered - iconic matter out of place - "monsters of the cultural imagination“

  • third gender as sexual deviance a common theme in US

    • evolution & religious doctrine

    • heterosexuality the highest form, the most moral way of life, its natural

Third Gender Cross-Culturally

  • provokes us to reexamine our own assumptions regarding our gender system

  • emphasizes gender role alternatives as adaptations to economic and political conditions rather than as "deviant" and idiosyncratic behavior

  • rigid dichotomozation of genders is a means of perpetuating the domination of females by males and patriarchal institutions.


F. Engels

  • theory of the origin of female subordination

  • tied to the male control of wealth

  • built on 19th cent. assumption of communal societies as matrilineal

  • men overthrew matrilineality & formed patriarchal family leading to monogamous family

  • differential ownership of wealth led to inequality within the family & thus between the sexes

  • gender differences arose from technological developments that led to changes in relations of production

E. Leacock - (expands on Engels)

  • subjugation of women due to breakdown of communal ownership of property & isolation of individual family as economic unit

  • transformation of relations of production

    • Association of female labor with domestic unit or private sphere

  • male production directed towards distribution outside the domestic group (public sphere)

  • occurs with development of private property & class society

K. Sacks

  • political power that results from the ability to give & receive goods in exchange (redistribution)

  • allows for sexual stratification in non-class societies

Sanday Reeves

  • female status dependent on degree to which men & women participate in activities of reproduction, warfare, subsistence

Friedl and Leacock

  • not rights & control over production but rights of distribution & control over channels of distribution critical for gender stratification


  • Ardener - muted models that underlie male discourse

  • diversity of one life or many lives

  • gender roles, stereotypes, stratification

    • changes over time

    • changes with position in lifecycle

    • status of men & women i.e. in male dominant societies

      • decision making roles belong to men but as women reach menopause; change with marriage status, virgins, wives, widows (and men)


  • women, like men, are social actors who work in structured ways to achieve desired ends

  • formal authority structure of a society may declare that women are impotent & irrelevant

  • but attention to women's strategies & motives, sorts of choices, relationships established, ends achieved indicates women have good deal of power

  • strategies appear deviant & disruptive

    • actual components of how social life proceeds

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