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“Women Forget that Men are the Masters”. Chapter 8: Gender Antagonism, Social Value and Identities. Introduction. Main objective: To understand why the gender relations between men and women in Kisii society is fraught with antagonism and aggression

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Women forget that men are the masters

“Women Forget that Men are the Masters”

Chapter 8: Gender Antagonism, Social Value and Identities


  • Main objective: To understand why the gender relations between men and women in Kisii society is fraught with antagonism and aggression

  • Underlying theme: Socio-economic changes have been harder on men than women; female identity and self-esteem have been strengthened while male identity and self-esteem has been weakened

  • Hypothesis: Social values linked to male identity have become more complex and contradictory than the social values linked to female identity

Social value
Social Value

  • Is fundamental to identity

  • Is fundamental to self esteem

  • Is fundamental to gender relations

  • It is the part of society that most affects cultural notions of gender and sexuality

Colonialism socio economic change and men
Colonialism, Socio-economic Change and Men

  • Profound impact on social roles and identity

  • Men separated from the home as migrant laborers; this marginalizes them from the household

  • Emergence of new social role: male as absent breadwinner

  • Men end up fulfilling a role that has no place in the traditional Kisii value system

Colonialism socio economic change and women
Colonialism, Socio-economic Change and Women

  • Male absence from household, women become primary managers

  • New social role not in contradiction to traditional values

  • Traditional notion of women as ‘entrepreneurial and strong’ gets strengthened

  • Female identity and self-esteem strengthened

Construction of gender roles identities
Construction of Gender Roles/Identities

  • Circumcision

  • Marriage

  • Children


  • Female initiation/circumcision emphasizes control of female and male sexuality

  • Initiation ceremonies contradictory for women

  • Male initiation/circumcision—men given more social roles and responsibilities


  • Cohabitation favored over marriage

  • No bridewealth transferred

  • Severe effects: more for women because marriage critical to social standing

  • Women more actively involved in manipulating ways to stabilize their positions


  • Men want them—they have little else left to increase their status

  • Women must shoulder costs of having many children

  • Some women taking control of their fertility

  • Threatens male control

Men under threat
Men under Threat

  • Interdependence increased between sexes

  • Men do not identify new breadwinner roles

  • Internalizing their marginalization

    Spending money on outside activities (girlfriends and booze)

  • Women less likely to be respectful and submissive their husbands

  • Women victimized by their husbands behavior

Gender antagonism
Gender Antagonism

  • ‘We marry those we fight’/‘We fight those we marry

  • Antagonism both is and is not inherent feature to Kisii gender relations

  • Economic pressure

  • Changing social roles

  • New norms and values given differential priority by men and women


  • New occupations/roles imposed by colonial order found no place in traditional value systems

  • Role-based identity reinforced in women

  • Existential identity reinforced in men

  • Male control of female sexuality/fertility increasingly linked to male existential identities in times of stress

Fluidity of social roles values
Fluidity of Social Roles/Values

  • Social functions mediate between existential and role-based identities

  • Integration of previously circumstantial roles— businessman or matatu driver—into Kisii culture

Rape and violence
Rape and violence

  • High incidence (been so since 1940s)

  • Related to circumcision ritual when girls teased boys

  • Notion of high intensity and need for sex by men

  • Women not supposed to talk positively about sex