Changing Economics and Changing Gender Roles

Murdock and Provost (1973) have also argued that "[w]hen the invention of a new artifact or process supplants an older and simpler one, both the activity of which it is a part and closely related activities tend more strongly to be assigned to males" (p. 212). However, a range of scholars (Bourque & Warren, 1981; Byrne, 1994,1999; Ehlers, 1990; Minturn, 1996; O'Brian, 1999) suggest that men also take up female activities when they become commercially viable.

For men, the entry into commercial economic activity seems to follow a superficially similar path— men tend to perform some similar activity for cash, such as agricultural labor construction—but beyond this men are more likely to suffer as an ethnic or racial rather than a gender category, and to have their status within their traditional society rise, while women's declines. For example, indigenous men in the highland Ecuadorian community of Zumbagua begin migrating to Quito for construction work as teenagers, where they compete with nonindigenous Ecuadorians for work. Typically, they are hired at lower wages but more often fired, and are treated as members of an inferior caste. The impact on gender roles becomes clearer when they return home and confront wives who manage the household and are still rooted in agricultural work. For Zumbagua women, work is subsistence. Life revolves around the patterns of farming and herding, patterns that themselves are part and parcel of Zumbagua life. Still, farm life does not completely support families, who are dependent in part on the cash and store-bought foods that men's wages provide. When men return from the city, where they are disadvan-taged, to a community where they have status, they bring the foreign foods, language, and ideas that create friction between them and their traditional wives. If they have made money, they can bring home more commercially produced or imported foods prized by children who turn away from the traditional meals that their mothers cook. If men do not make enough money to bring the commercial foods on which families depend, tensions remain but with the addition of family hunger (Weismantel, 1988).

In the small market town of Chiuchin in Andean Peru, women are active workers in a local economy driven by trade. Women work as cooks, kitchen assistants, waitresses, and launderers, and consider themselves shrewd and savvy businesswomen. But their job choices are limited by cultural ideas about what appropriate female behavior is. Women do not attend school for long, and are usually far more comfortable in the indigenous language Quechua rather than Spanish. Women do not drive and they do not travel beyond the bounds of town, effectively marginalizing them from the more lucrative interregional trade networks that are monopolized by men.

Byrne (1994) explored the factors contributing to who produces pottery. Potting is a so-called "swing" activity, as likely to be performed by men as by women (Murdock & Provost, 1973, pp. 209-221). Byrne argued that male specialization in pottery production rises among those families that lack access to other subsistence resources. In instances where men lack access to land for example, or rights to pasturage, they turn to alternative income strategies, among them pottery production, displacing female kin (Byrne, 1994, pp. 234-235).

Byrne (1999) extended his examination of craft production in his more recent analysis of clothing manufacture. In this case, he explicitly focused on the interrelationship between the gendered division of labor and income-producing activities. Here, Byrne found that in those cases where families are economically dependent upon clothing production, as an item for either trade or sale, men are more likely than women to specialize in this activity (Byrne, 1999, p. 315).

O'Brian (1999) pursued a similar line of inquiry in her analysis of weaving. While weaving is similarly considered a "swing" activity (Murdock & Provost, 1973), this is due to a high male participation in central and West Africa. For the most part, weaving is strongly associated with female production. While weaving production appears to shift from "female" to "male" with increasingly complex looms, loom complexity and maleness are both associated with increasing commercial production, in which men are more likely to participate (O'Brian, 1999, pp. 32, 34-35).

In those parts of West Africa where women have traditionally been subsistence farmers, men displace them and convert land to cash cropping which they also monopolize. In these cases the arguments of Murdock and Provost (1973) and Minturn (1996) are both borne out, as men adopt new processes and technologies, and also enter commercial production (Benera & Sen, 1981).

Similar processes occur in family businesses, and the economic changes that occur with them often leave women behind. In San Pedro Sacatepecquez, Guatemala, women have traditionally run small businesses of weaving, sewing, knitting, and other traditionally female skills out of their homes, training their daughters to take them over upon adulthood. But as the economy is increasingly urbanized and industrialized, fewer women are able to support themselves and their families with such earnings. Girls and young women brought up to take over the businesses do not have skills that translate into an urban job market, which pushes them deeper into the home as that arena too is devalued (Ehlers, 1990).

Similarly, vending, like many other activities, is often highly gendered, with men and women specializing in different segments. This has been true in U.S. society, in the sense that people think it is somehow "natural" for women to sell clothes and men to sell cars or refrigerators, an argument made by a national department store chain to justify tracking sales personnel into different areas based on gender (Milkman, 1986). But a range of cultural norms interact to contribute to the idea of appropriateness. As in the United States, in rural Peru and Guatemala men will sell larger items, items in bulk, or "high-end" prestige items, while women will sell household products or extra produce, for instance, some carrots or two or three eggs (Babb, 1989; Ehlers, 1990; Swetnam, 1988). The increasing effect of market capitalism is contributing to changes in this interrelationship. Women are everywhere increasing participation in market activities in addition to performing their traditional household work, a pattern replicated in the United States as well as in traditional societies (Dwyer & Bruce, 1988; Hochschild, 1989).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

If Pregnancy Is Something That Frightens You, It's Time To Convert Your Fear Into Joy. Ready To Give Birth To A Child? Is The New Status Hitting Your State Of Mind? Are You Still Scared To Undergo All The Pain That Your Best Friend Underwent Just A Few Days Back? Not Convinced With The Answers Given By The Experts?

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment