Cultural Construction of Gender

The patrifocal family system underlies the cultural construction of gender in this region. There are two recognized gender categories: males, who are central to the patrifocal kinship and family system, and females, who are somewhat peripheral to it. At the time of marriage daughters leave their natal families to join their husbands' families where, as wives and mothers, they are critical to the continuation of their husbands' patrilines. At marriage a woman changes her kinship affiliation from that of her father to that of her husband but retains her own blood and paternal bloodline. As a wife, she passes her husband's blood to her children and thus preserves his patriline. She is a vehicle for the passage of seed and blood from male to male or, to use the Oriya and Bengali metaphor: "A woman is the field or nourisher of the seed that a man provides and cultivates. They complement one another in the creation of a child, but the child is born of the father" (Fruzetti, Ostor, & Barnett, 1992).

Gender, however, is not conceptualized as a fixed binary system. Bodies are considered open and composite, not self-contained entities. For example, bodily differences between the two sexes are subject to relative differences in the amount of heat/coolness, fluidity/ dryness, and openness/boundedness that they contain at any moment in time (Lamb, 2000). Thus they can shift and change, although in asymmetric ways. This fluidity of gender is reflected in Hindu mythology where there are bisexual and transsexual deities and where males are transformed into females and vice versa. Underlying this fluidity, however, is a significant gender asymmetry. While the transformed deity, whether male or female, usually forgets his or her former gender and identity, there is usually another male present who does remember and who thereby acquires power over the transformed person (Doniger, 1999).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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