Cultural Construction of Gender

The Nandi acknowledge two gender categories, male and female, and male is considered to be superior. Men are said to be both physically stronger than women, and stronger willed and more decisive. Men have a very strong sense of pride in their manhood. It is manly to be courageous, and also to be very decisive, particularly in the area of herd management. The cultural ethos is definitely one of male dominance. Women are held to be subordinate to men. A submissive demeanor is considered appropriate for younger women. These expectations of submissiveness, and some other gender expectations, are suspended for older women who are widows. In fact, when questioned, Nandi may say that the traits associated with men, such as initiative and decisiveness, are in fact also good in women, but not natural to them. There is a term, chemurenyo, that denotes a woman who has these qualities.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, women wore beaded leather skirts and capes tied together on one shoulder and passed under the opposite arm. Earlobes were pierced and stretched to accommodate long leather beaded ornaments. Married women also wore flat spirals of brass wire above their breasts, suspended by a leather strap worn around the neck. Young men (warriors) wore nothing but the over-one-shoulder cape and some ornaments, and black-and-white colobus monkey skin decorations for fancy dress. Elders might wear a more encompassing cloak made of leather or monkey pelts. Men's earrings were metal, each a horseshoe-shaped loop with a ball at either end, so that two balls hung together just beneath the earlobe. Men now wear trousers or shorts and shirts, and women wear cotton dresses.

Attractiveness in men is related to decisiveness and strength of will as well as physical fitness. It is often said that in the past a glamorous mystique surrounded the warriors. Physical beauty in women is important to sexual attraction. A young Nandi man told me, "We like the same things European men like: girls who aren't too fat or too thin, and have nice breasts that stand up." Smoothly pigmented skin is positive, and a slight space between the top front teeth is a mark of beauty.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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