Cultural Construction of Gender

Ideal roles in Na society, household, and labor are divided into those considered appropriate to men and women. In practice, however, Na accept fluidity between roles.

Na women are also symbolically valued as the core of Na household and religion; the primary Na deity is a goddess, Gemu. An ideal household will have consan-guineally related male and female members of older and younger generations to ensure harmony, a labor force, and the continuity to care for the elderly and "feed" (give offerings to) the ancestors. The acknowledged head of the household may be a man or woman, and the de facto head is often a woman.

Na believe that women provide the core and continuation of the household. A household without women of a reproductive age would need to adopt in a girl or female mate to "continue the hearth," and ensure that the household continues as an economic unit, and as a unit to continue to give offerings to ancestors. Households may adopt girls or boys if lacking in descendants, or may incorporate fully grown members of other households.

As adults, Na men and women, both traditional and modern, dress and adorn themselves in gender-specific ways. In Yongning, women over 50 generally wear traditional clothing, as do some older men and younger people for special occasions. Traditionally, children of both sexes wore simple tunics until the age 13 (12 by Westerner reckoning) when they gained status as an adult member of the community through a coming-of-age ceremony. Now, children's clothing is usually factory made, and one can generally recognize a child's sex by clothing. In addition, young girls often have their ears pierced.

The traditional Na women's costume consists of a very full floor-length skirt, a side-buttoning shirt, a wide waist sash, and a headdress of a long thick artificial braid. The headdresses are made of black yarn, animal, or human hair, and women wrap these around their crowns and adorn them with beads or, recently, plastic flowers and artificial pearls. Women wearing traditional dress for daily wear will usually wear a simpler headdress of a scarf wrapped into a turban. Women not wearing traditional dress generally wear gendered factory-made clothes common in much of rural China, but may combine this with the simpler headdress made of a scarf. Most women wear jewelry; earrings, rings, and thick bangles of silver are most common. Some women still wear the long chain for keys attached to their clothing. In some remoter Na territory in Sichuan, men still wear, for special occasions, trousers covered by ankle-length tunics of hand-spun cloth, drawn in at the waist by wide sashes. In Yongning, the tunic has given way to what Na describe as a more "Tibetan-style" shirt of side closure similar to that of

Na women, also worn with a waist sash. Some older men still wear full three-quarter-length pants, while younger men generally wear trousers. Wide-brimmed wool felt hats are common. Some Na men adopt Tibetan-style decorative hats, and also wear decorative (but functional) knives. Men not wearing traditional dress generally wear gendered factory-made clothes common in rural China, and will often combine this with a brimmed hat. Many men wear rings; silver are most common.

The features thought attractive in men and women are basically the same (see "Courtship and Marriage").

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