Cultural Construction of Gender

Both adult men (except a very few who say that they are not interested in women) and women expect to be married and to have children, and almost all women of reproductive age are married. Many marriages are childless, probably because of the prevalence of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases, which can lead to female infertility. Adoption of children from relatives is very common. Women and men are expected to take on gender-specific roles typical of this traditional society based on the division of labor and the concept that both sexes are fundamentally and necessarily different but, at the same time, complementary in a psychosocial and cos-mological sense. In Kilivila, the Trobriand language, each person and other living beings, and even inanimate objects, have a defined gender. This is indicated by a very complicated system of classificatory suffixes attached to the noun. Therefore it may be correct to say that Trobriand society places high importance on classification by gender. There is little tendency towards androgyny, except in the milmala harvest dances where women and men wear very similar (but not identical, as suggested by Malinowski [1929]) doba fiber skirts. The women's skirts are shorter and closed over one thigh (no under-dress is worn), and the men's skirts are longer and closed in front. The men wear the traditional pubic cover (mweki), made of the white upper bark of the betel nut palm, beneath their skirts. From a distance it is difficult to distinguish female and male milamila dancers, especially as their movements in the highly stylized circular dance are identical. This is an interesting feature of Trobriand culture which contrasts with the typical Papuan pattern of culturally enhanced gender dimorphism, leading to very different appearance and behaviors for women and men. However the Trobriand Islanders do have a special form of male dance which contains pronounced phallic elements.

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