Cultural Construction of Gender

The Orang Suku Laut differentiate clearly between two biological sexes, and this distinction is connected with the two gender categories of "male" and "female." The differentiation is argued with reference to primary and secondary sexual characteristics, genitalia, breasts, body size, muscular build, etc. Females with a fuller figure are regarded as attractive and healthy, whereas maleness is associated with a strong physique and therefore with stamina. Beauty, health, and stamina can be enhanced by using spells (jampi). This differentiation thus implies conceptualizations of male and female, and also certain gender-specific behavioral characteristics, and yet it also reflects gender equality as one basic characteristic of Orang Suku Laut society. Thus, on the one hand, sex difference is clearly outlined, but in social reality, on the other hand, there is great scope for individual performance of those characteristics and behavior patterns that are ideally regarded as either "male" or "female." This can be observed, for instance, with regard to the outward appearance of Orang Suku Laut.

When Orang Suku Laut males and females are asked how they typically dress, they answer that they all prefer brightly colored clothes: females prefer flowered sarongs and blouses, and men prefer check sarongs or trousers and shirts. However, in fact, everybody wears whatever is at hand, partly because of the lack of material wealth, but also because gender considerations in this respect are actually only of minor importance. Make-up is also used by both sexes, albeit more frequently by young and middle-aged women and female children who like flashy red lipsticks and white powder, but sometimes also by young men, usually boat dwellers who, for instance, use a piece of charcoal as eyebrow pencil and also powder themselves. Both females and males who can afford jewellery wear golden necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

A "third sex" is not explicitly recognized. Although the phenomena of transsexuality or transvestism are not unknown, and can sometimes be observed in the surrounding majority society with its clear-cut conceptions of male and female role performances, the Orang Suku Laut comment on this with amusement and irony. For them, there may be no "need" for it, because the daily performance of Orang Suku Laut males and females always implies certain proportions of the opposite gender role as defined by their neighbors—something that is in turn commented upon by the latter with amusement and irony—who, for instance, regard the appearance of Orang Suku Laut males carrying and cuddling their children in public as "womanish."

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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