Cultural Construction of Gender

For the most part, the Tswana recognize only two categories of gender: female and male. These gender categories, while difficult to describe briefly, can be summarized as parallel to individuals' sexual reproductive status. Women are expected to bear children, and it is not unusual for a woman to have a child prior to marriage or setting up a household with a male partner. A woman's fecundity and ability to bear children influences both her attractiveness and her social status in Tswana society as outlined in greater detail below. Both men and women who are perceived as infertile suffer great social stigma and ridicule, and such status can prove grounds for divorce. This illustrates how fertility is considered integral in the social construction of the Tswana person and what is considered "healthy" gender identity. In general, and particularly in less urban areas, homosexuality is denied and never directly discussed; it has long been considered officially illegal, although individual opinions and cultural perceptions of homosexual relationships may be slowly changing.

Dress is perhaps the most clearly distinguishable expression of gender identity for the Tswana. For the most part, men wear trousers and women wear more traditional style sarongs, wrapped cloth around the torso, or long skirts or dresses. In more urban settings, women will wear suits and trousers, however, and clothing overall tends to be similar to contemporary Western styles. Children who are enrolled in schools wear uniforms that include a dress for girls and shorts and a button-down shirt for boys. Again in more rural areas, women will wear a head tie—a scarf wrapped around the head—and it is particularly important to cover one's head using a scarf or hat at a funeral.

While it is difficult to pinpoint precise markers of beauty, given varying individual tastes and the significance of differing social contexts over time, people who are considered attractive are, in general, those with children. As described below, both menstruation and child-bearing are seen as cleansing, strengthening, and healthy characteristics of women, and both men and women will talk about how important it is to have a child in order to be seen as desirable to the opposite sex. With the abundance of media influence from South Africa, Europe, and the United States, young people describe contemporary pop idols, with expensive clothing, slender bodies, and often intricate hairstyles and hair extensions as attractive ideals.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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