Cultural Construction of Gender

The Shoshone recognized four gender categories— ordinary males and females and male and female berdache categories. The egalitarian nature of Shoshone social organization carried over into gender relations, and there was no gender stratification. Men were thought of as more interested in hunting and women as more skilled in domestic activities, but their relative economic contributions to family survival were equally ranked, and the typical differences in the gender roles of men and women were not strictly enforced. Thus, individual personality traits that led to a violation of the usual gender-role patterns was tolerated without censure.

The flexibility in Shoshone gender roles is one of the factors that made for an easy acceptance of the gender mixing of both male and female berdaches. Berdaches (called "Two-Spirit People" in contemporary English by many writers today) were individuals who did not adopt the usual gender roles of their sex, but who adopted many of the roles usually practiced by the other sex. Their distinct gender status was sometimes symbolized by their adopting of (nonmandatory) gender-mixed dress. The berdache gender status was adopted either because of individual inclination or because a visionary experience called the person to this role. Hultkrantz (1983) reported that among the Wind River Shoshone, berdaches were always males and they never married. However, elsewhere among the Shoshone, berdache individuals could enter either heterosexual or same-sex marriages or remain single, according to individual inclination. In same-sex marriages, the berdache partner adopted the spousal roles that were usually carried out by the person of the other sex. Thus, a berdache male might become a wife to a biological male husband, and a berdache female could adopt the husband's roles in a marriage to another female. Unlike many North American Indian groups, Shoshone berdache roles had no special religious significance and no necessary connection to shamanistic healing roles. Both men and women could become berdaches.

Dress was least elaborate among the Western Shoshone where the sparse environment made it difficult to acquire materials for making clothing. The most common article of clothing for both men and women was a cape made of woven strips of rabbit skin. These capes were also used as blankets when sleeping. Among many families, not every adult had such a cape, and so nudity was not rare for either sex, particularly in the summer. Powell (1875, p. 104) reported meeting a couple late in August in which the man was "dressed in a hat; the woman in a string of beads only." Among the Northern and Eastern Shoshone, clothing was differentiated by sex. For instance, Lowie (1986a, p. 217) reported that among the Wind River Shoshone, a Northern Shoshone group in Wyoming, women wore buckskin dresses decorated with elk teeth, while men wore shirts, breechclouts, and leggings.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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