Cultural Construction of Gender

Strictly speaking, Igbos recognize only two gender categories: male and female. Not only are the categories of male and female sharply distinguished, but these distinctions are manifest in a mostly sex-segregated social system (Green, 1947; Miller, 1982). The structure and character, as well as some of the contradictions, of this system are elaborated in greater detail below. However, it is important to note from the outset that conceptually strict gender categories and the largely sex-segregated social system are, in fact, more fluid in practice than they appear in ideology, particularly when gender is considered in the context of social action rather than essential-ized categories. In Igbo society, for example, it is possible for women to marry wives, and daughters can undertake many of the social roles of sons, reversing the typical associations between gender categories and social position (Amadiume, 1987). However, even in cases of these social role inversions, Igbos retain durable and strict ideas about the differences between male and female. "Male daughters" and "female husbands" do not look or, in most respects, behave like men.

Though it is difficult to summarize briefly how Igbos conceptualize male and female gender, perhaps the most useful starting point is to note that the cultural construction of gender is most significantly manifest in the categories and roles of son/husband/father for men and daughter/wife/mother for women. Though certain characteristics of male and female gender connect each of these life-course stages (with men conceived of as more aggressive, independent, and publicly oriented, and women seen as more nurturing, dependent, and domestically oriented), the invocation of a life-course perspective highlights the extent to which gender is significantly tied to social context.

Dress and hairstyle are probably the most obvious culturally inscribed bodily markers of gender. Women generally grow long hair that is braided or styled and men keep short hair. Dress is more variable, but in contemporary Igboland men typically wear trousers in both traditional and Western garb and women are most likely to wear wrappers, dresses, or skirts. Women almost always pierce their ears; men do not. Features that make men and women attractive are extremely variable based on individual taste, and tastes seem to be shifting rapidly with changing fashions, but it is probably fair to say that markers of wealth, such as fine clothing and educated language, are most important.

How To Become The Girl Men Adore

How To Become The Girl Men Adore

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