Cultural Construction of Gender

As mentioned above, gender categories are closely related to economic roles, with the provisioning of the household an essential aspect of femininity. If women are identified as "farmers," the male equivalent is "warrior," reflecting the long history of intergroup conflict in this region. Women are also said to be warriors in some contexts, such as childbirth, which demand courage and endurance. The funeral dances conducted for both men and women are referred to as war dances, although the men's version actually mimics the techniques of warfare while the women's focuses on complex steps and drum patterns. There are no culturally recognized third genders or cross-gendered persons, but transvestism is common in ritual contexts like the men's war dance and another funeral dance performed for women of child-bearing age. In the case of the men's war dance, transvestite elements signal the transcendence of the warrior over all normal social categories, including gender (Moran, 1996).

Liberia has been incorporated into the global economy for centuries through the trans-Saharan and Atlantic trade in salt, ivory, pepper, and slaves. Since the late 15th century, when European ships first made their way down the west coast of Africa, local communities have integrated Western items, including clothing, into their way of life. For everyday dress, men wear shirts and pants or shorts of foreign manufacture, usually purchased in second-hand clothing markets. When relaxing at home or in certain ritual contexts, men wear a length of cloth wrapped around the waist, sometimes with a second cloth draped over the shoulder. Women's attire is differentiated by status; uneducated farmers and market vendors wear the cloth wrapper, or lappa, with a blouse tailored from the same material or an imported T-shirt. Married women signal their status with two lappas, one of which is used to cover a baby that is tied to the mother's back. Educated or "civilized" women wear Western-style dresses in most public contexts, but may dress in lappas while doing housework at home. Local tailors produce elaborate "lappa suits" for urban professional women in which the wrapped cloth is replaced by a long skirt with a zipper.

Ideals of physical attractiveness include defined musculature and "smooth" (closely cut) hair for men, and smooth skin, beautifully arranged hair, and a full figure for women. Extreme slimness is taken as a sign of illness (translated into English as "looking dry") for both sexes. Both men and women are also admired for their ability to work hard, govern their emotions, and use discretion.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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