Gender over the Life Cycle

Up to the age of 6 or so, girls are known as wara and boys as warukai. Afterwards, girls are called jinai and boys are halak. An adult man is saray, and an adult woman is khaza (wife). Elderly men are respectfully called spin giray (grey beards); elderly women may be called budai—though this is an insult in direct address. The major marker in a boy's life-cycle is circumcision, which is the occasion for a large public celebration. It usually occurs when the boy is between 2 and 5, but can take place later, and in any case implies no change in rights or responsibilities. A girl's only important life cycle ceremony is marriage, which marks her transition into womanhood and her departure from her own family.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Pathans greet the birth of a boy with celebration, and the birth of a girl with condolences and silence. Nonetheless, both male and female infants are treated more or less alike. They sleep with their mothers and are swaddled until they are around 12-18 months old. Whenever they cry, they are pacified with the mother's breast. Weaning is sudden and usually occurs when a new baby arrives— generally when the child is around 2, but sometimes much later.

Gender distinctions become very marked after the child is taken out of swaddling. Until he becomes a halak, a little boy is considered to be quite incompetent; he does no chores and is not held responsible for mistakes that would earn punishment for girls of the same age. He is the prince of the household and is treated with deference by all. If he dirties himself, his sister will wash his clothes; if he breaks something, his sister will pick up after him. If he hits his sister, he will be applauded. As a result of constant pampering and low expectations, little boys are not as advanced developmentally as girls, who are expected to help out with household chores from an early age. In particular, as soon as they are able, they serve as caretakers for their younger siblings, carrying them continually on their hips, and taking responsibility for their well-being.

As they become jinai, girls spontaneously begin exhibiting typical female behavior, such as donning head scarves and avoiding boys. Younger girls report the latest scandals in the village, learning conventional morality as well as the highly valued skills of gossiping. As they get older, girls stay more and more within their family compounds, practicing the purdah (seclusion) they will follow for the rest of their lives. Formal education for girls is rare, though some do now go to a few all-female primary schools where they learn rudimentary skills of reading and writing. But for most girls, life will be perpetually circumscribed within the domestic sphere.

The primary virtues for girls, as for women, are obedience and deference, a capacity for hard work, an ability to bear punishment, and a sense of shame and propriety, all of which are deeply inculcated into them by peer pressure and parental training. At the same time, Pathan girls are also taught a strong sense of pride in their lineage, their family, and themselves.

Boys' socialization is very different, and has different aims. After their extended period of irresponsibility and indulgence, at around the age of 5 or 6 boys begin to be trained by their fathers in the maintenance of honor. They are instructed in the names of their clans and in genealogy, and are taught the proper rituals of greeting and politeness, most especially deference to elder men. A boy learns how walk in a dignified manner rather than running, how to control his emotions in public, and how to maintain an impassive face and a manly demeanor. Any babyish behavior earns quick and harsh punishment from the father. Crying and whining, which were indulged before, become taboo, and lead to shaming and slaps. Gossip, so much a part of the lives of girls, is discouraged. For boys learning the virtues of courage, respect, and proper comportment, the private lives of others should be of no interest.

While girls become more housebound as they get older, boys are increasingly out in the world. In the village streets and fields they join their age mates in gangs from the same ward where they learn about the competitive rough and tumble of masculine life. In these gangs the strongest and most daring rule. Fathers expect their sons to stand up for themselves among their peers, and a boy who flees a fight is punished. Aside from the serious play of gang life, a halak must also help with work in the fields and participate in public rituals of hospitality. Some boys also go to school, and a few may continue on to college, and to professional or semiprofessional jobs.

As noted, girls, even if educated, live in the private sphere of the household, and their only realistic hope is to become like their mothers. In contrast, boys have a more conflicted existence. Though expected to be meek and obedient to their elders, they are also expected to assert themselves in the rough-and-tumble universe of their peers, where the joker and the fighter succeed. These contradictory expectations can have a problematic effect in later life. (For Pathan socialization practices see

Charles Lindholm, [1982], Cherry Lindholm [1982], and Newman [1965].)

Puberty and Adolescence

There is no special marking out of puberty among the Swat Pathans. For girls, adolescence often does not even exist, since many are already married by the time they reach puberty and so have effectively entered adulthood. For boys, in contrast, adolescence is a continuation of childhood, and can last for many years, since men marry late and do not carry adult responsibilities until then. Typically, adolescent boys run with their gangs, wrestling, playing pranks on villagers, and testing each other's courage. Older boys may manage to keep a prostitute in their clubhouse, or rape a girl caught out alone. Male adolescents are notoriously easily to offend. A rejected friendship, a careless insult, or a minor humiliation can lead to violence and to a blood feud.

Attainment of Adulthood

As noted, girls become women when they marry. They continue to keep strict purdah and must show deference to their husbands and mothers-in-law. Their status is slowly enhanced if they have sons. Women without sons are held in contempt, and can expect their husband to take a second wife if he can afford the expense. Unmarried woman are not considered adults; usually they are hidden in their own homes and rarely spoken of, as their status is both ambiguous and disgraceful.

A man also requires a wife to be reckoned as an adult, but sons are not as crucial for his status as they are for a woman. What is most important for him is that peers recognize his power and autonomy. This means that manhood is fully achieved only when a man inherits his land from his father and becomes an independent householder.

Middle Age and Old Age

Both men and women continue along the pathways set for them during their early years. For a woman, child-raising, arranging marriages for her children, dominating incoming daughters-in-law, and maintaining her status as first wife are the most important priorities. After menarche, women no longer need to remain in seclusion. If they have had sons and controlled a large household, their lives are reckoned to have been successful.

The aging process for men is more ambiguous. Although respect is automatically awarded to an old man, he is likely to resent the fact that his sons demand to be given the land and authority that he fought all his life to gain. As a result, elder men are often marginalized and embittered.

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