Gender Related Social Groups

Every patriarchically organized community is based on theological axioms which uphold men as the religious and scriptural authority in the family. In addition, the social dynamics of polygynous family life make men, as fathers and husbands, the pivotal axis around which wives and children organize attention and internalize family identity.

Although church leadership actively discourages clanism (or the ranking of families into hierarchies of relative social worth), status competition flourishes unofficially. Family members strive to advance their father's or brother's reputation and thus, indirectly, their own standing. There is an ongoing struggle to heighten and diminish certain male reputations within a family and within the community as a whole. This dynamic is at odds with religious ideals.

High-status families continue to hold periodic gatherings in which men and women socialize while discussing family or clan business, and other related concerns. These family gatherings also reveal the value placed on family unity and loyalty, stressing cohesive-ness. The value of family solidarity is further evident in the formation of family schools, named after a founding family ancestor, and dedicated to teaching local family history as well as the basic skills of reading and writing. Clanism has undermined community unity and resulted in social fragmentation.

Given the community value placed on purity of blood lines, there is a strong incentive to trace descent to famous men who founded the community or the fundamentalist religion. This pragmatic concern encourages a bilateral orientation and, when combined with the absence of private property in the community, effectively undercuts the patriarchical impulse to form a patrilineal descent system. People raised in polygynous communities know to whom they are related and are readily able to articulate their relative position within their father's and mother's genealogical line. The primary reference point is the birth-mother's family, with the larger father-centered family forming an important, albeit secondary, frame of reference.

When women marry, they move to the home of their husband or they build a new home. If the woman is widowed and takes a new husband who does not have a house, he will move into her house. Although the patri-archical ideology insists that once a woman is married she is no longer to have frequent contact with her natal family, this is an ideal that is upheld in theory more than in practice. Most polygynous families are in constant need of resources so that bilateral networking is tolerated, if not encouraged.

Compared with men, women interact more often with friends and relatives. Once the father dies, adult siblings are less inclined to eat together but, instead, preferred to hold "family" gatherings at their birth-mother's home. In contrast, men's friendships are more isolated and fragmented. Apart from their children and favorite wife, many men have no true friends they trust.

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