Marriage Patterns

Another line of argument explains the gendering of war by the potential disloyalty of women toward their communities. Most cultures are patrilocal. In the event of war between the two communities, women might have mixed loyalties—to their current husbands and their birth families—which could explain why many cultures exclude them from war-fighting, planning, and access to weapons (Adams, 1983, pp. 7, 198-203, 207-210; cf. Manson & Wrangham, 1991, pp. 372-374). An alternative way to resolve the dilemma is to draw marriage partners from within one's own community (endogamy). Another alternative is to fight mainly external wars, so that marrying enemies is rare.

Matrilocal societies tend to practice endogamy and fight external wars (Adams, 1983; Ember & Ember, 1971), so in these societies the disloyalty problem would not occur.

Empirically, women's participation in war is somewhat higher in matrilocal than patrilocal societies, although still extremely limited. In a sample of 67 prestate cultures, women participated at least occasionally as warriors in nine, all of them among the 33 cultures characterized by either exclusively external war or exclusive community endogamy. However, in all nine cases— mostly Native Americans—women comprised a small minority of warriors and were generally treated as unusual. For example, Navaho war parties never had more than two women, Delaware women "seldom" fought, Fox women warriors were unusual, and Comanche women just sometimes sniped from the fringes (Adams, 1983, pp. 200-202).

The majority of communities have internal war, and the majority are patrilocal, but all combinations of war and marriage occur in at least a few cultures (Table 1). Cultures with frequent internal war, patrilocal residence, and at least some exogamy—the ones where women's loyalties could explain gendered war roles—are the

Table 1. Cross-Cultural Relationship of Marriage and War in 115 Societies

Marriage pattern (exogamy; endogamy)

Table 1. Cross-Cultural Relationship of Marriage and War in 115 Societies

Marriage pattern (exogamy; endogamy)

War pattern

Patrilocal

Matrilocal

Bilocal/other

Total

Some internal war

44 (19; 9)

5 (1; 4)

9 (1; 4)

58

External war

8 (2; 1)

14 (2; 7)

3 (0; 1)

25

exclusively

Infrequent war

15 (9; 2)

5 (1; 4)

12 (1; 3)

32

Total

67

24

24

115

Numbers in parentheses indicate cultures practicing only exogamy (marriages from other communities) and only endogamy, respectively. The rest practice mixed exogamy and endogamy.

Numbers in parentheses indicate cultures practicing only exogamy (marriages from other communities) and only endogamy, respectively. The rest practice mixed exogamy and endogamy.

Data from Adams (1983, pp. 199-200, 203). Reprinted with permission from War and gender: How gender shapes the war system and vice versa (p. 227), by J. S. Goldstein, 2001, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

largest single category but make up fewer than a third of the 115 cultures in the sample. The major problem with women's loyalties as an explanation of gendered war roles is that it does not explain the rareness of women warriors in the other two-thirds of the cultures, where marriage patterns vary (Goldstein, 2001, pp. 225-227).

Causality may run from war to marriage type as much as vice versa (Adams, 1983, pp. 202-203). The patrilocal marriage system, by keeping the men together in kin groups (fathers and brothers stay together), strengthens communities that frequently fight their neighbors. By contrast, matrilocal marriages break up such ties and thus promote unity across neighboring communities; this is functional when they together face an external threat (Ember & Ember, 1971). Polygyny occurs most in societies with high male mortality in warfare (M. Ember, 1974, 1985). Cultures with infrequent war usually lack strict marriage residency rules.

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