Relative Status of Men and Women

Female 'Enana's sexual "choices" have always been more pragmatically constrained than men's, their decision-making powers have more rarely been institutionalized, and they have always suffered a lower status at the ideological level. Nonetheless, individual women have enjoyed access to a good deal of informal (and sometimes formal) authority in ways that suggest the general fluidity of gender categories and hierarchies in 'Enana society (Kirkpatrick, 1983; Thomas, 1987a, 1987b, 1990).

Women appear always to have taken some joy in and had some say as to their premarital and marital partners. However, in some situations parents or groups of males appear to have forced the "decision" to couple and/or cohabit. Women's choice of extramarital partners was once hedged by the threat of being killed if they strayed in ways unauthorized by their husbands. Women rarely had recourse to anything but suicide if their husbands sought extramarital relations without their consent. Finally, men appear to have had easier access to dissolving a sexual relationship than did women (Ferdon, 1993; Handy, 1923; Suggs, 1966).

Although wife-beating is still prevalent and was apparently cited earlier in the 20th century as proof of a man's interest in his wife, it is now classified as a "social problem" and discussed at women's meetings led by social workers. In recent years, some women appear to be enjoying a certain freedom of extramarital relations without dire consequences. By now, French law and the Catholic Church no longer support the male advantage in divorce.

With respect to child-bearing, women make use of both traditional and modern forms of birth control, especially since most priests no longer prohibit such interventions. But even in the past women who came to term against their will could easily locate adoptive parents for their offspring, thus alleviating some of the burden of being the gestating agent.

At the ideological level, elite men clearly enjoyed signs of deference denied to most women and commoners. For instance, owing to the system of tapu, males probably ate better (e.g., more pork, turtle, or certain fish) than did most females. Similarly, first-born males in elite households were provided with more rituals and signs of status (e.g., tattooing ceremonies). However, women of the elite class received gestures of deference, much as men did, and found methods of furthering their goals in ways that may have laid the groundwork for women's pragmatic powers in the present.

While men are traditionally conceptualized as the heads of households, in reality women strongly influence household decision-making. Just as elite women once wielded control over their land and its produce, so do women now sometimes make more money than their husbands, oversee the household budget, and/or run businesses with or without a husband at their side. Moreover, many women can and do decide when, where, and how they will labor; they control the proceeds from that labor (whether this takes the form of collecting shellfish, drying copra, or selling pareu). While more women are better educated and occupy more white-collar jobs than men, more men than women fill positions of institutional authority.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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