Relative Status of Men and Women

Males and females develop knowledge, skills, and bodily qualities that are expressed in different and complementary ways over the course of a lifetime. The arena of male activity—the forest and the world beyond the village and the public men's house—demands a rigorous and lengthy period of restrictions and activities that both men and women believe is more demanding than that to which women must be submitted. Men feel that they have earned a measure of superiority over women by virtue of a more developed and sustained formal decorum within the village and confrontation with dangers outside it. There is at least one myth attributing the invention of important ceremonies to women and the usurpation of these by men. However, public institutions are a major means through which men assert that male age/gender qualities are necessary for the reproduction of the community as a whole and thus on par with or superior to the biological fertility of females. Men coordinate activities that ensure that the younger men will learn the right skills, eat the right foods, and acquire the necessary knowledge for their further development. Women also do this for younger women, but usually in the domestic sphere or as a less ostentatious counterpart to public male activities. Men also defend the village militarily and from supernatural dangers though appropriate chants. The prestigious positions that are limited to males, principally that of chief or "true chanter of the ben" is associated with leadership of public institutions. Females and males possess prestige by virtue of inherited wealth validated in great-name ceremonials, but male institutions alone provide a means of coalescing different kindreds (and cross-cutting them as well). Both sexes have a good deal of autonomy in the choice of spouse, and both girls and boys are warned that if they are lazy or incompetent no one will want them as a marriage partner.

Equally present, and expressed through customary forms, is an ongoing battle of the sexes that gives voice to the dissatisfactions felt and expressed collectively by both men and women. This may take the form of verbal duels or mutual ridicule between groups of men and women. Although adequacy of males and females in pursuit of their gender-specific pursuits is often called into question ("incompetent hunter!" "lazy gardener!" ), the escalation of insults can lead to deprecation of masculine sexuality and attractiveness as lovers. Males counter in the same vein, but their barbs do not seem to have the same impact. Men are the ones who initiate violence, organizing mock raids during which women are terrorized or struck with prickly bromeliad leaves. However, women inevitably counterattack, often with firebrands. They may enlist their own children or tabdjwy, and after a male raid toddlers may be seen stolidly planted in the doorway of their house, minature warclub in hand, to block father's return home. In cases where they feel their interests slighted, women may also act collectively to withhold their labor and resources from activities organized by male age grades that demand a female complement of labor, such as the cultivation of a large garden that may require cuttings from women's domestic plots.

Clearly, Kayapo feel that they are treated in terms of a common status defined by gender, in addition to and apart from statuses of kinship, age, and ceremonial prestige. Status is relative, but both men and women may feel themselves to be the ones having their interests subordinated to their gender opposites. Both genders operate from different positions of strength—women as gardeners living in matri-uxorilocal residences within which food is shared and prepared, and men within the men's house and public sphere. It seems precisely because male assertions of superiority are so ineffective as ideology that men have attempted to make women fear them. The threat of gang rape has been reported by researchers—not as a punishment for any particular trepass but seemingly as an expression of male dissatisfaction with female behavior—and customarily girls are initiated into sex by older men, some reluctantly. The reason why accounts of the relative status of men and women continue to be differently described in the literature derives from the fact that either side may be temporarily ascendent in the onging war between the sexes. Collective conflict between males and females clearly affects the tenor of husband-wife and son-in-law-parents-in-law relations within the domestic units. The fierceness of adult men qualifies them for political and diplomatic preeminence but does not compel female cooperation.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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