Relative Status of Men and Women

Given the strong egalitarian ethos pervading mundane life, men and women alike make decisions and express their opinions freely on most matters (see the contributors to Gale, 1978). There is relative equality of access to resources, except for sites and areas designated as "men's country" and strictly off limits to women and children (there is no corresponding female power to place similar taboos). Men generally interrupted the status quo only in times of conflict or during religious activities in order to assert their superior rights over women. Women clearly had far fewer rights than their spouses; for example, they could not divorce their husbands, or practice polyandry, or engage in the equivalent of "wife-lending" by men— rights which men could exercise. Older relatives, most often males, made major decisions affecting women, such as betrothing them in infancy, sometimes without the involvement of their mothers, or choosing new spouses for them after they had been widowed.

Despite their generally greater contribution to the family's diet, women were not accorded a proportional level of power. In the dominant male ideology, the ritual acts of mature men generated the food resources, thus symbolically alienating women from the products of their labors. As a rule, in Mardu society gender-based differences in status invariably favored initiated males. In certain contexts and circumstances, such as during childbirth and certain subsistence pursuits, women acted autonomously and "equally" in their behaviors toward members of symmetrical kin categories. Also, camp life was typified by relaxed behavior among most band members whose kinship links permitted this. Religion, too, brought both genders together in situations of intense sociality aimed at dramatizing the fact that everyone was equally "under the Law" and ultimately dependent on the Dreaming for their well-being and that of their society.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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