Status

The pollution-avoidance complex described above has one other notable feature; it is associated with patrilineal descent and patrilocal residence. Certain features of social organization, specifically descent and postmarital residence rules, have long been known to influence the relative status and power of the sexes. In fact, some researchers suggest that the strongest associations with equality or inequality between the sexes are postmarital residence and descent rules. They argue that such kinship variables may exert an effect on status independent of economic and political organization (G. D. Johnson & Hendrix, 1982).

Whereas women's status varies in patrilineal societies, it tends to be higher in matrilineal ones. Since women are the focus of the social structure in matrilineal societies, they define political and social relationships (Martin & Voorhies, 1975). But the picture is complicated. While women's position in matrilineal descent groups facilitates their political influence and economic control, neither is insured by the existence of such descent groups alone (Quinn, 1977). Women's degree of domestic autonomy, and with it their status, varies in matrilineal societies and tends to be higher where domestic authority over women is divided between husbands and brothers than in those societies where either male relative has exclusive authority (Schlegel, 1972; Whyte, 1978).

The following example illustrates the sexual differentiation in status related to descent and its practical consequences. In most of the Arab world, where patrilineal descent and inheritance are the norm, the children of women who marry foreigners are not considered citizens of their mother's country. But the reverse is not the case. The children of a man who marries a foreign woman are deemed full citizens of their father's natal land. In essence, one's status in society is derived solely through males, not females. Egyptian-born children of Egyptian mothers and foreign fathers cannot attend public schools or free state universities without paying tuition fees, and they cannot get jobs unless they first get work permits as "foreigners." But the foreign wives and children of Egyptian men automatically become full citizens of Egypt (MacFarquhar, 2001).

Matrilocal postmarital residence appears to be an even more crucial determinant of women's status than matrilineal descent, although the two often coincide. By describing the practical consequences of matrilocal and patrilocal residence, we can see the daily impact that these arrangements have on men and women. In a matrilocal society, after a woman marries she remains in her natal village surrounded by female kin. Her imported husband, with no resident kin of his own, must deal with a coalition consisting of his wife, her mother, and her sisters. He is the outsider, the stranger. Moreover, there is usually a greater degree of domestic equality in matrilocal situations than in patrilocal ones. With matrilo-cality, a divorcing woman need not change residence or locate kin willing to take her back. Then, too, matrilocal-ity disperses related males, making it more difficult for them to form kin-based coalitions (Friedl, 1975).

But in patrilocal societies positions are reversed and the woman is the outsider. She leaves kin behind and moves to her husband's place of residence where she is unlikely to have her own relatives nearby to provide aid and comfort in time of need. She is faced with the scrutiny of strangers, her husband's relatives, who may make life difficult for her if she does not live up to their expectations. Then, too, women's autonomy is reduced because of their isolation from their own close kin, and in cases of divorce they must change residence (Friedl, 1975).

One theory proposes that it is not primarily descent and residence but women's kinship roles as sisters and wives which help define their relations to production and hence their status (Sacks, 1979). As the mode of production in society becomes more complex, the role of sister, and with it women's direct control of production, declines. Women become increasingly defined as wives, a status of reduced power and greater dependency. As wives, women only relate to production indirectly through the productive and reproductive activities they perform for their husbands' kin group. Here again, women's simple involvement in production is not a precondition for their high status; rather, the key to women's power and prestige is whether or not they control both the means of production and what is being produced.

The sister-wife distinction can shed light on differences in women's status in matrilineal and patrilin-eal societies, since the lifelong importance of the sister role is highlighted in matrilineal societies where women produce and reproduce for their own natal kin groups, not for the kin groups of their husbands.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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