The Effects of Kinship on Female Status in Marriage

Local marriage contracts, identified as "buying a woman" or "stepping on" the bride-to-be symbolize a woman's transfer from her parents' home and control to that of her husband and his family. The general pattern is one in which male solidarity is reinforced when women join their husband's family. At the beginning of a marriage a woman has yet to form the new alliances and friendships with her husband's female relatives and therefore she has very little support. However, several factors affect a woman's relative authority. The first factor is that the longer she remains in her husband's household and bears his children, the more consideration and respect she receives. If she lives to old age, her husband's family members will consider her an elder of their line. If she outlives her husband she might even be considered a senior elder in her husband's lineage, with the authority to select names for the newest members of the family. A second factor is that she can gain respect and authority through her skillful handling of subsistence resources and her management of the celebrations that are associated with those resources.

Another factor that affects gender status and the relative authority of men and women within families and patrilineages is the role of exchange. Kinship, marriage, and most activities are expressed in the communities through obligatory exchanges. These exchanges, found at every level of Sivuqaq society, are potentially capable of generating respectful relations between men and women.

Giving and receiving are considered contracts between individuals and patrilineages. Both giving and receiving (or asking) imply the value or respect accorded the participants. While marriage is a "buying" ceremony, for example, parties to the marriage are valued precisely because they do honor the contractual arrangements. Although young men and women marry "for love" these days, marriage is still initiated through a formal request. The elders of the young groom-to-be travel to the home of the bride-to-be and make a formal request of the parents and other senior clan members for the young woman. These requests affect social relations between the two lineages, and possibly between the two patriclan groups of which they are a part, for years to come and also affect the way in which the girl will be treated by the boy's family. It is at this point that the young woman's family can choose to reject the young man, regardless of the desires of the young people. Once permission is given for the marriage, the young man's family gathers gifts to cement the contractual arrangement. Goods given to a woman's family imply both respect for her family and her own worth as a prospective bride. That respect is then advertised when the groom's ramket parades through the village with gifts piled onto sleds, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles. Once the ceremony is finished, the groom-to-be moves to his fiance's father's house to begin his service. The contractual arrangement between the two lineages is not complete until the young woman is escorted by her clan members to her new home along with a new collection of gifts to present to her husband's family. The series of exchanges demonstrate respect for both patrilineages and suggest that both the bride and the groom are worthy of respect as well.

Regardless of the "balancing effects" of the marriage contract, the patriclan system strongly influences gender status. Marriage is still understood as a conceptual transfer of "belonging." In addition, male authority within marriage has been enhanced by the society's acceptance of Christianity. Women routinely ask permission first of their fathers and later of their husbands when they wish to engage in some activity, whether it is a serious step such as a trip to the mainland for medical treatment or accepting a job as a wage earner outside the home, or simply taking a ride down the beach or going to visit someone in their free time. The assumption is that girls were especially under the authority of their elders and their parents, with males within the family having more authority than females. Once they are married, girls "belong" to their husbands and are expected to ask permission to engage in many routine tasks or to participate in routine events.

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