The Organization of Work and Sex Antagonism

The organization of work also has an impact on women's status. In those societies in which the sexes are mutually dependent and work together—as in husband-and-wife teams—women's status is higher than when work is strictly organized along gender lines. A rigid sexual division of labor may lead to more general segregation of the sexes which, in turn, may promote differing interests between spouses. Research suggests that under certain conditions an inflexible division of labor leads to marital instability, whereas role sharing enhances cooperation and marital quality (Hendrix, 1997; Hendrix & Pearson, 1995). In essence, extreme task segregation based on sex may lead to distinct male and female worlds with divergent interests.

Consider several examples here. Among the Machiguenga of lowland Peru men and women cooperate, cultivating manioc and fishing, and they spend their leisure time together. As a consequence, husbands and wives feel more solidarity with each other than with their same-sex friends and there is little friction between the sexes (O. R. Johnson & Johnson, 1975). In contrast, in many cultures in highland New Guinea the sexes are segregated from one another in nearly all aspects of life, women are thought to contaminate men, and men engage in rituals to "purge" themselves of impure female substances (Meigs, 1984). Similarly, the Mundurucu of Brazil have a rigid division of labor, friendships rarely cross sex lines, men reside in exclusive men's houses apart from women and children, and relations between the sexes are strained (Murphy, 1959; Murphy & Murphy, 1974).

The two latter cases are examples of "sex antagonism," a complex of traits that is particularly prevalent in highland New Guinea and the Brazilian Amazon and is correlated with low female status. In varying combinations, the complex includes notions of male purity and female pollution, ideologies that women pose a danger to men, behaviors that separate women and/or their belongings from men, elaborate male rituals that exclude females, anxiety about male sexual depletion, extreme sexual segregation, gang rape, female subservience, male dominance, and generally hostile relations between the sexes (Quinn, 1977). Several explanations have been given for the complex. One suggests that it is found in societies in which the interests of the sexes are opposed and, in effect, men marry their "enemies," while another proposes that it is a reaction to the threat of overpopulation since it may reduce sexual contact between men and women (Lindenbaum, 1972; Meggitt, 1964). C. R. Ember (1978) tested four theories about men's fear of sex with women cross-culturally. She found worldwide support for both the "marrying enemies" theory (Meggitt, 1964) and the population-pressure theory (Lindenbaum, 1972).

Beliefs and behaviors associated with female pollution and avoidance are said to maximize differences between the sexes and occur in societies in which such distinctions are an important organizing principle. The complex is correlated with a gendered division of labor in which women are solely responsible for childcare, they have minimal power in the economic and political realms, and female prestige and personal influence are low. In contrast, in societies that have male rituals associated with the female reproductive cycle, gender role differences are de-emphasized and female status is higher. The most notable ritual of this kind is the couvade—the practice in which men's activities are limited during their wives pregnancies, childbirth, and post-partum recovery. Such rituals serve to minimize the distinctions between the sexes (Zelman, 1977).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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