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Anthropological Concepts: Gender & Culture

Indigenous people wearing traditional clothing

In the last blog post, I talked about the 4 characteristics of gender. Gender is learned and collaborative, something we do, and involves asymmetry. Some people think that gender is also permanent, meaning whatever gender you are, you are that for the rest of your life. But, in some places, the gender you are changes throughout your life. 

For example, the Hua people of Papua New Guinea assign gender based on how old someone is and the amount of female bodily substances that they are in contact with. In that culture, there are two gender categories, “like women” and “like men.” All children are considered to be “like women,” even the boys, because they are in contact with their mother. 

Then, as females grow older, they lose their female substance through sexual activity, menstruation, and childbirth. So then, at menopause, they have become “like men,” and live in the men’s house and share in the men’s secret male knowledge. 

Young males start out as “like women” as I mentioned earlier, and as they grow up, they purge themselves of female substances through vomiting and nose-bleeding, and then eat men’s hair and drink men’s blood to get male substances inside them. Then the young males are considered “like men.” But as they grow old, the men gradually take on more female substances, though sexual activity with their wives and living with their wives, and eating her food. So, then when they are old, men are considered “like women” again. 

So, gender does not have to be permanent—there are places where gender is more fluid and changes throughout one’s life. Does this expand your way of thinking about gender? Let me know in the comments below!

Want to learn more about Gender and Culture? 

For more information & more examples of cultural differences regarding gender, just sign up for my Udemy course, “Exploring Gender Through Cultural Anthropology.”

Thanks for reading!

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