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9. No considerations of marriage can avoid a discussion of gender issues. Discuss with ethnographic illustrations.

Gender can be defined as a sexuality aspect that is learned. Gender can also be used to describe the sex roles a certain culture dictates. However, it is essential to note that the gender identity- self- id of a person, whether as a female or male, does not usually have to coincide with their anatomy. In some societies, such as in the native American societies, it is considered that humanity is divided into three different genders, the third being a Berdache, which is a term that was given to a male child who portrayed female characteristics. They were dressed like women and given the same roles as women, and treated as sacred (Bell 237- 54). This paper will, therefore, look at the issue of gender and how it affects the institution of marriage. To achieve this, the paper will look at a number of things such as sex, marriage, sex roles in culture and biology, ideologies of gender, sexual stratification, functions of marriage, rules of marriage, the people one can marry, and types of marriages.

To understand better the roles of gender in a marriage, the understanding of sex is essential. Sex can be said to be a biological category into which an individual is born. It is determined by characteristics of anatomy and chromosomes, and it is usually permanent. Because of sex characteristics, most societies declare new born babies female or male at birth, and it is at this stage when enculturation begins, assigning the baby instant roles in gender. Some examples such as father referring to a son as tough guy, tiger and, girls, flower show how gender and roles in gender are assigned early in life. However, initiation is the most essential process of imposing sex roles on young people. In such cases, girls imitate the domestic activities their mothers perform, while the boys imitate the roles of their fathers and other male relatives. Though this imitation is applauded in societies, imitating the roles of the opposite sex are never encouraged, for example, boys are never encouraged to play with toys (Christie-Mizell 335-48).

Culture and biology, therefore, interact in a complex way to produce distinctions between behaviors of females from that of males. As a result, girls are brought up to have certain characteristics that are different from those of boys. Culture plays a major role in developing these behaviors. For example, in certain cultures girls are never allowed to perform some activities and, as a result, are seen as the weaker sex. Males, on the other hand, are seen as masculine in these societies because they are the ones who take up the kind of activities that require strength (Christie-Mizell 335-48).

The status of women is different from society to society, but one thing remains clear, that the status of women and men is largely stratified. As a result, one would need to look at the different kinds of roles played by both women and women to determine their status in the society. For example, in some West African societies, women have a lot of power especially, economic because they participate in numerous activities in the marketplace. However, this is not static. It should be noted that the status of both women and men change often and varies according to such aspects as age and politics (Christie-Mizell 335-48).

Ideologies in gender are what govern most societies. This is a term used to describe a system of values and thoughts that validates sex roles, behavior and statuses. This is the same as the universal dominance- gender asymmetry of men. Men were for a long time considered to have a higher status than women were, and up to today, some societies regard them as so. Even in periods not so long ago, women in the western countries were not allowed to vote. However, with time, and as people start to become aware of the abilities of all individuals, these tendencies tend to diminish. Gender ideologies form a big part of what people belief is an ideal marriage and who is to be considered an ideal marriage partner (Christie-Mizell 335-48).

Marriage can be defined as a legal contract or a social union that exists between two individuals that creates kinship. It is an institution where interpersonal relations, especially sexual and intimate relations, are acknowledge and accepted in a number of ways depending on the cultures and subcultures of the individuals. It is also referred to as wedlock and it is formalized usually through wedding ceremonies, which also differ according to cultures. (Schultz and Lavenda 332- 46.

Anthropologists have proposed several definitions of marriage for the purposes of including a wide variety of practices in marriage observed in different cultures. For example, an anthropologist, Westermarck, defined marriage as a connection that is more or less durable between female and male lasting beyond the mere activities of reproduction, until the offspring has been produced (Westermarck 71a). In another one of his publications, Westermarck went contrary to his prior definition of marriage by arguing that marriage is a relation of one or more women, or of one or more men, which is recognized by either law or custom (Westermarck 3b). Another definition of marriage is the one seen in the anthropological publication Notes and Queries that defines marriage as a union between a woman and a man which allows for the birth of children to the women, and become the legitimate and legally recognized off springs of the two partners (Notes and Queries on Anthropology 110). Gough, on the other hand, defines marriage as a union between a woman and one or more individuals, (Gough 23- 34), this was after he recognized such practices as those practiced by some cultures such as those in Sudan, whereby women were at times allowed to act as husbands and marry wives.

Leach expanded the definition of Gough to propose that marriage should be defined as the relationship that exists between a woman and any other person, which provides that an off spring be born to the woman under such circumstances or situation that are not prohibited by the relationship rules. He further argued that no one particular marriage definition applied to more than one cultures (Gudeman 131).

Marriage has many functions, and some of them are as follows. Marriage serves to decrease competition in sex. It validates and legitimizes activities of sex, which in turm decrease rivalry for spouses, and reduces opportunities for conflicts to arise. Marriage also balances and regulates sexual labor division. As it follows, a marriage brings people with different tasks together, and compliments a male married to a female, and vice versa, in addition to, creating a setting for establishing family relationships, and providing a situation for the development of children (Elkridge 1419 1513).

One of the main reasons as to why individuals get married is for the purposes of forming a kinship. Most anthropologists are interested in the issue of kinship because it is the kind of relationship that results from family, marriage or other essential arrangements in culture. Kinship provides for the basis of examination and study of different kinds of partnership, reproduction, and community throughout the world (Minnesota State University 21- 34). Systems of kinship have been indicated to be the driving forces behind the emergence of gender. This is mainly because of the need for the assurance that the continuity and reproduction of the kinship systems will continue. For this assurance to be valid, individuals have to be made male and female.

Issues in gender are mainly addressed by a number of questions, most of which have to do with how one knows whether they are female of male, the essentiality of bodies, and questions about the what femininity, sexuality or masculinity is. Moreover, these questions bring out extremely essential points of, for example, whether nations are gendered or not, and whether issues of gender affect such events and situations such as institutions and politics. It is through the study of gender that one determines whether the new globalised societies have new contests and concerns about sexuality, gender, family, or identity (‘Gender Studies’).

Every culture and society has rules governing gender, marriage, and sexual relationships. For example, in most cases, incest is seen as taboo, and there are serious prohibitions on having sexual relations with individuals from the same family or kinship. Incest taboos about sexual relations between immediate members of a family are universal, with the exception ancient royal families, in which case brothers were allowed to marry their sisters for the purposes of keeping blood lines untainted. There are various reasons why societies shun incest, and some include the inbreeding theory, and the social alliance theory (Christie-Mizell 335-48).

As a result, of these theories, most societies require individuals to marry from outside of their kinship. This is what is commonly referred to as exogamy. Other cultures require that their children marry within a specific group stipulated by such elements as caste, village, religion, or social groups. This is called endogamy. Many cultures also have rules on the number of spouses one can have. Some require a man to have only one wife (monogamy), other requires one to have more than one wife (polygamy). In many societies, polygamy is the most preferred form of marriage, but such things disadvantage it as economic and social power. In some societies, women can marry more than one man, but it is extremely uncommon. This form of marriage is referred to as polyandry and it is common in Tibet, India and Nepal. Limited resources such as land motivate it. Some societies also have rules governing whom the wife belongs to. In some societies in Tibet, brothers are allowed to share a wife. Most religions of the world, however, identify with polygamous marriages. Other forms of marriages are shunned by most churches (Schultz and Lavenda 332- 46).

Gender and marriage rules also dictate the residence patterns of a married couple. One of the most common living patterns of married couples is the patrilocal residence, in which case, the couple lives among the relatives and families of the husband. Another common residence pattern is when the couple lives near or with the relatives of the wife. However, in the modern times, more and more married couples are choosing to live independently form the relatives of any spouse. These same rules determine and govern same sex partnerships. For the most part, same sex partnerships serve the same roles or functions as the traditional different sex marriages, though they are not civilly sanctioned in most societies. These partnerships are more and more being recognized as domestic partnerships other than marriages, and they are still discriminated against in terms of adoption, and benefits (Smith 232- 34).

This phenomenon of same sex marriage and partnerships has not just recently emerged. For example, it is believed that women in Sudan in the ancient times, and even now, were allowed to marry other women (Rupp 287- 304). In this culture, which is known as the Nuer culture, a woman can take another woman for a wife and become the father of the children of the woman who has been married. As part of this kind of union, there is a difference between the genitor and the pater. The pater is the woman who marries another woman and assumes the role of a husband, while the genitor is s neighbor, a friend, or a relative of the pater who is used to get the wife of the pater pregnant, and help the two women around the home with the activities that are regarded as unfit for women. Aside from the few activity the genitor assumes, the pater is the ‘man’ of the house and, therefore, assumes most of the responsibilities the usual husbands take. If wealthy enough, these women are allowed to marry as many women as they want (Amato 1267- 87).

Another society, which indicates that gender was not essential in marriage, is the ancient Greece. In this society, same sex relations between men were seen as normal and they were considered to be the highest type of love to ever exist between humans. As a result, these kinds of relationships were accepted and common just as the relations between men and women were. This relationship was built on a reciprocity and love basis, and typically required an older man to initiate a relationship with a younger male. This relationship was said to show the ability of men to further themselves in intelligence and knowledge, and, therefore, was not regarded as a form of physical connection. The men were still required to take wives and reproduce children (Stayskal 34- 76).

Though such relations are accepted in a number of societies as it has been indicated, most societies in the world have illegalized and banned same- sex relationships and marriages. There are various reasons behind this failure to acknowledge same sex relationships and most of them are based on religion, social norms and morality. Most cultures refuse to recognize same sex relations on the basis that they go against rules of nature. They argue that men and women were created to be with different sexes and not the same sexes, and that breaking this rule is tantamount to immorality and social decay. Others cite religious reasons arguing that God created women and men so that they could be with each other and that if he so wished he could have created men and men or women and women. However, one of the most essential arguments against same sex marriages is based on reproduction (Hobhouse 67- 89).

Most anthropological definitions of reproduction indicate that reproduction is the process through which new members of a society are brought into being, through conception, pregnancy, birth of the child, and raising of the child. As a result, marriage has been practiced in most societies for this purpose. It is for this reason why most individuals disagree to agree or recognize same- sex marriages because they do not provide for this function (James 56- 98).


The issue of gender when it comes to marriages has had a significant position in the society since time in memorial, and has earned so much attention because of the many implications and functions marriage has in the society. Same- sex relations are accepted in some communities but they remain illegal in most societies. Marriage is seen as a place where new members of a society are produced, it is also seen as place where the needs of an individual, those related to intimacy and sexuality are fulfilled. It is the difference in perceptions and ideologies of how these relations should be and how families and kinships should be made that result to differences in how individuals feel about the issue of gender in marriage.

Works cited

Amato, Paul. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 62.4 (2009): 1269- 87. Print

Bell, Duran. ‘Defining Marriage and Legitimacy’. Current Anthropology 38.2 (1997): 237–254. Print

Christie-Mizell, C. ‘The Effects of Traditional Family and Gender Ideology on Earnings: Race and Gender Differences’. Journal of Family and Economic Issues 27. 1 (2006). Print

Elkridge, William. ‘Symposium on Sexual Orientation and the Law.’ Virginia Law Review 79.7 (1993): 1419-1513. Print

‘Gender Studies’. New Generation Arts Degree. Web. 25 October 2011.

Gough, Kathleen. ‘The Nayars and the Definition of Marriage’. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland: 89(1959):23–34. Print

Gudeman, Stephen. Relationships, residence and the individual, (1976): 131. Print

Hobhouse, Leonard. Morals in evolution: a study in comparative ethics (1906): 45-56. Print

James, Paul. Reproduction. Western Washington University, 2009, print

Minnesota State University. Kinship and Marriage. New York: Emuseum. 2009. Print

Notes and Queries on Anthropology. Royal Anthropological Institute. (1951):110. Print

Rupp, Leila. ‘Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality.’ Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001): 287-302. Print

Stayskal, Byron. Ancient Greek Literature, WWU: Winter, 2009, print

Schultz, Emily and Robert Lavenda. Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition. New York: Oxford UP, Incorporated, 2009. Print 332-346

Smith, Peter. “Marriage”. A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. (2000): 232–233. Print

Westermarck, Edvard. The History of Human Marriage Volume 1, (1921a): 71. Print

Westermarck, Edvard.  The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization, volume II (1936b): 3.print

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