Claudia Nussbaumer begins her 8 part series, ‘Gender roles in indigenous communities,’ by breaking down gender and sex in society today.
When talking about gender roles, it is important to firstly establish what gender is and what makes it different to sex. What is commonly referred to as sex, is the biological distinction between female and male, in other words what type of biological characteristics a person has. Gender is the social aspect of difference and hierarchy between men and women; the social meaning of masculinity and femininity. The different ways in which we are ‘doing gender’ and acting out our societies perception of what it means to be a ‘woman’ and a ‘man’ is referred to as ‘gender performance’. It reinforces the ‘naturalness’ of gender roles and gender differentiation. So gender is something we are doing, rather than something we are.
Gender performance brings with it some problems. Most of all, it is limiting; you have to conform in order to be accepted, you’re not given the choice to simply ‘opt-out’. We are socialised into what we can and cannot do, what it looks like to be a girl or a boy and what characteristics are expected of us.
Under the umbrella of gender performance lies the concept of hegemonic gender. Part of sociologist, Raewyn Connell’s gender order theory is the term ‘hegemonic masculinity’, a practice trying to legitimise men’s dominant role and women’s subordination in society. This model of gender; as something set in stone, defined by nature and something we have to obey to, is another aspect of gender negatively affecting society and especially non-conforming folks. Sexism, #metoo, the gender pay gap: these are all aspects of how the social construct of gender have manifested into toxic behaviour between men and women.
All of these terms, theories and concepts are part of the ‘western world’s’ perception of gender. When we come to our article series’s focus, Indigenous communities, we will see a spectrum of gender roles and gender identities. Some of them are very close to the ‘West’s’ idea, though, they are not as limiting. It is very often a case of ‘what is this person capable of doing’, therefore gender is mostly understood in terms of labour and who is able to bear children. It is generally not so important in other aspects such as appearance (clothing, hair, make-up) and behaviour.
We can learn a lot about gender, it’s fluidness and limits when looking at other cultures before they were socialised and introduced to the ‘western way of life’. Our series will look at cultures from all around the globe, in order to find similarities but also to underline the differences and contrast it with the hegemonic set of beliefs.