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Thesis Statement: The Maasai society bases on their different definitions of femaleness and maleness, in assigning gender roles for men and women. This starts from childhood and continues through-out an individual’s life.
Margaret Mead, in her writings about gender and gender roles, covered a wide view of cultures and how different cultures assign gender roles to their people. She writes about the many definitions of maleness and femaleness according to different cultures. All educational societies accept the fact that men and women have biological differences (Howard 112). These biological differences appear as the main platform, for defining maleness and femaleness.
They are also useful in assigning different gender roles to members of different societies, which affect their social attitudes and personality. There is no society in the world, which is fully contented with these biological gender differences, although they cannot change anything. However, in some cases, they may try to make a few modifications to their bodies, in a bid to adopt more roles.
Apart from the normal physical differences, a man may start doing exercise as a way of gaining more muscles, so that he can perform complex tasks in the society (Lee 99). A woman may pierce her ears to add beauty to herself. Once the a rift defining men and women develops this way, it goes further and defines the positions, which men and women occupy in the society, basing on these physical and biological differences, which form part of peoples’ cultures (Lee 107).
Gender in the Zulu and Maasai People
This essay covers two communities, the Zulu of Southern Africa and the Maasai of Kenya, in Eastern Africa. Sex differences are influential factors of determining gender roles in different societies. Men in most societies, especially in African and Asia, enjoy dominant positions socially.
This is something that usually starts at an early age of their lives, and they grow up learning to uphold these values and the status, which they usually get when they are still kids. Girls, by the same token, usually grow up learning to cultivate and maintain their feminism. The difference between maleness and femaleness hence starts this way (Howard117). Only those who can live by these differences will be thought to be normal, while the rest will be thought as abnormal, which causes a social problem to them, in that case.
The Zulu people are a mixture of pastoralists and farmers. When a male baby is born in the Zulu community, he is tied with leaves and given a piece of metal from an old sword, or any farm equipment to hold tightly in his hands. The item that the baby will be given to hold will depend on the culture of the family.
A family of hunter, for example, will give the baby a piece from an old sword, while a family of farmers may give the baby a piece from a farm tool. That is a way of initiating the boy into the male customs of the Zulu. Men are mostly hunters and pastoralists, however, some families have given men certain farming roles. Men are masculine and can tolerate unusually harsh conditions, as compared to ladies. Physical differences are hence the basis of this judgment. Zulu men are mostly short, with powerful muscles and strong bones.
From childhood, boys in the society are treated with the respect given to men. Boys take part in a majority of jobs that need a lot of energy. They go to the fields to take care of their livestock, providing to them security, as they graze. Zulu boys go for hunting in forests. This is because boys are energetic and physically fit for such activities. Men should also provide security to their communities at night.
Zulu men and women both participate in farming. However, they have different roles in farming. Men mostly deal with livestock. Some men participate in crop farming. They usually take part in cultivating a few crops like Napier-grass for their livestock and planting of trees. Women, on the other hand, take part in extensive crop farming, which involves the cultivating of all food crops.
When a Zulu girl is born, she is usually given a chip of a farm tools to hold. She is then made to lay on a bed made covered with banana fiber. Her mother then spits on her face, and an old woman welcomes her into the Zulu female society. Zulu women plant yams, cassava, maize and different types of vegetables. Their role in farming usually starts in their childhood days. Women are taught feminism from inception.
Their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers teach them how to behave like ladies. They learn how to dress and behave, to fit their gender. It is the role of ladies in this society to go to the river and fetch water. Men are community leaders and members of village councils. Women are responsible for child bearing. They are also in charge of children’s care. This is because of their X-chromosome, which gives them the ability to bear children in their wombs. However, the children belong to men.
The Maasai people are mainly pastoralists. They depend on their livestock as the main source of food and livelihood. Maasai people assign their gender roles according to physical differences between men and women. When girls are born, they are usually dressed in beads and clothes made of Maasai beads. This is a way of teaching them beauty, which they believe is the beginnings of defining beauty. As girls grow, they are usually taught how to act with dignity and the respect of a Maasai woman.
Women take care of their men and perform all domestic roles. They start learning this from childhood and grow up maintaining these values. Women are responsible for child-bearing. They are also responsible for taking care of children. Women build houses in the Maasai community. They believe that God gave a woman the responsibility of taking care of the family and, as a result, women take charge of all family matters (Greer 107).
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Male children are usually covered with a cow’s skin when they are born. From their birth, they handled with some roughness, to prepare them to face the tough Maasai male society. Men should go for at least one raid and kill at least one lion before they can go through initiation into adulthood.
Men hence start preparing for adulthood from their inception. They learn to hunt and start developing their muscles as they build other strong physical features in preparation for adulthood. In the Maasai community, men should not enter the kitchen. Maasai people believe that men are strong and should only perform tasks, which are tactical, which require a lot of energy to handle.
Women are physically and emotionally weak, compared to Maasai men. Therefore, they only take part in light activities like cooking fetching water and taking care of the family in general. Since they are nomads, they usually build temporal houses. This is an easy task, according to men, as they make their houses using sticks and clay. Maasai women are hence responsible for building their houses in their community.
Margret Mead’s conclusions about temperaments effectively come up in this essay. Different communities and tribes in the world have almost the same way of defining maleness and femaleness, as well as similar methods of assigning gender roles (Johnson 79). Many communities assign gender roles basing on the temperaments which Mead researched about.
Physical traits and biological differences among men and women are the main factors, which determine how gender roles are assigned to men and women. These roles start in childhood and proceeds through-out a person’s life. Most cultures believe that men are more aggressive than women. Men have muscles and stronger bodies than women, which makes them appear aggressive. As a result, they take charge of all difficult roles in the society; and leave light jobs for women.
Greer, Germaine. “Masculinity.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.
Johnson, Claudia. The Cambridge companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Ed. Johnson, Claudia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 79. Print.
Howard, Jane. “Margaret Mead”. A Life. Ed. Maureen, Molly. London: Fawcett Columbine Press, 2004. 112-117. Print.