HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Identities

Section 4.1—Culture and Identity


Gender and Culture

  • sex and gender isn’t the same thing
    • sex is biological characteristics (XX/XY chromosomes, genitals etc.)
    • gender is culturally constructed (what it means to be male/female is defined by the culture/society)
  • gender is culturally constructed through:
    • symbols associated with gender (specific clothing)
    • values of gender (are males and females equal)
    • behavioural (how should males behave? how should females)


Female Identity and Culture

  • many females make choices based on expectations and strive to meet the ideals of their female gender as set out by their culture
    • ex: Western culture, women are more nurturing and caring than men


Body Image in Niger

  • body image is the most variable way that we construct our sense of self
  • in Canada (and other Western nations) the ideal body for women is tall and thin
  • body image is culturally constructed, the ideal body shape varies between cultures
  • Niger is located in the desert of the Arabs (south of Algeria and Nigeria)
    • in this society (and the rest of Western and Central Sahara), the fat female form is celebrated, desired, and actively pursued
    • women try to become and continue being fat
      • when they step on a scale at the doctors, they carry their purse/shall to weight them down
      • girls eat a porridge of millet and milk
      • after puberty and in early marriage, they eat a dry couscous (to maintain fat)
      • stretch marks are desired (they’re sung in love songs)—they believe anyone can get stretch marks on the stomach; but stretch marks on the arms and legs is a real achievement
    • when researcher Rebecca Papenoe studied them, the Niger women preferred not to talk about their fat
      • they didn’t want to be looked down upon by a westerner
      • fat was a sexual and desire topic—their society was very restrictive on sex
  • fat is ideal in certain cultures as it represented status, wealth and reproduction (being fat = eating food = money)


Male Identity and Culture

  • what it means to be a man (and how masculinity is defined) varies across cultures
  • in Canada, gender roles are changing—it use to be thought of that women cared for children; however, today many men are forced to take more responsibility than before (because women are  in the workforce now)
  • masculinity caries across cultures: in some hunting is masculine (Philippines, woman hunts); in others writing poetry is (Western—romantic); in others wearing a skirt is (Scotland, Morocco, Greece etc.)
    • in our western culture, some dances are more masculine than others (hip-hop vs. ballet)
    • in some cultures like the Aboriginal, dancing is thought of as manly (women don’t do it)
  • certain foods can affect masculinity as well—in Mexico, sea turtle eggs are believed to increase sexual potency in men


Alternate-Gender Identity

  • third gender people include: intersexed (have both male and female characteristics), transgendered (having a gender different from their sex)or homosexual (likening someone of the same sex)
  • in western culture we determine gender through biology
    • many other cultures recognize third gender identities (South Asian, African, Polynesian, Native American)
      • when Europeans arrived in North America, they imposed Western views of gender and sexuality on Aboriginal societies (therefore many of the aboriginal culture was lost—eventually third gender people faced discrimination and violence)
  • as part of a movement to reclaim their cultures, Aboriginals have adopted the term two-spirited to refer to Aboriginal people of alternate gender
    • features of two-spirited people in Aboriginal groups:
      • occupation (do work of opposite gender)
      • transvestism (dress opposite sex or both sexes)
      • spiritual power (possession of special powers)
      • same-sex relations (formed sexual and emotional bonds with members of the same sex who weren’t part of a third gender)
  • anthropologists find that societies that are not focussed on population growth and maintenance are supportive of blurred gender roles (most of the time)
    • Siwan (of North Africa) and Etoro (of New Guinea) are more in favour of homosexuality than heterosexuality
      • in Etoro, being straight is illegal for 260 days a year


Pink Shirt Day

  • in Cambridge, Nova Scotia in 2007, a Gr. 9 boy work a pink polo shirt on the first day of school and was bullied (was threatened and called homosexual)
    • 2 grade 12 students decided to take action—they bought 50 pink shirts and emailed everyone to wear pink the next day in support of the Gr. 9
      • belief: get more people to be against homosexuality hatred
    • the next day (second day of school), almost the entire school was in pink; the Gr. 9 student wasn’t ever bullied again
  • pink shirt day is now a global phenomenon—schools encourage students to wear pink one day to take a stand against bullying and discrimination