Gender and Kinship Essay

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There are many different models that currently exist of kinship and gender. Traditionally approaches to gender and kinship focused on biological and folk models. Kinship and gender models have gone through profound changes in the last few decades. While biological studies in kinship are important, anthropological and socio-cultural models help provide a more comprehensive model of kinship. These models provide interpretations of universals provided by biology (Parkins, 1997). There is much variety in humanity much as there is in kinship systems, which is why it is important to look at kinship and gender from more than simply a biological or folk approach (Parkins, 1997). This paper will review kinship and gender from a socio-cultural and anthropological approach, compared with a biological and folk perspective of kinship and gender. This demonstrates the relevance of comparing these models to derive a better interpretation of the broad spectrum of meaning that kinship and gender has for anthropologists and others interested in understanding human nature.

Kinship and Gender Overview

Biological and folk model accounts of kinship would suppose that kinship derives from biology; namely that kinship ties are formed because individuals are born into particularly groups. There is much to learn by the study of kinship and gender as related to biology. One cannot deny that a certain camaraderie and kinship derives from one's biology, and the landscape they are born into. Certainly gender derives from a combination of genes matched at conception and birth. But there is more to biology and gender than at first it seems. There is more to kinship than biology. The same is true of gender; people have a natural affinity for a sex because they are born into it, with certain genes influencing their preferences (Peletz, 1995). The socio-cultural and anthropological model however, adopts a unique approach, suggesting that kinship and gender bonds are not necessarily biologically based, but rather than result of many factors, including ethnicity, culture and personality; environment may even influence kinship ties and gender behaviors (Peletz, 1995). The way people behave and the beliefs they have about kinship and gender are in fact strongly influenced by their surroundings; the actions people choose to take influence that they become. This is largely the socio-cultural approach to anthropology (Peletz, 1995). This approach can lead to heightened self-confidence and esteem, and stronger kinship ties and gender identity (Peletz, 1995).

Socio-Culture, Anthropology, And Kinship

The socio-cultural approach can have negative consequences as well can the folk approach. There are many positive influences as well however. It can be used to illuminate biological models and challenge folk models. Take recent studies on male involvement in reproductive health by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The recently studied the life cycle approach in various settings, which they found useful in understanding the "prevalence and incidence of stage-wise discriminatory health and education practices affecting women" (FAO, 2002). They discovered that from a gender perspective, including those regarding reproductive health and sexuality, are embedded in the larger socio-cultural perspective of society in South Asia. This is common in many parts of the world, and has a significant impact on kinship.

Here, in South Asia and many similar parts of the world, social structures are primarily patrilineal, based on "male descent, authority and power" (FAO, 2002). This has a distinct influence on gender identity and roles. Because of the patrilineal nature of the society, children are born into kinship with the father, and females are forced to leave once married; males thus become heirs to property when the father dies or male relatives die; if divorce occurs females return to their paternal homes (FAO, 2002). This results in sex preferences for children naturally, and has "strong social implications for the gender system, especially regarding male perspectives on reproductive health" (FAO, 2002). Polygamy is encouraged in these cultures, and women are not made knowledgeable about safe sex practices; kinship is seen as a patrilineal thing, and women are considered substandard members of society.

Anthropology offers many interesting interpretations of the kinship and gender influence on humankind. It looks at biology and gender from a natural perspective, but also helps explain the impact of culture, environment and other influences on kinship. This helps explain some of the underlying causes for the way some people act, and why they may act in ways that some people deem "abnormal" at times. Stone (2000) utilizes an anthropological take on kinship while studying the cross-cultural implications of gender. She also focuses on reproduction and the social and cultural implications of male and female roles with reproduction. Stone also notes the trend toward treating women as second-class citizens.

Stone points out that gender refers to not only the concepts of "male "and "female" but also the ways in which these understandings "are interwoven with other dimensions of social and cultural life" (p.1). This may include social roles, values played by different genders, and people's conceptions of the male and female and their sexual differences. These vary significantly from "culture-to-culture" (Stone, 2000).

Kinship on the other hand, is a specialization that sheds "light on gender" and governs the laws, norms, and values that define reproduction and the relationships surrounding reproduction and gender (Stone, 2000). Kinship helps shape those roles according to Stone, and thus subsequently can't help but affect gender. Biologically one can't help but agree that women have a unique role with regard to reproduction because only women can bear babies; they must bear children and this affect women's behavior, stimulating certain responses maternal in nature (Stone, 2000). These generate what should be considered very significant differences with regard to gender that are not often studied from an anthropological vantage (Stone, 2000). Reproduction seems to be an important issue that relates to kinship and affects the status and role of women globally; but it does not necessarily define kinship, and is not the same everywhere; it affects gender, but not in the same way or manner in every place throughout the globe (Stone, 2000).

There is much variation in the way it impacts women. That said, kinship and gender "should not be positioned with reference to biological facts of reproduction" (Stone, 2000). Stone argues that different cultures have very different notions regarding what counts as differences between males and females and "the very nature of intercourse and reproduction" and because of this kinship studies should be tailored to each culture. However, there are still others that argue that because reproduction is a universal item, that it is possible to make "meaningful cross-cultural comparisons" (Stone, 2000, p. 4).

One definition that can be agreed on is that kinship is the relationships that people share, typically based on their descent or the bonds shared through marriage. Relationships shared through marriage are "affinal" (Stone, 2000, p. 5). Consanguine are those shared through common descent. Kinship connections can form the basis for many other connections including "social, economic, and political" (Stone, 2000, p. 5). Societies can be formed from many different relationships and structures, but the "fabric" that binds people together and often forms concrete societies with solid foundations is kinship. Typically there are unspoken or unwritten rules and regulations regarding kinship. Take the case of patrilineal societies where males have the most power and women must act in a subordinate manner. They may not have the rights to property and are put in place to basically marry and raise the male children so they may take on leadership roles and other obligations.

Kinship can also relate to human relationships and the biological or moral connections that people share with each other (Stone, 2000). This may imply that people are spiritually connected with one another. This is a concept that continues to grow with time. Many people form religious or spiritual bonds with one another to varying degrees, and…[continue]

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