Gender Norms, Values, Identities, and Roles: Mohave vs. Western Society
There most likely is no American aged above ten who does not know 'Pat', the androgynous fictional character on Saturday Night Live, whose audience could not distinguish as either male or female. There is no doubt that people in today's society would not question a person's gender or sex unless it deviates from that which is considered 'the norm'. The norm, in our society, is that a person has to clearly fit into either of two sex groups; male or female, which are binary opposites of each other. Categorizations such as transsexuals are a relatively new (modern) constructs. Many non-western cultures, however, do not apply this kind of binary thinking; they recognize that more categories exist. To this end, most native cultures have more than two institutionalized gender/sex categories. This text explores one key anthropological example -- the Berdache, also referred to as 'the two-spirit people' in traditional American tribes. What stands out in the end is that the strict gender/sex schema adopted by western societies only gives rise to ambiguities that cause unnecessary harm to intersex individuals who cannot be classified as either female or male.
The Two Spirit Gender Category
This is a third gender category among the traditional American tribes. The Europeans could not comprehend the behavior and features of these individuals because, to them, one could strictly be either male or female, and not both. Since intersex individuals somehow blurred these lines, they were branded 'two spirit' people (Eskridge Jr., 1993). Of fundamental importance is that this is a gender rather than a sex category, given that it is based on culture and not genital appearance (Eskridge Jr., 1993). These individuals are gender variants; they neither take on typical gender roles nor cross fully to the opposite gender. A male (female) gender variant is a male (female) who displays a feminine (masculine) character in their hairstyle, dressing, and interests (Martin, 2013).
The Roles, Norms, and Values of the 'Two Spirits' within the Mohave Community
The Mohave tribe is found in the south west desert, along the California/Nevada border (Martin, 2013). The Mohave culture has two gender-variant roles in addition to the usual male and female roles. Hwame is the name given to a female gender variant, whereas the male one is referred to as Alyha (Nanda, 1999). The Alyha and Hwame would start acting strange around the time when puberty would normally occur. Essentially, the Alyha would begin avoiding masculine duties and preferring to play with dolls or engage in domestic chores, whereas the Hwame would abandon these for more masculine activities such as shooting bows and arrows (Nanda, 1999). If this continued long enough, the child's family would prepare for a transvestite ceremony, in which the child's initiation and inclination would be announced to the community. Alyhas got married to males, and at times made better wives than females (Nanda, 1999).
Alyha and Hwame were accepted by the community; rarely were they teased or ridiculed by other people. Everyone seemed to understand that they, like any other person, had no control over their inclination, and that it was something they could neither resist nor help (Nanda, 1999).
As a matter of fact, they were highly respected because they were believed to possess spiritual power and an incomprehensible understanding of both sexes
Alyha and Hwame clearly demonstrate two additional gender roles separate and distinct from the usual male and female (Nanda, 1999). The community recognized them as different from men and women, although they imitated their typical roles. Alyha had relations with men, and Hwame with women, but the community did not view them as homosexuals like westerners would (Nanda, 1999).
In the Mohave, and other cultures that have the two spirit gender category, gender and sex are distinct and separable. Sex is determined by the appearance of genitals; whereas gender is determined by the roles an individual is inclined to perform (Nanda, 1999).
Gender and Sex in the Western society
Westerners hold that both sex and gender are social constructs determined by society, such that an individual dresses and chooses a hairstyle on the basis of what the society expects of their sex (Nanda, 1999). To this end, gender and sex are, from a western viewpoint, inseparable (Nanda, 1999). When a nurse in the delivery…