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Anthropology, Sex,
and Gender
Much of the information in this presentation
gathered from:
Kottak, Conrad
The Exploration of Human Diversity (9th ed.)
and from
Ann Samuelson’s presentation on “Social Identity:
Gender, Race, and Ethnicity” and
Southwest Texas State Introduction to
Important terms
Gender roles
Gender stratification
Third, fourth, etc. genders
• Physiological differences between human males
and females:
Sex organs
Patterns of fat distribution
• Based in biology
• Human female: 2 X chromosomes
• Human male: 1 X, 1 Y chromosome
• Hormone production
• Adjectives: male and female
Gender: masculine/feminine/etc.
•Based in culture
- personal traits and social positions that
members of a society attach to being
female and male
- how a culture views gender can shape the
nature of:
• What is expected of us
• What is allowed of us
• What is valued in us
• How we see ourselves
Gender roles are the tasks and activities
that a culture assigns to the sexes.
Learning Gender
 The degree to which gender is flexible is
hotly debated, but no one doubts that it is
substantially learned.
 We learn our gender-roles from the
moment we are born. Like language, and
other basic parts of society, they may
seem "only natural" to us...But are they?
Nature vs. culture
• Very difficult to determine to what extent
gender is formed by either nature or culture
• Cultures can play a role with some
physiologically-based differences:
 E.g. Voice pitch
Why talk/think about gender?
 Gender is a hotly debated subject (even
among anthropologists!)
 Gender is key to individuals’ ideas of who
they (we) are
 Gender stratification: unequal distribution
of wealth, power and privilege between
men, women, and in some societies,
third/other genders.
Gender Stratification and foraging societies
• Before 10,000 years ago, all human groups were
• Relative gender equality in most foraging societies
that have been studied by anthropologists.
 Exception: Inuits
• Relative gender equality is most likely the ancestral
pattern of human society.
Gender Division of Labor
• All societies have some
division of labor between
men and women
 Hunting/warfare
 Rearing small children
• However, specific tasks
assigned to men and
women can vary
substantially and may
appear arbitrary to an
South american women farming corn.
What factors influence the degree of
gender stratification in a society?
Low levels of gender stratification associated with:
 women control key resources
 strong overlap between public/domestic spheres
 both sexes contribute more or less equally to subsistence
• Foragers
• Matrilineal cultivators
High levels of gender stratification associated with:
resource competition
patrilocality, patrilineality
reduced female role in the public economy
• Intensive agriculture
Minangkabau of Indonesia
Identified by anthropologists
as having a high level of
gender equality
• Approx. 3.5 million
people in 1990s
• Matrilineal, matrilocal
• Ancestral property
inherited by women
• Islamic society
Third genders (example): hijras in India and
 devotees of the fertility goddess
 their dancing performances are thought
to bring fertility to newly married
couples and new born babies.
 born male but dress as women
 in some cases they undergo voluntary
 once regarded as nearly divine, today
hijras are sometimes ostracized from
families and may resort to prostitution
and begging for survival.
Recent changes in western societies
 Increasing number of women in workforce
 Increasing number of female-headed
 Availability of contraception, abortion
 Increasing number of women and children
in poverty
 Increasing recognition (by some parts of
societies) of roles for third genders