Gender (Explaining Human Culture)

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Exercise ID: 1.32
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II III
Source: Produced by HRAF

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Single subject specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Division of labor by gender, kinship and residence effects on gender status, gender within politics and warfare
Region selection: open (student choice)
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from pre-selected list
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable:

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? Yes
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Carol R. Ember, Abbe McCarter, Human Relations Area Files

These eHRAF exercises are designed to accompany the Gender module in Explaining Human Culture. This module gives a general picture of what we have learned from cross-cultural research about gender roles and status, including variations in gender concepts, division of labor by gender, factors that influence status, and differing gender roles in politics / warfare. At the end, the module briefly discusses what we do not yet know.

Level I

Division of Labor by Gender


  1. Nearly every society in the anthropological record divides labor activities relating to subsistence, food processing, various economic activities, and household chores, unequally based on gender. Despite the frequent occurrence of this division, there tends to be certain cross-cultural trends and themes that differentiate labor roles between the genders.


  • Before you read the module, write down some labor tasks that you would assume are typically divided based on gender in the space provided below.

Notes/ Predictions:









  • Read the following excerpts which each provide different examples of labor break-downs. As you read, focus on which roles typically fall to different genders, and why you think that is the case.


Note: Excerpts can be found in eHRAF Browse Documents, searching for the author’s last name, then clicking on the publication and selecting the appropriate page number in the drop down menu in the upper right hand corner.

San (FX10): Draper, Patricia, “!Kung Women: Contrasts In Sexual Egalitarianism In Foraging And Sedentary Contexts,” pp. 87-88 all paragraphs

Basseri (MA10): Barth, Fredrik, “Nomads of South-Persia: The Basseri Tribe Of The Khamseh Confederacy,” p. 15 first two paragraphs and p. 16 middle two paragraphs

Turks (MB01): Starr, June, “Dispute And Settlement In Rural Turkey: An Ethnography Of Law,” p. 78 second paragraph

Rural Irish (ER06): Arensberg, Conrad M. “The Irish Countryman: An Anthropological Study” pp. 45-48 all paragraphs


As you read through each excerpt, highlight the tasks that are specifically divided along gender lines and record them below.


Name Male Gender Tasks Female Gender Tasks Other Genders Citations
Rural Irish


After you have noted both your labor division assumptions as well as the general labor breakdowns as they appear in the excerpts, read the “What Explains Division of Labor” section of the module.


Are your findings consistent with the trends you read about in the module? Did any of them surprise you? Why do you think they surprised you or possibly went against your preliminary predictions?



Level II

Kinship and Residence Effects on Status

Now take the time to read the Gender module in its entirety. Note: The major topics that you are about to explore are variations in gender concepts, division of labor by gender, differences in gender status, and differences in gender roles in politics / warfare.


  1. Gender status is multifaceted. While many think of the status of men and women to be a unitary concept, cross-cultural research by Whyte (the status of women in preindustrial societies) has found very little relationship between one aspect of status and another. That being said, there is a substantial body of research that has attempted to parse out different factors that may influence status / power dynamics between genders.  In this exercise we will compare aspects of women and men’s relative status in societies that vary in being matrilocal (or patrilocal) and matrilineal (and patrilineal). Previous research has found modest differences in various aspects of status between matrilocal/matrilineal societies and patrilocal/patrilineal societies.

2.1 Working either individually or in small groups, read the culture summary sections for each society listed in the table (and any additional cultures you wish to add in the spaces at the bottom). The societies listed below are just a few examples of cultures that have been preselected to get you started, but feel free to apply the same residence and descent classifications and subsequent status ratings onto any other cultures you wish. The first example below has been done for you to serve as a guide.

Note: Cultural summaries can be found by clicking on the linked society name below, or on eHRAF by using the Browse Cultures menu tab, and clicking the Culture Summary drop down option directly below the society name.

Pay special attention to the kinship and marriage sections within each cultural summary, and try to determine the residence and descent patterns for each society. Note your findings in the table.

After reading the summary segments for each society, you are going to perform a document search to dig a little deeper into the current ethnographic reports on gender status cross-culturally. In order to do so, you will use the Advanced Search function in eHRAF. First you will need to add Cultures in the box to the left, and then the subject ‘Gender status’ in the middle box. If you wish to narrow your search further, you also have the option of adding an additional keyword search using the box on the right.

In the Vietnamese (AM11) example listed below, a status rating of moderate/low was chosen, and the reasons for the designation listed in the column ‘Notes/ Citations.’ In addition to the reasons for the rating, the location of where that information was found was also noted. It is extremely important to get in the habit of noting sources as you go along in the research process in order to reference the information effectively moving forward.

Make sure you and your group have read the ‘Relative Status of Women and Men’ section of the Gender Module before beginning this exercise.





Name Residence Pattern Descent Pattern Female Status (1-5) Notes/ Citations:
Vietnamese (AM11) Patrilocal Patrilineal Moderate/ low –        “The Vietnamese woman enters the world at a disadvantage, for Vietnamese society is legally, and in many actual aspects, a patriarchal one.”

–        “From the very beginning [the Vietnamese woman] is considered inferior to the male”

–        [the Wife] “esteemed by her husband, loved and respected by her children, occupies a high place in the family”

–        “This is not to say that girls are unwanted… Girls are, however, believed to be [Page 7] somewhat of a liability.”

Coughlin, Richard J. “The position of women in Vietnam” pp. 5-6 starting with “General Position of Women.”

Northeastern Massim


Do you see any trends between your rating and the descent / residence patterns that you listed in the table? If so, why do you think that might be / what role does descent and residence play in determining power dynamics? Can you think of any other confounding variables that may influence the status of women that are not taken into account above?


Level III

Politics and Warfare

  1. Cross-culturally, warfare is almost entirely dominated by men, and is more of a cross-cultural universal than almost any other gender difference (Goldstein, 2001). This being said, there are still a handful of documented cases of female warriors around the globe. The excerpts from eHRAF listed below are six examples of such cases.

3.1 Read the following passages from eHRAF World Cultures regarding female warriors, and note any interesting findings as you go along. If there are any similar trends that you see between the different excerpts, note those as well.

Note: Excerpts can be found by clicking on the linked document below, or in eHRAF Browse Documents, searching for the author’s last name, then clicking on the publication and selecting the appropriate page number in the drop down menu in the upper right hand corner.

Fon (FA18): Diamond, Stanley “Dahomey: the development of a proto-state; an essay in historical reconstruction” p. 173, bottom paragraph\

Navajo (NT13): Hill, Willard Williams “Navaho warfare” p. 8[2]

Marshallese (OR11): Erdland, August Neuse, Richard “The Marshall Islanders: life and customs, thought and religion of a South Seas people” p. 70, second to last paragraph

Crow (NQ10): Hoxie, Frederick E. “Parading through history: the making of the Crow nation in America, 1805-1935” p. 192

Gros Ventre (NQ13): Flannery, Regina “The Gros Ventres of Montana: part 1, Social life” p. 101, second paragraph

Orokaiva (OJ23): Williams, Francis Edgar “Orokaiva society” p. 164, first paragraph


Question: Even among societies that have reports reporting the existence of female warriors, what distinctions, if any, are present between their role as warriors, and the male warriors? Why do you think this may be? Looking at least three cultures, use supportive quotes from the ethnography to support your answer.