Gender Roles
Gender Roles
Since the beginning of time men have played the dominant role in nearly every culture around the world. If the men were not dominant, then the women and men in the culture were equal. Never has a culture been found where women have dominated. In “Society and Sex Roles” by Ernestine Friedl, Friedl supports the previous statement and suggests that “although the degree of masculine authority may vary from one group to the next, males always have more power” (261). Friedl discusses a variety of diverse conditions that determine different degrees of male dominance focusing mainly on the distribution of resources. In The Forest People by Colin Turnbull, Turnbull describes the culture of the BaMbuti while incorporating the evident sex roles among these “people of the forest”. I believe that the sex roles of the BaMbuti depicted by Turnbull definitely follow the pattern that is the basis of Freidl’s arguments about the conditions that determine variations of male dominance. Through examples of different accounts of sex roles of the BaMbuti and by direct quotations made by Turnbull as well as members of the BaMbuti tribe, I intend on describing exactly how the sex roles of the BaMbuti follow the patterns discussed by Freidl. I also aim to depict how although women are a vital part of the BaMbuti culture and attain equality in many areas of the culture, men still obtain a certain degree of dominance.

Friedl argues that “the source of male power among hunter-gatherers lies in their control of a scarce, hard to acquire, but necessary nutrient-animal protein” (263). This is proven by the people of the BaMbuti since they do in fact rely on the hunter-gatherer method which is a process where the people depend on wild plants and animals for subsistence. Although the women of the BaMbuti culture contribute a substantial amount to the hunting process by foraging for mushrooms and nuts and by driving the animals into the net, the men actually kill the animal and distribute it among the tribe. Turnbull states that “survival can be achieved only by the closest co-operation and by an elaborate system of reciprocal obligations which insures that everyone has some share in the day’s catch” (107). According to Friedl this distribution obligates others to the hunter and “these obligations constitute a form of power or control over others, both men and women” (264). Friedl informs us that hunter-gatherer societies fit into four basic types, one of which is where “men and women work together in communal hunts and as teams gathering edible plants”, as did the members of the BaMbuti (265). Turnbull states that “for the net hunters it is impossible to hunt alone. Men, women and children all have to co-operate if the hunt is to be successful” (97). Therefore the BaMbuti do operate somewhat on an egalitarian basis yet the distribution of protein from the male hunters gives them a certain amount of power since the meat is the people’s primary source of food. Friedl expresses how the opinions of hunters in a culture play an important part in many decisions made in within the group. For example, the male hunters of the BaMbuti always make the decision of moving the camp to a different location although the women may give their opinion. In reference to a decision to return to the forest Turnbull states that “Njobo, the great elephant hunter, had the final say” (50). Friedl also states that although there is a “pattern of some degree of male dominance among foragers, most of these societies are egalitarian” since “foragers, as a rule, do not like to give or take orders, and assume leadership only with reluctance” (267-268). This is shown in The Forest People when Turnbull states that “Pygmies dislike and avoid personal authority” and that “everything settles itself with apparent lack of organization. Co-operation is the key to Pygmy society; you can expect it and you can demand it, and you have to give it” (124-125). The equalities and inequalities are not only seen in the process of the hunt but also in the consistent patterns and actions that take place within the camp when the hunt is not taking place.

Friedl also describes other conditions that determine the degree of male dominance and variability in a culture. She explains how in some cultures women have a great deal of freedom whereas in others, women are abused and treated as objects. She also shows a degree of inequality by emphasizing the domestic chores women are expected to do in many cultures. Friedl states that in some cultures “when a man returns from a hunting trip, the woman, no matter what she is doing, hurries home and quietly but rapidly prepares a meal for her husband. Should the wife be slow in doing this, the husband is within his rights to beat her” (262). This sense of this obligation for women to tend to all the domestic chores such as cooking, tending to

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Ernestine Friedl And Culture Of The Bambuti. (May 31, 2021). Retrieved from