"Society and sex roles" Ernestine FriedlWhy is it possible in some societies like the Washo or the Hazda for the sexes to be relatively equal, while in Eskimo society they are not?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Friedl argues that the reason lies in the division of public and private realms.  In social orders where males were seen as public figures, or individuals who had an identity outside of the home, there was a greater sense of social prestige and a higher propensity to view the private as not as important as the public.  In social orders where both genders were able to partake in the public, there is greater sexual equality present.  In the Washo tribe, men and women were able to engage in the public realm of food production.  Both genders were able to gather food, and both worked together in this collaborative process.  This is why there were few taboos in the idea of taking additional lovers after marriage as well as limitations on women's prestige.  The notion of being able to construct a life outside of the private is present in the Iroquois Indian tribes, where women were the chief source of political power and decisions which affected the tribe's future.  Such a conception of public domain does not apply to women of the Eskimo social order, a realm in which the male is primarily responsible for bartering trade, hunting food, and the source of all social and political power.  Friedl argues that men were so vaulted above women that they could be used as means to economic ends.  If a husband's wife could be used in terms of sexual procurement to advance a deal, Eskimo culture encouraged the bartering of wives in order to secure the husband's social and economic ends.  The overarching theme in both examples is that the glorification of the public realm and who is able to exercise power within it is what helps to define sexual equality in these social orders.

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