Gender Roles and Culture

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  • Topic: Marriage, Gender, Female genital cutting
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  • Published : October 30, 2011
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How Culture Shapes Gender Roles

These last few weeks our English class has read and discussed many essays which have shown how culture can shape gender roles. Three particular essays discuss how parents in want to find good providers for their daughters. Different cultures have different rites of passage for their daughters in which the goal is to enhance the desirability of the girl. The customs of female circumcision, foot binding and arranged marriage are three examples of genders roles being influenced by culture in different ways yet, ultimately, for the same purpose.

The circumcision of young girls as discussed in "The Tragedy of Female Circumcision" by Waris Dirie, is a practice that goes far back in Middle Eastern culture. Though considered mutilation in most other cultures, in Somalia it is what is done. Dirie's mother, her grandmother and her great grandmother were circumcised so that is what her mother had done to her. Through circumcision the daughter will be considered clean. She won't desire sexual pleasure and won't betray her husband. Therefore, she is now marriageable.

Along the same line, China had an old custom of foot binding, a practice that lasted one thousand years. In "China Chic: East Meets West", authors Valeria Steele and John Major discuss the different dynasties of China along with their varying probable reasons for foot binding. In the Song Dynasty, in 960 AD, erotic poetry spoke of women's tiny feet and hesitant gait, which made the men feel strong and masculine. Much later, in the 1600's, the authors speak of how women were proud of their small bound feet. The prayed to the Tiny Foot Maiden in hopes of having beautiful bound feet that will prove their virtue and thus attract a good husband.

Not as extreme as the previous two examples, but equally relevant, is the custom of arranged marriages. This is a custom that has been practiced for generations in India. In her essay, "Arranging a...
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