Kung Women

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1. Ernestine Friedl says that the position of women is higher the more they are involved in (1) Primary subsistence (as owners or controllers, NOT merely as laborers) and (2) the PUBLIC distribution of the product of subsistence. Use this argument to account for the position of women in !Kung society. Make sure you use both part (1) and part (2) of Friedl’s argument.

The !Kung are hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa and the women play an essential role in the production of subsistence for their families. The woman actually contribute a greater proportion of the subsistence to their families directly than do the men who are the game hunters in the family. As Friedl describes in “Society and Sex Roles” (page 101) regardless of who produces food, the person who gives it to others creates the obligations and alliances that are at the center of all political relations.” The woman from birth are the gathers within the !Kung and Friedl believes that it is due to four inter-related factors as to why the woman are the foragers; the variability in the supply of game, the different skills required for hunting and gathering; the incompatibility between carrying burdens and hunting; and the small size of semi-nomadic foraging populations (page 102). !Kung women play a very vital role in the survival of their families through their gathering of subsistence and they are not simply laborers but they are owners and/or distributors of what they bring home. However, they remain to be the less powerful of the genders within their culture. The !Kung woman’s role is critical to the survival of their villages because when unsuccessful hunters come home without protein (game) it is the woman who will feed the men, children and the elderly within their village and because they strictly provide for their family as the foragers they are not, based on Friedl’s’ theories, the one who disperses food to others. Thus, !Kung women are not considered to be the person with seniority and power. By modern day definition, a laborer is a person who is responsible for gathering the goods, however, the !Kung women on the contrary are the owners of how and what they collect and they do contribute more to their families for survival, thus according to modern day thought their role should be much higher in society than it is. This is strictly based on my personal beliefs and my culture. In conclusion, women have very significant duties in !Kung villages and although Friedl states that they are not the superior sex, it is because they respect their culture and their beliefs and they don’t fight the system. Respect is something that our culture needs to reflect on, again and this is strictly my opinion of what we might learn from the !Kung people. The !Kung have been raised by and through their traditions and culture and they have been taught to mutually respect each other and they rely on what they have been taught about their way of life and about their people and it works for them and it is sad to think that through the interest of many anthropologists, scientists and research as a whole, this traditional and somewhat pre-historic, to my generation, culture may become extinct. 2. Construct arguments for the following two propositions: (1) that Kung men have higher status and greater power than Kung women, and (2) that there is equality between Kung men and Kung women. Which position do you agree with, and why? Through all of our readings and as illustrated in Nisa, “The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman”, the men have higher status and greater power than the Kung women and this is primarily because they are men and the hunters and providers for the entire village, not just their direct family. Generally, the men's position in the village is to bring in the bigger game, leaving the women, children and elderly for days at a time to find meat (protein) to bring back. Because they are bringing meat into the entire village it is a time when the...
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