Beyond Patriarchy and Matriarchy ─ A Study of Gender Relationships amongst Aboriginal Peoples
Fen-Ling Chen(Department of Sociology Yuan Ze University)
Amongst Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes, one can observe a great variety of gender relationships; however, merely classifying them in terms of the society’s patrilineal or matrilineal character would limit our understanding of the gender contracts?real conditions. This study employs a semistructured interview methodology to explore the life histories of aboriginal people living or working in Taipei City. In taking as our point of departure the principles of subjective hermeneutics, we hope to give voice to the aboriginal peoples themselves, and allow them to represent their own perception of what gender relationships in their cultures are like. Focusing on the gendered power relations, we examine how the dichotomy between the dominated and dominating/exploited and exploiting is defined, and whether control of property determines the dominating power of one of the sexes.
Our discussion focuses on three different dimensions: first, the means of handing down power within one’s family (power in social systems); second, conflict and resolution systems (forms of power); and third, the structures of labor division, economy and autonomy (fields of power). We conclude that the description of aboriginal gender relationships cannot be limited to the matriarchal and patriarchal concepts, neither can we, at least in certain cultures, determine the source of power and exploitation on the sole basis of gender.
Although socialist and Marxist feminisms presuppose that women’s oppression stems from their weak position within the economic autonomy this theoretical construct needs to be treated with reservations when applied to the cultural realities of the aboriginal societies. Overemphasizing power-control and gender equality within the public sphere may cause one to lose the opportunity to judge gendered power relations from a more equal perspective, thus closing the doors to the possibility of exploring deeper cultural layers.
Even though under the pressure of women’s movements, social systems transform and gender equality improves, the implicit rules guiding the relationship between an individual and the society remain unaltered. Since these rules are the main cause of cultural differences, rather than merely over-emphasizing gender equality, we choose to focus on the phenomenon of gender contractualization as exhibited in different cultures.
aboriginal people, gender relationship, patrilineal society/matrilineal society, feminism, gender contract