In Indigenous cultures, everybody had equal rights and opportunities. There was no such thing as men being more privileged than women. In fact, it was an egalitarian society, where both men and women had important roles and powers in it. This was much different than European culture, where it was not an egalitarian society. Women in Europe were often treated less well than men and they did not have equal rights and opportunities as men either. Once the Europeans arrived in America, they were shocked to see that women and men had the same status. Gender relations are different from culture to the other.
In Indigenous societies, everybody had a role that was necessary for the survival of their people. In their culture, there were also people who were “two-spirited” meaning a person that is gay, lesbian or transgender. These individuals could have same-sex marriages, which were recognized by the Natives from the start of history. The gender relations in Indigenous cultures were very more open than it was for Western cultures. Over the past decades, gender relations in Western cultures are becoming more egalitarian. However, there is still a lot of work to be done as there are still inequalities with men and women today. For instance, in some jobs, women are not paid the same amount as men for doing the same job as them. The LGBTQ community is still being discriminated against by people in Western cultures. There is still judgment of what women are able or not to do, such as do certain jobs. Women are also expected to act in certain ways in Western cultures today. Western cultures are trying to have the same gender relations in Indigenous cultures but there is still work to be done to deconstruct society’s beliefs on gender.
What struck me the most about Indigenous culture relations on gender is that they were an egalitarian society from the start and the fact that they did not have unequal attitudes towards women. This struck me the most as the society as painted and stereotyped the Natives as being savages. However, they were the ones with equal rights and opportunities in gender, which really made me ask myself: who were the real savages in history? In brief, we can learn from gender in Indigenous cultures that we must treat everybody equally regardless of their gender and that we should not discriminate against people solely because of their gender.
In the early contact period of Europeans and Aboriginals, Aboriginal culture consisted of very different beliefs that tradition religious European culture. Aboriginals had an egalitarian outlook on gender that allowed freedom and equality between males and females. In some aboriginal cultures, another two-spirit gender identity was accepted as well. European culture did not have egalitarian gender roles and women were in the shadows of their husband. Their beliefs on gender roles were very influenced by religion (Christianity) and it held many restrictions for women regarding sexuality and their societal status.
A lot of the European social norms about gender and the inferiority of women still exist in society today. There may have been improvements in “the West” but there are many places in the world where women and seen and treated and the weaker/inferior sex. Also, worldwide there are still many social stigmas about what women can/cannot do.
I knew about the egalitarian ways of Aboriginal cultures based on previous reading and research I have done but I was not aware of the extent of true egalitarianism and acceptance that was a part of Aboriginal cultures. In this cultural, sexuality and premarital sex was accepted, as well as acceptance towards different gender expressions and same-sex relations. From this, we can learn and acknowledge that before European influence and colonization, there were many other functioning societies that maintained a very a very egalitarian culture towards all genders.
”Gender and Culture Diversity in the Early Contact Period” discusses the culture of the diverse Indigenous communities living on the continent, in the early days of New France settlement, and emphasizes the importance, or lack thereof, given to gender in these communities. During that time, most Aboriginal groups were living off of hunting-gathering, fishing of agricultural practices, taking advantage of the multitude of resources around them. Both men and women took on over the work and shared the tasks. All of egalitarian attitudes, the continent was inhabited by a mix of matrilineal and patrilineal societies. Men were considered leaders in most cases, but women still occupied positions of authority and had the right to participate in the decision-making process of everyday life. Also, in some communities, both men and women could take on the role of shaman. In general, the distribution of power among gender differed greatly from one group to another, and most often than not, it was attributed based on lineage and past experiences rather than on one’s sex. A third gender called the ”two-spirit” also lived within some of these groups, but each had its own way of interpreting and understanding this reality. In most cases, these two-spirited individuals held particular cultural and social roles. Overall, men and women of Indigenous societies shared power and were seen as equals in most aspects of life.
When comparing these old ways of living to the modern western ones, I realize that there are as many differences as there are similarities. Indeed, even if women were seen as equals, just like us, men still held more power over women than women held over men. However, for a long time, this was not the case in western societies. Women’s work was seen as worthless, and they could not get the same job opportunities as men, even if they had better credentials than them and were more fit for the position. Also, everything in western culture has always been genderized, but never – or almost never – in aboriginal ones, and this is what has struck me the most. That, and their acceptance towards homosexuality. I feel like their way of living is so ordered and well put together, that gender should play a more significant part in their everyday life. I always thought that them living in harmony came from a system similar to our old one, where gender was put over skills. Otherwise, nothing else really struck me about Aboriginal communities since I learned a lot about them in a class I took last semester.
Based on the reading “Gender and Cultural Diversity in the Early Contact Period”, it can be understood that there are several gender relations in indigenous cultures. The text describes the cultures of both the colonizers (English and French) and the Indigenous cultures the colonizers encountered. Throughout the text, it can be seen that the Aboriginal societies function based on the matriarchal system. It was a big shock for the Europeans due to the fact that they function based on the patriarchal system. The Europeans found it hard to accept that women in the Aboriginal societies had great power. For instance, it is said in one of the passages that “ A man may promise you something and if he does not keep his promise, he thinks he is sufficiently excused when he tells you that his wife did not wish to do it. “European men thought that this signified women “ruled” men. They convinced the Indigenous that in France, men were the masters. Therefore, this can be seen as one of the main differences between these two communities. One believes that women should take the main decisions, whereas the other doesn’t.
In addition, the Aboriginals practice more inclusive sex systems such as two-spirits. It is basically an individual feeling like a woman and a man. They take on feminine and masculine gender roles and wear a combination of feminine and masculine dress. It is explained in the text such as “in others male-bodied, feminine-gendered individuals assumed feminine roles and wore feminine clothing, while female-bodied, masculine-gendered individuals performed masculine roles and wore masculine apparel.” Moreover, individuals that are two-spirit can marry or have sexual relationships with either gender. This practice was considered normal and acceptable in the Indigenous community. However, it was not the case for the Europeans. They considered this “as unmanly softness and passive homosexuality”. They were unable to think past the ideology of a heterosexual relationship. As always what they considered as the norm had to be followed and if it was not, it was considered abnormal.
Therefore, it can be seen that the Europeans had trouble accepting the Aboriginals’ ways and systems due to the fact that it was not the norm for them. They considered it odd. Almost everything was that the Indigenous did was a contrast to the Europeans’ culture and customs.