In anthropology we refer to:
• “gender” as a culturally constructed
• “sex” as a biologically determined
• Yet in other cultures such as, for example,
many Native American cultures, there is
recognition of a third and sometimes
fourth gender.
Commonly a two spirit is someone who
although biologically male chooses to
adapt some similarities with women’s
dress often creating their unique form of
• A two spirit individual also takes on
some of tasks commonly preformed
by women. But the two spirit is
regarded as special, an asset to the
group, someone with a special
spiritual connection who is revered
as distinct and extraordinary.
• Most two spirits begin to show signs
of wishing this alternate path in life
in childhood.
• While there has been more evidence
of biologically male two spirits, there
are also individuals who although
biologically female adapt male roles
and forms of attire.
• Being two spirit does not indicate that the
individual is homosexual, a transvestite or
a transsexual. The choice of sexual
behavior and marriage seems to occur
more on an individual basis rather than as
part of the role of being a two spirit. For
example, a biologically male two spirit
may become a second wife to a man or
perhaps not marry at all.
• A two spirit individual who is biologically
female, if the two spirit chooses to do so,
may marry another women and have
intimate relations with her.
To understand the two spirit status it is
more productive to think of them as a
unique gender and not someone who half
male and half female or a biological male
becoming a female or a biological female
becoming a male.
• We recognize that there are globally some
common patterns in how cultures divide
up work between women and men.
Please consult the chart on p.145 of the
Why do we have these common patterns
of dividing labor by gender?
There are several reasons:
(1) The strength theory:
• Men tend to get assigned work
activities that require physical
strength and mobilizing strength in
burst of energy such as lifting heavy
objects, hunting large animals, or
clearing land. But women in some
cultures also perform these activities.
(2) The compatibility with
childcare theory:
• Women tend to assigned work
activities that are compatible with
caring for infants and young children.
But men also do some of these same
duties. (Men become full time craft
specialists because these activities
are not compatible with childcare.
Cooking, for example, women cook
dinner; men become chefs.)
(3) The economy of effort
• Women and men tend to get
assigned work activities that are
located near each other. Women
caretake children in the home so get
assigned other activities that take
place at home.
(4) The expendability theory:
• Men tend to get assigned more
dangerous work because
reproductively they are more
expendable, i.e. one man may father
many children but one woman may
carry at most two children (twins) at
a time.
• Finally, when technology replaces
human strength, when women have
fewer children and can assign some
childcare to others, a strict gender
division of labor begins to disappear.
To measure degrees of gender
stratification anthropologists commonly
consider the following:
how much importance a culture places on
women relative to men and vice versa
how power and authority is delegated
between women and men
what kinds of rights and responsibilities do
women and men possess
• In other words status is not a single
concept. It is more productive to
look at many different spheres of life.
But remember the presence of
informal influence may indicate
simply the lack of real power to
determine decisions.
• The many problematic studies in this area
show that globally as children males tend
to be more aggressive and females more
This does not mean that males are
aggressive and females passive; that
females caretaking and males not. It is a
relative tendency; Burbank’s work with
Australian aborigines: women initiated
aggression 43% of time; men 57% and
used more lethal weapons.
• Some cultures encourage premarital sex
as an important preparation for marriage.
Others see chastity (i.e. no premarital sex
especially for women) as linked to
reputation and honor.
On certain occasions some cultures view
sexual activities as inappropriate, i.e.
during pregnancy or as polluting, i.e.
before a hunt.
• Many cultures retain a double
standard for sexual behavior with
women having greater restraints
than men; women are more likely to
be held responsible for controlling
sexual behavior.
• Other cultures may approve of
homosexuality as a phase in one’s
life or as a companion to