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Balancing Men and Women's Power and status: Parental Roles and Children's Socialization in Mosuo Matrilineal Families Paperback – June 7, 2011
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About the Author
Yushan Zhong achieved MA degree in sociology in San Diego State University, USA. Previously she achieved double BA degrees in Peking University, China, one in Economics, another in Burmese Language and Culture. Currently she dedicates herself to family and gender studies, the studies of Chinese minority ethnic groups (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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The author interviewed 12 women and 3 men in the Yongning administrative village to see if gender roles in the socialization of children were as universal as some have assumed. Basically do men and women have the same relationships toward children in a matriarchal society as they do in patriarchal societies. The patriarchal theory is that men are naturally and universally "Instrumental" (providing discipline and setting goals) while women are naturally and universally "Expressive" (providing emotional support and maintaining relationships).
It was hardly surprising to me that matriarchal families don't do things the same way patriarchal families do. And they don't just switch instrumental and expressive roles. In Mosuo culture grandmothers and grand uncles are the primary expressive authorities. While mothers are both expressive and instrumental. Maternal uncles are the primary instrumental authorities for their sisters' children. And biological fathers are primarily expressive to their children and instrumental to their sisters' children.
As I had suspected running the household farm is a high status job. The income men bring in from outside work is secondary to the primary economic function of the household farm. Women are respected for their ability to organize and manage their farms.
In terms of gender conformity. Boys who show an interest in women's work such as cooking and cleaning are not discouraged, because a man who can help out around the house is appreciated. But girls who show an interest in outside work are discouraged because girls must learn to run a household in order to be successful at life.
The author concludes that Mosuo men are much more relaxed than Han men because, despite having obligations in two households, the men's contribution is supportive rather than central to the households success.
Traditional Mosuo households are farms with fields and animals. Most of the needs of the family can be met by their own labor, if it well managed. Outside currency can be made by selling excess produce and, traditionally, weaving. Men traditionally do the heavy plowing in the spring and bring in outside currency by working outside the home.
The author does not explore how the Mosuo developed this system. But in the past Mosuo men worked on caravans for the tea trade between China and Tibet. Which meant they were away from home for long periods of time. The Mosuo share the Han values of filial piety and family harmony. The matriarchal system maintains those values in the absence of fathers. But still gives men ways to gain status through their work and support of their families.
Unlike the patriarchal system where men really can not be sure that their wive's children were related to them, in a matriarchal system men can be sure that their sisters' children are related to them.