Over time, I realized that trying to get out of the box was an unsuccessful fight. At some point, my quiet, passive aggressive fight against genderization (hello, pink Legos? Really, come on!) meant I was doing exactly what I was trying to fight against. I was putting myself into a box to prove I could not be put into a different box. I was denying things that make up my personality while not actually demonstrating anything profound.
I stopped fighting the things about myself that fit American stereotypes and simply accepted that I am who I am. Parts of me are stereo-typically American woman. And, parts of me are stereo-typically American male. And that is fine. I do not need to change, the stereotypes do.
Then, I moved to Lesotho.
In Lesotho, gender is even more defining than it is in America. There are male responsibilities and female responsibilities. Women cook, clean the house and yard, take care of the children, do the laundry, serve the men, fetch the water, fetch smaller sticks for cooking, weed the crops, tend the home gardens, and the like. Men take care of the animals, plant and harvest the crops, cut the trees, build the homes, and other larger tasks. While most Basotho can do anything from both lists, if someone of the appropriate gender is available to do it, doing a task that belongs to the other gender is unlikely.
The gender expectations do not stop with chores and work. Traditionally, men wear pants and women wear skirts (although in younger generations this is not seen). When a woman marries, she transitions from wearing short skirts to wearing long skirts that cover the knees. A small blanket is added around the waist and her head is covered with a hat or scarf when she leaves home. When women wear a kobo (blanket), it is pinned in the front. For men, it is tied or pinned on the side.
|Women in my community sit|
on the upper side of the pitso ground,
next to the Chief's office
|Men sit across from the women,|
alongside the Chief's fields and
|Bo-Ntate sitting together enjoying joala at a party. The women|
are around the back of the house preparing food together.
Although women's secondary and post-secondary education rates are higher, men are still employed in the professional sector at a higher rate. Additionally women are far more likely to contract HIV then men due to both physiology and culture. This aspect of the culture is explained well in the phrase: Monna ke mokopu o oa namalla which translates to men are pumpkin and should go abroad or spread out. Over time Masali ke cabbage o oa ipapa or women are cabbage and should stay home has been added to the phrase. While it may have begun more literally referring to the idea that women should tend the home while men should go out to tend the animals, hunt, and deal with warfare, today it is often used when justifying the idea of men having multiple partners.
Click through to Gender: My Work, the next installment on this mini-series on Gender in Lesotho