Sexuality in different cultures

Sexuality is something that in western culture, is a confusing and scandalous topic. In one way sex and sexuality is everywhere, in advertisements, magazines, television shows, movies, all types of media, however it is also something we are not supposed to talk about, especially women.

Here are a couple of examples of ads which exemplify the ways in which sex, and sexuality is used in ads in order to grab consumer’s attention and to cause their product to be more desirable.

In some cultures women have the power in sex, and express their sexuality freely, however in western societies, this does not seem to be the case. This going along with the double standard of sexuality and sexual expression between men and women that I talked about in my last post. The short story First Wives Club: Coast Salish Style in Lee Maracle’s “First Wive’s Club”, is a good example of a time and a culture in which women had sexual power, and expressed their sexuality openly. This short story contains a story which is meant to “teach women to use ‘weasel medicine’ to manipulate men to do the right thing by their families. It also teaches us about the power of women, their desire and their sexiness. It also grants sexual permission to women to engage their sexuality in a way that they see fit” (Maracle 6). In this story, it is clear that women have control of men and of their own sexual desires. They know how to get men, and how to get what they want from them. When the main character in the story first sees a man, “she decided she would have him. Now Salish women know how to capture a man. She turned her back on him and began singing an old love song. She leaned forward, butt sticking out, and rotated her hips, swaying them to the music of her song. Salish women know that Salish men love that little bumblebee dance of the hips. Sure enough he paddled ashore” (Maracle 7). Later in the story when the other women come along, and want a man as well, the woman decides to share her man, and the man is helpless to the other women’s tactics as well.

Lee Maracle compares the women in the story’s sexual openness with western culture. “Western society’s values have always confused me. On the one hand, sexiness in young women is desired. On the other hand, a women actually engaging in sex has been considered immoral for a long time” (Maracle 2). This idea makes it seem like women in western culture are supposed to be teases. Making men want them by acting sexy, and then not giving in to sex, because it would be immoral. This however also puts a bad name on women as well.

So sex is everywhere… but we are not supposed to do it… we are just supposed to look like we will do it. This is such a confusing message that women are getting in western culture. It is not wonder young girls are getting pregnant, and exploring their sexualities at younger ages. They are ashamed of what they are doing, because their culture has made them feel this way, so they are not open about their sexual experiences, and therefore may not be using birth control, or condoms. It is truly sad that women are so confused by their own culture that they are not sure how to, or when to express their sexuality.

The story says that “in the western world, men are expected to court women. In the Salish world, the adoption of this courtship tradition is in its infancy. In the original Salish cultures, it was the woman who chose the partners… If a woman desired a man and no marriage was in the offing for her, there was going to be an affair of the heart, because women were free to indulge in sexual activity if and when they pleased” (Maracle 4).

It seems as if this story the Salish women in it and the Salish women who are inspired by it have things better figured out than we do in western culture. They have the power in their sexual relationships, and embrace their sexuality, rather than hiding it or being ashamed of it. They are taught stories that tell them how to use and embrace their sexuality, and to give themselves power over their own sexual endeavors. As the story says, the fact that “women are burdened with the responsibility of looking sexy, [but] permission to engage in sex is a male prerogative… is changing slowly” (Maracle 3). This may be true, but I think it is going to take a while before women in western society are truly in touch with their sexuality, and can feel confident and not ashamed of themselves for embracing it.

Works Cited:

Maracle, Lee. “First Wives Club: Coast Salish Style.” First Wives Club. Maracle, Lee. Penticon, BC: Theytus Books, 2010. 1-12. Print.


Double Standard

Robert Arthur Alexie’s “Porcupines and China Dolls” is an extremely sexually explicit novel, in which many characters openly share their sexual feelings and thoughts through Free Indirect Discourse narration. The adult characters in “Porcupines and China Dolls” all seem to be very sexual and notice one another’s sexuality and looks before much else. This is especially evident with James and Karen (the bartender). There are many occasions where through FID we hear what the characters are really thinking while they carry on a conversation. Their true thoughts are extremely sexual, and almost disturbing or awkward to read, since I as a reader am not used to reading such explicitly sexual comments and thoughts from characters. Here is an example of Karen and James’ sexual tension and explicit thoughts towards each other:

“‘What you like?’ she asked and smiled. Know what I’d like? Like you to stick your head between my legs, take a deep breath ‘n go for it.

I’d like to rip your pants off ‘n eat you. ‘Two Blue,’ he said.

She took two beers from the cooler while he watched her ass. Wonder what it’d be like to hold ’em while I jammed.

She took the ten he left and watched him walk across the floor. Wonder what it’d be like to wrap my legs ’round him while he jammed.

(Alexie 52).

This explicit sexuality in “Porcupines and China Dolls” is disturbing, but understandable coming from the characters that it is coming from. All of these characters were raised with ingrained binaries of sex within the residential schools they were forced to attend, and these ingrained ideas seem to have followed them way past their childhood school days. As did other things they experienced at those schools.

In the residential schools, the boys and the girls were separated in many ways, and made to look like two groups, rather than a bunch of individuals. They were divided into boys or girls, porcupines or china dolls. All the boys and all the girls get their hair cut, and are made to look so similar that their siblings can’t even easily pick them out of the crowds. Their entire identities were taken away from them. Their identities as Indigenous people, and as individual people. In G. Bonnin’s “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” the girl tells the story of her hair being cut by the people at the residential schools. She is heart broken that they cut off her “thick braids” (Bonnin 13), and that her long hair was now short and shingled, which “among [her] people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled hair by cowards” (Bonnin 12). this is only one way their identities as indigenous people was taken away. Their language, their family, their individual looks, were all taken away, and the only thing remaining that they had left to identify themselves by was their gender. Which is what seems to be what they used to identify themselves, not only in the school, but this also seems to live on in their adult years. Hence, the sexuality of men and women, and their constant obsession with sex.

As one review of the book says: “There is constant intoxication leading to, or resulting from, or coinciding with sex. Everyone seems to be looking at everyone’s crotches as they go get another drink. It made my skin crawl, and I was completely disgusted — yet I think I understood what Alexie was doing. It is, to say the least, effective.”

But this sexuality that all characters have in the novel is not seen as acceptable by all characters, some characters even judge their own sexuality. Men and women seem to react differently to their sexuality. Two good examples of this are James and Angie.

Angie is seen as the town slut, and is looked upon negatively, especially by James. James also is known as the town slut, but is not seen negatively by women. Instead women want him, and he is very popular with the ladies of the town. He is dating Brenda throughout the novel, but many other women also flirt with him, and he could likely get together with many of them at his own will. Some of these women include: Angie, Karen, Norma, and Louise, who is in love with him. Brenda is another example of a woman whose sexuality is not something she is very proud of. Many times she has sexual thoughts, and then calls herself a slut, and says she has to stop thinking that way.

“‘Want something to eat?’ Wanna eat me? She smiled. Geez, I’ve gotta stop thinkin’ like a slut.” (Alexie 63).

“Got an interview for a job down there,’ she said. I gotta get outta here too. I’m turnin’ into a whore ‘n a slut.” (Alexie 63).

This double standard of sexuality is seen in today’s western culture as well as Indigenous culture. An excerpt from a book by Jessica Valenti called “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut” shows the double standard and the way in which it effects people’s views of women and men:

“Despite the ubiquity of “slut,” where you won’t hear it is in relation to men. Men can’t be sluts. Sure, someone will occasionally call a guy “a dog,” but men simply aren’t judged like women are when it comes to sexuality. (And if they are, they’re judged in a positive way!) Men who have a lot of sexual partners are studs, Casanovas, pimps, and players.”

“And let’s face it — the slut stigma isn’t just dangerous to our “reputations” or to some weird-ass notion of purity. How many times has rape been discounted because a woman was deemed a slut? How many times are women called whores while their partners beat them? How often are women’s sexual histories used against them in workplace harassment cases? The sexual double standard is a lot more dangerous than we’d like to think.”

As the quotes say, women are unfairly judged about their sexuality, and sexual behaviours, but men get a free pass, and are commonly praised for it, rather than judged negatively. This double standard should be taken seriously, and broken down, or else it is dangerous and debilitating for women.

Heres another way in which the double standard is talked about and fought against. Christina Aguilera’s song Can’t Hold us Down.

Heres a link to the lyrics and a video.’t%20Hold%20Us%20Down%20(Feat.%20Lil’%20Kim)%20Lyrics.html

This double standard exists in many cultures, however it is interesting to note that the strong binaries of gender seem to stem from the fact that most of the adults in the community went to the residential schools, were separated depending on their gender, and went through horrific experiences, many including sexual abuse. I am curious as to whether the people would have been so sexually obsessed, had they not been put through the residential schools, and had been raised by their own families with their family’s morals and customs. Is this obsession with sex, and the double standard that goes along with it, a factor of the residential schools, or is this something that would always exist in indigenous communities?

Works Cited:

Alexie, Robert, Arthur. Porcupines and China Dolls. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2009. Print.

Bonnin, G. “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” in Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym, pp. 1-22. 1989. Norton  and Company Inc. Print.

“Robert Arthur Alexie: Porcupines and China Dolls.” The Mookse and the Gripes. Web.

Jessica Valenti. “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut: The Sexual Double Standard.” AlterNet. Web.

Embedded female roles

Throughout history, especially in western society, women have usually been the ones in a family to nurture the children, make dinner, clean the house, etc. This is  commonly seen as the natural role which women should play in their family and relationships, however in recent years these common roles for women have been challenged, and are not always the case in relationships anymore. These roles have caused many stereotypes, and expectations of women in relationships. Many men expect their girlfriend or wife to fulfil these roles, but many women are not wishing to fulfil these roles anymore. In today’s western society, there are many other family dynamics that are arising and becoming more popular. The most common would probably be the family with two working parents. Then there is the new ‘stay at home dad’ family, where the roles are reversed and the wife goes off to work, and the husband stays home with the kids. This new family dynamic is being exposed in the media, and on television, in shows like “Modern Family” and “Up All Night.” Here is a clip from ABC news, which showcases and talks about the growing popularity of stay at home dads.

The way in which women are expected to be stay at home moms and perfect wives is now more seen as a view of sexist people, or male chauvinists. These are the people who still believe that women should not be working away from the home, and that housework and childcare is where they belong. These are also the people who come up with the women bashing jokes as follows:

Q: Why can’t women drive?
A: Because there’s no road between the kitchen and
the bedroom

Q: Why do women have smaller feet than men?
A: So they can stand closer to
the sink.

So how does this all relate to indigenous people, and the works we have been studying? Well, in Mourning Dove’s Cogewea, the main female character Cogewea is not the average woman for her time and her community, and seems to challenge the expected female roles, even in her time period. Cogewea not only helps her sister with her kids, and all the cooking for the Ranch, but also takes part in the ranching duties along with the men of the ranch. She says at the beginning of the novel “Cooking and rope-throwing!.. What a combination!” (Mourning Dove 21). Cogewea not only rides with the men, but has beaten many of them, as Celluloid Bill says while describing her “Yo’ can’t mash with that there girl! One day she beat me in a hoss race on th’ upper trail, an’ she bested me with th’ rope.” (Mourning Dove 35). As part of the Okanagan tribe, Cogewea would have been raised and taught to be a gatherer of herbs, do most of the cooking, and to look after the children in the tribe and in her own family when she starts one. The men in the Okanagan tribe would have been taught to fish and hunt. These were the traditional male and female roles of the tribe, at the time in which Cogewea was written.

Another source describes what a daily schedule would be like for a student at an Indigenous boarding school:

“Young women spent either the morning or the afternoon doing laundry, sewing, cooking, cleaning and other household tasks. Older girls might study nursing or office work. The young men acquired skills in carpentry, blacksmithing, animal husbandry, baking and shop. They chopped firewood to keep the steam boilers operating. The work performed by students was essential to the operation of the institution. The meat, vegetables and milk served in the dining room came from livestock and gardens kept by the students. The girls made and repaired uniforms, sheets, and curtains and helped to prepare the meals.”

The male and female segregation of duties and taught skills is very clear here. Women learned skills that would lead them to do work on the inside of the house, that was unpaid and would lead them to be supported by their husbands, and the men learned the skills that would lead them to jobs, and working outside of the house and making money on their own. The only exception to this would be the older girls learning about nursing and office work, which would still be considered “women’s work” and not be appropriate for a male.

This theme is also seen in Robert Arthur Alexie’s “Porcupines and China Dolls,” where the children in the mission schools are separated by sex, and are given different chores and taught different skills depending on their sex. When life at the mission school is described it is said that “after dinner, the girls clean up the dining room and the kitchen while the boys are told to haul water, cut wood or do other chores” (Alexie 10).

At the same time period, western culture seemed to have similar views of male and female roles, and in many ways pushed these views onto indigenous people through the mission schools, boarding schools, or whatever you wanted to call them. A source which states what the indigenous people learned at the mission schools says: “Another important component of the government policy for “civilizing” the Indians was to teach farming techniques. Although few reservations in the Pacific Northwest had either fertile land or a climate conducive to agriculture, nonetheless it was felt that farming was the proper occupation for American citizens. So boys learned how to milk cows, grow vegetables, repair tools, etc. and even had lessons on the various types of plows.”

The colonizers were trying to force their views of what male and female roles should be onto the indigenous people, and this makes me wonder if it was really the indigenous people who had these strong male and female roles laid out and embedded in their culture, or if it was the influence of western culture that made these roles prominent in their societies.

The 1920s were also a time of change for women. Women started challenging the expectations that they were to stay at home, and not have jobs outside of their homes.

“As industrialization and immigration changed the face of most cities, women were slowly changing from homebound producers to wage-earning consumers. In Amy Peiss’ book Cheap Amusements this facet of new women’s roles is discussed in detail. Peiss points out that, “By 1900 important changes in the social organization of labor and expanding job opportunities… created new work experiences for women” . These new work experiences took them out of the home and gave them a new independence and freedom from their previously male and home dominated lives. It also gave them a new world within which to explore and succeed. While so many married women barely left the house this new breed of women left the house for work and leisure as Peiss points out, saying, “many mothers went out no more than twice a week.” With incomes of their own, even if they gave most or all of their paychecks to their family, women found a new niche in society as workers and indirectly then as consumers. With money of their own, aside from that spent on family, they were free to buy things that had before been traditionally made at home, such as clothes. As workers, they became more influenced by the society around them, not just influence from family or neighbors and, in turn, led them to realize a change needed to be made in society. This expansion of world brought reform minded women to the front of society.”

This being around the same time as Cogewea was written, makes me wonder if this is what was happening with Cogewea. She had been exposed to western culture, and was also challenging the expected role she was to fill. She was a rebellious girl in many ways, and it seems that she may have become this way due to her exposure to western culture, and her education. She is not only rebelling against the ways of her ancestors, but also against the role that she has been expected to play as a woman. In this light, Cogewea can also be considered a part of the “new breed of women” and should be proud of herself for challenging the expectations of her as a woman, and doing what she wants to do in her life.

Works Cited:

Beck, Nicole. “The Rapid Changes in Women’s Roles from 1900 to 1920.” Yahoo Voices. Web. 25. July. 2012..

Dove, Mourning. Cogewea. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1981. Print.

Marr, Carolyn. J. “Assimilation Through Education: Indian Boarding Schools in the Pacific Northwest.” University Libraries, University of Washington. Web. 25. July. 2012.

“Native American Facts for Kids, Okanagan Tribe.” Native Languages of the Americas website. Web. 25. July. 2012.

“Women Jokes.” Web. 25. July. 2012.

Power Struggles

In Lee Maracle’s “Laundry Basket” the main character Marla and her husband seem to have a power struggle within their marriage. She uses the term “decision maker” (Maracle 49), to describe who had the power in the relationship. She says “things had been magical for both of them in those first few years” as “she had done her household duties with enthusiasm, actually believing that her obligations as wife were her source of joy” (Maracle 49). This is clearly the way her husband wants and expects her to act in their marriage, as he is happy with his wife when she was acting this way and “had left most of the household decision making up to her for those years” (Maracle 49). However he starts “putting the back of his hand across her face,” when “she had stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy” (Maracle 49), and became interested in things other than her wifely duties. At this point in their marriage, the power obviously shifted, assuming Marla had any real power in the marriage in the beginning anyway. Which, I would argue she didn’t, but only had the illusion of having the power that her husband allowed her to have, because he trusted her at that point to make the ‘right’ decisions. It is obvious that at this point in their marriage Marla, understandably, begins to become unhappy in her marriage. She felt once she freed herself from the marriage, that she was “freeing herself of domination” (Maracle 47). Her husband becomes more controlling and abusive, which Marla unhappily puts up with for too long. She feels “pathetic because she had lived with it for so long” (Maracle 48).

Domestic abuse is a very serious issue, which unfortunately still occurs in many cultures today. In Marla’s case, she married a white man, who perhaps expected to be able to control her and hold the power in their relationship because of his belief that his race was dominant and superior than her race in the first place. Men who abuse their partners obviously have power issues, and need to feel powerful and dominant over their partners. They have ways of manipulating their partners and making them believe that they need to stay in the relationships because they are not good enough to leave, or because their partner needs them to stay, and that they will change.  The 2002 movie Enough, starring Jennifer Lopez is a very inspiring, but sad movie about a woman who finds herself stuck in an abusive relationship. She runs from her husband, but finally has had enough and realizes that she needs to fight back and show her husband that he cannot beat her, both physically and mentally. The following is the scene in the movie where she has found out that he has continued to cheat on her, and he hits her for the first time during an argument. It is clear the way in which he controls her, and manipulates her into believing that it will change, and it is her behaviour that controls whether she will be hit or not, and not his. The power dynamic is also here in this situation, as he says he makes the money so he makes the rules. She can’t leave him because she doesn’t have any money and money is power.

A site called “Futures Without Violence” has many statistics about domestic violence and about domestic violence which targets indigenous women specifically. This site says that in 2008 it was reported that “nearly one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life,” and that in 2007 it was estimated that “on average more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States.” When it comes to specifically indigenous women the site reports that “American Indian and Alaska Native women experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.”

The site has a specific link to information specifically for indigenous women since their rates of domestic violence are so high, and this site states that it is very common that the violent perpetrator is not of indigenous descent, but very commonly is a white man.

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, Office of

Justice Programs at least 70% of the violent victimizations experienced by American

Indians are committed by persons not of the same race— a substantially higher rate

of interracial violence than experienced by white or black victims.”

“About one-quarter of all cases of family violence (violence involving spouses)

against American Indians involve a non-Indian perpetrator, a rate of inter-racial

violence five times the rate of inter-racial violence involving other racial groups.”

“A larger percent of victimization against American Indian and Alaskan Native women

are committed by white offenders compared to American Indian and Alaska Native


This is incredibly prevalent to Lee Maracle’s “Laundry Basket” story, as the man in the story is white, and the woman is indigenous. The theory that he expected to be able to abuse and control his wife because she was of indigenous decent and he believed he was superior to her as a white man is supported by the statistic that the majority of the violence directed towards indigenous women is by a different race.

Some more disturbing statistics about violence towards indigenous women are:

“American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence

and physical assault at rates far exceeding women of other ethnicities.”

“A 2004 Department of Justice report estimates these assault rates to be

as much as 50% higher than the next most victimized demographic.”

“National annual incidence rates and lifetime prevalence rates for physical assaults

are also higher for American Indian and Alaskan Native women compared to other


It is very sad to see that this is going on in a world that is supposed to be so modern and open to other races and to interracial relationships. Marla in Lee Maracle’s “Laundry Basket” overcomes these statistics however, and ends her marriage before she becomes a part of the statistic about murdered wives. If you watch the following youtube video of the movie Enough, at 1:48:30 there is a part in which the police officer calls Jennifer Lopez’s character “one of the lucky ones.” You can see the confusion in her face, as she has just gone through the most horrific experience of her life. Marla, like Jennifer Lopez’s character in Enough, is “one of the lucky ones.” To call the situation they were in, and what they had to do to get out of it ‘lucky’ is disturbing, but true compared to what their end situation could have been, had it gotten to that level.

I would strongly recommend watching the whole movie as well, since it is all on youtube, and is really a good movie. 🙂

Works Cited:

“The Facts on Violence Against American Indian/Alaskan Native Women,” Futures Without Violence. Web. 19. July. 2012.


“The Facts on Domestic, Dating, and Sexual Violence,” Futures Without Violence. Web. 19. July. 2012.


Maracle, Lee. “Laundry Basket.” First Wives Club. Maracle, Lee. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2010. 47-56. Print.

Hello readers!

Hello readers!

The purpose of this blog is for a class project, in an indigenous fiction course.

In this blog I will be exploring male and female roles within many different indigenous fiction works that we study in the course.

By male and female roles, I mean within many aspects of life. Marriage, child rearing, sexuality, household care, etc.

As we go through the course I will be commenting on male and female roles within the works that we study, and how these roles compare to  western society, and how western ideals concerning sexuality and gender impact male and female roles in the indigenous works and societies themselves. As the western society that I have been raised in is the bias through which I will be viewing and reading all of the works and interpreting the male and female roles within them.

I hope that I am able to inform and educate you in ways you would not have thought about the works on your own!