Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs

Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs: Gender Unity and Gender Equality Among the Lahu of Southwestern China

SHANSHAN DU
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/du--11956
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  • Book Info
    Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs
    Book Description:

    The ideal of "gender equality" seems forever elusive, always tantalizingly over the horizon. Shanshan Du suggests that by shifting our attention away from the various utopian ideals embedded in mainstream feminism, we may be surprised to learn that gender-egalitarian societies do exist. Based on extensive fieldwork, this book explores the Lahu society in Southwest China where practical gender equality has become the byproduct of a potent ideology of gender unity, vividly expressed by the proverb, "chopsticks only work in pairs."

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50473-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. TECHNICAL NOTES
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-26)

    While the concept of “gender equality” (or “sexual equality”) has become increasingly popular in the global village at the beginning of the new millennium, it still represents primarily a beautiful dream to strive for. If we shift our attention away from utopian ideals, however, we may notice that gender-egalitarian societies, despite their scarcity and imperfection, do exist outside our dreamlands. Through an ethnographic study of the Lahu people of southwest China, I will explore in this book how gender equality has become a by-product of the worldview of gender unity, which is vividly expressed by the proverb “Chopsticks only work...

  7. PART I MYTHOLOGY AND IDEOLOGY
    • CHAPTER 1 “EVERYTHING COMES IN PAIRS”: A DYADIC WORLDVIEW
      (pp. 29-51)

      Gender ideology constitutes an integral, or even the central, part of the dominant worldview of a culture. The Lahu ideology of gender unity is deeply rooted in the dyadic worldview that is expressed by the common saying, “Everything comes in pairs; aloneness does not exist” (laiq ceol-laiq yal awl cie feuf, awl tif mad cawl). In this chapter, I first examine the Lahu indigenous concept of “pair” (awl cie)—a single entity that is made up of two similar yet distinguishable components. I then explore the ideal pairs in Lahu mythology, which suggest a cosmological order of male-female dyads. After...

    • CHAPTER 2 HUSBAND-WIFE DYADS IN THE LIFE CYCLE
      (pp. 52-76)

      Definitions of personhood throughout the life cycle serve as overarching expressions of cultural ideals and norms for male and female, elaborating dominant gender ideologies that are often implicitly embedded in mythologies and general worldviews. In many patriarchal societies, the oppositions between the two sexes are encoded in childhood socialization, highlighted by puberty rites and masculine-versus-feminine ideals, institutionalized by assigning prestigious social roles and positions exclusively to men, and finalized in the spiritual realm by worshiping only male ancestors. In contrast, gender-egalitarian societies tend to highlight the motif of gender unity, or that of complementarity, in their own culture-specific mappings of...

  8. PART II JOINT GENDER ROLES
    • CHAPTER 3 ”HUSBAND AND WIFE DO IT TOGETHER”: UNIFYING GENDER IN LABOR
      (pp. 79-106)

      In the last two chapters, I discussed the ways in which the motif of gender dyads prevails in Lahu mythology and life-cycle symbolism, generating as a by-product an ideology that fosters equality between men and women. While the ideal may sound as appealing as many other gender-egalitarian visions, some readers may have begun to question how such an ideology can be applied to social practices in which men and women are usually divided by the roles they play. As I will show in this and the following two chapters, by defining a married couple as a dyadic team, the ideology...

    • CHAPTER 4 “MALE-FEMALE MASTERS”: HUSBAND-WIFE DYADS IN LEADERSHIP
      (pp. 107-136)

      Beyond expecting married couples to join their efforts to feed the household and raise children, indigenous Lahu ideologies also promote joint leadership of husband-wife dyads. Conforming to the cosmological power structures represented in mythology, Lahu principle (awl lid) suggests that households and villages are manageable only when “a pair of male-female masters rules together” (shief phad shief ma qha cir qawr kuad xad). In this chapter, I first discuss the institution of yiel shief phad-yiel shief ma (‘male-female masters of the household’), focusing on the joint authority and responsibility of household co-heads in making consensus decisions. Then, in the historical...

  9. PART III STRUCTURE AND ANTISTRUCTURE
    • CHAPTER 5 UNIFYING GENDER IN KINSHIP AND INTERHOUSEHOLD ORGANIZATION
      (pp. 139-161)

      The last four chapters discussed the dyadic ideology and the application of such ideals in gender roles. In the chapters in part 3, I explore the dyadic principles underlying social structures and the tensions and conflicts within such structures. In this chapter, I examine gender unity in social structures by exploring how married couples serve as building blocks for kinship relations and interhousehold networks. I first examine the ways in which Lahu kinship terminology calculates kin relations from the perspective of a married couple (dyadic ego), which parallel the reference point of an individual ego. Then I discuss how kinship...

    • CHAPTER 6 THE DYSFUNCTION AND COLLAPSE OF GENDER DYADS: DIVORCE, ELOPEMENT, AND LOVE-PACT SUICIDE
      (pp. 162-184)

      While the preeminence of the Lahu dyadic worldview in social institutions and practice effectively promotes symbiotic and symmetrical relations between males and females, it has by no means created a paradise. In this chapter, I focus on the gaps between the dyadic gender ideal and social practice, especially the dysfunction and collapse of marriages. I first discuss the major personal and social factors that are recognized by Lahu villagers as severe threats to marital quality and stability. I then examine some typical causes of the break-up of a marriage—decisions that shatter even the minimal requirements of the gender-dyadic principle—...

  10. CONCLUSION: RETHINKING GENDER EQUALITY
    (pp. 185-196)

    In the concluding chapter, I discuss how this study can enhance our understanding of gender equality. I first summarize how gender equality constitutes a basic social reality of the Lahu people in rural Lancang, a phenomenon that disproves the perpetual denials of the existence of gender-egalitarian societies. I then examine the cultural particularity of gender equality by exploring the historical, sociocultural, and environmental factors that foster the development of the Lahu gender system and facilitate its extraordinary congruence and resilience. Finally, I explore several underlying principles of gender equality in a cross-cultural setting.

    As discussed in the introductory chapter, both...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 197-208)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 209-230)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 231-238)