Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 4 » Status of Older People: Tribal Societies - Longevity, The Cultural Construction Of Elders And Older Adulthood, Gender And Age, Old Age In Myth And Folklore

Status of Older People: Tribal Societies - Gender And Age

women authority adult silverman

Despite the strong male dominance in many tribal societies, some authors have begun to document a pattern of positive changes of role, power, and status by women as they pass into the middle and later adult years. These occur when women enter their postreproductive phase, and culminate when mastery of the domestic sphere is complete—as marked by control of the daughter-in-law and other adult female kin, influence over married sons and their children, greater authority over life-cycle ritual, and the gradual withdrawal of a woman’s older spouse out of his public domain and into her hearth-centered life. As P. Silverman notes, ‘‘even in male dominated societies, like the Comanche in North America, the Mundurucu of South America and the Ewe of West Africa, women who have reached menopause fill important decision-roles otherwise restricted to men’’ (Silverman, 1987, p. 335). While some theorists have stressed the cultural turning points linked to procreative and family cycles, others have suggested that universal intrapsychic personality development best explains the frequent reversals observed among older adults (Gutmann). A classic description of this process is provided by Kaberry in an early anthropological study of Australian aboriginal women:

As the women become older they often assume more authority, become more assertive, tender their advice more frequently and interfere where the activities of any of their kindred are likely to run contrary to the tribal law. On the other hand, when anger mounts high and threatens the peace, even safety of others in the camp, they take the initiative in stemming the disputes and temporarily establishing order again. Amidst the shouting, the barking of dogs, the voice of an old woman will make itself heard above the uproar as she harangues men and women impartially (Kaberry, 1937, p. 181).

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