Description

Gender and Culture FA16
Prof. K. Orr

Mosuo​ ​Women
Exploring a Matrilineal Society

by Gabriela Rodriguez

1507493400-Mosou-Women-Gender-Culture-Final – you can download a wonderfully arranged presentation.

Introduction

​A ​matriarchy ​is ​defined ​as ​a ​system ​of ​society ​or ​government ​ruled ​by ​women. ​In ​Western
society, ​most ​governance ​and ​society ​standards ​are ​viewed ​through ​the ​patriarchal ​point ​of
view. ​For ​the ​Mosuo ​however, ​that ​is ​not ​the ​case, ​being ​one ​of ​the ​only
matriarchies/matrilineal ​in ​the ​world. ​In ​order ​to ​fully ​understand ​what ​this ​region ​of ​the
world ​defines ​as ​matriarchy ​and ​how ​sexuality, ​gender ​roles ​and ​responsibilities ​are ​in
their ​community, ​this ​study ​will ​explore ​the ​Mosuo ​culture, ​its ​women ​and ​how ​they
manifest ​themselves, ​sexually ​and ​socially.
​ ​Mosuo​ ​Culture​ ​&​ ​History



The​ ​Mosuo​ ​are​ ​a​ ​Chinese​ ​ethnic​ ​minority​ ​group​ ​who​ ​live​ ​high​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Himalayas,​ ​in
an​ ​area​ ​surrounding​ ​Yunnan​ ​and​ ​Sichuan​ ​provinces,​ ​close​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Tibetan​ ​border.
There​ ​is​ ​not​ ​that​ ​much​ ​known​ ​about​ ​the​ ​history/origins​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​culture​ ​due​ ​to
not​ ​ ​having​ ​a​ ​written​ ​language,​ ​therefore,​ ​their​ ​entire​ ​history​ ​is​ ​an​ ​oral​ ​history,
passed​ ​down​ ​from​ ​generation​ ​to​ ​generation,​ ​mostly​ ​through​ ​local​ ​priests​ ​called
“Daba”.​ ​(Mosuo​ ​Culture,​ ​2006)
The​ ​Mosuo​ ​economy​ ​is​ ​largely​ ​agrarian,​ ​potato​ ​and​ ​rice​ ​being​ ​their​ ​staple​ ​foods.
What​ ​makes​ ​this​ ​society​ ​so​ ​impressively​ ​functional​ ​is​ ​their​ ​capability​ ​of​ ​producing
most​ ​of​ ​what​ ​they​ ​need​ ​for​ ​daily​ ​living.



Three​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​Culture​ ​that​ ​are​ ​particularly​ ​interesting​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the
systematic​ ​similarities​ ​to​ ​that​ ​of​ ​matriarchal​ ​societies​ ​are​ ​their​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​“walking
marriages”​ ​which​ ​allows​ ​them​ ​to​ ​choose/change​ ​partners​ ​as​ ​they​ ​wish,​ ​never
having​ ​the​ ​obligation​ ​to​ ​marry​ ​or​ ​even​ ​live​ ​with​ ​their​ ​partner;​ ​and​ ​their​ ​integration
of​ ​Tibetan​ ​Buddhism​ ​and​ ​their​ ​own​ ​religion​ ​“Daba”.​ ​For​ ​purposes​ ​of​ ​this​ ​study,​ ​we
will​ ​be​ ​exploring​ ​their​ ​matriarchal​ ​society​ ​structures,​ ​comparing​ ​it​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Western
definition​ ​of​ ​what​ ​a​ ​matriarchy​ ​is​ ​and​ ​how​ ​these​ ​women​ ​define​ ​their​ ​sexuality​ ​and
work​ ​in​ ​their​ ​communities.
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Matriarchal/Matrilineal​ ​Culture
The​ ​Mosuo​ ​culture​ ​is​ ​mostly​ ​defined​ ​as​ ​being​ ​matriarchal,​ ​a​ ​term​ ​used​ ​mostly​ ​to
attract​ ​Western​ ​tourists​ ​and​ ​visitors​ ​in​ ​order​ ​for​ ​them​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​culture​ ​in
familiar​ ​terms.​ ​Matrilineal​ ​is​ ​a​ ​more​ ​accurate​ ​word​ ​to​ ​describe​ ​how​ ​this​ ​culture
operates​ ​yet​ ​it​ ​still​ ​leaves​ ​out​ ​important​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​their​ ​society.​ ​Matrilineal
describes​ ​anything​ ​related​ ​to​ ​kinship​ ​through​ ​a​ ​female​ ​line.​ ​For​ ​example,​ ​ ​If​ ​the
children​ ​in​ ​a​ ​specific​ ​culture​ ​take​ ​their​ ​mother’s​ ​last​ ​name,​ ​and​ ​not​ ​their​ ​father’s,
this​ ​is​ ​a​ ​matrilineal​ ​tradition.​ ​The​ ​ancient​ ​religion​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mosuo,​ ​the​ ​matriarchal
layer,​ ​centers​ ​around​ ​their​ ​belief​ ​in​ ​the​ ​divinity​ ​of​ ​Nature.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​most​ ​directly
expressed​ ​through​ ​the​ ​veneration​ ​of​ ​Gan​ ​mu,​ ​the​ ​sacred​ ​mountain,​ ​which​ ​is
regarded​ ​as​ ​the​ ​Goddess​ ​of​ ​Love,​ ​and​ ​for​ ​Shinami,​ ​the​ ​sacred​ ​lake,​ ​seen​ ​as​ ​the
Mother​ ​Goddess.​ ​Nature​ ​is​ ​regarded​ ​as​ ​female,​ ​as​ ​the​ ​great​ ​Creatrix.​ ​The​ ​later,
patriarchal​ ​layers​ ​of​ ​religion,​ ​to​ ​which​ ​they​ ​have​ ​been​ ​subjected,​ ​have​ ​not
succeeded​ ​in​ ​suppressing​ ​these​ ​basic​ ​beliefs.​ ​(​Gottner-Abendroth,​ ​1999​)
Matrilineal​ ​is​ ​a​ ​more​ ​appropriate​ ​term​ ​to​ ​define​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​that
women​ ​are​ ​the​ ​head​ ​of​ ​the​ ​house,​ ​property​ ​is​ ​passed​ ​through​ ​the​ ​female​ ​line,​ ​and
women​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​make​ ​the​ ​business​ ​decisions,​ ​but​ ​political​ ​power​ ​tends​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​the
hands​ ​of​ ​males,​ ​which​ ​disqualifies​ ​them​ ​as​ ​a​ ​true​ ​matriarchy.​ ​(Mosuo​ ​Culture,​ ​2006)
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Matrilineality​ ​is​ ​so​ ​dominantly​ ​expressed​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Chinese​ ​anthropologist​ ​Cai​ ​Hua
(2001)​ ​has​ ​claimed​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​is​ ​a​ ​society​ ​without​ ​husbands​ ​and​ ​without
fathers.This​ ​poses​ ​a​ ​range​ ​of​ ​challenges​ ​to​ ​kinship​ ​theories​ ​whether​ ​of​ ​the​ ​descent
variant​ ​or​ ​the​ ​alliance​ ​variant.​ ​(Wu,​ ​2009)
An​ ​interesting​ ​point​ ​of​ ​research​ ​that​ ​I​ ​stumbled​ ​upon​ ​was​ ​why​ ​they​ ​chose​ ​to​ ​trace
their​ ​lineage​ ​through​ ​females​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​males.​ ​Mosuo​ ​families​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​trace​ ​their
lineage​ ​through​ ​the​ ​female​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the​ ​family​ ​because​ ​they​ ​may,​ ​in​ ​some​ ​cases,​ ​not
even​ ​know​ ​who​ ​the​ ​father​ ​of​ ​a​ ​particular​ ​child​ ​is,​ ​therefore,​ ​tracing​ ​through​ ​the
paternal​ ​line​ ​is​ ​difficult,​ ​if​ ​not​ ​impossible.​ ​But​ ​there​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​practice​ ​in​ ​which
families​ ​that​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​a​ ​female​ ​to​ ​take​ ​the​ ​role​ ​of​ ​a​ ​family’s​ ​matriarch​ ​may
“adopt”​ ​a​ ​woman​ ​from​ ​another​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​she​ ​will​ ​take​ ​over​ ​as​ ​head​ ​of​ ​the​ ​house
when​ ​the​ ​current​ ​matriarch​ ​dies.​ ​Yet​ ​she,​ ​and​ ​her​ ​offspring,​ ​will​ ​be​ ​included​ ​in​ ​the
‘family​ ​geneology’.
The​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​still​ ​live​ ​according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​patterns​ ​of​ ​matrilinearity​ ​and
matrilocality​ ​in​ ​big​ ​clan-houses​ ​that​ ​are​ ​built​ ​in​ ​a​ ​square.​ ​All​ ​persons​ ​within​ ​each
clan-house​ ​have​ ​the​ ​clan​ ​name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​eldest​ ​woman,​ ​the​ ​clan​ ​mother.​ ​These​ ​names
are,​ ​for​ ​example:​ ​”Tiger​ ​Mother,”​ ​”Snake​ ​Mother,”​ ​”Cougar​ ​Mother,”​ ​”Tree​ ​Mother,”
and​ ​so​ ​on.​ ​The​ ​names,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​the​ ​common​ ​ownership​ ​of​ ​the​ ​house​ ​and​ ​the
land,​ ​are​ ​exclusively​ ​inherited​ ​through​ ​the​ ​female​ ​line.​ ​(Gottner-Abendroth,​ ​1999)
While​ ​these​ ​practices​ ​under​ ​Western​ ​culture​ ​would​ ​be​ ​deemed​ ​“empowering”​ ​for
women,​ ​this​ ​is​ ​so​ ​embedded​ ​in​ ​their​ ​culture,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​viewed​ ​as​ ​the​ ​norm.​ ​They​ ​may​ ​be
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empowered​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​of​ ​their​ ​traditions​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​not​ ​the​ ​sole​ ​purpose​ ​of​ ​why​ ​they
operate​ ​matrilineally.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​mostly​ ​about​ ​maintaining​ ​a​ ​stable​ ​number​ ​of​ ​members​ ​in
the​ ​family​ ​and​ ​community​ ​and​ ​having​ ​stability,​ ​although,​ ​when​ ​you​ ​put​ ​it​ ​that​ ​way,
that​ ​in​ ​itself​ ​is​ ​very​ ​empowering.​ ​The​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​seek​ ​men​ ​to​ ​give​ ​them
stability,​ ​they​ ​count​ ​on​ ​each​ ​other​ ​and​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​constant​ ​give​ ​and​ ​take​ ​by​ ​women​ ​and
for​ ​women,​ ​which​ ​are​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​expected,​ ​but​ ​want​ ​to​ ​create​ ​that​ ​stability​ ​and
work​ ​regime​ ​for​ ​themselves.​ ​ ​When​ ​conducting​ ​online​ ​research,​ ​many​ ​American
news​ ​sources​ ​called​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​Lugu​ ​Lake​ ​the​ ​Kingdom​ ​of​ ​Women.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​view​ ​it,
while​ ​women​ ​are​ ​the​ ​engine​ ​and​ ​oil​ ​that​ ​keeps​ ​the​ ​machine​ ​going,​ ​they​ ​focus​ ​more
on​ ​the​ ​well-being​ ​and​ ​value​ ​the​ ​strength​ ​in​ ​numbers.​ ​It​ ​would​ ​be​ ​better​ ​described
as​ ​the​ ​Kingdom​ ​of​ ​Family,​ ​ ​one​ ​blessedly​ ​free​ ​of​ ​politicians​ ​and​ ​preachers​ ​extolling
“family​ ​values.”​ ​There’s​ ​no​ ​such​ ​thing​ ​as​ ​a​ ​”broken​ ​home,”​ ​no​ ​sociologists​ ​wringing
their​ ​hands​ ​over​ ​”single​ ​mothers,”​ ​no​ ​economic​ ​devastation​ ​or​ ​shame​ ​and​ ​stigma
when​ ​parents​ ​part.
This​ ​societal​ ​system​ ​has​ ​led​ ​to​ ​significant​ ​cultural​ ​differences​ ​from​ ​which​ ​many
other​ ​cultures​ ​could​ ​learn.​ ​Mosuo​ ​families​ ​have​ ​an​ ​incredible​ ​internal​ ​cohesiveness
and​ ​stability;​ ​and​ ​certainly,​ ​Mosuo​ ​women​ ​do​ ​not​ ​(within​ ​their​ ​culture)​ ​face​ ​many​ ​of
the​ ​struggles​ ​and​ ​barriers​ ​that​ ​women​ ​in​ ​many​ ​other​ ​cultures​ ​do.​ ​(Mosuo​ ​Culture,
2006)
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Mosuo​ ​Women​ ​&​ ​Sexuality
Traditionally,​ ​a​ ​Mosuo​ ​woman​ ​who​ ​is​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​a​ ​particular​ ​man​ ​will​ ​invite​ ​him
to​ ​come​ ​and​ ​spend​ ​the​ ​night​ ​with​ ​her​ ​in​ ​her​ ​room.​ ​Such​ ​pairings​ ​are​ ​generally
conducted​ ​secretly,​ ​so​ ​the​ ​man​ ​will​ ​walk​ ​to​ ​her​ ​house​ ​after​ ​dark​ ​(thus​ ​the
description​ ​of​ ​“walking​ ​marriage”),​ ​spend​ ​the​ ​night​ ​with​ ​her,​ ​and​ ​return​ ​home​ ​early
the​ ​next​ ​morning.​ ​(Mosuo​ ​Culture,​ ​2006)
While​ ​it​ ​is​ ​possible​ ​for​ ​a​ ​Mosuo​ ​woman​ ​to​ ​change​ ​partners​ ​as​ ​often​ ​as​ ​she​ ​likes​ ​–
and​ ​in​ ​fact,​ ​having​ ​only​ ​one​ ​sexual​ ​partner​ ​would​ ​be​ ​neither​ ​expected​ ​nor​ ​common
–​ ​the​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​such​ ​couplings​ ​will​ ​actually​ ​be​ ​more​ ​long​ ​term.​ ​And​ ​few​ ​Mosuo
women​ ​will​ ​have​ ​more​ ​than​ ​one​ ​partner​ ​at​ ​a​ ​time.
Mosuo​ ​women​ ​are​ ​free​ ​to​ ​have​ ​different​ ​sexual​ ​partners,​ ​and​ ​frequently​ ​do​ ​not​ ​get
married,​ ​having​ ​multiple​ ​lovers,​ ​or​ ​having​ ​children​ ​by​ ​different​ ​men,​ ​does​ ​not​ ​carry
a​ ​negative​ ​stigma​ ​as​ ​it​ ​would​ ​for​ ​women​ ​in​ ​other​ ​cultures.​ ​While​ ​this​ ​may​ ​be
positive​ ​and​ ​empowering​ ​for​ ​these​ ​women,​ ​they​ ​often​ ​get​ ​misrepresented​ ​in
studies​ ​and​ ​in​ ​the​ ​media.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​common​ ​to​ ​see​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​portrayed​ ​as​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​in
which​ ​Mosuo​ ​women​ ​frequently​ ​change​ ​partners,​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​“sexual​ ​utopia”​ ​where
women​ ​are​ ​just​ ​waiting​ ​to​ ​seduce​ ​men.​ ​This​ ​image​ ​has​ ​been​ ​portrayed​ ​particularly
frequently​ ​by​ ​tourism​ ​operators​ ​who​ ​seek​ ​to​ ​attract​ ​more​ ​people,​ ​mostly​ ​men,​ ​to
visit​ ​Lugu​ ​Lake.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​thriving​ ​prostitution​ ​industry​ ​at​ ​Lugu​ ​Lake;​ ​however,
ironically,​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​“Mosuo​ ​girls”​ ​who​ ​work​ ​in​ ​the​ ​brothels​ ​are​ ​actually​ ​girls​ ​from
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other​ ​areas​ ​brought​ ​in​ ​to​ ​dress,​ ​act​ ​and​ ​impersonate​ ​Mosuo​ ​women;​ ​and​ ​are​ ​a
source​ ​of​ ​shame​ ​to​ ​most​ ​real​ ​Mosuo.​ ​(Mosuo​ ​Culture,​ ​2006)
To​ ​set​ ​the​ ​record​ ​straight;​ ​while​ ​promiscuity​ ​is​ ​certainly​ ​not​ ​frowned​ ​on​ ​like​ ​it​ ​is​ ​in
most​ ​other​ ​cultures,​ ​most​ ​Mosuo​ ​women​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​form​ ​more​ ​long-term​ ​pairings,
and​ ​not​ ​change​ ​partners​ ​frequently.​ ​It​ ​might​ ​be​ ​better​ ​described​ ​as​ ​a​ ​system​ ​of
“serial​ ​monogamy”,​ ​wherein​ ​women​ ​can​ ​change​ ​partners,​ ​but​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so
relatively​ ​rarely;​ ​and​ ​while​ ​with​ ​one​ ​partner,​ ​will​ ​rarely​ ​invite​ ​another.
Even​ ​when​ ​a​ ​pairing​ ​may​ ​be​ ​long​ ​term,​ ​however,​ ​the​ ​man​ ​will​ ​never​ ​go​ ​to​ ​live​ ​with
the​ ​woman’s​ ​family,​ ​or​ ​vice​ ​versa.​ ​He​ ​will​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​live​ ​with​ ​and​ ​be​ ​responsible​ ​to
his​ ​family;​ ​she​ ​will​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​live​ ​with​ ​and​ ​be​ ​responsible​ ​to​ ​her​ ​family.​ ​There​ ​will
be​ ​no​ ​sharing​ ​of​ ​property.
Most​ ​significantly,​ ​when​ ​children​ ​are​ ​born,​ ​the​ ​father​ ​may​ ​have​ ​little​ ​or​ ​no
responsibility​ ​for​ ​his​ ​offspring,​ ​in​ ​fact,​ ​some​ ​children​ ​may​ ​not​ ​even​ ​know​ ​who​ ​their
father​ ​is.​ ​If​ ​a​ ​father​ ​does​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​involved​ ​with​ ​the​ ​upbringing​ ​of​ ​his​ ​children,​ ​he
will​ ​bring​ ​gifts​ ​to​ ​the​ ​mother’s​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​state​ ​his​ ​intention​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so.​ ​This​ ​gives​ ​him
a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​official​ ​status​ ​within​ ​that​ ​family,​ ​but​ ​does​ ​not​ ​actually​ ​make​ ​him​ ​part​ ​of
the​ ​family.​ ​Regardless​ ​of​ ​whether​ ​the​ ​father​ ​is​ ​involved​ ​or​ ​not,​ ​the​ ​child​ ​will​ ​be
raised​ ​in​ ​the​ ​mother’s​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​take​ ​on​ ​her​ ​family​ ​name.
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Gender
There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​preference​ ​for​ ​a​ ​particular​ ​gender​ ​due​ ​to​ ​families​ ​never
abandoning​ ​each​ ​other​ ​and​ ​rarely​ ​leaving​ ​the​ ​village​ ​where​ ​they​ ​were​ ​born​ ​in.​ ​For
example,​ ​in​ ​most​ ​cultures,​ ​the​ ​female​ ​will​ ​join​ ​the​ ​male’s​ ​family​ ​when​ ​she​ ​gets
married.​ ​The​ ​result​ ​is​ ​that​ ​if​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​has​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​female​ ​children,​ ​they​ ​will​ ​lose
them​ ​after​ ​marriage,​ ​and​ ​have​ ​no​ ​one​ ​to​ ​care​ ​for​ ​them​ ​in​ ​old​ ​age;​ ​but​ ​if​ ​they​ ​have
male​ ​children,​ ​their​ ​sons​ ​(and​ ​their​ ​sons’​ ​wives)​ ​will​ ​care​ ​for​ ​them.​ ​So,​ ​in​ ​poorer
populations​ ​in​ ​particular,​ ​there​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a​ ​strong​ ​preference​ ​for​ ​male​ ​children.
Another​ ​important​ ​factor​ ​is​ ​that​ ​when​ ​women​ ​start​ ​participating​ ​in​ ​“walking
marriages”​ ​like​ ​mentioned​ ​previously,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​not​ ​expected​ ​to​ ​get​ ​married​ ​and
never​ ​move​ ​in​ ​with​ ​their​ ​partners​ ​due​ ​to​ ​families​ ​wanting​ ​to​ ​remain​ ​with​ ​their​ ​own.
Among​ ​the​ ​Mosuo,​ ​since​ ​neither​ ​male​ ​nor​ ​female​ ​children​ ​will​ ​ever​ ​leave​ ​home,
there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​particular​ ​preference​ ​for​ ​one​ ​gender​ ​over​ ​the​ ​other.​ ​The​ ​focus​ ​instead
tends​ ​to​ ​be​ ​on​ ​maintaining​ ​some​ ​degree​ ​of​ ​gender​ ​balance,​ ​having​ ​roughly​ ​the
same​ ​proportion​ ​of​ ​male​ ​to​ ​female​ ​within​ ​a​ ​household.​ ​In​ ​situations​ ​where​ ​this
becomes​ ​unbalanced​ ​due​ ​to​ ​death​ ​or​ ​other​ ​circumstances,​ ​Mosuo​ ​families​ ​may
adopt​ ​children​ ​of​ ​the​ ​appropriate​ ​gender​ ​or​ ​even​ ​for​ ​two​ ​households​ ​to​ ​‘swap’
male/female​ ​children.
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Mosuo​ ​Children:​ ​Coming​ ​of​ ​Age
The​ ​coming​ ​of​ ​age​ ​ceremony,​ ​usually​ ​at​ ​around​ ​12-14​ ​years​ ​of​ ​age,​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the
most​ ​important​ ​events​ ​in​ ​a​ ​Mosuo​ ​child’s​ ​life.​ ​Before​ ​this​ ​ceremony,​ ​Mosuo
children​ ​will​ ​dress​ ​the​ ​same,​ ​and​ ​are​ ​restricted​ ​from​ ​certain​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​Mosuo​ ​life.
But​ ​once​ ​they​ ​come​ ​of​ ​age,​ ​girls​ ​are​ ​given​ ​their​ ​skirts,​ ​and​ ​men​ ​are​ ​given​ ​their​ ​pants
(thus,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​called​ ​the​ ​“skirt​ ​ceremony”​ ​for​ ​girls,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​“pants​ ​ceremony”​ ​for​ ​boys).
After​ ​coming​ ​of​ ​age,​ ​Mosuo​ ​females​ ​can​ ​get​ ​their​ ​own​ ​private​ ​bedroom;​ ​and,​ ​once
past​ ​puberty,​ ​can​ ​begin​ ​to​ ​invite​ ​partners​ ​for​ ​“walking​ ​marriages”.​ ​(Mosuo​ ​Culture,
2006)
Myths​ ​&​ ​Misconceptions
Common​ ​myth:​ ​Mosuo​ ​men​ ​don’t​ ​work,​ ​and​ ​are​ ​there​ ​mainly​ ​to​ ​fulfill
conjugal​ ​duties
This​ ​particular​ ​myth​ ​is​ ​more​ ​common​ ​in​ ​Chinese​ ​literature​ ​than​ ​English,​ ​but​ ​is​ ​a
particularly​ ​dangerous​ ​and​ ​misleading​ ​one.​ ​First,​ ​it​ ​promotes​ ​the​ ​myth​ ​that​ ​Mosuo
women​ ​are​ ​sexually​ ​promiscuous,​ ​with​ ​men​ ​kept​ ​essentially​ ​for​ ​providing​ ​sexual
gratification.​ ​And​ ​second,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​based​ ​on​ ​a​ ​sad​ ​misunderstanding​ ​of​ ​Mosuo​ ​history.
It​ ​is​ ​true​ ​that,​ ​traditionally,​ ​Mosuo​ ​women​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​take​ ​on​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​labour​ ​duties
at​ ​home.​ ​ ​ ​They​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​the​ ​animals,​ ​tend​ ​the​ ​fields​ ​and​ ​do​ ​work​ ​that​ ​by
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Western​ ​standards​ ​would​ ​be​ ​considered​ ​“manly​ ​work”.​ ​ ​However,​ ​this​ ​is​ ​due​ ​to​ ​a
historic​ ​division​ ​of​ ​responsibilities​ ​where​ ​Mosuo​ ​men​ ​were​ ​mostly​ ​traders,​ ​traveling
long​ ​distances​ ​by​ ​caravan​ ​to​ ​trade​ ​with​ ​other​ ​groups.​ ​Since​ ​the​ ​men​ ​were
frequently​ ​gone​ ​from​ ​home,​ ​the​ ​women​ ​were​ ​left​ ​to​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​the​ ​work.
However,​ ​when​ ​the​ ​men​ ​were​ ​at​ ​home,​ ​they​ ​would​ ​also​ ​share​ ​in​ ​the​ ​duties​ ​there.
Today,​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​having​ ​trading​ ​caravans​ ​has​ ​effectively​ ​ceased;​ ​with​ ​the​ ​result
that​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​primary​ ​male​ ​roles​ ​has​ ​been​ ​rendered​ ​irrelevant.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​true,
therefore,​ ​that​ ​you​ ​may​ ​often​ ​find​ ​men​ ​lounging​ ​around​ ​while​ ​women​ ​work​ ​hard;
and​ ​does​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​Mosuo​ ​men​ ​are​ ​lazy,​ ​it​ ​indicates,​ ​rather,​ ​the
need​ ​to​ ​define​ ​a​ ​viable​ ​new​ ​“male”​ ​role​ ​within​ ​the​ ​modern​ ​realities​ ​of​ ​Mosuo
culture.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​particularly​ ​interesting​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about,​ ​especially​ ​since​ ​we’re​ ​so​ ​used
to​ ​discussing​ ​gender​ ​roles​ ​and​ ​how​ ​they​ ​contrast​ ​each​ ​other.​ ​Mosuo​ ​males
however,​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​an​ ​issue​ ​with​ ​how​ ​their​ ​role​ ​is​ ​defined,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​often​ ​don’t
have​ ​roles​ ​to​ ​fulfill,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​the​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​duties​ ​for​ ​them​ ​to​ ​fulfill​ ​what​ ​makes​ ​this​ ​societal
structure​ ​so​ ​interesting​ ​and​ ​different​ ​from​ ​the​ ​patriarchy​ ​we​ ​live​ ​in.
Mosuo​ ​Women​ ​Today:​ ​How​ ​modern​ ​times​ ​have​ ​empowered​ ​this​ ​community
The​ ​Mosuo​ ​community​ ​upholds​ ​unique​ ​traditions,​ ​among​ ​them​ ​weaving,​ ​an
important​ ​cultural​ ​skill​ ​symbolizing​ ​the​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​provide​ ​for​ ​the​ ​family.
Luru-Dashima,​ ​a​ ​female​ ​artisan​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​community​ ​in​ ​southwest​ ​China,
never​ ​imagined​ ​ ​her​ ​painstakingly​ ​hand-woven​ ​scarves​ ​would​ ​sit​ ​atop​ ​shiny​ ​shelves
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in​ ​Tangs,​ ​an​ ​upscale​ ​Singaporean​ ​department​ ​store.​ ​But​ ​for​ ​its​ ​latest​ ​Christmas
sale,​ ​Tangs​ ​chose​ ​products​ ​not​ ​from​ ​Europe’s​ ​famous​ ​fashion​ ​houses​ ​but​ ​from
villagers​ ​located​ ​in​ ​a​ ​remote​ ​part​ ​of​ ​Yunnan​ ​Province.
Industrial​ ​mass​ ​production​ ​also​ ​had​ ​a​ ​profoundly​ ​detrimental​ ​effect​ ​on​ ​the
community’s​ ​way​ ​of​ ​life​ ​as​ ​local​ ​shop​ ​owners​ ​in​ ​the​ ​nearby​ ​tourist​ ​town​ ​of​ ​Lijiang
failed​ ​to​ ​appreciate​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​craft​ ​and​ ​sold​ ​the​ ​precious​ ​scarves​ ​at​ ​cut-rate​ ​prices
in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​be​ ​competitive​ ​with​ ​mass-produced​ ​goods.
“We​ ​do​ ​not​ ​know​ ​how​ ​to​ ​do​ ​business.​ ​Now​ ​scarves​ ​are​ ​made​ ​by​ ​machines,​ ​so​ ​sales
of​ ​our​ ​hand-woven​ ​scarves​ ​were​ ​particularly​ ​difficult,”​ ​says​ ​Aqi-Duzhima,​ ​leader​ ​of
the​ ​Mosuo​ ​Traditional​ ​Weaving​ ​Association.​ ​“We​ ​could​ ​not​ ​find​ ​a​ ​way​ ​out.”
To​ ​help​ ​the​ ​struggling​ ​community,​ ​the​ ​United​ ​Nations​ ​Development​ ​Programme
(UNDP)​ ​launched​ ​a​ ​culture-in-development​ ​project​ ​to​ ​introduce​ ​Mosuo​ ​craft​ ​to​ ​an
international​ ​audience​ ​and​ ​create​ ​new​ ​markets.
The​ ​project​ ​emphasizes​ ​the​ ​unique​ ​tradition​ ​and​ ​handmade​ ​aspect​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Mosuo’s
handicraft.​ ​Every​ ​scarf​ ​tells​ ​a​ ​story​ ​and​ ​shows​ ​that​ ​people’s​ ​passions​ ​and
livelihoods​ ​are​ ​deeply​ ​embedded​ ​in​ ​cultural​ ​roots​ ​and​ ​traditional​ ​way​ ​of​ ​life.
The​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​sell​ ​the​ ​scarves​ ​in​ ​Singapore​ ​raised​ ​the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​Mosuo
products.​ ​Each​ ​scarf​ ​sells,​ ​on​ ​average,​ ​for​ ​200​ ​Chinese​ ​Yuan​ ​(US​ ​$33),​ ​and​ ​the
weavers​ ​earn​ ​around​ ​$20​ ​per​ ​item.​ ​(UNDP,​ ​2016)
This​ ​portion​ ​was​ ​taken​ ​from​ ​an​ ​article​ ​written​ ​by​ ​UNDP.org,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​few​ ​sources
that​ ​has​ ​studied​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​women​ ​through​ ​the​ ​modern​ ​lens.
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Equality,​ ​Societal​ ​Issues​ ​and​ ​Gender​ ​Biases:​ ​What​ ​we​ ​can​ ​learn​ ​from​ ​the
Mosuo
First,​ ​in​ ​this​ ​tribe​ ​women​ ​do​ ​all​ ​the​ ​work​ ​–​ ​including​ ​physical​ ​labor.​ ​Men​ ​do​ ​little​ ​or
nothing​ ​all​ ​day.​ ​Second,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​no​ ​marriages​ ​in​ ​this​ ​tribe.​ ​Consequently,​ ​they
have​ ​no​ ​concept​ ​of​ ​‘husband’​ ​or​ ​‘father’.​ ​The​ ​Mosuo​ ​tribe​ ​is​ ​a​ ​clear​ ​example​ ​of​ ​how
gender​ ​roles​ ​are​ ​in​ ​fact​ ​“socially-ascribed”​ ​or​ ​socially​ ​appointed.​ ​Women’s​ ​biological
function​ ​of​ ​childbearing​ ​has​ ​been​ ​traditionally​ ​used​ ​as​ ​an​ ​argument​ ​for​ ​the
“natural”​ ​assignment​ ​of​ ​household​ ​responsibilities​ ​to​ ​women.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​known​ ​that
childbearing​ ​is​ ​biologically​ ​restricted​ ​to​ ​women,​ ​however,​ ​household​ ​work​ ​is​ ​socially
determined.In​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​society,​ ​men​ ​participate​ ​in​ ​child​ ​care​ ​as​ ​uncles​ ​and
brothers,​ ​but​ ​do​ ​little​ ​else.​ ​The​ ​assignment​ ​of​ ​productive​ ​work​ ​to​ ​women,​ ​including
physical​ ​labor,​ ​has​ ​less​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​biological​ ​functions,​ ​and​ ​more​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​the
social​ ​structure​ ​that​ ​matrilineal​ ​behaviors​ ​adopted​ ​by​ ​this​ ​community​ ​have
adopted.
Mosuo​ ​women​ ​give​ ​us​ ​a​ ​valuable​ ​lesson:​ ​contrary​ ​to​ ​fears​ ​raised​ ​by​ ​those​ ​who
hesitate​ ​to​ ​empower​ ​women,​ ​societies​ ​don’t​ ​fall​ ​apart​ ​when​ ​women​ ​have​ ​control.
In​ ​fact,​ ​the​ ​female-dominated​ ​society​ ​of​ ​Mosuo​ ​exists​ ​in​ ​love​ ​and​ ​harmony,​ ​an
evident​ ​contrast​ ​to​ ​male-dominated​ ​societies​ ​that​ ​exist​ ​in​ ​violence​ ​and​ ​hate.
The​ ​Mosuo​ ​people​ ​have​ ​successfully​ ​averted​ ​many​ ​social​ ​problems.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​result,
their​ ​language​ ​has​ ​no​ ​words​ ​for​ ​war,​ ​murder​ ​or​ ​rape.
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Although​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​experience​ ​is​ ​certainly​ ​far​ ​from​ ​the​ ​ideal​ ​of​ ​gender​ ​equality,​ ​it
shows​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​nothing​ ​natural​ ​or​ ​inevitable​ ​about​ ​gender​ ​biases.​ ​A​ ​bias​ ​for
one​ ​or​ ​the​ ​other​ ​is​ ​influenced​ ​by​ ​power​ ​relations​ ​and​ ​social​ ​roles,​ ​not​ ​biology.​ ​If​ ​we
truly​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​every​ ​individual​ ​–​ ​regardless​ ​of​ ​race,​ ​ethnicity​ ​or​ ​gender​ ​–​ ​is
entitled​ ​to​ ​the​ ​same​ ​privileges​ ​and​ ​benefits​ ​development​ ​has​ ​to​ ​offer,​ ​we​ ​must​ ​seek
to​ ​transform​ ​the​ ​very​ ​structures​ ​that​ ​perpetuate​ ​and​ ​reinforce​ ​inequalities.
Bibliography​ ​and​ ​works​ ​cited
(1)​ ​”Mosuo​ ​Culture.”​ ​Mosuo​ ​Culture​.​ ​Lugu​ ​Lake​ ​Mosul​ ​Cultural​ ​Development
Association,​ ​n.d.​ ​Web.​ ​08​ ​Dec.​ ​2016​. http://www.mosuoproject.org/mosuo.htm
(2)”Gender​ ​Lessons​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Mosuo​ ​People​ ​of​ ​China.”​ ​Action​ ​for​ ​Economic​ ​Reforms
(AER)​.​ ​N.p.,​ ​2010.​ ​Web.​ ​11​ ​Dec.​ ​2016
http://aer.ph/gender-lessons-from-the-mosuo-people-of-china/
(3)”China:​ ​Mosuo​ ​Women​ ​Artisans​ ​Reach​ ​World​ ​Market.”​ ​UNDP​.​ ​N.p.,​ ​n.d.​ ​Web.​ ​11
Dec.​ ​2016.
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http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/ourstories/mosuo-in-the-world-mark
et–from-remote-village-in-china-to-moder.html
(4)​ ​Gottner-Abendroth,​ ​Heide.​ ​”The​ ​Structure​ ​Of​ ​Matriarchal​ ​Societies.”​ ​Revision​21.3
(1999):​ ​31.​ ​MasterFILE​ ​Premier​.​ ​Web.​ ​11​ ​Dec.​ ​2016.
http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.colum.idm.oclc.org/eds/detail/detail?sid=279ffc7c-0d6b-
489a-bbbe-7102da44682b%40sessionmgr4008&vid=0&hid=4203&bdata=JnNpdGU9
ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=1593472&db=f5h
(5)​ ​Wu,​ ​Yunchuan,​ ​and​ ​Gunnar​ ​Haaland.​ ​”From​ ​House​ ​Structure​ ​To​ ​Gender
Relations:​ ​Exploring​ ​The​ ​Na​ ​(Mosuo)​ ​Of​ ​Yunnan​ ​Province,​ ​China.”​ ​Dhaulagiri:​ ​Journal
Of​ ​Sociology​ ​&​ ​Anthropology​ ​ ​3.(2009):​ ​19-40.​ ​SocINDEX​ ​with​ ​Full​ ​Text​.​ ​Web.​ ​11​ ​Dec.
2016.

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