Tag Archives: gender roles

Sudani Tradition: On Weddings

Context:

G is a 20 years old Animation and Digital Arts major from Birmingham, UK. Members of his family immigrated to Birmingham from Sudan. He is a junior at USC and has been living in the area for 3 years.

Text:

Please excuse any grammar issues, these are direct text message quotes. 

G: “at a Sudani wedding the bride and the groom spit milk at each other that is presented by the matriarch of both families”

Interviewer: “by any chance do you know background on that?”

G: “for the life of me i can’t remember why but i do know that whoever spits first is the person who is supposedly ‘in charge in the relationship’ […] and it’s for like commitment to one another ”

Interpretation:

G’s anecdote references something we’ve discussed a number of times in class – wedding traditions. To me, the significance here draws clearly on a number of common themes in folklore. For one thing, milk is white – associated with purity like many things at a wedding. What’s more, its role in nature and the human life cycle associate it with health and growth. Sudan is patriarchal in its gender roles, so I feel that this meaning is emphasized by the fact that it is the matriarch (mother figure) of each family that gives the bride or groom the milk. This is an apparent reference again to life cycle and growing out of youth. Like G said, spitting it first shows commitment and authority, though the internet mentions prosperity as well. In general, it seems this tradition is one done for luck at a major life moment, a frequent folkloric concept.

Sichuan Rhyme about Domestic Life

Text:

Original Script in Mandarin Characters:

锅你洗了哇? 碗你洗了哇? 脏衣服一抹多, 你都洗了哇?

Pronunciation in Sichuan Dielect, Noted in Mandarin Pinyin:

guō nī xī lě wā? Wān nī xī lě wā? Zāng yī fu yí mō duō, nī dōu xī lě wā?

Transliteration:

You wash the wok? You wash the bowl? Dirty clothes so many, you finish washing?

Translation:

Have you washed the wok? Have you cleaned the dishes? Have you done the laundry?

Context: 

The informant is a 24-year-old female who currently studies in the United Kingdom, and was born and raised in Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan province). Sichuan dialect is her first language. Like other Sichuan families, the informant’s family used to have their TV on at dinnertime around 7 to 8 PM, when the local channel plays a TV series called The Happy Henpecked (“幸福的耙耳朵”, “耙耳朵” means soft ears and specifically refers to henpecked husbands in Sichuan dialect). The informant first learned the aforementioned rhyme as the first few lines from a rap at the beginning of the series’ opening theme music. As the TV series and its theme music grew popular among Sichuan people, the rhyme became an identity marker of Sichuan people who have seen this widely-known TV series due to its catchiness and somewhat accurate depiction of the Sichuan domestic life.

Analysis: 

Henpecked husband is a Sichuan stereotype that is not only recognized locally, but also transforms into a joke across mainland China. Known for their fiery temper, Sichuan wives are portrayed as the dominant “head of the family” in Chinese mainstream media. The Happy Henpecked is a comedy that depicts Sichuan domestic life in a humorous way, and the content of the aforementioned rhyme communicates exactly what to expect from a dialogue between the series’ protagonists, when a “bossy” wife questions her husband how is his progress in doing chores. According to the informant, most Sichuan Gen-Zs and their elder family members likely remember the rhyme because the popularity of the TV series has made it Sichuan’s cultural symbol.

Structurally, the rhyme is broken into three questions, with the first two questions containing 5 characters each and the last one broken into 2 phrases of 5 characters each. In addition to its rigid structure, the three questions end the same with “洗了哇” (“Have you washed…”) and rhyme together. As for the tones of the endings, they all end with an upward tone which is favored in the way Chinese people usually end a question or a poem. 

Rejecting socially constructed gender roles and gender stereotypes, the rhyme portrays a domestic relationship symbolized by a dominant wife and a submissive husband who finishes most chores. Unlike what people oftentimes expect from a piece of folk speech decades ago, the Sichuan henpecked husband stereotype proposes an anti-conservative family dynamic that embodies a relatively new view on gender and domestic life.

Joke: A Man Believes his Wife is Going Deaf

Text: “There’s a man that thinks that his wife is going deaf, so he comes up with a plan so that every day, when he comes back from work, he’s gonna stand at the door and ask ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ And every time [the wife] doesn’t answer, he’s gonna take a step toward the kitchen, where she’s making dinner. So the man gets home from work and he goes ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ and he gets no answer, so he takes a step forward. And then he asks again, he goes ‘Honey what’s for dinner?’ and still no answer, so he takes another step forward. And he continues this until he’s right behind her and he asks again ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ and then she says ‘For the last time, I told you we’re having spaghetti!’”

Conext: This informant, A, is a 20 year old artist and a USC junior majoring in Interactive Media and Game Design. They moved around as a child, but have family in Los Angeles and attended high school in the area.

A believes they heard this joke from one of their grandparents, most likely their grandpa, and says that they know it’s funny because, “the first time [they] told [this joke] to [their mom], she was driving and started swerving because she was laughing so hard.”

A usually uses this joke when someone asks if they have any good jokes. They mentioned that “it’s pretty long,” so they’ll “always add it.”

Interpretation: There are a couple of ways this joke’s punchline could be interpreted, actually. The punchline seems to be most easily interpreted as the husband, rather than the wife, being the one who is going deaf. This is a joke which might land differently according to the person hearing it, because one might also interpret the punchline as a gendered/heteronormative stereotype of a wife who is always saying something along the lines of “I told you so!” to her husband. Both interpretations track with what we know about jokes in folklore. I would associate the first version with the idea of humor as a relief; of letting go of something the person telling it may have been repressing. In this case – nervousness about growing older. People are often anxious about growing older and potentially losing things like hearing, so they tell jokes about it instead. I find it particularly interesting that the informant was told this joke by someone older (a grandparent). The second interpretation of the joke is also pretty typical of popular humor, a gendered stereotype which places the wife in the kitchen, the husband at work, and the wife being somewhat snappy/bossy with the husband.

The Wedding Beat

Main Body:

Informant: This is one that I’m positive does not happen in my part of India, in my part of the community. I had not witnessed it until my brother got married. He was getting married and my sister-in-law was from Haryana (a northern state of India). And the wedding was in Chandigarh which is a big city. So this was after the wedding ceremony but we’re still all sitting around. My brother, the groom, gets called into a room. And he walked in, and there were always these little rituals to do so I suppose he thought it had something to do with that. And I walked in after him but someone stopped me. So my brother comes back out two or five minutes later, red in the face, and he told me that they all punched him on the back.

I mean, it wasn’t soft too, it was pretty serious. I thought it was funny. It was the bride’s family that did it and they laid into him pretty good. So they brought him in there under false pretenses and there were all these women –

Interviewer: So it was exclusively the women in the bride’s family?

Informant: Yeah, only women, not men. So it’s more of women in the bride’s family messing with the groom’s family. Here’s my theory, there were many women in there who probably were abused and this was their way of getting some of their thing out. And at my wedding, and your mom is from UP which is a different state. At a similar point in the wedding, and my brother in law was standing behind me. And some women from your mom’s family came and they hit my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. But it wasn’t like a fist, like how they hit my brother, it was open hand. It was on the back and they had some powder some turmeric on their hand so now they have a hand print on their nice suit. Funny thing, my brother-in-law starts yelling, “No you don’t hit the brother-in-law, you’re supposed to hit the groom!” Which is why, even though I haven’t heard of it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure this is a tradition in some sense.

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This also happened at his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I think this tradition comes from the women in the bride’s family fighting back at the patriarchal society they find themselves in. While done in jest, it could be argued that the women beating the groom is a warning for him not to do the same to the bride and to treat her right, otherwise he knows what’s awaiting him. Additionally, the example of a powdered handprint being left on a suit could suggest that the women are leaving their “mark,” much as a man would leave on a woman by beating her. They’re leaving a physical and a visual reminder that there is an entire family who is looking after the bride so she is to be treated well.The fact that the two examples discussed happened in different, yet nearby states, lends credence to this being a widespread tradition in northern India.

Appropriate Apparel for Ballroom Dance Competitions

“When we go to competitions, everybody dresses different ways. There’s this expectation that all the girls are going to be in dresses, and boys are going to be in suit jackets and/or, like, pants and other things (He gestures toward his torso, then his legs, as he names the items of clothing). This is a trend that we’re not happy about because people should be able to wear what they want when doing things, but ballroom is such a stereotyped endeavor that you tend to conform to these norms, and it is expected that you conform to particular gender norms. One of the gender norms that we have to go for is that the men all have their hair slicked back (He makes a hand motion above his head, miming slicking back his hair). There is, like, one hairstyle for men. If you have very nice hair that you already know how to style, like a part, and it’s a little bit high on top anyway, then you can leave it exactly how it is. Otherwise, you gel your hair directly backwards. I have seen some people recently try to do a part, but I’m not wild about that. It should be as directly back as you go, and this is stuff that I got from the University of Minnesota ballroom dance team as well. Everybody’s got the same hair. Some teams take this a step further, and all the men are wearing the exact same outfit. The BYU team, the Bringham team, all of their leads look exactly the same. They are cookie cutter copies of each other. They are all wearing the same black tie, black best, white shirt, black pants, black shoes, same haircut, same everything. They’re very uniform, and it’s terrifying because when they dance the same, it looks very scary. While the boys are expected to be cookie-cutter versions of themselves, the girls, from my perspective, are expected to wear different things to be flashy and show off. The standard is for the boys to look as boring as possible and the girls to look as exciting as possible: a dress that flows (he stretched out the work, gets louder, and starts making big gestures with his hands), and does a thing (he flutters his hand, mimicking the way skirts twirl when dancers turn), that is colored. It’s nice when boys’ outfits can match their ladies’ dresses, but it is usually done by maybe a matching a shirt. It’s becoming more common these days, often by matching a tie or sometimes socks, but never the pants. Never does the whole outfit really compliment her. It goes with the idea in the ballroom world that it’s more about showing off your partner as a lead than about doing the things yourself. That isn’t always true when you become a professional dancer, but mostly it’s about ‘Look at my partner! Isn’t she great? Isn’t she sexy?’”

Background Information and Context:

The traditional dress and gender roles that the informant shares here are based on his attendance at collegiate dancesport competitions as well as some observations of professional dancesport, which collegiate dancesport mimics in many ways. What he described is how almost all members of the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team dress at competitions. The informant has been a competitive ballroom dancer in the collegiate circuit for about six years and has taken on a sort of mentor role on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team, frequently giving new members advice on what judges expect of them at competitions. He began talking about the gendered differences in dancesport apparel when prompted to talk about competition costumes, which look unlike what most people would see in regular fashion.

Collector’s Notes:

Gender norms exist in every culture and aspect of society, but the strange world of dancesport (competitive ballroom dancing) often seems backwards, and not just because the dances in which we compete are very old. Even though it is appropriate for women to wear pants in everyday settings in America, even in more formal situations like business meetings or award shows, the sight of a woman in pants on a competitive dancefloor would be strange, even unwanted. The gendered nature of dancesport seems to be ingrained in the concept of a male lead and a female follow, mirroring (somewhat declining) societal expectations of male authority and female subservience. I found it interesting that this inequality is approached a slightly different way by informant, who seems to regret the absence of clothing choices for males and the nature of attention-grabbing turns and tricks, which mostly place the female at the center of attention. Still, the nature of this attention is questionable, as one could argue that it is not beneficial that the roles require the “sexy” partner to be shown off by her male partner.