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Cross-cultural dispatches from the gender wars

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Cross-cultural dispatches from the gender wars

1. Among the Native American Navajo, cultural tradition assigns gender to the rain. Male rain is the brief, drenching, thunderous storms of late summer. Female rain is the long, soft, dampening drizzle of winter. It is further believed that male rain acts as a power wash and drives off whatever bad there is. Female rain acts as a tender rinse and brings forth the colour of the grass and wild flowers of the springtime.

2. In the West African nation of Senegal, it was customary for a man to declare just before his first marriage whether or not he intended to marry additional wives later on. The first wife and her family could then hold him to his promise - one way or the other.

3. European marriages have the tradition of wedding rings. In various parts of Brazil, engaged couples wear gold bands on their right hands, then switch the same gold bands to their left hands upon marriage.

4. The Chamula people of Mexico practice a six-month trial marriage to see if the couple can live together successfully. What makes this arrangement different from what we so often practice is that this trial marriage is without sex.

5. In the remote northwestern desert region of China, there is an oasis town by the name of Hami. It is a customary courtesy for both married and unmarried women to offer themselves to any traveling man. It is seen as merely good manners among a people who highly value good manners in all things (by the way all you men out there, the tour bus leaves for Hami in five minutes!).

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

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