Gender Roles in Hopi and Navajo Culture

1 January 2017

In Navajo mythology the most important figure is that of Changing Woman, who gave birth to the twin heroes who contributed much of what the Navajo consider to be their special culture. In daily life the important social units are those centering around a core of women—mother, daughter, sisters, and their sons and daughters.

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Affinal relatives, those who are relatives by marriage, play an important but peripheral role. Women are privy to religious and magical lore and can become practioners. In the relationship between the sexes, women are often the instigators, as symbolized in the selection of dance partners in the Squaw Dance and in the control over courting behavior exhibited by girls and women. Children consider themselves as part of the descent group of their mother.

Generally, after marriage, the couple lives with the bride’s mother. Hopi society, like the Navajo is matriarchal. This was told to the Hopi by Spider Woman when she said, “The woman of the clan shall build the house, and the family name shall descend through her…” Spider woman also defined the roles that men would have when she said, “The man of the clan shall build kivas of stone… [He] shall weave the clan blankets….

The man shall fashion himself weapons and furnish his family with game. ” A Hopi household normally consists of a woman and her husband, married daughters and their husbands, unmarried sons, and children of the daughters. The women are the important members of the unit; they own the house, are responsible for the preparation and distribution of food, make all the important decisions, and care for the ritual possessions of the family.

The oldest woman of the family enjoys the most respect, followed by the oldest daughter. When men marry, they move away to live with their wife’s family, although they return frequently to take part in family activities, in this way renewing lineage ties frequently. Women of the village never leave. An older woman of the lineage is the head of the clan and her brother or maternal uncle usually performs the necessary rituals of the clan.

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