Gender Relationships; Salish Women’s Roles

Throughout different cultures we can see that the gender role that we in Western culture assume for men and women is actually not a universal system. Often within Western culture, the male is the dominant leader of the household although this is changing as we integrate other ideals. However, when looking at the Salish women, we can see that the male dominance is not an issue for them as they are very independent and often dominate through their actions.

“In the western world, men are expected to court women. In the Salish world, the adoption of this courtship tradition is in its infancy. In the original Salish cultures, it was the women who chose the partners and our women Elders who negotiated the marriage- if there was even going to be one. If a woman desired a man and no marriage was in the offing for her, there was going to be an affair of the heart, because women were free to indulge in sexual activity if and when they pleased. Unlike some other First Nation cultures, sex and morality were not that tightly connected (again, pardon the pun)” (Marcle. 4).

In western culture, the man asks the woman out on a date as well as the man asking the woman to marry him… females RARELY perform these roles. This is not saying they never do, but when it does, it is rare. This gives males a more dominant role to play within the relationship; giving him the power in deciding when, where, and how these proposals will take place. However, when looking at the Salish women, they dominate the relationship with their ability to decide the logistics of a relationship.

This female dominance and independence carries on in other areas of the Salish women’s lives. Women felt that they were much more important than the men in society as they were the ones who bared children. “The heroes in most of our flood stories are women- sisters who saved Elders, other sisters, their children, or sacrificed themselves for expectant mothers and the like. The women did not generally rescue men. At least, if any woman did rescue a man, that story did not get handed down in my family. I am not sure if this is true but my mother and grandmother used to say that women did not try to save the men because they couldn’t save both men and women and while it takes all the women to repopulate a village, it only takes one man” (Marcle. 6-7).   Women were seen as a valuable source for their communities, and from my understanding they have been appreciated for many years. As the women pass on these stories to their children, they continue with the idea of female dominance and superiority over men.

The women supported each other more than the men supported them. “The loss of her sister meant the loss of her assistance and the winter became increasingly difficult and fraught with hardship” (Marcle 8). The women’s reliance on their fellow women around them is unlike the Western society; although we do rely on our friends and family for help, our husbands are often given the role of provider and protector. Women’s dominance is also shown throughout their intimate relationship; women used their “bumblebee dance” or “weasel medicine” to seduce the men into doing what the women wanted, therefore getting them pregnant. Through Marcle’s story the men are made to seem dumb and uninformed about the basics in the world around them; for example not knowing where babies come from.

However, the men did help in a way; of course not in our stereotypical western way, but in their own way. The women saw the men as a way to have a baby, and we saw this through the two women’s discussion. One had already been impregnated by him and convinced the other women to do the same. We discussed in class how it was not that the women saw the men as less equal to themselves; they just saw the importance and need within their society for women.

Cultures have different views, opinions, traditions, ideals, and acts that they believe and perform however it does not make them unequal to us (western society), and should be looked at from a broader view. Often we become closed minded to ideals, such as gender roles and therefore shut out new ideas.

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4 thoughts on “Gender Relationships; Salish Women’s Roles

  1. I love this post. Great use of the course material! 🙂 By the way… that picture… I’ve never seen anything like that- how is that acceptable? At all? (Not in your blog I mean, but as a poster!)

  2. Pingback: Mothers | It's all kids stuff.

  3. I agree with Jenn! That picture is totally unacceptable in a wold that claims to be more tolerant of females and thier agency (but I really like that you included it in your post)! At the same point, I feel that there are groups and individuals out there who unfortunately still feel this way-perhaps not to the violent extent that this picture depicts, but definitely that women have a place and should be kept in it. I cannot imagine being a woman of a minoritiy group and being subjected to the oppressive gender ideals on top of it, as the women in First Wives Club: Salish Style were and had to overcome.

  4. I really enjoyed your post on the Salish Women and their roles within their culture. It is interesting to see the differences between cultures and their views on gendered roles. It is refreshing to see that women pass down stories to their children where they woman have the higher powered dominance in a relationship. As well as the fact women had each other as a support system and did not have to rely solely on men.

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