“As creators, women can be seen as powerful. But also as a threat. Hence early societies dealt with these tensions by incorporating ideas of duality and gender in their myths, stories, art, and architecture (Moran, 2008).”

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

A general stereotype for the progress of gender equalities lies with the belief that cultures around the world have always considered men as significantly more important than women–at least, that’s what I thought. I’m currently enrolled in an art history course here at Christopher Newport University and we’ve since discussed different cultures around the world that have, in fact, always considered women as sacred and appreciated (Moran, 2008). This came as a surprise to me. I  will use the Tamberan House as an example to show how women are perceived in other less “civilized” (meaning that they don’t have modern conveniences that many of us have) countries. The people of the Kinbangwa village of Papua New Guinea (where the photo was taken) definitely have the right idea when it comes to the importance of women in society.

Cultures like these typically thought of women as powerful creators because of their ability to reproduce (Moran, 2008). They cherished the idea of creation, and not just human creation, but other natural creations that include animals and plants (Moran, 2008). The Tamberan House above was reserved for men’s use only, but the shape and significance of the structure is supposed to replicate a woman’s womb–everytime the men exit the structure, they are “cleansed” spiritually, just as babies are born fresh into the world (Moran, 2008). Men also considered the power of women to procreate as a threat, too (Moran, 2008). Therefore, their myths and stories often include messages of “duality and gender” (Moran, 2008). Here, this culture has incorporated the duality and gendered theme into the structure by adding a symbolic representation of a penis at the top of the structure (Moran, 2008). Here, women may be separated in the sense that they are limited from certain rituals, but they are certainly not necessarily second class citizens, like many other cultures (including ours) have historically indicated (Gamble, 2003).

Exterior of Tamberan House. (20th century). Kinbangwa village, New Guinea. Carved and painted wood, with ocher pigments on clay ground.

Gamble, T. K., & Gamble, M. W. (2003). The Gender Communication Connection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Moran, E. (April 2008). Art of pacific cultures. Newport News, VA. Classroom lecture.

Moran, E. (April 2008). Email correspondence.

Stokstad, M. (2008). Art history: volume two. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

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