Gender- a social construct?

The Hibitoe Tribe

Gender as defined in the lecture refers to social practices and cultural roles associated with sex characteristics. Traditionally, males are required to work and support the family while the female are suppose to stay at home to look after the house and the family (Kaplan, 2012). However what we viewed as “natural” gender roles may not be so biological after all. In certain societies such as the Hibitoe tribe of Papua New Guinea, their social gender roles are of the reversed!

Men in the Hibitoe tribe take on the feminine role where they spend their day decorating their faces and bodies with coloured mud and pay extra attention to their hair and facial appearances. The women expression of gender roles is of the masculine side. In the day, they engage in hunting, farming, building, repairs of infrastructure, as well as the caring and upbringing of the children. Although this seems unfair to the woman since they have to work as well as take care of the children, their major role in religion, politics and the economy makes them the stronger sex. The men, on the other hand are seen as the weaker sex since they have to depend on women both financially as well as emotionally. Homosexuality in the Hibitoe tribe is also quite common and is not frowned upon by members of the tribe, as compared to our modern societies.

The film seems a little disturbing at first as it shows the reversed of what we thought is only natural in our societies. In Singapore, traditional gender roles are still the norm and cosmetic makeup is only seen as normal for women (though there is an increasing thread of cosmetics for men). Although there is an increase in gender equality in Singapore, such as women having equal access to education and job opportunities as compared to men, there is still some inequality in the house. Women are doing “second shifts” which means doing work and taking care of the house at the same time (McVeigh, 2012). Men though taking up more household chores are still doing relatively lesser than the women. This can also be compared to the Hibitoe tribe where women take up more work than the men both in the house as well as outside. However, the difference is that women in Hibitoe tribe are viewed as more superior than the men while this is not so in Singapore. Could modern societies therefore be moving along/towards the trend of the Hibitoe tribe with increasing metrosexuals and career women?I feel that this is an interesting (albeit a little disturbing) thought to ponder about.

The different interpretation of gender roles is an important idea in which many have argued that it is of a biological nature. Men , often labelled as aggressive and competitive would be more suited in working outside while women who are often labelled as demure and motherly would be expected to stay at home. By using the Hibitoe tribe as an example, we can see that gender roles in actual fact is just a social construct and that there is nothing “biological” to it. This would support the feminist and conflict theorists which state that the gender roles are created to oppress the opposite sex, which in most cases the women. This can be a reflective point for us as we consider whether our idea of the different gender roles in society is really unequal and dehumanizing, especially in the past where many laws such as educational laws are against women.

Watch the video of the Hibitoe tribe again at :

Kaplan, A. (2012). Traditional gender roles' devasting effect on the modern woman. Retrieved from:
McVeigh,T. (2012, March,10). Forty years of feminism- but women still do most of the housework. The Guardian. Retrieved from :

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