In a distant village in rural China, men tiptoe to a different partner’s home every nightfall. The Na community is known for its system of open sexual relationships and feminist empowerment, but the village faces the consequences of media’s sensationalized rhetoric, according to Prof. Tami Blumenfield, anthropology, Furman University.
At a lecture Monday, Blumenfield explored the underlying culture of the Na community in Yunan, China, where she conducted anthropological field research. In this community, marriages and formal relationships do not exist, and women play an active role in village life.
Amidst this global fascination with this matriarchal community, the men of the Na village are often falsely stereotyped as “lazy” and “immature” counterparts to the women in the media, according to Blumenfield.
“It’s a little complicated, what you see,” Blumenfield said. “You could just as easily show him sitting in the field smoking a cigarette, and then say, ‘Look at the men, they’re so lazy, they’re not responsible for anything because they live in this country where women do all the work.’”
However, the men actually play an active role in the functioning of the village, performing duties such as farming crops and caring for their extended families, Blumenfield explained.
“People say, ‘Men don’t need to work,’” Blumenfield said. “That’s not true — it’s not that they rest all day. They do the fishing, farming and take care of preserving and killing animals so that people have things to eat all winter.”
Blumenfield explained that this sensationalization of the Na village as a rare matriarchy stemmed from a broader effort to fulfill the Western dreams of an ideal society.
“I would speculate this has a lot to do with people’s dissatisfaction with the patriarchal culture they do find themselves in,” Blumenfield said. “When you hear about a place where women are empowered, that activates a lot of people’s wishes and longings. It’s a funny culmination of desires and wishes that people’s own families were different.”
Blumenfield added that the Na community cannot be summarized into one generalization, because the culture holds the intricacies of a diverse population.
“We have to keep in mind that there are many different layers to identity,” Blumenfield said. “So all those roles that I showed you — a religious specialist, or a younger man, older man, or middle-aged man living in a different place — those are different aspects of identity that intersect to create our gender identity and our presentation to the world.”
Blumenfield argued that society should therefore approach the media’s message of the Na community with a sensitive mind.
“We have to remember masculinity is different things to different people,” Blumenfield said. “People are always thinking, ‘Okay, which is my audience and how do I appeal to that person.’ It sometimes relates to what reality is in that community, and sometimes not exactly.”