Gender in Western Society V.s Indigenous Cultures


A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures

The concept of gender coloniality was formed by María Lugones, a feminist philosopher; she explored this concept because of her interest in the differences that race, gender, class, and sexuality cause, and the violence that these lead to. She defines it as “the analysis of racialized, capitalist, gender oppression.” One thing that Lugones mentions frequently is the views that other cultures, such as Native American cultures and the Yoruba culture, have on gender and sexuality. She compares these views to the views that Eurocentered capitalism has, and has imposed upon other cultures.

The first culture she talks about is the Eurocentered one. In a Eurocentric culture people are based on both race and gender. Lugones wrote

“…thus “women” picks out white bourgeois women, “men” picks out white bourgeois men, “black” picks out black heterosexual men, and so on.”

In this quote, she is saying that a person is only defined by culturally-accepted, majority-accepted, ideas. In a Eurocentric culture men are always thought of first when you think of a person, because men are usually the ones in charge. You think bourgeois because the middle-class is the most populated class in the class system. You think heterosexual, cis men because those are the ideas of gender and sexuality accepted by society. This varies from other cultures, such as the Yoruba and Native American.

Lugones mentioned Oyéronké Oyewùmí’s writing The Invention of Women, in which she talks about the Yoruba culture and how Eurocentric culture negatively affected theirs’. Oyewùmí wrote

“…gender was not an organizing principle in Yoruba society prior to colonization by the West,” and continued on to say “… [It] become important in Yoruba studies not as an artifact of Yoruba life but because Yoruba life, past and present, has been translated into English to fit the Western pattern of body-reasoning.”

There are two important points in these quotes. The first is the fact that in Yoruba life, gender did not exist and yet without defining gender the people were successful. The second point is the fact that Western culture translated the Yoruban culture into terms of gender and identity. This Western obsession of putting everyone in 2 genders and 1 sexuality eventually overruled the Yoruba peoples’ concepts and lead to the male-bodied exerting dominance over the female-bodied, before the introduction of Western civilization the Yoruban culture did not believe in exerting dominance based on gender. The Native American cultures are both similar and different to that of the Yoruba.

In addition to using Oyewùmí’s work on the Yoruban culture, Lugones also used Paula Gunn Allen’s writing about various Native American cultures. Lugones explained Allen’s work by writing

“Many American Indian tribes ‘thought that the primary potency in the universe was female, and that understanding authorizes all tribal activities.’ Old Spider Woman, Corn Woman, Serpent Woman, Thought Woman are some of the names of powerful creators. For the gynecratic tribes, Woman is at the center and ‘nothing is sacred without her blessing, her thinking’.”

Within this quote, you can see that unlike the male-dominated Western culture, Native American culture believed that the power laid with females. In addition to this idea of a female lead society Allen wrote that

“Many of the tribes were gynecratic, among them the Susquehanna, Hurons, Iroquois, Cherokee, Pueblo, Navajo, Narragansett, Coastal Algonkians, Montagnais. She also tells us that among the eighty-eight tribes that recognized homosexuality, those who recognized homosexuals in positive terms included the Apache, Navajo, … Twenty of these tribes included specific references to lesbianism.”

Within this quote it is evident that Native American cultures believed in and were positive towards female power and homosexuality in men and women. This is much different from Western cultures, even today in 2017. People still have issues with women being in power and homosexuals and non-binary people still have to fight for their rights. The Yoruban culture, as well as multiple Native American cultures accepted people regardless of many things, and were even positive towards them; that is until Western colonization took over and infected these cultures.


Lugones, Maria. “The Coloniality of Gender.” The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Development (2016): 13–33. Web.

Zevallos, Dr Zuleyka. “Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native American “Two Spirit” People.” The Other Sociologist. N.p., 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

Bakare-Yusuf, Bibi. “YORUBA’S DON’T DO GENDER: A CRITICAL REVIEW OF OYERONKE OYEWUMI’s: The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses.” Https://www.codesria.org/IMG/pdf/BAKERE_YUSUF.pdf. N.p., n.d. Web.