Alternative Gender Roles – Greek and Western Cultures

Alternative Gender Roles are part of daily life and consequently are believed to have an important influence on the principles and deed of individuals.  The understanding of gender and sexuality in sociology and anthropology is generally very different from every day understandings(Greenberg, 1990). Sex refers to both bodily and biological traits that distinguish an individual as either a man or a woman while Gender defines the social experiences, customs, ethics and particular position that an individual uses to describe his/her experience of either masculinity or femininity (Espin 1987). The biological appearance usually dictates whether an individual is to be referred to as a man or woman and thus their expected behavior. However, there are individuals who do not fall under these conventional classifications either by choice or by their biological composition and physical appearance. These individuals are heterosexual, transgender, bisexual, gay, lesbian and individuals with peculiar and intersexual issues. Individuals of a given gender are largely expected to behave in a certain way and within given boundaries. Cultures across the world have different views when it comes to allowing individuals to live beyond these conventional boundaries. This paper is going to focus on Greek and Western cultures approach on the alternative gender concept and how the issue of alternative gender relates to the cultures’ symbolic systems such as religion, communication, or ritual(Greenberg,1 990).

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Variations in Homosexuality

In examining gender and sexuality, it is important to note that the Western culture concept of a two-gender structure is not automatically upheld by other worldwide cultures. Additionally, the modern societies’ understanding of gender is no longer unavoidably determined by physical appearances, sexual behaviors, choice of sexual mates, or gender-centered roles (Loizos &Papataxiarchis, 1991).

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The Greek-Cypriot culture and Alternative Gender Roles

In the past, Greece social customs dictated that older married men were to keep younger boys with whom they would have sexual relations, an act would be condemned today and such a man labeled a pedophile. The older man was expected to mentor the young boy they kept and initiate him into manhood. He would even help the young boy find a suitable bride when he became of age. Once the younger boy married, the older man would find another boy and go through the process again. This practice was meant to teach younger men bravery and help mold their character (Loizos &Papataxiarchis, 1991). Young boys would have exclusive homosexual relationship with their mentors and they would also be encouraged to become bisexuals after marriage. However, homosexuality between two adult men was considered disgraceful, more for the receiver. According to Greenberg, any passive partner in a two adult male homosexual relationship belongs to the lowermost depth of immorality and is not deserving of anyone’s respect or friendship. The Greek-Cypriot s even had a sneering expression, which they used to refer to any man with a beard who allowed another man to penetrate him, kinaidoi.

The evolving political, cultural, and family settings have given rise to varying attitudes regarding homosexual love, which came to be referred to as the “Greek vice”. Although the practice of married men having sexual relations with young boys has stopped, the society’s attitude towards mature homosexuals has not changed and it remains to be a notoriously homophobic country. Consequently, gay, lesbians and transsexuals undergo many social and legal challenges (Espin 1987). Conception of sexual conduct in the Greek-Cypriot culture is still closely tied to the ‘morality and disgrace’ system. This system determines the way men and women of Greek ethnicity view themselves when it comes to the issues regarding their sexuality. It also dictates how others view gay and lesbian individuals. Lesbian women are seen to threaten the Greek society’s male sexual honorable code. They are considered to have the power to make or break this code depending on how they behave in public. The Greek-Cypriot culture accepts that male sexual drive cannot be controlled and thus maintaining the moral code that calls for decent behavior is entirely the woman’s responsibility (Loizos &Papataxiarchis, 1991).

In Greek-Cypriot culture, young men are expected to live with their parents until marriage. The culture does not condone secrets among family members and all needs, emotional or otherwise are resolved communally. This makes it difficult for individuals to explore their sexuality and majority of those who do have a difficult time identifying with homosexuality as it is usually seen as betraying one’s family and community. Gay or lesbian individuals may be allowed to remain in the family but majority of families do not accept their sexual orientation but choose to live in denial instead (Espin 1987). A family would accept a gay son on condition that he did not disclose his sexual orientation to the public. For this reason, Greek-Cypriot gay men suppress their feelings, which in turn affect their self-worth negatively. There have been numerous cases of homophobic violence in Greek over the years and laws that fight for the rights of homosexuals face strong opposition. This shows that the Greek communities and the entire country at large have a long way to go before homosexuality can be accepted.

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The Western Culture and Alternative Gender Roles

The Western homosexual practice is reasonably recent and quite different from the Greek-Cyprus practices. Homosexuality in the western culture surfaced in the era when sexual relations were legally regulated by age and thus it is exclusive between two same sex adults. These relationships are also usually between people of approximately matching status. The initial manifestation of such relationships dates back in sixteen centuries, with England’s Molly houses pre-echoing modern homosexuality. Molly houses were that were recorded in 1700s as adults only male brothels. The receptive partners in the brothels were very feminine men. Historically, being an exclusive homosexual was rare and in most cases bisexual partners practiced it (Greenberg, 1990).

Homosexuality has been well embraced in modern western culture with most gay and lesbian individuals practicing it freely.  However, a good number still practices it secretly while others suppress their feelings for fear of being judged. In addition, majority of modern lesbians are apprehensive about conceding that homosexuality is deep-rooted and they prefer to view it as a choice instead. The Western culture tends to encourage promiscuity among gay men, a practice that has been restrained by high HIV prevalence. Nonetheless, a small group of gay men and a big fraction of lesbians are in monogamous relationships (Whitehead, 2009). Bisexuality is often seen as dormant homosexuality and thus bisexuals tend to be pressurized into becoming exclusive homosexuals.

Until recently, lesbianism has always been seen to represent sexual faithfulness in the western culture but over the resent years this has evolved to emphasize sexual pleasure over fidelity. Sexual relations between two women are more readily accepted than those between two men, especially by the straight male community (Whitehead, 2009). Additionally, the laws that look to protect the rights of homosexuals such as same sex marriages continue to face strong opposition in most countries. To deal with this resistance, more and more modern homosexual movements are coming into existence and campaigners. For instance, in San Francisco, gay men have built urban ghettoes where they live and provide social, professional, and sexual services.

Compare and Contrast Analysis

The Greek-Cypriot culture

The Western Culture

Happened between minors in the past

Only happened between adults

The passive male partner in an adult gay relationship holds a low social status

The partners’ role in the relationship does not affect their social status

Homosexuals are treated as second rate citizens

Homosexuals are treated equally to all the other citizens

Homosexuals are still subjected to violence due to heir sexual orientation to date

There are no recorded homophobic violence cases recorded over the past resent years

Cultural Context of Homosexuality and how it Relates to Symbolic Systems Such as Religion, Communication, or Ritual

There is a heated debate over homosexuality all over the world that is dominated with great differences about the acceptability of the practice, laws controlling same-sex marriages and punishments for homosexual behaviors. Globally, religion has proven to have a great influence on individual’s attitudes in relation to homosexuality. Nonetheless, cross-national variations in cultural orientations hint that the role-played by religion may be dependent on a population’s cultural context. In addition, some cultural beliefs and practices generate pressure for individuals to marry opposite sex partners (Greenberg, 1990). For instance, the Indian social structure, that require a man to prove his masculinity by fathering a child, In such cases, individuals with homosexuality preferences tend to enter into heterosexual unions in order to satisfy social expectations.

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Homosexuality relates with religion on various level with the major one being the religious views on same sex marriages. Although a number of religions, such as American Family Association, have embraced the concept, majority others are yet to do so (Greenberg, 1990).  Islamic religion prohibits homosexuality and sharia law carries a death penalty for gay men thus posing a big challenge for homosexual Islamic men as well as homosexuals living in Islamic nations. Such policies are against homosexual’s human rights. Cultural beliefs and attitudes also make it difficult for individuals to disclose their sexual orientation for fear of the consequences. When an individual does disclose, they could be disowned, looked down upon or isolated from their family, loved ones and the community (Espin 1987). This is traumatizing and could lead to mental illnesses as well as reduce the victim’s self worth.

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It is clear that identifying with homosexual orientations can be problematic. Any attempts to globalize such practices into a homogeneous group can be dangerous too as cultural factors play a major role in public opinion on same sex relationships. The society should come together to find solutions for the existing conflicts so as to ensure that every member of the community feels a part and to encourage individuals to live to the fullest without any fear of the consequences of their choice to fulfill a need as fundamental as sexual satisfaction.

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