Learning about Traditional Gender Roles in Navajo Culture

by Brenda ’17

Today the group and I went to workshops designated for learning about Navajo culture, specifically about the traditional roles of Navajo women. The first woman we listened to talked about her experience growing up in a time when being Navajo was looked down upon and shamed so much that Navajo people sent to “boarding schools” were stripped of their native culture and language. A white man’s idea of making the indigenous people more Western and modern. The woman, also Miss Navajo 1977, talked to us about the traumatizing times she encountered nonchalantly. She merely laughed at the idea of being forcefully made to clean the bathroom with a tooth brush and made to write “I will not talk Navajo” over and over until her hand ached.

The second woman who talked to us, also Miss Navajo but from the year 2013, spoke to us about gender roles and didn’t personalize it as much as the first woman did. She spoke specifically about what was expected of women and it didn’t come to me as a shock when most of the roles and responsibilities mentioned were centered around women being in the kitchen doing domestic work. The only thing that was a bit shocking was how she included men in the roles that are traditionally for women. She said that “if needed” men could do the roles of women and vice versa. And although that isn’t equality it is more “progressive” then what some Navajo elders would say.

When thinking about both talks that were given to us today I can’t help but be reminded of my culture and parents. The abuse that the first woman endured sounded very familiar to me and would resonate with my dad and his schooling, though he endured that for educational purposes and not for the purpose of westernization. Gender roles are also deeply engraved in my Mexican culture, something that concerns me and makes me realize that change is needed.

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