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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 1990
  • Online publication date: June 2012

16 - Male dominance and sexual coercion


Without an understanding of the seamy side of sexuality there is no understanding of politics.

Norman O. Brown, Love's Body

The entire matter of gender relationship is so caught up in the politics of social change that it is hard to look at issues such as “dominance” or “sexual coercion” dispassionately. I will try to do so, using information from a variety of societies and focusing on one culture, that of the Mehinaku Indians of Brazil. My intention is to explore the ways in which sexual coercion functions as both symbol and substance of male dominance. This is not a novel idea. But it is one whose significance has not been adequately explored from a comparative perspective. Moreover, it is of importance to a general theory of gender and human development. The inherent asymmetry of sexual coercion creates two radically different male and female worlds. A woman who matures in a society where coercion is prevalent will come to see herself as simultaneously sexual and vulnerable. A male's self-concept will also reflect an alternately aggressive and protective relationship to women. Ultimately, in this setting, gender relationships will be eroticized in ways that intertwine sexuality, interpersonal control, and community level politics. The process is observable in large, complex societies such as our own. It is even more visible in small-scale societies such as the Mehinaku, where sexual coercion is relatively frequent and gang rape is built into religion and justified by supernatural sanctions.