Polygyny and gender : the gendered narratives of adults who were raised in polygynous families.
Zamambo, Valentine Mkhize.
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The thesis interrogates the gender identity construction of adults raised in polygynous families in the Hammarsdale area in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The study aims to contribute to the fields of gender and identity construction from an African perspective by examining gender relations in polygynous families of Zulu origin. As researcher I seek to highlight the complexities of the gender identities under investigation, as participants negotiate between modern, constitutional, individual freedoms and patriarchal, cultural, communal customs and traditions. Through the use of a qualitative interpretivist theoretical paradigm, I highlight how the communal processes; revealed in the views and perceptions of the research participants, intersect with my multidimensional positionality as researcher, to produce knowledge. I also position gender relations as an important dynamic in the data collection process. The body of data reveals that although women and men experience different influences on their gendered identity construction, both female and male study participants also cite certain similar factors prevalent in Zulu culture that have bearing on their gender identity construction, namely; gender role socialisation, naming practices, and the principle of seniority. African perspectives on concepts such as gender, feminism and the family are vastly different from their Western counterparts. Similarly, mechanisms of socialisation such as religion, capitalism and the law require context-specific application to the notion of polygyny. The study is underpinned by three key theoretical frameworks, namely; gender relations, social constructionism and African feminism. The gender relations approach entails three key concepts; power relations, sexual division of labour, and cathexis. The themes arising from the study point to the contestation between individuality and collectivism in the construction of gender identity within polygynous families in the Zulu culture. The South African Constitution guarantees gender equality and individual rights and freedoms for its citizens, yet customary law practices, such as polygyny, appear to contravene these principles. The study traces a sample of formally educated participants as they navigate this treacherous contradiction and construct culturally hybrid gender identities for themselves.