In the mountains around Lugu Lake, near the border between China’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, live about 56,000 people who enjoy a family system that has perplexed and fascinated travelers and scholars for centuries. The Mosuo revere Lugu Lake as the Mother Goddess, while the mountain towering over it, Ganmo, is respected as the Goddess of Love. Their language is not written, being rendered in Dongba, the sole pictographic language still used in the world today. They have no words for murder, war, or rape. The Mosuo’s relaxed and respectful tranquility is accompanied by a nearly absolute sexual freedom and autonomy for both men and women.
In 1265, Marco Polo passed through the Mosuo region and later recalled their unashamed sexuality, writing, “They do not consider it objectionable for a foreigner, or any other man, to have his way with their wives, daughters, sisters, or any other women in their home. They consider it a great benefit, in fact, saying that their gods and idols will be disposed in their favor and offer them material goods in great abundance. This is why they are so generous with their women toward foreigners.” “Many times,” wrote Polo, with a wink and a nudge, “a foreigner has wallowed in bed for three or four days with a poor sap’s wife.”
Macho Italian that he was, Polo completely misread the situation. He misinterpreted the women’s sexual availability as a commodity controlled by the men, when in fact, the most striking feature of the Mosuo system is the fiercely defended sexual autonomy of all adults, women as well as men.
The Mosuo refer to their arrangement as sese, meaning “walking.” True to form, most anthropologists miss the point by referring to the Mosuo system as “walking marriage,” and including the Mosuo on their all-encompassing lists of cultures that practice “marriage.” The Mosuo themselves disagree with this depiction of their system. “By any stretch of the imagination, sese are not marriages,” says Yang Erche Namu, a Mosuo woman who published a memoir about her childhood along the shores of Mother Lake. “All sese are of the visiting kind, and none involves the exchange of vows, property, the care of children, or expectations of fidelity.” The Mosuo language has no word for husband or wife, preferring the word azhu, meaning “friend.”
The Mosuo are a matrilineal, agricultural people, passing property and family name from mother to daughter(s), so the household revolves around the women. When a girl reaches maturity at about thirteen or fourteen, she receives her own bedroom that opens both to the inner courtyard of the house and to the street through a private door. A Mosuo girl has complete autonomy as to who steps through this private door into her babahuago (flower room). The only strict rule is that her guest must be gone by sunrise. She can have a different lover the following night—or later that same night—if she chooses. There is no expectation of commitment, and any child she conceives is raised in her mother’s house, with the help of the girl’s brothers and the rest of the community.
Recalling her childhood, Yang Erche Namu echoes Malidoma Patrice Somé’s description of his African childhood, explaining, “We children could roam at our own will and visit from house to house and village to village without our mothers’ ever fearing for our safety. Every adult was responsible for every child, and every child in turn was respectful of every adult.
Among the Mosuo, a man’s sisters’ children are considered his paternal responsibility—not those who may (or may not) be the fruit of his own nocturnal visits to various flower rooms. Here we see another society in which male parental investment is unrelated to biological paternity. In the Mosuo language, the word Awu translates to both father and uncle. “In place of one father, Mosuo children have many uncles who take care of them. In a way,” writes Yang Erche Namu, “we also have many mothers, because we call our aunts by the name azhe Ami, which means ‘little mother.’
In a twist that should send many mainstream theorists into a tailspin, sexual relations are kept strictly separate from Mosuo family relations. At night, Mosuo men are expected to sleep with their lovers. If not, they sleep in one of the outer buildings, never in the main house with their sisters. Custom prohibits any talk of love or romantic relationships in the family home. Complete discretion is expected from everyone. While both men and women are free to do as they will, they’re expected to respect one another’s privacy. There’s no kissing and telling at Lugu Lake.
The mechanics of the açia relationships, as they are referred to by Mosuo, are characterized by a sacred regard for each individual’s autonomy—whether man or woman. Cai Hua, a Chinese anthropologist and author of A Society without Fathers or Husbands, explains, “Not only do men and women have the freedom to foster as many açia relationships as they want and to end them as they please, but each person can have simultaneous relationships with several açia, whether it be during one night or over a longer period.” These relationships are discontinuous, lasting only as long as the two people are in each other’s presence. “Each visitor’s departure from the woman’s home is taken to be the end of their açia relationship,” according to Cai Hua. “There is no concept of açia that applies to the future. The açia relationship … only exists instantaneously and retrospectively,” although a couple may repeat their visits as often as they wish.
Particularly libidinous Mosuo women and men unashamedly report having had hundreds of relationships. Shame, from their perspective, would be the proper response to promises of or demands for fidelity. A vow of fidelity would be considered inappropriate—an attempt at negotiation or exchange. Openly expressed jealousy, for the Mosuo, is considered aggressive in its implied intrusion upon the sacred autonomy of another person, and is thus met with ridicule and shame.
Sadly, hostility toward this free expression of female sexual autonomy is not limited to narrow-minded anthropologists and thirteenth-century Italian explorers. Although the Mosuo have no history of trying to export their system or convincing anyone else of the superiority of their approach to love and sex, they have long suffered outside pressure to abandon their traditional beliefs, which outsiders seem to find threatening.
Once the Chinese established full control of the area in 1956, government officials began making annual visits to lecture the people on the dangers of sexual freedom and convince them to switch to “normal” marriage. In a bit of dubious publicity reminiscent of Reefer Madness, Chinese government officials showed up one year with a portable generator and a film showing “actors dressed as Mosuo … who were in the last stages of syphilis, who had gone mad and lost most of their faces.” The audience response was not what the Chinese officials expected: their makeshift cinema was burned to the ground. But the officials didn’t give up. Yang Erche Namu recalls “meetings night after night where they harangued and criticized and interrogated…. [The Chinese officials] ambushed men on their way to their lovers’ houses, they dragged couples out of their beds and exposed people naked to their own relatives’ eyes.”
When even these heavy-handed tactics failed to convince the Mosuo to abandon their system, government officials insisted on bringing (if not demonstrating) “decency” to the Mosuo. They cut off essential deliveries of seed grain and children’s clothing. Finally, literally starved into submission, many Mosuo agreed to participate in government-sponsored marriage ceremonies, where each was given “a cup of tea, a cigarette, pieces of candy, and a paper certificate.”
But the arm-twisting had little lasting effect. Travel writer Cynthia Barnes visited Lugu Lake in 2006 and found the Mosuo system still intact, though under pressure from Chinese tourists who, like Marco Polo 750 years earlier, mistake the sexual autonomy of Mosuo women for licentiousness. “Although their lack of coyness draws the world’s attention to the Mosuo,” Barnes writes, “sex is not the center of their universe.” She continues:
I think of my parents’ bitter divorce, of childhood friends uprooted and destroyed because Mommy or Daddy decided to sleep with someone else. Lugu Lake, I think, is not so much a kingdom of women as a kingdom of family—albeit one blessedly free of politicians and preachers extolling “family values.” There’s no such thing as a “broken home,” no sociologists wringing their hands over “single mothers,” no economic devastation or shame and stigma when parents part. Sassy and confident, [a Mosuo girl will] grow up cherished in a circle of male and female relatives…. When she joins the dances and invites a boy into her flower room, it will be for love, or lust, or whatever people call it when they are operating on hormones and heavy breathing. She will not need that boy—or any other—to have a home, to make a “family.” She already knows that she will always have both.
The Mosuo approach to love and sex may well finally be destroyed by the hordes of Han Chinese tourists who threaten to turn Lugu Lake into a theme-park version of Mosuo culture. But the Mosuo’s persistence in the face of decades—if not centuries—of extreme pressure to conform to what many scientists still insist is human nature stands as a proud, undeniable counter-example to the standard narrative.
From Christopher Ryan’s & Cacilda Jethà’s Sex at Dawn. To know that such a truly love-oriented, feminist society is so strongly threatened by outside influences really breaks my heart. I want to find out more about the Mosuo people.
Note: Angela Zhang is Chinese-American
at age 17, i found out that a bird was not a fucking mammal
birds aren’t mammals?
You know what’s not fucking cool? Cultural appropriation.
You know what is fucking cool? Buying clothing inspired by a culture that is designed by the people of that culture.
Think Native styles are cool? Here, let introduce you to Patricia Michaels of Toas Pueblo. She is a Native woman who designs amazing clothes inspired by her heritage. She knows what from her culture is appropriate for mass-production and what is meant to be sacred, hand-made, or inherited. When you buy her clothes (available at her store Waterlily), or any Native person’s products, you’re giving your money directly to the cultures you claim to respect and admire. When you buy bullshit knockoffs from American Eagle, however, you’re being an asshole.
And seriously though look at her clothes they’re fucking amazing this woman is talented.
she’s also having a kickstarter to help start a company, so it would be super cool if people could chip in even a little bit to help her!
Now this is super awesome.
(Source: , via what-ciabatta-with-you)
Holy mother of wow her fashion sense nnnnnghhhhhhhhhh
me ridin in to whoop ur butts
file under: people i would follow into battle
Real life “Rosie the Riveter” - Tennessee, 1943.
GLORIFY THE SHIT OUT OF THIS IMAGE
I don’t know if some of you have been to these live reads at LACMA, where a classic film is read live on stage by actors who just sit and read the script. We did one recently of American Pie, but we reversed the gender roles. All the women played men; all the men played women. And it was so fascinating to be a part of this because, as the women took on these central roles — they had all the good lines, they had all the good laughs, all the great moments — the men who joined us to sit on stage started squirming rather uncomfortably and got really bored because they weren’t used to being the supporting cast.
It was fascinating to feel their discomfort [and] to discuss it with them afterward, when they said, “It’s boring to play the girl role!” And I said, “Yeah. Yeah. You think? Welcome to our world!"
Can I just say that I think this is the way Mulan should appear int the parks. In the beginning of the movie they make it very clear that the dress she wears to meet the matchmaker is not comfortable nor does it represent her personality. She spends the whole of the film proving that she is not a prize to be won or just a pawn to be married off at earliest convenience. She proves her worth in this outfit. She saves China in this outfit. She falls in love in this outfit. She risks her life, makes her strongest friendships, and changes the entire country IN THIS OUTFIT. Then they have her walk around the park in the same outfit she wore in the first scene of the movie and I think it is really negative toward her character. That is not who she is.
I’ve seen this post pop up on my dash time and time again, and it’s never quite sat right with me. I agree 120% with the idea that the pink “matchmaker dress” is a poor way to represent Mulan in the theme parks, but… so is her soldier armor. It’s just as much not who she is as the pink dress. It represents her pretending to be Ping, and her deceiving everyone around her. It is her pretending to be a man, to be someone else entirely. Honestly, if you want to talk about the outfit that best represents her, I’d suggest this one:
The outfit she wore when she defeated Shan Yu. That is who Mulan is; a warrior, but still a woman. It displays all of the strength that she truly has, yet still manages to be true to who she truly is. This it the outfit that she changed the entire country in; would anything have changed if she was still pretending to be a man? I doubt it. This proves that a woman can be strong, but still be feminine. Given that many people tend to equate being feminine with weakness, I think portraying that the two are not mutually exclusive is a damn powerful message to be portraying to kids in theme parks.
Just my two cents.
PHILLIS WHEATLEY, THE PHILOSOPHER POET
The statue is part of the Boston Women’s Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue, a series of three statues of Bostonian women by Meredith Bergmann: Wheatley, Abigail Adams, and Lucy Stone.
Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753-1784), an eighteenth-century African-American woman who was a slave and a poet, was the first black American to be published. She is also credited with originating the genres of African-American poetry and African-American women’s literature.
“I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’”
What fighting like a girl was all about in Georgian Era Britain —- Elizabeth “Lady Bare Knuckles” Stokes
Think that women’s boxing or MMA fighting is a recent development in fighting sports? Think again. From the 18th to early 19th century it was not uncommon for women to fight in the ring as well as men. Back then boxing was not the boxing of today, not by a long shot. Venues tended to be saloons, pubs, small arenas, or even open streets and back-alleys. Rules differed from venue to venue, but for the most part fights were done bare knuckled, and many fights were a no holds barred type setup. Some fights even included deadly weapons such as clubs, swords, and staves. Needless to say, injury and death was common.
One of the most famous female fighters in early 18th century Britain was Elizabeth Stokes (born Elizabeth Wilkinson), a mother and fighter whose career lasted mostly throughout the 1720’s. In 1722 she was challenged by Hannah Highfield for a prize of three guineas. Stokes accepted the challenge by offered a counter challenge,
“I, Elizabeth Wilkinson of Clerkenwell, who had earlier had some words with Hannah Hyfield, ‘challenged and invited’ her adversary to meet her on the stage for three guineas. Each fighter would hold half-a-crown in each hand and the first to drop the money would lose the battle”
Elizabeth won after a 22 minute fight, giving Hannah Hyfield a savage thumping that caused her to drop her coin. Later in the evening she won another fight against a woman named Martha Jones.
After the fight with Hannah Hyfield Stoke’s career took off, making her the most popular female fighter in Britain and earning her the name “Lady Bareknuckles”. After marrying her husand James Stokes, the couple often fought in paired and tag-team matches. Incredibly Stoke’s even fought men on a number of occasions, something that was rare in bareknuckle boxing. Even more incredibly, she trounced them every time, beating the crap out of them with her swift and powerful fists. Not only was she a master pugilist, Stokes was also skilled with weapons as well. She was known to be particularly skilled with the cudgel and short sword.
By the mid 19th century women’s fighting had come to a close as professional organizations, rules, and Victorian Era prejudices against women drove the sport underground and turned fighting into a gentlemen’s sport.
#THIS IS FREAKIN COOL AS SHIT #can we just note the last paragraph #’victorian era prejudices against women drove the sport underground’ #you’re saying ‘turned fighting into a gentleman’s sport’ but all i’m seeng is VICTORIAN LADY FIGHT CLUB#WHERE ARE THE NOVELS? GIVE ME NOVELS #MAKE THE LADIES KISS#MAKE THE LADIES TELL THEIR HUSBANDS THEY’RE OFF TO SEE THEIR SISTERS FOR TEA #MAKE THE LADIES SWAP TIPS ON HOW TO BANDAGE THEIR KNUCKLES AND CONCEAL BRUISES WITH POWDER #MAKE THE LADIES PASS EACH OTHER FLASKS OF BRANDY WHILE THEY’RE SITTING ON THE SIDELINES TENDING THEIR INJURIES AND WATCHING THE NEXT FIGHT#MAKE THE LADIES WEAR LOOSE BREECHES AND PRACTICAL RIDING BOOTS#MAKE THE LADIES COME FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE; MAKE A PICKPOCKET STRIKE UP A FRIENDSHIP SLASH RIVALRY WITH THE DAUGHTER OF A COUNTESS #MAKE THE LADIES KISS!!!!!!!!!!!!! #i’m fine. i’m fine. #history (via marthur)
Daughters of the horse-leech, thy tempest out-thunders me.
source: Israel Zangwill, Without Prejudice, 1899. This description, at the time meant to be as absurd a set of charges and demands as could be placed in a straw woman’s mouth, today reads like a beautiful manifesto.