In Swaziland, gender roles are strictly defined. Muhle explained to me that because Swaziland is a predominantly Christian state, the country’s idea of what it means to be feminine is much more conservative than in Western states. Girls are generally “more feminine, emotional, and conservative” than boys and are not allowed to wear pants around older men. Girls are also expected to be “quiet and soft spoken, if anything at all” and must be more respectful to adults.
Boys on the other hand are expected to be “bigger, faster, and stronger” and are not held to as many expectations as girls. Where women must wear shawls over their jeans in public, men adhere to the motto “boys will be boys” and are free to run around in only shorts if they would like. There is a large disparity of privileges between the sexes regarding social behavior but ultimately, both sexes are required to obey their gender roles.
The Swazi people are extremely devoted to their gender roles because of their religious background. When I asked Muhle about the stigma of homosexuality and transvestites in Swaziland he immediately shook his head. Both of these practices are “abominations” and are looked poorly upon by society. While Swaziland does have a Gay and Lesbian Association, the society’s emphasis on traditional gender roles suppresses and discourages straying from typical boy and girl characteristics.
Muhle began our conversation by telling me that the United States and Swaziland do not differ much on our views of gender roles. The only differences he has seen in the United States are that girls are less conservative and they treat their elders with less respect. Other than these two things Muhle does not believe that our stigmas of males and females differ. While I do not completely agree with his opinions, I acknowledge that the gender roles of Swaziland are much like previous views of males and females held by Americans. Like other aspects of Swaziland’s culture, I believe that gender roles will soon begin to become more Westernized and that females will be allowed a bit more individuality but because of its deep Christian roots, negative views of homosexuality and transvestitism may take more time to modify.