Identifying Resistance

Research that has sought out and analyzed incidents of resistance has also contributed to the understanding of gender's role in demographic change. Resistance, of course, comes in many shapes and has any number of directions or targets. Women or men might resist their proscribed roles as wives, husbands, fathers, or mothers; they can resist those who keep them from their own goals; they might resist policies (pronatalist or antinatalist policies, for example); or they could resist something even less tangible, such as new changes that influence their lives. Resistance may be overt and direct, like the collective protests over abortion and abortion rights in the United States (Ginsburg 1989; Luker 1985) or it may consist of small, hidden acts that may be difficult to identify as resistance (Scott 1990; see Kligman 1998 on Romania's population policies and resistance to them).

We have already seen evidence of resistance in some of the literature discussed above. For example, young women in Japan are resisting by postponing marriage. In that case, they are resisting the expected roles of adult women. While the motivation of such resistance may be individual (women are not taking to the streets as a group to protest marriage), the outcome may have effects well beyond the individual level. As Tsuya argues, the resistance exhibited by young women suggests that in order to stop or reverse the fertility decline and other societal changes caused at least partly by this marriage delay, large societal changes might be necessary. In particular, she argues that ''we need to make the gender system more equitable by bringing about changes in different spheres of the society . . . home, market, and government'' (Tsuya 2000: 344).

In this case, then, we have an example of how gender relations in the society affect demographic changes which may in turn affect gender relations.

A similar case of individual resistance culminating in changes in gender relations at the societal level can be seen in China, although in a significantly different way. As Greenhalgh (1994), White (2000), and others have reported, women in rural China often resist the birth planning policy that limits their fertility, but that resistance is often hidden from others. Thus, some women who are pregnant with an "out-of-quota" (thus illegal) child hide from authorities (and others) until the birth; other women quietly remove IUDs that have been inserted during official birth control campaigns; still others resort to the abortion of female fetuses or the abandonment of girl infants. These resistances suggest a way that women assert their own goals and mechanisms to achieve a more desirable family size or structure. These actions testify to both women's disagreement with the policy and the "influence of traditional patriarchal culture... which... places family loyalty and filial obligation, not socialist ethics, at the center of the childbearing calculus'' (White 2000: 111).

Although women's actions in these situations are not the kind commonly referred to when we talk about "empowerment," they are nevertheless acts of assertion of power. As Scott (1990) has reminded us, we have to look for these kinds of "hidden transcripts'' of resistance in the actions of those outside the realm of formal power, in this case village women who are subject to official birth planning policy. The irony is that as women in China resist the birth planning policy, they are also accommodating to societal and family norms that value males over females (White 2000). Thus, sex-selective abortions and the abandonment or outright killing of girl babies has resulted in an alarming number of "missing girls,'' a very unbalanced sex ratio at birth, with other serious consequences for the future, including the numbers of men who will not be able to find women to marry. As Greenhalgh has argued, when the state accommodated peasants' desire for sons by allowing those with only a daughter to try to have a boy, it was evidence of the state's public recognition of "the unequal value of daughters and sons... Thus... son preference... [was] incorporated into the formal population policy of the province'' (Greenhalgh and Li 1995: 625, 627).

We see another kind of resistance in Kenya. There, among the Luo, women's use of contraceptives may be undermining men's control over their families. In that setting, men's dominance has rested on their ability to control important material and symbolic wealth and the connections those various components of wealth and prestige could bring: "Cattle were used primarily as bridewealth, which legitimated control over the women who would produce the children that would perpetuate the husband's lineage'' (Watkins, Rutenberg, and Wilkinson 1997: 216). While men continue their economic control and domination today, they have not been able to control women's reproduction in the same way. Watkins and her colleagues attribute this change to the new family planning programs, introduced by outsiders to the culture, which have made contraception easy to obtain. Consequently, Luo women have been able to make decisions about contraception and reproduction that their husbands may disagree with. While most women do not use birth control secretly, the fact that some do, or that it is clearly a possibility, has undermined a vital aspect of men's dominance in the family and society. This contraception availability is "a... fundamental challenge to the fulfilment of what men traditionally considered to be one of the major elements, if not the major element, of the good life: children that will in turn produce cattle that can be exchanged for wives who will bear more children'' (Watkins, Rutenberg, and Wilkinson 1997: 239). In this setting, women's position in the society, particularly vis-a-vis their husbands, has been influenced by the introduction and spread of fertility control measures.

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