Influences Which have Shaped his Attitudes and
Behaviour Toward Males and Females
Tawaia Baantarawa with Linda Schulz and Teweiariki Teaero
Gender values are acquired during the first few years of human life and
begin at home. Parents are often the first to introduce us to the
identification of our gender, to all the tasks and/or behaviours which
strengthen our values as males and females. As we grow up, other
influences such as religion, school systems, and so forth, add to or
reshape our values. Gender values are an unstable element of human
life, vulnerable to many change factors. The following is an account of
how one /'-Kiribati man's gender values were shaped and reshaped as he
grew up. Change factors emphasised are the influences of parents,
religion, peers, the constraints of a strict school system, and the
possibilities for realising more about his own capabilities, freedom, and
functioning at university level. (1)
Kiribati: Background Information
Kiribati, one of the countries served by the University of the South
Pacific (USP), is traditionally a sexist society. Roles and responsibilities
are clearly demarcated according to gender. Women are traditionally
viewed as inferior to men and as such, they were expected to be
subservient to them. W o m e n ' s roles are confined to the home, child
rearing and supporting the male members of society. The latter enjoyed
political and social dominance at the village and island levels and were
responsible for the more "masculine" activities such as fishing and
working on the plantations. Reaffirmed and perpetuated by indigenous
forms of education, this way of life has been firmly entrenched in i-
In the post European-contact period, formal education and Christianity
were introduced into the country. Today, about a century later, the
effects of this formal education system and Christian teachings on the
socio-cultural and economic scene can be seen. Wider and more equal
access to formal education has had some significant effects on w o m e n ' s
roles in the socio-economic sector and on the gender views of both male
and female members of society.
Despite these effects, changes in the ways of life and value systems of
i Kiribati people have been extremely slow to manifest themselves over
the decades (McCreary & Boardman, 1 9 6 8 ; Talu et al 1 9 7 9 ; Mason,
1985). Old habits and traditions die hard. In a country where a formal
education system exists amidst a largely conservative and traditional
society, young people have had the uncomfortable experience of having
to adjust to t w o or more different sets of expectations and ideals. It
was in such a context that the following article was written by an
EDI53: Education and Society student at the USP. As part of an
assignment, students were asked to plot significant points along their
life-line having to do w i t h the influences which have shaped and/or
changed attitudes and behaviour toward males and females. They were
then asked to write an essay that related these experiences in terms of
informal, formal, and/or non-formal educational activities.
The Early Years: My Parents' Orientation to Gender Perspectives
When I was born, the concept of gender had no meaning or value to me
because I could not even determine whether I was a male or a female.
A t that time I could not explain clearly what my values were concerning
the idea of what a male or female was and what kinds of behaviour or
attitudes were appropriate for each sex to follow, adopt and maintain.
My parents were the first influence on me. Their influence showed me
what sex I belonged to and what kinds of tasks or behaviour(s) would
ensure their acceptance of me. I realised that my father spent more time
w i t h his sons than w i t h his daughters and my mother spent more time
w i t h the daughters than w i t h the sons.
Papalia and Olds ( 1 9 9 2 , p.220) believe that fathers play a more
important role in shaping children's gender values because mothers and
fathers have different feelings about gender-typing:
Fathers seem particularly important to children's gender-
role development. For one t h i n g , they often care more
about gender-typing than mothers do. Mothers are
generally accepting of girls' playing w i t h trucks and
boys' playing with dolls, while this kind of cross-sex play
is more likely to upset men, especially in regard to their
Applying this argument to my society, this is exactly the way I grew up
and learned my role as a male.
Before entering primary school I realised that I was male and as a result
of my parents' - especially my father's-influence, I started behaving and
doing the tasks of a male. I was often scolded by my father if I wore a
skirt or a girl's pair of shorts even though my mother was willing to put
them on me when I ran out of clean " b o y ' s " shorts. I was also scolded
if I played with girls and this kind of punishment showed me that I
should only play w i t h boys and never do the things considered by my
father as feminine stuff. Also at this stage, I began to recognise the
appropriate tasks for males and females, for example, when I was old
enough, my father took me out fishing.
My mother even taught me how to cook, but whenever she and I were
involved in such "feminine" chores, my father usually had other things
for me to do, so the cooking lesson was never completed. Whatever
my mother and I were doing was not important according to my father.
When he needed me, he just called me.
I could not understand at first why my father usually ignored whatever
I did w i t h my mother and I thought that he was different from other
fathers regarding his behaviour. Papalia and Olds (1992) have helped
me to see that I was w r o n g . They write that "men usually accept a very
active and temperamentally 'difficult' son more easily than such a
daughter, but they spank sons more than daughters" (Papalia & Olds,
1 9 9 2 , p.220).
The spankings and enforcement of appropriate behaviour and task
involvement from my father developed in me an attitude of avoiding girls
in games or in discussions. I only found it enjoyable to be w i t h male
friends. I felt uncomfortable and afraid when playing with mixed groups
of boys and girls. The only females I loved, probably in the whole w o r l d ,
were my mother and my three sisters.
Primary School: Playing with and Competing Against the Girls
When" I entered primary school, my gender values were reshaped and
strengthened because there were a number of factors which influenced
how I felt and acted toward males and females. I was not aware of
these changes then, but distanced in time and space as a g r o w n up and
in this reflective discourse I can now recall some of them.
Without my father's eyes always watching me, I started playing w i t h
girls and, moreover, I started to enjoy making friends w i t h girls more
than w i t h the boys. I started to realise that girls are more gentle than
boys and some are very kind. However, during school-time, I was proud
to be a male. I also discovered the girls to be the most challenging
academic opponents. My male friends and I often targeted the girls
when tests or examinations were concerned. As males we did not want
to be beaten by the girls so we used to work hard as a group. This
seemed to work in our favour because I remember some of my male
classmates usually dominated the class in tests or examinations. This
gave me the idea that males are better than females. My parents used
to say the same thing and this strengthened my belief.
At the same time, I was aware that female students were favoured by
the teachers, especially female teachers w h o dominated in terms of staff
numbers in my school. Female teachers have always outnumbered male
teachers. The latest published figures (Ministry of Education, 1995)
show that there were 371 female and 2 5 9 male teachers in primary
schools in that year. Because the end result was that the boys
dominated my class in academic examinations and achievement, I held
the opinion that the female teachers had favoured the girls in order to
encourage competition. The male teachers seemed also to be aware of
this and they encouraged us to be better than girls and to cooperate
w i t h each other as a male group.
I realised as well that all the teachers, whether males or females, seemed
to enjoy teaching the girls more than the boys. Maybe this was because
boys sometimes showed no respect in what we did inside or outside the
classroom. This bit of rudeness was the one thing that the teachers
could not tolerate. In a culture which valued tolerance, respect for and
obedience to older people, it was surprising to find that boys often
quarrelled with the teachers and w i t h each other. The majority of the
students who were punished for not completing their homework or for
coming late to classes were the boys. I found support for this idea in
Acker's ( 1 9 9 1 , p.121) argument that
schools, especially primary schools, favour girls.
Schools have been accused of being feminine
environments, staffed by women w h o respond
favourably to feminine behaviour in their charges. Girls
flourish, boys, at least the masculine ones, rebel and
eventually abandon academic pursuits entirely.
According to my experience, in my primary school, the majority of those
w h o abandon academic pursuits are boys.
Religious Education 'Gave Us Ideas' About Males and Females
Religious education, one of the school subjects, taught us to be obedient
and to respect our elders. It also strengthened our understanding of the
roles of husbands and wives. Even though we were too young to think
too much about marriage, religious education gave us ideas of what to
do when we were ready to get married.
Among the themes taught in religious education, several have remained
in my memory and have changed my values about w o m e n . Except for
my sisters and mother, I used to ignore w o m e n . But religious education
told us to love one another regardless of sex, because God loves
everybody, not just men or just w o m e n . The preachers said "they" love
everybody. My father was a religious believer and he often encouraged
me to go to church.
One thing about religion I realise now is that it still practises sexism even
though the religious teachers and preachers told us never to discriminate
against the other sex and to love one another. If we look at the seating
and arrangements in most churches in Kiribati, people are divided into
males and females and sit in different places. For the Kiribati Protestant
Church (KPC) women sit on the right while men sit on the left. From my
childhood until n o w , the seating arrangements have remained largely
intact and most people cannot determine the reason w h y . We just do
it because everybody else does it.
Secondly, most of those who conducted Sunday services and gave
religious education, were males. I could never understand w h y women
were not allowed to be priests or religious educators. In Kiribati and the
rest of the w o r l d , all Catholic priests are men and this situation is not
likely to change (John Paul, 1 9 8 8 , 1994). Most Protestant preachers
are males too. However, just recently an increasing number of females
have been allowed to become pastors in the KPC.
Secondary School: 'Mixing With the Girls was Forbidden'
When I attended secondary school, my values about males and females
were strengthened. In this school, males and females were considered
as "different" and mixing with the girls was forbidden. Even though we
shared the same classrooms for our lessons, the seating arrangement
was in accordance to gender differences. Sometimes students would
sit in groups but if you looked at the different groups, they were all male
or all female. Mixing around was only possible if organised by the
teacher or during breaks when the teachers were not around.
I attended a boarding school and sleeping quarters of boys and girls were
separated by five hundred metres. Entering the boundary of the opposite
sex was and still is punishable by expulsion (KGV/EBS, 1992). Eating
times for males and females were also different. Separate meal times
was the norm for the seven years I spent in the government high school
and continues to the present day.
The same applied to school assemblies. Teachers did not tell us to sit
in these places. We just did it because we were used to doing it. When
we first entered the school, we followed what the others were doing.
As we became seniors of the school, the junior students followed what
we were doing. The process socialised the students to observe the
separate seating arrangements in the dining and assembly halls.
During lessons, the teacher-student relationships seemed normal to me.
Male and female teachers gave lessons without favouring a particular
sex. What I experienced at primary school in relation to sexism,
especially in the teacher-student relationship, was different from w h a t
I observed and experienced in secondary school. However, I accept the
fact that another student might have had an altogether different
experience or observation. He or she might say that teachers in
secondary or high school favoured students belonging to their sex.
Sex-Differentiation in School
Acker ( 1 9 9 1 , p.121) argues that the strict differentiation of girls' and
boys' tasks, especially in schools, is one way of shaping our gender
values in order to face our roles as males and females in the future:
"The school's continuous reinforcement of boundaries between what is
appropriately masculine and what is appropriately feminine contributes
to the shaping of sex-differentiated self concepts and eventually sex-
differentiated futures." I agree w i t h this statement. Moreover, as part
of the school curriculum in junior secondary forms, Industrial Arts is
offered to males and Home Economics to females. These t w o subjects
are offered supposedly as " o p e n " electives to boys and girls alike in
senior forms. However, the gender role stereotyping made it virtually
impossible for boys and girls to take up Home Economics and Industrial
Arts respectively at senior level.
Further to this, Acker (1991) suggests that "schools not only treat the
sexes differently, but give systematic preferential treatment to boys."
I believe that this is the case since the formal education system in my
country seems to favour the boys. There are more schools and
institutions for boys than girls. Most educational institutions had mixed
populations but boys often proved to be the majority, especially, for
example, at the Tarawa Technical Institute (TTI) where students are
educated in such fields as engineering, carpentry, and so forth. The
Marine Training Centre (MTC) caters only for males. McLaine (1982)
summarises this situation: In 1 9 8 7 , TTI had 10 male students and no
female students. There were 76 males enrolled in MTC. Out of 15,735
males and females involved in some form of formal education in Kiribati,
McLaine (1982) concluded that 7,996 were males and 7,739 were
females. This is'evidence that there is some "systematic preferential
treatment given to boys" (Acker, 1991). This trend has been reversed
and females now outnumber males in all educational institutions
(Ministry of Education, 1995).
University: Presenting Challenges to My Gender Values
When I entered university, my previous values about gender which I had
acquired from secondary school in particular were strongly challenged.
What I experienced at the USP contradicted all the values I had learned
at secondary school.
For example, mixing of males and females was not forbidden. Lecturers
took little or no-notice of what was going on and rules seemed less strict
about the mixing of the t w o sexes (2). In the classroom, students sit
wherever they want and males and females can and do sit anywhere in
the lecture hall(s). There are no "right' or "left" places for males or
females. In the dining hall, everyone can sit and eat together, males and
In university, I learned about equality movements - one example of this
is the equalisation of the number of halls of residence. In 1 9 9 5 , males
occupied five residential halls while the females occupied only three.
There is now an equal number of halls. Everybody has equal access to
everything including a "right" to speak about cases of discrimination. In
my society, this is still inappropriate because w o m e n , in particular, have
no say. (3)
The Influence of Peer Groups
In all my schooling, the most influential factor second in importance to
my parents is the influence of my peer group. During my primary school
years, I learned to smoke without the knowledge of my father, and I
learned to behave quite aggressively if I wanted something.
In secondary school, I learned to break rules by running away at night to
go to dances or to go out to eat. I also learned to make fun of others,
especially the girls. I never disobeyed my father, but in school, we used
to take the risk to show how brave we were; in fact I now realise that
we were just showing off. Now, in my v i e w , that type of bravery is
nothing but a stupid idea and a sign of disobedience. My friends told
me that males must always be brave to be "real m e n " . To achieve this,
we males took risks and broke every rule we could. In short, I learned
to become disobedient and rebellious w h e n I was in primary and
secondary school and did things my father would never have approved
At the USP, a lot of temptations have distracted me from studying, but
I was afraid because I had made a promise to my father that I would
never drink or smoke. My friends made fun of me saying that I was
"backward" and "feminine" in my attitude(s).
Gender Values Change
To sum up all the points I have discussed in this essay, I would like to
say that gender values usually change as we grow up. For me it started
at home, beginning with my parents as the first influence to shape my
gender values. Later on, as my knowledge of the world or everybody
else around me started to broaden, so my gender values were
contextualised. In those first years before entering primary school, I
learned about males and females and I learned the appropriate
behaviours and roles each sex must perform. I learned to dislike girls
because my father told me not to play w i t h them and my friends told
me that we should work hard to beat them in academic achievement.
At secondary school, I continued to avoid girls because of the strict
school rules. Competition between males and females was also so great
that it increased the distance between us.
However, at university, everything was subject to change thus allowing
my gender values to change. Here at the USP I experienced a life where
everybody was encouraged to socialise and get together w i t h o u t racial
or gender discrimination. Peer gatherings in primary and secondary
school had taught me many things, mostly negative about males and
females. At university, peer gatherings taught me and others many
beneficial things, through peer group discussions in tutorials and so
forth. It also brought me face to face w i t h the bad things, for instance,
life at university makes it easy for people to drink or smoke but because
of the promise I made to my parents I am able to withstand such
Parental roles: Parents play an important role in shaping gender values,
e.g. teaching appropriate values. In the story the boy learns appropriate
behaviour and roles he has to perform as a male. His father also played
a key role in influencing his values. His father told him not to play with
girls and to try to beat them academically. As a result of this, he
disliked girls (an attitude instilled by his father). In a patriarchal society,
fathers would be expected to play a key role. Interestingly enough, the
mother's attempt to teach her son how to cook is interrupted and
diminished by the father. As well, the mother's dressing of her son in
girls' clothes was something that was harshly received and reprimanded
by the father. Here we only get the story from the son and we do not
know what the consequences were for the mother.
Peer Influence: Peers play an important role in changing gender values.
In secondary school, for instance, the young i-Kiribati man's friends told
him that "real men" had to be brave. Because of this, he took many
risks which he thought of as bravery. His peers also made fun of him at
university because he did not smoke or drink which "real men" usually
do, according to them.
Level of Education: Values about males and females were strengthened
when he attended secondary school where males and females were
considered different and where mixing among the sexes was forbidden:
for example, seating according to different sexes in the classroom,
separate sleeping quarters in boarding school, different eating times in
boarding schools for males and females, and in the school assembly
males and female were seated separately. There are both positive and
negative sides to sex segregation: a positive side would be the reduction
of problems, such as unwanted pregnancies. A negative side would be
that there is less interaction between males and females and this might
lead to less understanding between the sexes.
As one attains higher education, there are a lot of temptations and
distractions which influence one's values and attitudes. A t the USP, the
young man develops a sense of awareness and understanding of what
is appropriate behaviour for him as a male.
To sum up, a number of factors help to shape and influence gender
values. These values may change as a person's environment changes
and also as persons begin to value and categorise themselves, their
capacities or capabilities and to work to integrate different aspects of
themselves which sometimes happens at university and happened to this
particular individual when he made use of a class assignment in EDI53:
Education and Society to focus on his relationship to others and to the
world, in view of gender values.
(1) This brings to mind Sen's ( 1 9 9 5 , p p . 2 6 4 , 266) "capability
perspective", which concentrates on how "transformation
possibilities vary greatly from person to person" and on "freedom
to achieve in general and the capabilities to function in
particular" spaces that "conflict with equality in other spaces".
(2) There are rules, for example, see the USP Discipline Regulations
(1996) which stipulate that male students cannot go to the
female halls of residence and that females must leave the men's
halls by midnight.
(3) The provisions are there (e.g. the Constitution of Kiribati
provides equal opportunities for all) but they are not used to the
full. The author may be referring to the traditional form of
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