What Women Want-What Men Want

Why the Sexes Still See Love and Commitment So Differently

John Marshall Townsend

Chapter 10

Are Men and Women Alike Around the Globe?

Study of Sex in China and Samoa

Presented by:

Kristin Trutanich & Martha Majano


††††††††††† In chapter ten of his book, Are Men and Women Alike Around the Globe, John Townsend, discusses the dichotomous views of sex issues and gender differences in two cultures. Although China and Samoa are two very different countries, issues regarding sex are very much a part of their cultures. "Polynesian cultures were certainly among the most tolerant regarding women having casual sex; the Peopleís Republic of China was one of the most restrictive" (p. 209). Townsend uses researchers such as Martin Whyte and William Parish (China), Margaret Mead (Samoa) and a few others who have examined sexual relations in each culture. Through their data, Townsend discusses and critiques their conclusions of sexual relations in Samoa and China.

††††††††††† Townsend begins by explaining that the "differences in sexual behavior have traditionally been most pronounced among the upper classes of agrarian kingdoms, where men vehemently strive to control female sexuality. Even in relatively permissive cultures, however, casual sex for women diminished their value as mates and thus damaged their reputations" (p. 209). Margaret Mead, a legendary American anthropologist and author, studied Samoan adolescent women and found them to be much more sexually promiscuous than American women. From her research Mead concluded "Western notions of sex differences between males and females in our society are totally a product of our cultural conditioning" (p. 210). However, further research in Samoa by Derek Freeman, author of Mead and Samoa, suggests that Meadís conclusions are biased and he accused her of suppressing or ignoring the information that did not fit her ideal image of Samoan culture (p. 210).

††††††††††† In her book, Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead recounts her study of Samoan adolescence "to determine whether the stress, confusion, and conflicts experienced by American adolescents were the result to biological changes accompanying adolescence, and hence universal, or were instead the result of particular stresses and cultural conditioning found in some societies and not in others" (p.210). Throughout her book, Mead discusses her data emphasizing the casualness of premarital relations among Samoan adolescent women. However, Townsend reports that Meadís own data does not support her claim that sexual relations were typical. For example, Mead discusses at one point the idealization of virginity among the Samoan culture, especially for women of higher rank. Townsend debates one segment from Meadís Coming of Age in Samoa: "In precolonial days, high ranking girls were ritually deflowered at the wedding ceremony by the chief of the bridegroom. If the girl prove not to be a virgin, her female relatives beat and stoned her, sometimes fatally injuring the girl who had shamed her family. Obviously, a young girlís virginity was considered a prize" (p. 213). On the contrary, the Samoan man is respected if he sleeps with a virgin.

††††††††††† Another aspect of Samoan sexual relations that Mead found to be unlike Western notions was having a casual approach to sex. Mead "writes of Moana whose sex affairs had begun at fifteen, and in a year and a half her conduct had become so Ďindiscreetí that her parents feared it would Ďmar her chances of making a good marriage.í The parents asked her uncle to adopt her and straighten her out" (p. 212). Obviously, parents do not feel the need to "straighten" their daughter out unless there is something wrong. According to Townsend, once again Mead had generalized an incident, not paying attention to the data. A second example Townsend uses to point out contradictions in Meadís data and conclusions is again one regarding the casual attitude of sex for Samoan adolescent females. "The Don Juan of the village, Fuativa, was about forty, rich, and charming, with winning ways. While he was courting the visiting girl, Fuativa noticed that Lola had Ďreached a robust girlhood an stopped to pluck this ready fruit by the way.í Fuativa seduced Lola easily, and Ďafter three weeks which were casual to him, and very important to her, he proposed for the hand of the visitor" (p. 213). This segment shows that the young girl was seduced and then left by the older man. Fuativa did not want Lola after she had sex with him.

Townsend addresses these stories and concludes that casual sexual relations for adolescent females were not accepted among the Samoan culture and in fact lowered their chance for marriage. "These and the other cases Mead describes do not support her generalizations about casualness and the lack of male-female differences in sexuality" (p. 213). Townsend also describes the consequences of casual sexual relations for Samoan women as being bad for their reputation, causing them to be less attractive to other males and even lowered self-esteem. Although, Meadís work did seem to be groundbreaking for its time, the fact still remains that her conclusions are contradictory to her data.

††††††††††† Donald Marshall studied Mangaia, another Polynesian island culturally similar to Samoa. Marshall discovered that the women of Mangaia have several partners before they marry and that most are able to have multiple orgasms. However, Marshall also reports that Mangaia men believe that men want sex more frequently than women do. As a result of this "some husbands beat their wife into submission" (p. 214). Although it may seem women are sexual equals to men as far as wanting casual sexual relations, Mangaia men in fact are more casual and promiscuous than Mangaia women. "The average girl has had at least three or four lovers between the ages of thirteen and twenty whereas the average boy has had over ten (boys travel to other islands to expand their conquests)" (p. 214). This displays that the culture may be more promiscuous than Western cultures as a whole, however men are still more promiscuous than women.

††††††††††† A third sexual relations issue in regards to the men and women around the globe that Townsend discusses is the general sex differences between males and females. In her book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Mead examines the sex differences in three New Guinea tribes: the Arapesh, Mundugumor, and Tchambuli. Townsend believes that Meadís purpose for writing this book was to demonstrate again, that Western notions of sex are just a product of our cultural conditioning. Mead documents that these three tribes have different and reversed sex traits when compared to that of Western cultures. For example, in the Arapesh tribe "both men and women exhibited what we call female traits; among the Mundugumor, both sexes had male traits; among the Tchambuli, our notion of sex roles was completely reversed" (p. 216). However, Townsend found Meadís data to once again contradict her conclusions. He states that Mead tried to characterize each tribe by simply taking one pattern of behavior and applying it as fact. Such generalizations were caused by Mead's failure to examine the data that reveals that the tribes have the same sex differences as American culture, only on a different level. Nevertheless, Mead is not the only anthropologist to be guilty of overestimating such societal differences. "Bronislaw Malinowski emphasized the relatively relaxed and sexually egalitarian nature of sexual relations in the Trobriand Islands and tended to gloss over observations that contradicted this view" (p. 213). Although, Trobriand women stated that they enjoyed sex as much as men stated they did, Trobriand men were expected to give gifts to their lovers as if it were an exchange for sexual favors.

††††††††††† Finally, in her book, Male and Female, Mead discussed the biological makeup of males and female. She admits, "universally men, more than women, must compete to obtain adult status and the right to sexual favors" (p. 218). In addition, Mead dedicated an entire chapter to females being biologically wired for the role of mother more so than males are for the role of father. Meadís accounts of the Polynesian culture were dedicated to supporting the generalization that we are culturally conditioned; however her data showed major discrepancies in her conclusions. Through her research and books, Mead fought for the cultural influence, saying it is what created our gender roles, her entire career until she published Male and Female. Due to her ability to place more emphasis on the biological factors in this new book Townsend credits her as a scholar and a scientist for her accomplishments.




  1. Introduction
    1. Mead: Coming of Age in Samoa
    2. Freeman: Mead and Samoa
    3. Nature vs. Nurture
  2. Sexual Relations in Samoa
    1. Meadís purpose
    2. Meadís findings/conclusions
    3. Meadís Data
  3. Contradictions in Meadís Data
    1. Meadís data on Virginity
      1. The more virgins the better
      2. Double Standard
        1. Girls virginity considered a prize
        2. Male virginity not similarly valued
    2. Meadís data on sexuality differences
  4. Mangaia (Donald Marshall)
    1. Findings
      1. Mangaian girls have several lovers/ multiple orgasms
      2. Mangaian boys
    2. Conclusions
      1. Boys will be boys
      2. Double Standard
  5. Trobriand Island (Bronislaw Malinowski)
    1. Malinowskiís Similarity to Mead
  6. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (Mead, 1935)
    1. Arapesh
      1. Both men and women exhibited female traits
        1. Cooperative, Non-competitive society
        2. Neither gender is aggressive or spontaneously sexual
      2. Contradictions
        1. Men are honored for warfare or killing enemies
        2. Men and women use sex as a tool
    2. Mundugumor
      1. Men and women are mutually hostile, aggressive, sexual, and non-maternal
        1. Head-hunting, cannibalism and warfare are important
      2. Contradictions
        1. Men compete for sexual favors of women
        2. Polygamous society
    3. Tchambuli
      1. Meadís conclusions show masculine and feminine were totally reversed
      2. Contradictions
        1. Every boy should kill a victim (infants/ young children of other tribes and criminals)
        2. Men compete for women
        3. Women are beaten if they violate custom
  7. Samoa Conclusion
    1. Meadís motive vs. reality
    2. Male and Female (Mead, 1949)

Townsendís final view of Margaret Mead