One identity that I was very aware of abroad is my gender. Being female in a very patriarchal society was very challenging. One of the first things that I had to be more conscious of was the way I dressed. Zulu culture emphasizes modesty in a very different fashion than my normal clothes do in Ann Arbor. I was required to wear a skirt that covered my knees and a shirt that covered my shoulders anytime I entered the community. Another traditional sign of respectwas allowing men to sit on chairs while women sit on mats on the ground. This seemed a bit odd to myself and fellow Michigan students because males within our group were seated away from female students. 

We were debriefed on the customs before entering the villages, but as an American woman it was still a bit startling. The most prominent signs of patriarchy in the Zulu culture were the customs surrounding marriage. Zulu culture still practices the tradition of trading cows for a bride. Local community members explained to us that around six cows was for a “normal” wife and 11 cows would be a wealthy family’s price. Therefore, many young teenage boys can be seen herding cows around the villages in hopes of being able to afford a wife. This also meant that teenage boys and men were willing to propose to volunteers with an offering of cows. Many female students in our group were proposed to by men just walking down the road. While the seriousness of such proposals was often questionable, it still made for a bit of an uncomfortable situation. These societal norms made me more aware of my gender than I often am in my day to day life.