Keeping up Appearances – Gender and Ideal Womanhood in Postsocialist Mongolia


Start date: 31 December, 2004 End date: 31 December, 2008 Project type: Smaller projects: PhD Project code: 865-KU Countries: Mongolia Thematic areas: Gender equality, Lead institution: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Policy Brief: Read Project coordinator: Ann Fenger Benwell Total grant: 1,658,198 DKK

Project summary

The thesis addresses and the changes experienced by the Mongolian family since the fall of Soviet socialism. Based on 12 months fieldwork in Ulaanbaatar and previous 3.5 years work and residence in Mongolia since 1994 the thesis explores both persistent and changing gender relations that, it is argued, are associated with the pastoral impact on current society, mainly through the Mongolian ger (tent) and yos (rules of conduct), along with a lasting impact of the patriarchal former state socialist system. The thesis argues that although traditional notions of being 'a good woman’ persist, they are also being challenged and renegotiated. Women maintain an identity as subordinate wives and mothers despite being de facto heads of the household or single, as divorce has become commonplace and husbands migrate. They thus attempt to keep up the appearance of a traditional family pattern of the nuclear family based on marriage and a male-headed household. The thesis thus analyses historical changes, generational male and female perspectives, the institution of nuuts amrag (secret lovers) and migration. Combining history with an anthropological perspective on gender relations as more than a male-female opposition the thesis seeks to uncover how pretense has grown to a form of life with people keeping up appearances of conventional structures.

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