Report 1: Girls’ relationships with family
Margaret Mead studies Samoa girls with the aim of developing an understanding of the experiences of growing up in the remote community as compared to those of adolescents in western civilizations. Mead is effective in providing the audience with adequate contrast on development of young in two diverse regions, the United States and Samoa (Mead 1923). As a girl transitions towards becoming a woman, the conscious physical changes that start from puberty and gradually manifested by emotionally charged, spasmodic, and an awakening of religiosity, idealism is considered as a normal occurrence amongst the Samoans. She questions the audience as to whether adolescence for young girls can be termed as a period of stress and conflict given that the physical changes manifested usually bring about numerous emotional changes amongst the young girls.
Mead was focused on developing an understanding on human character and the influence associated with distinctive cultural patterns of a given community, which was illustrated by variations amongst American and Samoan teens (Mead 1923). In Mead’s perspective, the transition for girls into adulthood was one that was marked by relative ease. Mead noted that the young women had relatively healthy interactions with their peers and family due to predetermined gender roles, which were understood with relative clarity by all the members of the community (Mead 1923). The stressful and emotional volatility of young girls in the United States was not manifested amongst the Samoan teenagers.
The author notes that culture plays a critical role in the reinforcement of gender roles and influencing their respective interactions with family. They adhere to set out norms and belief systems in terms of the development of interactions with peers, opposite sex and more so their family members (Mead 1923). There are three components of Samoan culture namely family, faith, and music. The author noted that the women formed a critical component of the family oriented society that was marked by exceptional levels of stability.
She made a critical note that the members of the Samoan communication were relatively open to issues related to reproduction and human life, which some civilizations considered as taboo. The way of life of the Samoan people, also known as Fa’a Samoa, provided distinctive, predetermined and expected conduct of the members of the community (Mead 1923). This is made up of three elements identified as the church, matai, and aiga. Matai refers to the code of conduct expected from individuals in their respective interactions with elders in the community. In addition, girls as well as boys are expected to develop a relatively strong sense of community.
It is important to note that Samoans exercise a relatively high level of respect for their culture by adhering to socially constructed gender roles and traditional way of life (Mead 1923). Samoan girls are expected to embrace responsibility at early ages from six. They take up housekeeping chores, which involves taking care of the young children. At the age of six, these girls are able to assume leadership to enable them to control the children and affirm the importance of respect for elders amongst the young children.
Such a cycle is critical for these young girls as it provides them with an understanding of the importance of accountability, authority, and responsibility in the community. The Samoan community does not have distinctive differences between play and work, as well as the responsibilities of either the children, adolescents or the adults (Mead 1923). On the other hand, Mead compares these girls with their American peers and notes that American children and teens dread responsibility and taking up chores within their respective domestic settings. Consequently, Samoan girls usually experience relatively peaceful transitions into adulthood, whereas their American peers are overwhelmed by the pressures of maturity.
Through the comparison of the experiences of the girls from the two regions, the United States and Samoa, mead was able to understand the importance of culture and environment in influencing character, decision-making and transition into adulthood (Mead 1923). Samoan girls, unlike their American peers, are not subjected to pressure by their peers or other members of the society to make unwarranted decisions. Adolescence for Samoan girls is not marked by turmoil and reckless decision, rather it is manifested by what the author describes as, “an orderly development of a set of slow maturing interests and activities…perplexed by no conflicts, troubled by no philosophical queries” (Mead 1923).
The girls are able to use similar traditional values, attitudes, and norms applied by their parents and ancestors. The peaceful transition is attributed to the lack of favoritism within the community and familial settings or the promotion of inferiority and bias (Mead 1923). Thus a child, irrespective of gender, when in a disagreement with a parent, they usually move to a relative (Mead 1923). It is also noted that the character and social interactions of the girls are also influenced by their faith or religion, whereby they make decisions without fear of being judged by presumed higher powers.
Mead is able to affirm that the experiences of both American and Samoan girls vary because of cultural patterns, which enable specific behavior and attitudes as they transition from childhood into adulthood (Mead 1923). The social constructs of gender are affirmed by the cultural values, attitudes and behavior accepted by either the American or Samoan cultures. This provides an effective understanding of the role of social contexts or environments in the development of behavior and more so cultural attitudes as manifested by the diverse considerations of adolescence in both American and Samoan settings.
Report 2: Socialization and Sexuality
In the text Coming of Age in Samoa, the author Margaret Mead alludes that she found evidence of the presence of adolescent free love amongst the Samoans. She claims to have found a society that lacked the prevalence of the sex challenges that face the youth in western civilizations. The author also highlighted of the presence of a system of institutionalized virginity referred to as Taupou, which played a critical role in influencing sexual conduct amongst the Samoans (Mead 1923). In addition, the combination of the Taupou system and strict Christian values influenced the sexual conduct of Samoans.
The emphasis placed on virginity has been termed as part of the values held by the “prudish Christian society,” which evolved because of interactions with western civilization resulting in the erosion of Samoan values (Mead 1923). The prevalent attitude towards sex amongst the Samoans can be termed as casual. This is because they consider sex to be part of an important natural phenomenon of human life, which children also play a role (Mead 1923). On the other hand, there are variations in terms of definition of both intercourse and sex in western culture.
The term “sex” is substituted as “play” in Samoan culture, whereas intercourse is considered as a sensitive social issue (Mead 1923). On the other hand, due to minimal clothing and the lack of privacy amongst the Samoans, the author notes that none of the facts of sex…are regarded as unfit for children” (Mead 1923). This is because; there is no shame in discussion of the sex in the community due to its importance in the development and growth of the community. Thus, children are brought up with an understanding of the importance of sexual education in enabling them to become effective and responsible members of the community. Fear of punishment and reprisals from possession of sexual knowledge is not cultivated within the Samoan community.
The author provides a comparison of sexual knowledge in American society, by noting that children in western civilizations usually rely ion their respective accidental experiences and encounters with sexual activity to develop sexual knowledge due to the societal condemnation and relegation of sex as an ugly and immoral act (Mead 1923). The article provides a clear illustration of the differences in terms cultural practices which enable as welcome as impede sexual responsibility and transition into adulthood in the Samoan and American cultures respectively (Mead 1923). Furthermore, it is also evident that the social constructs of sexual education and activity play a role in either enabling responsible or irresponsible behavior.
Mead’s primary aim was to develop an understanding of human behavior and its modification because of evolution of cultural patterns and practices. Her intention was to provide the audience with an understanding of how similar social issues are perceived differently because of varied cultural patterns (Mead 1923). She notes that a majority of the struggles experienced by teenagers are usually denoted in biological and physiological perspectives. She is able to focus on the relevance of social factors and context as a means of explaining the behavior of teenagers. She argues that the sexual peculiarities of transitioning from childhood into adolescence are because of cultural and social factors as opposed to biological factors and processes.
In socialization, Mead notes that incidences of envy, impotence, rivalry, and frustration are not presence. For instance, children are provided with adequate opportunities for understanding learning in their respective paces (Mead 1923). She uses this to highlight as one of the primary reasons of the high prevalence of incidences of student-student and student-teacher violence within the American educational system. The conduct and behavior of the Samoans is influenced by their cultural values and environment. In addition, the American adolescents have varied behaviour due to the socially accepted constructs of gender roles, behavior, and attitudes towards social interactions.
Mead makes an emphasis on the role of culture in the development of gender constructs in both American and Samoan cultures (Mead 1923). The girls and boys assume the socially predetermined roles as they transition into adulthood. Socialization or interactions with peers is evidently a critical factor that enables the development of specific attitudes and characters that conform to gender constructs and desired identity within the Samoan community (Mead 1923). In addition, the Samoan and American cultures presumably illustrate the presence of gender socialization. This is manifested by the emphasis on interactions amongst members of the same sex as a means of developing appropriate skills that affirm individual gender identity.
The Samoans evidently practice cultural parentage, whereby the children are provided with skills and knowledge that is relevant to their heritage, race, and culture. This assumes an important role as it enables them to understand the critical nature of the culture values, belief systems, and norms in the construction of identities and personalities (Mead 1923). The introduction of children to relevant cultural practices provides them with an understanding of the precedent established by the ancestors and parents. The Samoan girls are able to interact with other members of the community, because of the high sense of value of communal interactions and engagements (Mead 1923). They possess the responsibility of understanding the culturally relevant information that will provide them with appropriate skills and knowledge for effective decision-making as they transition from childhood into adulthood.
Mead, M. (1923). Coming of Age In Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization. William Morrow and Company, New York.