O level Notes : FRS - Religion, femininity and masculinity

Femininity is a characteristic of acting in a female way while masculinity is a characteristic of acting in a male way. Masculinity and femininity are social constructs because women and men are expected to act in a certain way for him and her to be regarded as a man and woman respectively.

Religion, femininity and masculinity

Femininity is a characteristic of acting in a female way while masculinity is a characteristic of acting in a male way. Masculinity and femininity are social constructs because women and men are expected to act in a certain way for him and her to be regarded as a man and woman respectively. In simple terms, masculinity is having qualities traditionally associated with men whereas femininity is having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women for example prettiness and delicacy. Therefore, society often prescribes that a man is what a woman is not. The other definition of masculinity is those behaviours, languages  and practices, existing  in specific cultural and organisational  locations, which are commonly  associated with males and culturally defined as not feminine.

Religion plays a major role in shaping the expected characterisitcs of men and women.  In many instances, it is religion that shapes the names given to men and women at birth. Also, in many African contexts, it is religion that outlines what a “real man” is supposed to be, spells out his qualities and outlines his roles in the home, in the community, in religion and in the nation. Indigenous religion plays a major role in shaping what a man and woman is in society.

Religion influences and reinforces both positive and negative attitudes, behaviours and practices of men and women in terms of perception on femininity and masculinity. There is a close connection between religion, femininity and masculinity  because religion  plays a major role in defining  the roles and responsibilities of men and women. Religion plays a major role in shaping the roles of men and women in society hence influencing femininity and masculinity. Indigenous religion has influenced or shaped femininity and masculinity because men are regarded as superior in physical strength, firmness, fearlessness, decisiveness, ability to protect the weak, principled, controlling, conquering, risking, leading, being assertive and to enjoy a high social status. Masculinity is also associated with intelligence, bravery, sobriety, unemotionality, and an absence of smiles. On the contrary, femininity is the opposite of this. Femininity and masculinity are not natural attributes but rather social constructions.

  • Men are powerful and women are weak. Indigenous religion believes that men are powerful. Men are associated with “strength, vigour, being powerful, courage, self-confidence and the ability to meet the outside world. This is the reason why in indigenous society a man is supposed to do all the work which requires strength like digging, hoeing and lifting heavy things while women are expected to perform household chores which are lighter like sweeping, cleaning and washing. Women played an important role in agriculture and are confined at home because Indigenous religion believes that Musha mukadzi meaning a home is best when there is a woman.
  • On the contrary, it is a taboo for men to wash, cook and sweep in indigenous society while women who  do  men’s work  are regarded  as having  a spirit  of a man  “shavi rechirume”.  Furthermore, Indigenous religion regard women as lacking courage hence they cannot kill a snake when it invades the homestead. It is regarded as a duty of men hence men are seen as courageous, they defend the family because of their ability of being strong and powerful. It is religion that outlines what a “real man” is supposed to be, spells out his attributes and roles in the home, community, religion and the nation at large.
  • Myths in Indigenous religion shape society’s attitude on femininity and masculinity. For example, Indigenous religion through the Mwedzi myth explains that men should have more than one sexual partner. This has shaped men to regard polygamy  as good for men while it is a taboo for a woman to have several husbands.
  • Leading is a masculinity  attribute  while  subordination  is a feminine  attribute  which  has  been influenced by religion. Religion has helped in the construction of men as leaders and this has led to the subordination of women in different social and political contexts in indigenous societies. Chiefs, Headman and village heads are men in indigenous communities. The right to leadership is limited to men and women are denied leadership roles because of religion. Indigenous religion believes that leading is an attribute of men and women are subordinate beings.
  • Religion has also shaped femininity and masculinity  by justifying  gender-based  violence against women and women are supposed to accept gender-based violence. Women in marriage are made to accept being disciplined by men because of religion while men believe that masculinity involve physical violence against women. It is unfeminine to report a man for domestic violence and women suffer in silence because of femininity. Masculinity relies on religion in supporting  violence against women and femininity relies on religion to be submissive and receptive of violence against them.
  • Religions socialise men to fulfil the role of fathers. In Indigenous  religion they believe that men are the head of the family.  It is vital to observe that the fatherhood role involve physical fatherhood and social fatherhood where a man can mentor the young  men. Therefore, religion shapes the belief that men are fathers and women are mothers. In Christianity the same concept is expressed in 1 Corinthians 7:39 which says that, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” This explains the role of men as heads of families and fathers.
  • Marriage is also another social institution which has been influenced or shaped by religious teaching and practices in terms of femininity and masculinity. Religion believes that marriage is the solution to sexual immorality. Firstly, Indigenous religion advocates that one should marry a wife to enjoy sexual pleasures and if one is not satisfied with one wife, he can have several wives. Furthermore, the proverbs which state that a man is a bull shapes masculinity in the sense that men are portrayed as sexually strong and women are there to quench the sexual pleasures of men. Women are therefore influenced to accept men when they have several sexual partners. A man in indigenous  society is regarded as a real man by having many wives. Sex defines masculinity in Indigenous religion and it is defined not only by having sex but by having many sexual partners.
  • In Indigenous religion, an unmarried man is not allowed to take part at the traditional court. This influences femininity and masculinity as women are portrayed as weak in terms of decision making while men are regarded as strong in terms of their decision making abilities.

1. The Indigenous religion


  • Women are viewed as weak and are given light duties such as household duties. They are to cook and to bring up children. Their position is in the house, they are supposed to act as domestic workers.
  • Women are docile, they are to be submissive to their husbands and to depend on males.
  • Women are sexy and should always keep themselves attractive.
  • Women should have a nurturing characteristic and it is the duty of a mother to nurture and care for her children. She should teach her children to respect, love as well as to do their duties.
  • Women are emotional and this is the reason why at a funeral it is women who wail.
  • Men are regarded as strong individuals and that is why they are given hard tasks. It is men who dig, clear fields and hunt.
  • Men are breadwinners, it is their responsibility to provide for the family.
  • Men are leaders they are believed to be the head of the family. They are decision makers.
  • Men are believed to be independent. In a family they can even make decisions without consulting the wife who in turn is expected to support her husband.