Throughout the early modern period, Native American and European cultures differed greatly. Europeans used these differences to judge “the sexual lives of the native peoples as savage, in contrast to their own ‘civilized’ customs,” and to justify “efforts to convert the native population to Christianity” (D'Emilio and Freedman 6). Native American sexuality deviated considerably from European sexuality, primarily in the areas of gender roles, social hierarchy, and accepted sexual ideals, which were because of European society’s proclivity towards patriarchy, control, and conservative religious beliefs, while Native American society inclined towards matriarchy, reciprocity, and liberal sexual tendencies.
Even though labels exist in early modern society to distinguish male from female, or heterosexual from homosexual, this was not the case—especially with respect to Native
American society. The Europeans had to create their own labels for the “existence of a category of men who dressed and lived as women, and more rarely of women who dressed and lived as men” in Native American society (D'Emilio and Freedman 7). The term they used was
“berdache,” which is “from the French term for a sodomite” (D'Emilio and Freedman 7).
Europeans believed and sought to preserve their patriarchal model of society. In order to do this, gender roles must be assigned and unchanged for an individual. Therefore, a man cannot be allowed to act as a woman one day, and then as a man the other, whether it be in a sexual or societal manner because males have different privileges, statuses, and power than females in
European society. If such gender role switches were allowed, women would gain privileges they were not supposed to have in the patriarchal society. The control men had over women would
gradually lessen. Moreover, from a male dominant point of view, masculinity is something you achieve; giving this up was giving up responsibility because to become effeminate is to shirk responsibility in the eyes of Europeans. While berdaches were seen as blasphemous in European
Society, “the active sex life of berdaches led them to be considered fortuitous in all matters relating to sex and romance” (Roscoe). They were also highly regarded, and were even believed to have supernatural powers. Europeans would regard berdache “relationships with non-berdache members of their own sex… [as] homosexual” (Roscoe). Native Americans did not have any labels; although, “the sexual acts performed with them were recognized… as different from heterosexual acts. Therefore, the acts themselves were heterosexual or homosexual, not the person performing the action. Europeans had a much more narrow and conservative view that discriminated against the people as being heterosexual or homosexual. This explains “the relative absence of sexual conflict among Native Americans” because, by disallowing a specific role for a gender, with respect to sexuality, there is no means to discriminate (Roscoe).
Another distinction between Native American and European societies can be seen in social hierarchy. In European society, patriarchy was the norm and was preserved. Woman were seen as inferior to men; therefore, they were to be controlled. One of the means used was to paint women as lustful and having strong sexual desire. In The Midwife’s Book by Jane Sharp, she writes, “The Clitoris… will stand and fall... and makes women lustful and take delight in
Copulation, and were it not for this they would have no desire nor delight, not they would never conceive” (Foster 9). The presiding view on female sexual drive was that it was more powerful than male sexual drive because a great majority of the researchers and scientists at the time were male—as it was a patriarchal society. The orgasm was seen as essential to reproduction during the late 17th century, which results in a higher sex drive. For this reason, women were under…