Mate Selection across Cultures

Article excerpt

Mate Selection Across Cultures. Raeann R. Hamon & Bron B. Ingoldsby (Eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 296 pp. ISBN 0-7619-2592-9. $34.95 (cloth).

In the introduction to Mate Selection Across Cultures, editors Raeann Hamon and Bron Ingoldsby identify the family as the fundamental unit of society, one that is universal even as the particulars of family organization differ. They are interested in one aspect of family life: mate selection. By compiling descriptions of couple formation from varying cultural backgrounds, they reveal the similarities and differences that this process takes.

The countries and regions covered in the book are North America: United States; Caribbean and South America: the Bahamas, Ecuador and Latin America, Trinidad and Tobago; Africa: Ghana, Kenya; Middle East: Egypt, Israel, Turkey; Europe: Spain, Netherlands; Asia: India, China, Japan.

As each chapter reveals, partner selection is tied to customs, rituals, and ceremonies that formalize the relationship. Fourteen countries are highlighted even though readers need to note that within countries are variations by religious, ethnic, and class positions. In that sense, this book is only a partial view of the diversity that exists around the world and within individual countries. For instance, the first selection is titled "The Mate Selection Process in the United States" by coeditor Bron Ingoldsby. The mate selection process covered in this generic title begins with the Hutterite colony in Montana (as illustrative of the diversity of families in the United States), then goes on to provide an overview of changing practices and beliefs, from colonial Puritans to contemporary times, as though those practices could be generalized to most Americans.

In the chapters that follow, there is an overall lack of attention to dating and marriage for older people after death or divorce. Most articles do not mention divorce, remarriage, singlehood, gay and lesbian partnerships, childlessness, adultery, or premarital sex.

I would like to have seen analysis of customs rather than simply reporting on what those customs were. Polygyny, for one, could have been analyzed in a way that showed structural conditions conducive to its emergence rather than just seeing it as traditional practice. Clearly the most glaring omission, a gender analysis, is sorely needed. Dryly presented are reports that in Ghana, half of marriages are polygynous, and men make the decisions that affect women's lives (Baffour Takyi). Another instance is when authors Stephen Wilson, Lucy Ngige, and Linda Trollinger write about Kenya and how the failure of a woman to produce children leads to humiliation, shame, and sometimes justification for taking other wives, or for women to engage in a woman-to-woman marriage so another woman can carry the child a wife fails to produce. A second Kenyan example by the same authors relates that "circumcision" is required for both boys and girls to enter marriage, without distinguishing female genital mutilation from male circumcision. …