Matrilateral cross-cousin marriage

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Sat, 22 Jul 1995 00:19:27 -0500

On Fri, 21 Jul 1995 Jan Wilson said:

> Subject: query re. terminology
> Hi. I am confused about Haviland's usage of matrilateral cross cousin.
> In a cultural anth text, he explains matrilateral cross cousin as ego's
> mother's brother's offspring or as ego's father's sister's offspring.
> Would not matrilateral cross cousin just be ego's mother's brother's
> offspring -- and patrilateral cross cousin be ego's father's sister's
> offspring. So, is he confusing a subset with a set? Or am I confused?
> Thanks. Jan Wilson (looking for her kindred)

Thank you for asking! I've been waiting for 39 years to get this off
my chest. I just never thought of a way to write up this one small point
that would get it published. (And, just in case somebody else does, note
that this communication is copyrighted and public. I claim priority!)

You're right, "matrilateral cross-cousin marriage" means, by definition,
marrying the cross-cousin on your mother's side.

There is a concealed part of the definition that nobody points out to the
unitiated. It assumes that Ego, the person getting married, is MALE.

Draw a simple kinship diagram of such a marriage. (I suppose I could try
to do that in ASCII, but it would take forever to figure out how in the
first place, and would undoubtedly take up too much space, anyway.)

Now trace the relationship starting with the groom. He marries his MBD
(or MoBrDa, if you prefer)--his mother's brother's daughter. So far, so
good. Now start with the BRIDE on the same diagram: sure enough, she
is marrying her FZS (FaSiSo)--her father's sister's son. In other words,
and even more confusingly, a woman who enters MATRIlateral cross-cousin
marriage marries a relative on her FATHER's side!

I have argued for years that this terminological problem reflects a bias
favoring the male point of view that pervades much of anthropology. In
short, it is sexism plain and simple.

On my generous days, I'll grant that the term was invented a long time
ago, and has tradition on its side: it's not the work of people who live
in the present to deny the past. But our literature on kinship has many
more examples of male chauvinism in the very words we use in technical
analysis, and other biases that are equally strange to my ears.

As one example of an equally strange anthropological usage, it was pointed
out long ago that to call a marriage "patrilocal" or "matrilocal" seems
to assume that couples become parents first and marry later. The
substitute words "virilocal" and "uxorilocal" are not much of an
improvement. Their use assumes familiarity with Latin roots that is not
common today, and still obfuscates more than it illuminates.

The sexist tradition in our technical terminology has no particular
justification except force of (bad) habit. Jan Wilson's question was an
excellent one: it directly demonstrates how confusing the terminology of
cross-cousin marriage is.

What would I substitute? Easy: why not call it "FZS/MBD marriage"? (I
don't have to go so far as to suggest alternating that term with
another, "MBD/FZS marriage". Go ahead if you like.)

-- mike salovesh <>
anthropology department
northern illinois university
de kalb, illinois 60115