The Naxi minority who live in the ancient town of Lijiang in the Yunnan province are easily recognizable. Dressed primarily in white, blue, and black, the women wear tunic-type long dresses, pants, and sturdy, chunky shoes. It is practical fashion; suitable for all kinds of work. Embroidered collars and sleeves and distinctive sheepskin capes bearing symbols of industriousness are the only embellishments.
Until recently, the Naxi lived in matriarchal families, though local rulers were always male. Sexual union was a flexible arrangement in which both partners continued to live in separate homes; the man might spend the night at a woman’s house but return to live and work at his mother’s house during the day. Any children born to the couple belonged to the woman, who was responsible for bringing them up. The father provided support, but children lived with their mothers and no special effort was made to recognize paternity. Women inherited all property, and female elders adjudicated any disputes.
A person might see a feminist, political statement in this image of Naxi women. But what I see is women living in full. They have fun, tell jokes, have and resolve disputes, work in partnerships. They have lovers, they have children, they have fellowship with other women they’ve known since birth. They are not subject to living under glass ceilings. No one is telling them whether they can go to school or what to eat or drink…or think! They can take in other people’s needs without losing track of themselves as whole people.
I’m not a group person but I admire their sense of ease together. They have a foundation of trust and love and support, which liberates them to be authentic. I celebrate their laughter, how they touch and lean upon each other, how they tease and express tenderness. I celebrate women living in full.