Asymmetrical Reciprocity in Favor ofWomen

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Although Weiner interprets her own findings as a case of what I called

“symmetrical reciprocity,” another interpretation is possible as well. The

symbolic control the Trobriandwomenwere exerting over the cosmic cycle

of life and death may be regarded as amuch more fundamental source

of power than the kind of power that ensues from men’s historically,

temporally, and spatially restricted, concrete, and specific forms of gift

exchange. The transmission of dala is, in the end, apr econdition of all

other forms of gift exchange.When one is insecure about the continuity

of the ancestral spirit, actual, competitive gift exchange between men

may not even be possible at all. The preservation of existing ties and the

formation of new ones may become problematic in that case.

In ourWesternworld, too, one might considerwomen’s important role

in gift exchange as an indispensable investment in the social fundament of

our society. This social fundament can be considered as being more basic

than the economic fundament.Without a certainamountof kindness and

benevolence in relationships between people, at home, at work, and in

other kinds of social contexts, the survival chances of the market economy

are in jeopardy. Economic life can simply not dispense with forms of

institutionalized or noninstitutionalized kindness: the “human factor”

cannot be left out.

Without suggesting that this role is, or should be, the exclusive prerogative

of women, the well-known gender differences do play a role

here. Not every woman has social skills, and many men are as socially

skilled as women, but in everyday practice concern for the human factor

and the capacity to transform this concern into concrete acts of benevolence

are often found in women. They are the ones who buy flowers

for ill colleagues and toys for newborn babies. They are the binding factor

on the yearly “day out” with one’s colleagues. They keep an eye on

the personal well-being of the people surrounding them and often act

as intermediaries in case of conflicts. These acts of symbolic or material

kindness toward others, in considerable part performed by women, are

indispensable for maintaining a livable world.

Women’s greater share in gift giving may, therefore, imply a relative

advantage in terms of the social resources it offers them.Women indeed

often have more and longer-lasting friendships than men, start new contacts

more easily through school or neighborhood, are more often concerned

about their family members, and therefore develop more intensive

family ties compared with men. Although business connections benefit

men more in terms of economic resources, women’s personal relations

offer them more social and human advantage. In the end, this last type of

advantage might prove to be more important than any economic profit:

in times of personal problems, illness, death, or other misery, a business

connection is of no great use. After all, our personal happiness is more

dependent on interpersonal than on economic factors, if a certain level

of economic resources is guaranteed.

In this third model, women’s liberality brings the greatest benefit to

themselves. The asymmetric pattern of gift exchange existing between

genders advantages women more than men, not only because they receive

the greatest amount of gifts but also, and mainly, because of the

benevolence and kindness symbolized in these gifts, and the social benefit

this implies. Giving bywomenturns back to themselves as a pleasurable

kind of boomerang.