PhD defence - Ann Fenger Benwell

Keeping up Appearances - Gender and Ideal Womanhood in Postsocialist Mongolia

Thursday, 10 December 2009, 2 PM

Department of Anthropology
University of Copenhagen
CSS Auditorium 25.01.53
Gammeltoftgade 19
1353 Copenhagen K

Assessment committe

  • Professor Caroline Humphrey, University of Cambridge
  • Associate Professor Bo Wagner Sørensen, Roskilde Universitetscenter
  • Associate Professor Vibeke Steffen, University of Copenhagen

The PhD Thesis can be purchased at the bookstore at Campus.


This thesis addresses the dramatic changes experienced by the Mongolian family since the fall of Soviet socialism. Based on fieldwork in Ulaanbaatar and previous work and residence in Mongolia the thesis explores both persistent and changing gender relations that, it is argued, are associated with the Mongolian ger (tent) and yos (rules of conduct), besides with a lasting impact of the former patriarchal state socialist system.

The thesis argues that although traditional notions of being 'a good woman' persist, they are also being challenged and renegotiated. Women maintain an identity as subordinate wives and mothers despite being de facto heads of the household or single, as divorce has become commonplace and husbands migrate. They thus attempt to keep up the appearance of a traditional family pattern of the nuclear family based on marriage and a male-headed household. The thesis thus analyses historical changes, generational male and female perspectives, the institution of nuuts amrag (secret lovers) and migration.

Combining history with an anthropological perspective on gender relations as more than a male-female opposition the thesis seeks to uncover how pretence has grown to a form of life with people keeping up appearances of conventional structures.