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Feminist Anthropology

Page history last edited by Marnie Thomson 9 years ago

Table of Contents



 

Main Points

Feminist Anthropology began in the 1970’s. It was created in response to the male bias in anthropology.[1] Throughout the history of anthropology males wrote most of the anthropological literature. When male anthropologists went into the field of certain cultures they were not allowed to communicate with the women.[2] In this way they were unable to analyze every aspect of society. Therefore, the data collected by the male anthropologists had a male bias, and female anthropologists wanted to change this.[3]One of the main goals of Feminist Anthropology was to expose this androcentrism.[4]  The second goal of Feminist Anthropology was to call for a redress of the unjust social order in society that gave men and women different statuses and privileges.[5] The Feminist Anthropologists, "have argued that a more powerful and inclusive understanding of society and culture can only be achieved by studying the cultural representations and experiences of, and practices associated with, women".[6]

 

Stages of Feminist Anthropology

There are three stages of female anthropology. The first was during the 1970s and had many defining aspects. The overall theme of this time is the salvage ethnography that was conducted by the Feminist Anthropologists to investigate the female aspects of culture that had not been studied by past male anthropologists.[7] The first of the defining concepts of this period is that the feminist anthropologists look at women’s roles and sexual bias.[8] Specifically they look at what women do in their communities and how do they contribute to their society.[9] Another aspect of feminist anthropology is the analysis of public and private dichotomy.[10] The men are in charge and have power because it is the men who are the “face” of society.[11] The private space is the female space, but in the kitchen and in the home they do wield a lot of power.[12]The third focus of the first stage of feminist anthropology is universal male dominance.[13] They tried to find matriarchal societies because they believed that the discovery of this would open up possibilities of political organization.[14] In 1974 Sherry Ortner published a landmark article to feminist anthropology is called, “Female to Male as Nature is to Culture”.[15] This dealt with the perception that men are the upholders of culture whereas the women are associated with nature.[16] The two main texts of this time period are “Women, Culture, and Society” by Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere and “Toward an Anthropology of Women”, written by Reyna Reiter.[17]

 

The second stage of feminist anthropology was during the 1980’s. During this time period the feminist anthropologists dealt with gender.[18] They believed that all sexed bodies are gendered.[19] They also looked at the cultural constructions of gender, such as what is means to be a man or a woman.[20] There were three main focuses of this time period in feminist anthropology. The first of these, as stated previously, was the social construction of gender. The second was the materialist perspective. They compared the status and role of women in various cultures.[21] The Feminist Anthropologists of this time did not deal with the definition of gender, but rather the comparison of the genders power in society.[22] The third focus of this phase was the “question of difference”, meaning that the Feminist Anthropologists had to accept, “the multiple racial, ethnic, class, sexual, age, regional, and national identities of women”.[23] The Feminist Anthropologists of this time found that the definition of gender varies by culture and throughout time.[24]

 

The third stage of anthropology was from the 1990’s to the present. The first main idea of this time is the diversity of gender ideologies, such as how different cultures explain gender, how these ideas are constructed, how they are reproduced, what it means for other aspects of society, and how this affects how you view religion, economy, and the sense of self.[25] The second aspect of this period of anthropology is gender inequalities.[26] Aihwa Ong, who is a feminist Marxist anthropologist, looked at gender in the work place, such as the expectations of genders in the work place.[27] They also looked at gender systems in unexpected places.[28] The fourth aspect was analyzing how power and hierarchy come to be naturalized.[29] Finally, the contemporary feminist anthropologists look at how each gender should act based on their gender.[30]


 

Key Terms and Definitions

Feminist Anthropology’s various terms that define the stages they were used in. During the first stage of Feminist Anthropology the term androcentrism, which is a legacy of “deeply held cultural bias to view the male as intellectually, spiritually, and physically superior to the female”, is the main concept of this time period.[31] There are many terms during the third stage of feminist Anthropology, in which they dealt primarily with gender. The first of these terms is sex, which is “the biologically differentiated status of male, female, or other”.[32]Gender, which is “the social, cultural, and psychological constructions that are imposed upon the biological differences of sex”.[33]While there are bodies that are physically female and bodies that are physically male there are also bodies that are intersexed, which is “a physical body with genitalia that is intermediate in form between male and female”.[34] Sexuality is the, “sexual practices, orientations, and the domain of desire, danger, and erotic pleasure”.[35]One of the main concepts in the third phase of feminist Anthropology is naturalization, which is the construction of cultural systems as natural systems”.[36]


 

Key Figures

Sherry Ortner

 

[37]

The above picture was taken of Sherry Ortner in 1990 at UCLA during her work as a professor there.

 

Background

Sherry Ortner was born in 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. She came from a middle-class Jewish family. She attended Bryn Mawr College for her undergraduate degree. As an undergraduate, she developed a strong interest in both the anti-war movement, as well as the feminist movement. She attended the University of Chicago for her M.A. and Ph.D.[38] Clifford Geertz, another well-known anthropologist, supervised her dissertation. In 1977, Ortner began working as a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching in both the Anthropology and Women’s Studies departments.[39] After teaching at the University of Michigan for 17 years, she had a short two-year stint working at the University of California at Berkley, followed by a job at Columbia University.[40]

Ortner has received many grants and awards from “the National Science Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, […] American Academy of Arts and Retzius Medal of the Society of Anthropology and Geography of Sweden”.[41]

 

Areas of Study

While in graduate school at the University of Chicago, Ortner began her field research on Sherpas in the Himalayas. Ortner chose to work in Nepal and the surrounding area “because her interests were in the geosocial regions of Tibet, Himalayas, southeast Asia, and the contemporary United States.[42] She was also interested in cultural anthropology, ideology, social theory, gender, and class.[43] This was her primary area of research until the 1990s. From 1966-1968 she spent a total of fourteen months in Nepal, conducting her research in a village that took ten days by foot to reach.[44]  She continued her research in Nepal in 1976 and 1979 and interviewed Sherpas in Katmandu in 1990.[45] Her research on the Sherpas has been vast, but includes the relationship between Sherpas and mountaineering, as well as politics and religion.[46]

In the 1990s, Ortner shifted her area of research from the Himalayas to the United States.  The first project that she researched focused on what it meant to be a part of the working class, using her high school class as her subject.[47] She is currently working on a research project looking at how American culture is related to Hollywood films.

 

Published Works

Ortner is perhaps on of the most well known anthropologists, specifically within the field of Feminist Anthropology (as well as Interpretive Anthropology and Structuralism), due to her many written contributions.

Perhaps her most well known work, which gave her international attention, is entitled: “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”, which was published in 1974. Although this was her second published work, it was her first piece focusing on Feminism.[48] This piece was published within Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere’s volume of “Women, Culture, and Society” (1974). When anthropologists were first gathered to help compile this volume, it was at a time when Feminist Anthropology was just forming. Ortner explained that when asked to participate, she said: “it sounds like a good idea, but I don’t know anything about women, and Shelly Rosaldo said, neither does anyone else”.[49] When asked in an interview by the AIBR, Ortner further explained, saying : “Gender was not my original focus in terms of my early work, and actually when I was in graduate school feminist anthropology did not exist. I was working on other kinds of things, my Dissertation and my first book was with the Sherpas and was about religion, and had nothing to do with gender at all. But it was about that time in the seventies, right after I finished my Dissertation and I got my Degree, and I was in my first job as Assistant Professor that feminism as a movement in the world started to happen".[50] This goes to show how new the field of Feminist Anthropology truly is. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” offered the idea that “women are universally devalues, in some degree considered inferior to men in all cultures”.[51] She argued that in general, women were more associated with Nature, while men were more often associated with Culture. Nature was seen as negative, because it reflects an uncivilized, pre-modern society, while culture shows intellect and sophistication. In “Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists”, Jerry Moore explains that :“Women are seen as closer to Nature in reference to three dimensions: 1)Women’s bodies are seen as more natural since they are more involved with the species’ life; 2) a woman’s social roles are viewed as closer to nature, specifically confining her to the domestic realm; 3) social perceptions of female psyche or personality portray woman as closer to Nature”.[52] More information on “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” can be seen in the Key Texts section of Feminist Anthropology.

 

Sherry Ortner provided a great detail of insight into the idea of symbols in anthropology. This can be seen in her work entitled: “Sherpa Purity”. This article spoke of the idea of pollution, especially within a Himalayan Sherpa community. She argues that “the array of polluting items and behaviors in Sherpa culture (dirt, sexual intercourse, adultery, birth, illness, death, ‘bad smells’ and ‘dirty food’, crowds, and lower castes […] reflects a larger, more coherent symbolic system”.[53] The idea of pollution, especially in relation to women, is something that extends throughout many cultures throughout time and space. Sherpa Purity links most pollution “to two domains: nature and women”.[54] This relates back to Ortner's other work: “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”. Among many cultures, female menstruation as well as childbirth is seen as very polluting. Similarly, “Sexual intercourse is polluting, although it ‘weakens’ men more than women. If sexual intercourse is polluting, sex between Sherpas and lower-caste Nepalis is even more polluting, but it is more contaminating for a Sherpa woman to have sec with a lower-caste male than for a Sherpa man to have sex with a lower-caste woman”.[55]  This was a very interesting contribution to feminist anthropology because it shows how closely gender is related to class as well as natural human occurrences. It also is just one of many examples in which Ortner provides insight into symbols in culture.

 

“Sherpas through their Rituals” is the first of three major ethnographic works on Sherpas and the Himalayas that Ortner is known for.  Published in 1978, this work focuses on ritual in a few different ways. First, it looks at ritual as “a system of meanings-goals, values, concerns, visions, world constructions”.[56] Second is as “providing a strategy for action”.[57] This relates to the idea that ritual shapes us and in turn we shape rituals. Third is the idea of contradictions “that are rarely eliminated but usually mediated through rituals”.[58] All of these ritual ideas relate back to symbolic systems, which are key to Ortner.

 

In 1989 She published High Religion: “A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism”, which is the second of her three major ethnographic works in the Himalayas. This ethnography focuses on “the establishment of Buddhist monasteries of celibate monks […] but also treats a central issue in anthropological theory regarding symbols, structure, and practice in the Himalayas – and in human culture in general”.[59] The idea of gender roles in religion, as well as the idea of celibacy in religion are both interesting in relation to feminist anthropology.

 

In 1999, Ortner Published the third of her major ethnographic writings on Sherpas, called: “Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering”. This book won her the J.I. Staley prize for the best anthropology book of 2004.[60] This writing looked at “the complex relationship between Western high-altitude climbers and the Sherpas”.[61] This reading is an example of feminist anthropology as well, because of the emphasis on gender in hiking expeditions. Initially, only men were involved on expeditions, but eventually women were included in treks as well. It even discusses the formation of female-only expeditions. This goes to show that gender and politics even applies to something like mountain climbing.

 

In 2003, Ortner published “New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of ‘58”. This was an ethnographic work that focused on the culture of her own graduating class of high school. It was also the work that shifted her attention from Nepal and the Himalayas to culture within the United States. This book looks at the “dynamic relationships between structure and agency in American society”.[62] This goes to show that anthropology applies to all societies, not just remote cultures of far off people.

 

Other works the Ortner has publish include: “Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality” (1981), “Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties” (1984), “Making Gender: The politics and Erotics of Culture” (1996), “The Fate of ‘Culture’: Geertz and Beyond” (1999), and “Anthropology and Social Theory: Culture, Power, and the Acting Subject” (2006).

 


 

Michelle Rosaldo

 

Background

Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo was born in 1944 in New York.[63] Along with being recognized as a Feminist Anthropologist, Rosaldo was also a Social, Linguistic, and Psychological Anthropologist.[64] She studied English literature at Radcliffe College for her undergraduate degree.[65]  In 1972 she graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology.[66] After Harvard, Rosaldo became an Assistant Professor at Stanford.[67] In 1981 Rosaldo passed away from accident while in the field in the Philippines.

 

Fieldwork

Michelle Rosaldo is most well known for her study of the Lingo people in northern Luzon of the Philippines.[68] She specifically focused on the Lingo’s practice of headhunting from 1967-1969. In all other aspects of society, the Lingo were relatively peaceful people, except headhunting.[69] She found that headhunting was linked to emotions and feelings, such as men saying “they took heads when they had a ‘heavy heart’ or felt angry or strong pressures”.[70] She returned to the Philippines to study the Ilongot people and continued this work for over a decade.[71] She specifically wanted to study “how personal and affective life is socially constructed and to understand how even common explanations (or 'discourse’) requires an interpretive account”.[72] She paid close attention to two key terms in the Ilongot language: liget and beya.[73] Liget was roughly translated as “anger” and beya was translated as “knowledge”.[74] The Ilongot believed that when a young man took someone’s head, he obtained the spirit of the victim.[75] Being a headhunter and actually killing other people “serves to excite envy and admiration among other youths, to increase one’s reputation among the elders, and enables one to attract a wife”.[76] Headhunting is not only an interesting practice on its own, but it is also interesting from a Feminist Anthropology perspective, because only men are headhunters. Also, Rosaldo found that Ilongot men are seen to have more passion than women due to their more extensive life and travel experiences.[77] It is due to this excess passion that they feel the need to headhunt.

 

Publications

Rosaldo wrote many books and articles about the Philippines. One of her most well known publications was “Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life” (1980). Another well-known book, which she wrote with Louise Lamphere (also discussed in Key Figures) is “Women, Culture, and Society” (seen in Key Texts).[78] At Stanford, Rosaldo also co-founded the Program in Feminist Studies.[79] Other publications by Rosaldo include “Context and metaphor in Ilongot oral tradition” (1971), “Toward an Anthropology of Self and Feeling” (1984), and “Feminist Theory: a Critique of Ideology”(1982).


 

Louise Lamphere

 

 

( Louise Lamphere presenting her reflections on the status of women in anthropology in the annual meeting of CoGEA [Committee on Gender Equity in Anthropology][80])

 

 

Background

Louise Lamphere was born in 1941. [81] Louise Lamphere received her Ph.D in Harvard University in 1968[82].  She was an assistant professor at Brown University from 1968 through 1985, president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) from 1999 through 2001[83], and is currently an associate professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as an anthropologist focusing on variety of subtopics of anthropology from medical to industrial anthropology. [84] She is best known for her studies on feminist anthropology and filing a lawsuit in 1977 against Brown University, accusing for discriminating women in tenure decision.[85]

 

As Louis received her Ph.D in Harvard, she began her career as an assistant professor at Brown University, as she was the only woman in the department and one of only about 25 women on the faculty. [86] On May, 24, 1974, the Chair of the Anthropology Department, Philip Leis, refused to grant her tenure because six tenured males in the anthropology department did not recommended her to the provost, Merton Stolz. Out of anger, she attempted to contact the President of Brown University, Donald Hornig, but was ignored. After confining with Jacqueline Mattfeld, the only female administrator in the university, regarding about her situation of being denied tenure and Mattfeld said she cannot do anything because "her hands are tied". This led Lamphere to hire a lawyer, with full intentions to sue Brown University for the patterns and practice of discrimination of women. [87]

 

In the fall of 1977, the university agreed to the consent or "Lamphere Decree," as it is often called. The decree required that each department make clear of its standards for tenure evaluation and that the university conduct an annual review of how tenure decisions were being made. The main goal of the decree was to achieve a proportion of female faculty members in every department that mirrored the proportion of females holding doctorates in each discipline. [88] Though Brown did not admit past discrimination, the institution did commit to a number of goals and deadlines for the hiring and granting of tenure to women faculty. The decree was officially vacated by federal court in 1992. [89]

 

Post Lawsuit

After winning the lawsuit, Lamphere left Brown University in 1986 to take professorship as an associate professor at University of New Mexico and serving as the Advisory Board Chair at the Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies. She plans to teach one anthropological course per year until 2013 and continues her role as Chair of the Advisory Board at the Ortiz Center at the University of New Mexico, where she also conducts an oral and collaborative history research project of the Hispanic families in San Rafael and Grants, New Mexico. [90]

 

Donations and Scholarship

The case that Lamphere brought against Brown had a huge impact and laid a foundation of woman's rights in universities across America. When Lamphere started teaching at Brown, only 25 women held regular faculty positions. This year there are 229. [91]  On October 25, 2008, Lamphere gave a one million dollar gift to Brown University. The gift establishes the Louise Lamphere Visiting Professorship, a two-year joint appointment for young or untenured professors to teach in women's studies and another departments, such as anthropology and sociology. [92] Acknowledging that few postdoctoral opportunities exist in the field, she believes this gift can have an impact on the faculty makeup of the women in Brown University and continues to help more women make an impact in the world [93], as she believed that hiring more women in higher institutions is connected to having more women scholars.

Lamphere chose Brown for her gift not just because of her long history with the University, but also for the University's ability to match her academic interests, as she claimed "it's probably the most well-suited to do both anthropology and gender studies." [94] Lamphere, whose family inheritance has allowed her to make charitable donations, has also given gifts to the University of New Mexico, where she currently teaches. [95]

 

Anthropological Research

After early work on the Navajos before , she became interested in the women's movement and began working gender issues into her research. She advised a Group Independent Study Project, taught a course on women's issues and published a book, along with Michelle Rosaldo, called Women, Culture and Society, one of the key text of feminist anthropology. [96]

 

In 2005, Lamphere supervised an ethnographic team which examined impact of Medicaid management in New Mexico. The team published articles in the Medical Anthropology Quarterly and focused on the impact of increased bureaucratization on women workers in the health care clinics. [97]

 

Recently, Lamphere has been focusing on public anthropology; studying critical social issues – such as health reform, in New Mexico. Her most recent published work, Weaving Women’s Lives, focused on three generations of women in a Navajo family she has known for years that illustrates the process of incorporating new practices and ideas while retaining distinctive Navajo beliefs, values, and orientations. As individual threads are woven to create a unique pattern, so have Navajo women pulled together elements of Navajo and Anglo culture to create a new blueprint for their lives. [98][99]


 

Other Key Figures

Along with Sherry Ortner, Michelle Rosaldo, and Louise Lamphere, other key figures of Feminist Anthropology include: Marilyn Strathern, Lila Abu-Lughod, Micaela di Leonardo, Henrietta Moore, and Rayna Reiter.[100] 


 

Key Texts

 

Women, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview

 

Cover Image

 

 

Synopsis

 

"Women, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview" is first chapter of Women, Culture, and Society, a Feminist Anthropology book written by Michelle Rosaldo and published in 1974.  The book addresses the treatment of women cross-culturally and the way that they are almost always marginalized in favor of the men in their societies.  Rosaldo argues that men have the advantage of living in the "public" sphere while women are confined to live their lives in the "domestic" sphere.[101]

 

In the public sphere, men can exercise their authority in political situations and hold great power in their communities.  Men are encouraged to get out of the domestic sphere as they grow older.  They are encouraged to go out and to become educated and more intellectual.  When boys turn into men, the transition is a big process that the boys must work toward.[102]  After the transition into manhood, males typically will leave the domestic sphere completely to join the other men and begin his public life.

 

In the domestic sphere, women are trained from childhood to assume the roles that they will take on.  The transition from girlhood to womanhood is not as pronounced as the transition for males.  As a young child, females imitate their mothers and are taught how to keep a house and even how to raise a child.  Generally, women stay in domestic roles their whole lives, transitioning only between their family of origin and their family of procreation.  There will usually be no transition into the public sphere and there will be little or no formal education for the young girl.[103]

 

Rosaldo acknowledges, however, that women can still have great influence on politics.[104]  Women can influence their husbands or in some situations form groups of their own and are sometimes (like in the case of the Lele of the Kasai in Africa) even feared by men during menstruation.[105]  Women often hold power over men in less obvious ways than men do over women.

 

Women, also, are defined in very narrow terms.  A woman, Rosaldo argues, is defined as "natural" and thus constrained to a domestic life.[106]  All associations with the definition of a woman, however, are sexual in function.  If women don't deny their physical bodies, they are viewed as dangerously sexual or promiscuous.[107]  They become anomalies because men find it difficult to define females and the power that they hold.  Powerful women are feared and often (like in the case of the powerful Nupe women of Nigeria) out-casted and made illegitimate so that their power was no longer a threat.[108]

 

When there is lesss distinction between the public and domestic spheres, Rosaldo argues, is when women have the most power.  When women are left to perform work themselves and to form kin groups or to enter the man's workforce, they are able to become more powerful than when the men are always around and watching over them.[109]

 

 

Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?

     Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? is one of the most prominent texts of Feminist Anthropology, first published in Rosaldo and Lamphere's Woman, Culture, and Society, 1974Written by Sherry Ortner this piece was at the forefront of the Feminist Anthropology movement.

 

Synopsis

     

     Pan-culturally women hold a secondary status in comparison to their male counterparts. Although woman's secondary status is a universal, the way women are viewed within their respective cultures varies tremendously.[110] Sherry Ortner is looking to make a social commentary on the importance of feminist social change. The purpose behind this commentary is, "to expose the underlying logic of cultural thinking that assumes the inferiority of women." [111]

 

     Within Taoism, one of the main religions in China, the female, yin, and male, yang, carry equal cultural significance. Although one of the most venerated deities is female, China still possess a mainly patrineal society, with much value being placed on sons and the male perspective.[112] Through her research Ortner was unable to find an egalitarian, much less matriarchal, society. One of the closest examples is the women of the Crow; the women of this tribe possess honorific roles in important rituals. Although they possess these responsibilities they are still not held with the same regard as the male members of the Crow. The major line separating the Crow women from the Crow men is menstruation, thought to be dangerous to warfare and, "the most sacred object of the tribe is taboo to the direct sight and touch of women.”[113] 

 

     Some argue that male domination is biological determinism in play, meaning that there is a genetic difference in males that make them the more dominant sex. That “something is lacking in females, and as a result women are not only naturally subordinate but in general quite satisfied with their position.”[114] However, it is important to consider other universals while trying to interpret female subordination. Every human is born to a mother and will eventually die, just as every person has a physical body and intangible mind. It is in considering this that the question of what causes women to be universally devalued arises.

 

     Pan-culturally the role of female can be equated in value to that of nature. The realms of nature and culture contain much gray area yet they are distinct in their valuation, just as the roles of male and female are. Universally, greater value is placed on culture and its ability to manipulate nature for cultures own gain. Through this manipulation culture asserts itself to be distinct and superior. Woman is perceived as nature due to her role in child rearing. Woman invests a lot in procreation and that investment continues after the child is born.[115] Although with modern technologies man could easily rear a child single handedly, woman is simply anatomically made for the job.

 

     This divide in investment in procreation continues into the child’s life where the mother plays the role of cultural mediator and is responsible for enculturation the child who is animalistic at birth. The role of father contrasts mother in that the male role is abstract and impersonal. While girls are unlikely to deviate from their mothers' role, at some point it is viewed as necessary for young boys to be brought into male culture.

 

   In reality man nor woman is truly more associated with nature, but there are certain aspects of the human experience that make it seem as if woman is more in commune with nature. The only way these ideas can shift is through the change of social institutions and the general acceptance that woman is not exclusive to nature just as man is not exclusive to culture. Without this key recognition that women and men can be equally involved in matters of child rearing and creativity major change will not occur.

 

Theoretical Approaches 

 

     Ortner applied many theoretical approaches to her work, Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?, some of the different approaches include Structuralism, Feminist Anthropology, and Cultural Ecology.

 

     Her use of Cultural Ecology, as a counterexample, is most pronounced in the section, “Why Is Woman Closer to Nature”[116],  the subject of biological determinism is first breached in this area. A Cultural Ecologist would suggest that this biological determinism is shaped by the environment.[117] That the subordination of women is caused by their major part in child rearing, therefore they have less time to partake in the making of culture, the subordination of women evolved multiple times due to the stresses of the environment. The importance of the role women must play in protecting their offspring, and the attention it takes away from other aspects of life outweighs what women could contribute to culture. For the reason that women are biologically determined to rear offspring, is the same reason males are the makers of culture.

 

      Another theoretical approach which Ortner employed in an attempt to make sense of the globally accepted subordination of women is Structuralism. Structuralism is the idea that human minds have certain universal characteristics due to common features of the brain.[118] Much of the human need to impose order on the world is shown through binary oppositions, such as male to female, raw to cooked, good to evil, animalistic to civilized. Although Claude Levi Strauss pioneered the idea of raw versus cooked in his research in the Amazon, Ortner analyzes the role of woman as a key mediator of bringing children from animalistic to civilized, from nature to culture, from raw to cooked.[119] It is woman’s duty in being closer to nature to bring her animalistic children  from nature to the culture of their fathers, it is her duty to “cook” them until they are ready.[120]

 

     Ortner’s key approach to this paper is Feminist Anthropology, the “add women and stir” approach.[121] Ortner’s paper is an in-depth look at the dichotomy between male and female, public and private, nature and culture. Through this methodology Ortner addresses the male bias felt globally and where it stems from. Sherry Ortner is the mother of feminist anthropology, a field she fell into, almost by accident.[122] The general approach to feminist anthropology is to look at a subject matter from the female perspective, a perspective that was left out of the majority of modern anthropology due to the male dominance of the field.


 

Critiques

 

Neglect of Other Cultural Factors

     As with all theoretical approaches, Feminist Anthropology has some flaws. One major fault is that Feminist Anthropologists can overlook other elements in the culture and people they are studying in favor of focusing on the feminine factor. “(Feminist Anthropology) privileges sexual difference over other important axes of difference crucial for the construction of identity, such as race, ethnicity, class, and so on.”[123] In their research, a Feminist Anthropologist could neglect other important elements that affect a society, perhaps putting too much emphasis on gender and sexuality. By allowing other features of a cultured to have less weight in a study, the overall face of the society or culture is represented perhaps much differently, and possibly incorrect conclusions about the culture may be drawn.

 

Basis on Political Principles

     This leads us to another critique of the theory: “One general criticism of feminist thought at political ideology, brought from within as well from external critics of empirical bent, is that feminism begins not with a set of questions to be investigated, but with a set of doctrinaire answers that are held on faith and imposed on ethnographic cases that serve as illustration... As a consequence, complex reality is made to fit a simplistic doctrine and theoretical ideas are not tested in a tough-minded fashion.”[124] Basically, that Feminist Anthropologists seem to search out information that fits into their scheme, instead of going out into the field completely open-minded with simple questions to guide them; they seek to support their principles. By doing this, the complex nature and elements of a society are oversimplified to fit in with feminine ideas, and the findings of the Feminist Anthropologists are not critically proven in doing so.

 

Too Much Emphasis on One Gender

     At times, Feminist Anthropology can put too much of an emphasis on the role of women in a society; studies can trend towards focusing only on one gender, whereas they should seek to study all genders within a culture, and the dynamics among them. All elements of a society should be taken into consideration, not just the role of the female. “There were untenable presuppositions underlying the approach... two that are particularly problematic: that standpoint demands that some viewpoints, i.e., those of women, are epistemically privileged; that it does not acknowledge the diversity of women, essentializing woman and replacing the universal man of modernism with a universal woman.”[125][126]

 

 

Footnotes

  1. Lecture, Professor Carole Mc Granahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 29 Sept 2010
  2. Lecture, Professor Carole Mc Granahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 29 Sept 2010
  3. Lecture, Professor Carole Mc Granahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 29 Sept 2010
  4. Erickson, Paul A. and Liam D. Murphy. 2008. A History of Anthropological Theory (Third Edition). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
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  117. Recitation Lecture, TA Marnie Thomson, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, September 2010.
  118. Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 6 October 2010.
  119. Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 6 October 2010.
  120. Ortner, Sherry B. 1974. “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?,” in Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., Women, Culture, and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 78.
  121. Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 29 September 2010.
  122. Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 29 September 2010.
  123. Moore, Henrietta L. Anthropological Theory Today. 1999. Malden, MA: Polity Press. pg. 168
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  126. Moore, Jerry D. Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. 1997. Walnut Creek, CA: AltraMira Press.

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