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ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE STUDY OF GENDER

Author(s): JUDITH SHAPIRO


Source: Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 64, No. 4, A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE IN
THE ACADEMY: The Difference It Makes (Winter 1981), pp. 446-465
Published by: Penn State University Press
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ANTHROPOLOGY AND
THE STUDYOF GENDER

JUDITH SHAPIRO

paperwas preparedfora lectureseriesentitled"Study-


ing Women: The Impact on the Social Sciences and
Humanities."I mighthave followedthe generalthemeof the
seriesbycallingmyownpaper "Anthropology and theStudyof
Women."I feltitimportant, however,todefinemysubjectas the
of
study gender rather than the studyofwomen.Letmebeginby
discussingwhy I considered this reformulation necessary.
The anthropological studiesofsexrolesthathaveappearedin
recentyearshave been primarily studiesof women.This is not
surprising,since the resurgence feminism
of inthe1960sled toa
growing interest in the question gender variousacademic
of in
Thereare problems,however,indefiningourenterprise
fields.1
as thestudyof women,and thefirstI wouldliketo pointout is
whatcan be calledtheproblemoimarkedness. I borrowthisterm
fromlinguistsand semioticians, who use it to referto an asym-
metricalrelationship betweena pairofcategoriesthatconstitute
complementary oppositeswithinsome largerclass.2The terms
"man" and "woman,"forexample,serveto contrastmale and
femalemembersof the largerclass of humanbeings;as such,
theyappear to be complementary opposites.At thesame time,
theterm"man,"as we know,can be used in a moregeneralsense
to contrastthe human species as a whole withsome other
category.Thus, the terms "man" and "woman" designate

JudithShapirois an AssociateProfessorof Anthropology at BrynMawr


College.She hascarried
out fieldresearch withtwo inBrazil,the
societies
tribal
Tapirapé and Yanomama,and has also workedwiththeNorthernPaiuteof
havebeen primarily
Nevada. Her publications in theareasof socialorganiza-
tion,kinship,and sex roles. She is currentlyengaged in the studyof mis-
sionaries.

446

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ANTHROPOLOGYANDTHE STUDY OF GENDER 447

categoriesthatare also in a hierarchicalrelationship,sinceone of


the termscan be used to referto the wider class as a whole, in
effectsubsuming what is its opposite term at a lower level of
contrast.In oppositions of this sort, the more general term is
referredto as the "unmarked" member of the pair, while the
other, more restrictedin its meaning, is the "marked" term.
Feministshave themselvescalled attentionto the asymmetryof
gender categories in language, which operates in pronouns as
well. The use of the pronoun "his" in the phrase "everyone
should weed hisown garden" is appropriatewhetherthe sugges-
tion is being made to an all-male group or a mixed one. The
phrase "everyone should weed her own garden," however,
restrictsthe class of appropriate subjectsto female.
The relativelyunmarked qualityof maleness, reflectedin the
tendencyto equate masculinitywith humanityin general, has
also been documented in the fieldof psychology.A well-known
and often-citedstudy by Inge Broverman and her colleagues
reported that psychologists'profiles of the mentally healthy
person (when sex was not specified)corresponded to profilesof
the healthyman. Profilesof the healthyor normal woman were
differentand included qualities- for example, dependency,
emotionality,excitability - that were not considered signs of
good mental health in a general, sexually unmarked context
(Broverman et al. 1970).
Feminist scholars from a variety of differentfields have
pointed to how their respective disciplines have presented a
male-oriented perspective on the human condition. The
emergence of women's studies programs is thus a reflectionof
the extent to which the apparently unmarked courses in the
academic curriculumconstitutea defactomen's studiesprogram.
By teachingcourses on women, focusingour researcheffortson
women, we bring those who have been in the darkness out into
the light.
Anthropologistsengaged in women's studies often note that
theirapproach is not merelyadditive,but rathercalls fora basic
rethinkingof the relationship between the sexes. Their im-
mediate contributions,however, have tended to be concerned
fairlyexclusivelywith women. This may have been a fruitful
short-termstrategy,but in the long run could become self-
defeating,since it perpetuates the marked statusof women. We

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448 SOUNDINGS

have, on the one side, women's studies and, on the other, the
traditionalfieldsof study,to varyingdegrees male-orientedbut
stillostensiblyunmarked. Women are seen as a problem requir-
ing some kind of special attention,while men are more or less
taken for granted,or at least not focused upon in a comparably
explicitway. But would it not be betterto view men as beingjust
as problematicas women? To insistthatwe need more studiesof
men as men- that is, studies based not on an uncriticalassump-
tion that what men do is more interestingor importantthan
what women do, but studies carried out witha particularfocus
on gender?
Anotherproblem withsayingwe are "studyingwomen," aside
from the issue of markedness, is that this phrasing seems to
designate a class of individual objects rather than an analytic
category.It is importantto stressthatour subjectis not "women"
(or, for thatmatter,"men") as groups of individuals,but rather
gender as an aspect of social identity.We should be carefulnotto
implythatidentityis coterminouswithgender.
In treatingwomen as a group or categoryapart,we failto pose
a sufficientlypointed challenge to the traditionalfieldsof schol-
arly inquiry. The charge that women have been relativelyig-
nored by the social sciences, while true, does not adequately
address the problem. The real issue, in my opinion, is that the
social sciences have yetto come to termswithgender as a social
fact.They have sufferedfroma tendencyto relegate sex to the
domain of the infra-social,to view sex roles largelyin termsof
how biology constrains society.3 The message from current
sex-role research is that gender must be viewed from the per-
spectives of economics, politics, religion, philosophy, art- in
brief,that gender is a total social factthat takes on its meaning
and functionfromthewiderculturalsystemof whichitis a part.
The taskbefore us, as I see it,is one of makingitas impossible
forsocial scientiststo avoid dealing withgender in theirstudies
of social differentiationas it is for them to avoid dealing with
such thingsas rank, class, and kinship.The goal is to integrate
the studyof gender differencesinto the central pursuitsof the
social sciences and, in turn,to see in whatway these pursuitsare
modified and refinedby understandingthe particularfeatures
of gender as a principle of social organization. I do not know
whetherthisis the impact thatrecent studies of women have as
yet had on the social sciences generally,or on anthropologyin

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ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE STUDY OF GENDER 449

butI maintainthatitis theimpactthattheycan have


particular,
and shouldhave.

Beforeconsideringtherelationship betweensex-rolestudies
and the widerfieldof anthropology, I should say something
abouthowI am usingtheterms"sex"and "gender."Whilethese
termscan meana numberofdifferent things,I havefoundthat
they serve a particularlyusefulanalyticpurposeincontrasting a
set of biologicalfactswitha set of culturalfacts.Were I to be
scrupulousin myuse of terms,I woulduse theterm"sex"only
whenI wasspeakingofbiologicaldifferences betweenmalesand
females,and use "gender" whenever I was referringto the
social,cultural,psychological constructs thatare imposedupon
thesebiologicaldifferences. The meaningoftheterm"gender,"
as I understandit,is thusnotunlikeitsmeaningforgrammar-
ians: it designatesa set of categoriesto whichwe can givethe
or cross-culturally,
same label cross-linguistically, because they
have someconnectionto sex differences. These categoriesare,
however, conventional or arbitraryinsofaras theyare notreduc-
ibletoor directlyderivative ofnatural,biologicalfacts;theyvary
fromone languagetoanother,one culturetoanother,intheway
in whichtheyorderexperienceand action.
The readermaynoticethatI haveseveraltimesused theterm
"sex"when"gender"wouldhavebeentheanalytically appropri-
ate choice.In doingthis,I have bowedto commonpatternsof
usage.I do notthinkthisposesa seriousproblem,sincecontext
should make it clear whetherI am speakingof biologyor
culture.The terminological oppositionbetweensex and gender
remainsavailablefor timeswhen I wantto draw an explicit
contrastbetweenbiologicaldifferences and culturalpatterns,
and I makeuse of itforthatpurpose.
Let me now go on to discusshow genderstudiesfitwithin
certainmoregeneraltrendsin anthropology and considersome
ofthetheoretical issuestheyhaveraised.I willnotbe attempting
any general surveyof the literature.4I will limitmyselfto
outlininga fewmajorthemes,drawingon selectedstudiesfor
purposesofillustration. The themesI willbe developingare the
following: (1) howthe studyofgenderfitswithinwhathascome
to be knownas symbolicanthropology;(2) how the studyof
genderhasraisednewtheoretical problemsfortheunderstand-

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450 SOUNDINGS

ing of social hierarchy,or inequality; and (3) how the studyof


gender brings to the fore issues concerning the sociology of
knowledge,a centralconcern of all social scientists.
I. Gender and Symbol
Over the last couple of decades, there has been a movement
withinanthropologyto focus particular attentionon the sym-
bolic dimension of human social life. Some of the major con-
tributorsto thisorientationinclude such Britishanthropologists
as VictorTurner, Edmund Leach, Rodney Needham, and Mary
Douglas; in America, the major figures associated with this
approach include Clifford Geertz and David Schneider. The
theoreticalorientationtheyrepresenthas come to be known as
symbolicanthropology,or culturalanalysis. Actually,insofaras
"culture," the master concept of anthropology,is defined in
terms of the symbolicnature of human behavior, one might
imagine that all of anthropology is symbolic anthropology.
However, not all approaches in anthropology give equal em-
phasis to the symbolicfunction.Indeed, manytheoriesin effect
fail to take account of it at all. Symbolicanthropologistsdefine
themselves in opposition to those who view human behavior
within naturalist,materialistor utilitarianperspectives. Sym-
bolic anthropologyhas thus emerged as a theoreticalalternative
to such approaches in anthropologyas culturalecology (in which
emphasis is given to the human group's need to adapt to its
natural environment); cultural materialism (which combines
technological/environmental determinismwith an attempt to
account for human social institutionsin practical, utilitarian
terms);and transactional,game theoryorientationsin whichthe
focus is on the maximizingindividual- another kind of utilita-
rian approach. Central to symbolicanthropologyis the concept
of the arbitrarinessof the symbol. Cultures, like languages or
literarytexts,are meaningful systems;the goal when one ap-
proaches themis less explanation,as one understandsthisin the
traditionof the natural sciences, than it is interpretation.
Studies of gender carried out withinthe frameworkof sym-
bolic anthropologyhave helped us to realize thatthe meaning of
male and female is neither self-evidentnor everywhere the
same. They have contributedtoward the conceptualization of
gender, discussed above, as an arbitraryor conventionalsystem.
Some of the best such workhas come out of recentethnographic

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ANDTHE STUDYOFGENDER
ANTHROPOLOGY 45 1
studiesin Melanesia.As long ago as GregoryBateson'sclassic
studyof thenavenceremonyamongtheIatmulof New Guinea
(Bateson [1936] 1958), this part of the world has proven a
particularly richarea forthestudyof beliefsaboutgenderand
the stylization of feminineand masculinebehavior.Research
carriedout in recentyearshas deepenedour understanding of
beliefsaboutgenderand sexuality, and shownhowthesebeliefs
mustbe understoodwithintheirwiderculturalcontexts.I will
citejust a fewstudiesto serveas examples.
In researchcarriedout among the Etoro of highlandNew
Guinea,RaymondKellyhas exploredtheculturalconnections
betweensexuality,witchcraft, and beliefsabout the natureof
menand women(Kelly1976). Accordingto Kelly,thedomains
ofwitchcraft and sexualrelationsare orderedbya commonset
of conceptsand shouldthusbe studiedtogetherforthe light
theyshed on one another.Both must be understoodwith
referenceto Etoro conceptsof life-force, whichmay be in-
creasedor diminished, and theimportanceof semenas a vital
substancedetermining thedegreeof a man'slife-force. A man
acquires semen 'n hisearlyyears and loses itin the courseofhis
lifetime,both throughacts of heterosexualintercourseand
throughservir! g as a donorto a youngermalewhosegrowthhe
thereby insures. The oral-genitaltrarisfer of semenlinksmen
together in a chain of being,through a closed energysystemin
whichthe youngerliterallyfeed upon the older and are nur-
turedat theirexpense.Heterosexualactivity is associatedwith
death and depletionfor the man; the woman,for her part,
servesas an agentof depletionwithoutherselfbenefiting from
the transferof male substance. Because of the dangers
heterosexualintercourse poses fortheman,itis cause forcon-
siderableambivalence and ishedgedbymanyrestrictions. These
negative attitudes do not apply to homosexual activity;while
suchactivity has a tragicdimensionfortheolder partner,it is
regardedas a necessarypartof maturationand is viewedin a
generallypositivelight.
In theEtorosocialuniverse,witches,whomaybe eithermale
or female,are thosewhopreyupon thesouls,or spiritdoubles,
ofothersand consumea portionoftheirvictims' life-forceinthis
manner. Witchcraftand sexual relationsthus pose similar
threatsto a man'svitalsubstance,and womencan be compared
to witches,who are depletorspar excellence, theembodimentof

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452 SOUNDINGS
all that is antisocial and thereforeevil. Moreover, if there is a
metaphorical relationshipbetween witchesand women in gen-
eral, the woman who temptsher husband into excessive sexual
activityis likelyto be seen as a true witch.
In the Etoro case, then, one achieves a richerunderstanding
of gender and sexualitythrough taking account of such other
aspects of cultureas witchcraftbeliefs.These domains interpen-
etrate,provide idioms forone another. It is importantto see that
the relationshipworks both ways: if gender and sexualitycan
serve as metaphorsforother areas of life,so gender and sexual-
itytake on their own meaning from other domains of experi-
ence. If we turn to our own society,we can see thatthe opposi-
tionswe draw between masculinityand femininity and the sense
we make of sexual activitycan onlybe understoodwithreference
to a varietyof cultural notions,of which competition,achieve-
ment, rationality,irrationality,love, and nature are but a few.
The studyof gender concepts, sex roles, and female-malerela-
tions thus becomes part of a more general symbolicanalysis.
Kelly'saccount of the Etoro, itshould be pointed out, presents
the male perspective. This observation is not intended as a
criticismof Kelly, who is an outstanding ethnographer and
recognizesthislimitationhimself;in his view,itwould have been
impossible for a male researcher to work closely with Etoro
women (Kelly 1976:47). What we must keep in mind is thatwe
do not knowwhichof the beliefsoutlined by Kellyare generally
shared byall Etoro and whichare peculiar to the men. If women
have a differentset of beliefs, differentperspectives on such
mattersas witchcraftand sexuality,these remain to be discov-
ered and interpreted.The general question of the divergence
betweenmen's and women's worldviews,and therelatedissue of
how the sex of the researcher may affectthe outcome of the
research,willbe treatedin a later sectionof thispaper. For now,
though, I would like to mention another symbolicanalysis of
gender which,as ithappens, was produced bya woman anthrop-
ologist who was explicitlyconcerned with supplementing and
correcting the account of a particular society that had been
produced earlier by a male ethnographer.
There are certain societies that are part of the common
cultureof all anthropologists,since theyhave been the subjectof
a classic ethnographyor set of ethnographies. One such case is
thatof the Trobriand Islanders, whose way of lifewas described

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ANTHROPOLOGYANDTHE STUDY OF GENDER 453
in the various writingsof Bronislaw Malinowski. Among the
anthropologistswho have studied the Trobrianders more re-
cently,one, Annette Weiner, came to focus her attentionon
Trobriand women, since she feltthat Malinowskihad failed to
accord sufficientimportance to women in his own accounts;
notably, he had failed to appreciate the social and symbolic
significanceof women's role in the systemof exchanges that
occupies a centralplace in Trobriand life.Weiner'sreanalysesof
Trobriand society (Weiner 1976, 1979, 1980) emphasize the
symbolicdimension of exchange; they provide interpretations
of the exchange activitiesof men and women in termsof Trob-
riand cosmologicalbeliefsabout complementaryroles of women
and men in thereproductionof life,and in thedevelopmentand
replacement of social persons. Charging that social an-
thropologistshave commonly taken too narrow a view of the
social order,Weinerexpands the scope of her analysisto include
the cosmic order, providing new perspectives on Trobriand
matrilinyand the "power" of women.
Weiner's goals in analyzing Trobriand sex roles and gender
concepts go beyond the interpretationof a particular society.
She uses the Trobriand case as a basis for broad cross-cultural
generalizationabout gender symbolismand the respectivevalue
differentsocieties place on maleness and femaleness (Weiner
1976: 233-6). The Trobrianders become a prototypicalcase of
all those societiesthatdifferfromus in theirabilityto recognize
and accord proper value to certain presumablyinherentqual-
ities of womanhood.5 We see here a convergence of the world
view of the Trobrianders and the ideological concerns of the
researcher (assuming that the ethnographyis itselfonly mini-
mallythe anthropologist'sown projection,a pointwe mustkeep
in mind when approaching any ethnographic account). Trob-
riand woman, in standing for all that our own male-oriented
culture denies, serves to "balance the books," to present an
alternativerealityin which women are seen as importantand
exercise significantkinds of power. She is a foil much as the
Noble Savage was for philosophers commentingon European
societyfromthe sixteenthcenturyonward.
It is interestingto compare Weiner's work withanother sym-
bolic analysisof gender thatalso occupies an importantplace in
the emerging body of anthropological literature on women.
SherryOrtner has writtenan article based on the question of

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454 SOUNDINGS
whethermale is to female as culture is to nature (Ortner 1974).
Developing one of the major themes in the work of the French
anthropologistClaude Lévi-Strauss,Ortner suggeststhat there
is such a parallel. She gives biological reasons for why the
equations between women and nature/menand culture might
emerge as cross-culturaluniversals, but ultimatelylocates the
equations and the asymmetrybetween them in the realm of
ideology. She accounts for what she sees as a universalsubordi-
nation of women to men by the universal social valuation of
culture over nature. Ortner's argument has provoked much
debate. One major question is whetherthe conceptual opposi-
tion she draws between nature and culture,and the hierarchical
relationship between them, represent valid cross-cultural
generalizations or are rather representationsof our own cul-
ture's systemof ideas.6
The basic impulse of symbolicanthropologyhas been toward
the achievement of rich descriptions and interpretationsof
particular other cultures. Anthropologistsworking under this
rubric have called into question traditional comparative
frameworksthat depend on pulling items of a cultural reper-
toireout of theircontexts,and in coding as similarpracticesthat
may look alike but mean differentthings. There are some
symbolicanthropologists,like Weiner and Ortner, who have
sought to move beyond analyzingthe symbolsystemsof individ-
ual cultures; here, the movement has been a direct leap into
broad generalizations.The coming years willperhaps see prog-
ress toward achieving comparisons that are more detailed,
close-grained,and revealing of the specificsimilaritiesand dif-
ferences between the conceptualizations of gender found in
various cultural settings.If the field of gender studies moves in
thisdirection,itwillbe in a positionto contributeto the elabora-
tion of comparative strategiesin symbolicanthropology more
generally. In any event, it is clear that symbolic analyses of
gender willcontinue to constitutea particularlyfertilefield for
anthropologicalresearch and writing.7

II. Gender and Social Hierarchy


Given the feministcontextof recentanthropologicalresearch
on sex roles and women, a central preoccupation in the litera-
ture has been the issue of sexual inequality. How should it be

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ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE STUDY OF GENDER 455

describedand analyzed?Whatare itscauses?Is ituniversal?Is it


inevitable?
MyowndoctoralresearchamongtheYanomamaIndiansof
northern Brazildealtwiththeissueofsexualhierarchy, a topicI
cametowhiledoingfieldresearchduringthelate60s. I triedto
explore how we could characterizethe asymmetry between
men'sand women'spositionsin society.I discusseddifferences
in workpatternsand socialnetworks, contrastsin thedegreeof
structural elaborationand formalization of men'sand women's
social roles,differential access of men and women to public
statusesand valuedsacredknowledge, and thecontrolbymenof
themarriagesystem (Shapiro 1972, 1976).The attempttoarrive
at a cross-cultural formulation of sexual inequalitywas also a
majorgoal ofwhathas been perhapsthemostinfluential single
publicationin the anthropological fieldof women'sstudies,a
volumeof essaysentitledWoman,Culture, and Society(Rosaldo
and Lamphere 1974). Ortner'sarticleappeared in thiscollec-
tion,complementing othercontributions thatanalyzedtheop-
positionbetween"domestic"and "public"domainsand consid-
ered the effectsof women'schild-rearing role (Rosaldo 1974,
Chodorow1974).
Ortner'sand Weiner'srespective symbolic analysesofgender,
outlinedintheprevioussection,reflectthiscentralconcernwith
sexualinequalityand illustrate thebipolarresponseof feminist
scholars.One responseis to affirmthe universality of male
dominanceand to seekwaysofaccountingforitwithoutfalling
intobiologicaldeterminism. Anotheris todenythegenerality of
the patternby producingcases to serveas counterexamples;
anthropologists takingthispositionare concernedwithshowing
howsexualdifferentiation mayimplycomplementarity as wellas
inequality.
A number of anthropologistshave attemptedto explain
cross-cultural differences and similaritiesin thepositionsofthe
sexesbymeansofone kindofeconomictheoryor another.One
attemptat a generalcomparisonis a studybyErnestineFriedl
(1975),whichpresentsan overviewof sex rolesin foragingand
horticultural societies.Friedl triesto accountfor the relative
power of men and womenin termsofwhocontrolsproduction
and extra-domestic exchange.She exploresreasonswhymen
are generally morelikelythanwomentoobtainsuchcontrol,but
also triesto identifyreasonsforvariation.8

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456 SOUNDINGS
Other economic approaches to the relativestatusof men and
women have been more sharply focused around Marxist con-
cepts. Marxistanalyses can take essentiallytwo forms.One is to
approach the sexes themselves as if they were classes, and
describe the relations between them in essentially the same
language as one mightuse to analyze the relationshipbetween
proletariatand bourgeoisie. Concepts used to discuss control
over the means of production are applied to the means of
biological and social reproduction as well; patrilineal descent
systems,for example, may be viewed in the lightof how senior
males appropriate the fruitsof women's labor in reproduction
and socialization (O'Laughlin 1974).
Another kind of Marxistapproach lies in seeing the develop-
mentof sexual inequalityas a functionof the emergence of class
systems.Such studieshave contributedimportantlyto an under-
standingof the significanceof gender roles forthe operation of
class systems.As Leacock (1975) has pointed out, we must not
thinkof women and the domestic realm as belonging to some
separate sphere irrelevantforthe economistanalyzingcapitalist
society;on the contrary,particularpatternsof gender roles and
familyorganization are an intrinsicpart of how this type of
societyoperates.
The general attemptto explain sexual stratificationby class
stratificationis, however, unsatisfactory;it simply flies in the
face of too much ethnographic data. Such data are sometimes
dismissedby Marxistscholars,who claim thataccounts of sexual
hierarchyin tribalsocieties are artifactsof colonial rule rather
than accurate representations of aboriginal institutions.An-
thropologistshave, to be sure, generallybeen remissin observ-
ing how the colonial contextand historyof contacthave affected
the subjectsof theirstudies.There is,moreover,ample evidence
of cases in whichwomen's statusdeclined sharplyunder colonial
regimes; documenting this process has, in fact,been an impor-
tant contributionof anthropologistsand other social scientists
workingin the so-called Third World.9 It is clear, however,that
the ethnographicrecord does not support an attemptto blame
male dominance on capitalism or to see sexual inequality as a
legacy of colonialism. Nor can all "aboriginal" cases of sexual
differentiationbe read as involving complementarityrather
than hierarchy,unless we are prepared to read our own case in
those termsas well.

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ANTHROPOLOGYANDTHE STUDY OF GENDER 457
Marxistidealizationsof sex-roledifferentiation in small-scale
societiesbringus back to the Noble Savage; whatwe are seeing is
an attemptto seek a charterfor social change in the mythof a
Golden Age. This approach is also a way of avoiding one of the
thornierproblems that recent sex-role studies have raised for
the fieldof anthropology,whichis the question of whetherand
how we can go about adopting a criticalperspectiveon societies
verydifferentfromour own. The union between social science
and social criticismis one thing when we are questioning our
own institutions,moving in our own moral universe. If we
engage in a critique of other cultures, however, do we risk
engaging in what we have generally seen as the opposite of
anthropology- missionization?Then there is the danger that
lies in the other direction.In termsof social science theory,the
alternativesto criticalapproaches- whichemphasize such issues
as conflict, inequality, exploitation, and contradiction- are
theoreticalorientationsthat at the least do not question and at
the most positivelycelebrate thingsas theyare. Do we operate
witha theoreticaldouble standard: a critique of societyfor us
and functionalismfor the natives?
The way out of these difficultieslies in the developmentof an
appropriate comparative framework for dealing with social
hierarchy.Gender studies should play a central role in this
development,forwhichtheyhave already provided an impetus.
It has become clear from anthropological studies of sex roles
carried out thus far that attemptsto make cross-culturalcom-
parisons about the "status" of women per se are problematic.
Criteria appear to be either ethnocentricor governed by a
misguided concept of objectivity,or both. There is also a grow-
ing realization on the part of some anthropologiststhat the
statusof women,or even the respectivepositionsof women and
men, cannot be approached as a self-containedissue. The study
of gender rankingmustbe part of a more general inquiryinto
social hierarchy;patternsof gender asymmetryin a particular
societyare to be understood in the context of whateverother
patternsof social inequalityobtain in thatsociety.10Indeed, one
way we can know whether to speak of a particular pattern of
sex-roledifferentiation in termsof hierarchyor complementar-
ityis to see itsrelationshipto other patternsof social diffeentia-
tion that are less ambiguously understandable in terms of in-
equality;we may,forexample, compare the patternsof interac-

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458 SOUNDINGS
tionbetween men and women withthose betweenindividualsof
the same sex but of differentclasses or ranks. We may inquire
into the way in which gender serves as a metaphor for other
modes of social asymmetryand vice versa.11
The comparative studyof social inequalitybetween the sexes
depends upon the kind of research into gender symbolismthat
has been discussed above. Such research directsour attentionto
the symboliccomponent of social hierarchyand domination. As
Kelly points out, beliefs like those the Etoro hold about witch-
craftand sexual relationsconstitute"a mechanism for the pro-
duction of an elementarysystemof inequalitybased on age and
sex" (Kelly 1976: 51).
III. Gender and the Sociology of Knowledge
In the course of myown attemptto provide a general charac-
terization of sexual hierarchy in a South American Indian
society,mentionedearlier,I had occasion to consider men's and
women's differentialaccess to knowledge. In subsequent years,
this issue has become a focus for ethnographic analysis and
theoreticalspeculation. Anthropologistshave come to thinkin
terms not only of who controls the material means of produc-
tion, but who dominates the means of symbolicproduction as
well; theyhave raised the question of whethermen and women
who are members of the same society can be said to form
"subcultures."In brief,gender studies have broughtto the fore
issues concerningthe sociologyof knowledge- a matterof cen-
tral concern to the social sciences generally.Withinanthropol-
ogy,the approach to the sociologyof knowledgehas been largely
in the Durkheimian mode, in whichthe internalhomogeneityof
societiesis emphasized and shared representationalsystemsare
viewed as reflectionsof overall social structure.Sex-role studies
have underlined the importance of internal social differentia-
tionand itseffectson whatanthropologistsreferto as "culture."
Recent ethnographic studies have shown that differentpic-
turesof the same societycan emerge depending on whetherone
sees that society through the eyes of its male or its female
members. One of the more influentialof these studies is Jane
Goodale's ethnographyof marriageamong the Tiwi, a northern
Australian Aboriginal group (Goodale 1971). In the an-
thropological literature, marriage systems are generally
analyzed froma male perspective.In showingus whatthe system

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ANTHROPOLOGY
ANDTHE STUDYOFGENDER 459
lookslikefromtheotherside,Goodale is able to clarify certain
featuresof kinshipand marriagein an Australiansociety,mak-
ingmorecomprehensible whathas traditionally beenone ofthe
knottierareas of ethnography.(It is interesting to note that
Goodale entitledherbook TimiWives,whilean earlierethnog-
raphyof the Tiwi and theirmarriagesystemthatfocusedon
men and was writtenby two male ethnographers - Hart and
Pilling1960- wasentitledsimplyTheTiwiofNorthern Australia.)
It has been suggestedin a numberof recentstudiesthat
culturesof maledominancemay,in fact,be men'scultures,not
shared by women who have theirown ideas about what is
important inlife.Someanthropologists haveattempted toinves-
tigatethe conditionsfor the emergence of a women's subculture
and also to determinewhetherit functions to supportor chal-
lenge the society'sdominant values (see, forexample,Murphy
and Murphy1974,Suttonet al. 1975,and Dwyer1978).
Of all oftheattempts thathavethusfarbeen made to applya
sociologyof knowledgeto sex-rolestudies,the one that has
generatedthemostdiscussionis an articlebyEdwinArdener,a
Britishsocialanthropologist, entitled"Beliefand theProblemof
Women"(Ardener 1972). Ardenerclaimsthatit is generally
maleswhocontrolthemodeofsymbolic productionin a society
and are themajorcreatorsofitsdominantworldview;women's
perspectives remain"muted."Ardenergoeson totiethisdiffer-
enceinmen'sand women'sworldviewstotheproblemofbiasin
ethnography by proposingthatthe models male informants
provide are the kindsof modelsthatwillbe understandable to
socialanthropologists(who are eithermen themselves or women
who have presumablybeen socializedwithina male-oriented
intellectual Accordingto Ardener,theanalytictools
tradition).
we haveat handas anthropologists do notprepareus to hearor
understandtheviewsheld bywomen.12
The issue of male bias, raised in Ardener'scritiqueof an-
thropological modelsofsocialstructure and symbolsystems, has
receiveda considerableamountofattention in theliterature on
gender.13 This concern over sex bias dovetails with a more
generalself-consciousness thathas characterized theprofession
in recentyears.Anthropologists have, at various timesin the
historyofthediscipline, showna specialsensitivity tothesubjec-
tivedimensionofethnographic research.Theyhaverealizedthe
need for learninghow propertiesof the human recording

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460 SOUNDINGS
instrumentaffect the record obtained. In the 1930s, when
Freudian ideas were particularlyinfluentialin American so-
ciety, it was sometimes suggested that anthropologists be
psychoanalyzedbefore going into the field. The phase of self-
awareness thatanthropologyhas entered intomore recentlyhas
developed within a different context - an amalgam of
philosophical influences (notably, from the fields of
phenomenology and hermeneutics) and the political auto-
criticismof a profession that has belatedly acknowledged its
relationshipto colonialism.
Withinthis context of reflexiveness,we can investigatehow
gender, among other things, influences our perspectives as
ethnographers.We are coming to understand how sex bias has
skewed our vision in a number of areas, including human
evolution. Unfortunatelythe effectof gender on scholarshipis
not alwaysdealt within as sophisticateda fashion as one might
wish. For one thing,there is commonlya failure to distinguish
consistentlybetween sex bias emanating fromthe observerand
sex bias characteristicof the communityunder study.A deeper
and more complex problem has to do withthe labelingof certain
ideas as "male" or "female." It is one thingto identifythe sex of
someone who is expressingan idea or of the group mostlikelyto
benefit from it; determiningauthorship, however, is another
matter,not to mention establishinga connection between gen-
der and the formor contentof the idea itself.Ardener'sviewson
male bias, while containingsome specificsuggestionsabout the
respectivecosmological beliefs of men and women, are some-
whatmurkyin theirwiderimplications.Is itbeing suggestedthat
the entire conceptual apparatus of anthropology is "male-
oriented"? If so, how much of it must be totallyreformulated,
and what would the resultlook like? Are female ethnographers
more likelythan male ethnographersto develop a receptivityto
the"muted" thoughtsystemsof women in the societieswe study?
Implicitin many discussions of sex bias, and in much of the
literaturein women's studies more generally,is the assumption
that only women can or should studywomen- what we might
call the it-takes-one-to-know-one position. This attitude,
prompted by a feministawareness of the distortingviews of
women held by the largelymale social scientificestablishment,
also findssupport in the practicalitiesof fieldwork; the division
between men's and women's social worlds is sharplydrawn in a

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ANTHROPOLOGY
ANDTHE STUDYOFGENDER 46 1
largenumberof societies.Tendenciestowarda sexualdivision
of laborin our profession, however,requirecriticalreflection
more thantheyrequireepistemological justificationor a new
sourceof ideologicalsupport.Afterall, if it reallytookone to
knowone,theentirefieldofanthropology wouldbe an aberra-
tion.
One of themoreextremestatements on malebias (Rohrlich-
Leavitt,Sykes,and Weatherford1975) assertsthatthereis not
onlyan anthropology of women,butan anthropology bywom-
en. The authorssurvey .someof therespectivecontributions of
male and femaleanthropologists to the studyof Australian
Aboriginal societies,and a
present generaltheoretical argument
to supporttheirviewthatwomenare superiorethnographers.
This articleis of interestin thatit developsexplicitlycertain
assumptionsthatappear covertly in someof theothersex-role
literatureand, in so doing,revealstheconfusedand contradic-
torynatureoftheseassumptions. Firstofall,Rohrlich-Leavitt et
al. presumethata femaleanthropologist has the capacityto
understandthesubjectiveexperienceof herfemaleinformants
just by virtueof the commonsex bond, a highlyquestionable
presumption.The woman ethnographer'sabilityto identify
with her female informantsis commendedas an abilityto
achievetheinsider'sperspective(somethingmenare said to be
unabletodo), whilethemaleethnographer's identificationwith
hismaleinformants is seen as bias (a disabilityto whichwomen
ethnographersare apparentlyimmune).There is a certain
piquancyin thereversalhere:doublestandardsofthissort,that
operatethroughswitching labelsforthe same thing,generally
workagainstwomen.They are not,however,anymoretenable
whentheyworkagainstmen.
Rohrlich-Leavitt et al. maintainthatwomenhave a greater
not for
capacity only subjectivity butforobjectivity as well- not
thepseudo-objectivity of maleanthropologists (whichis seen as
an alienatingformofscientific manipulation), an objectivity
but
resultingfrom women'spositionas sociallymarginal.Women,
by virtueof being an oppressedclass thathas to deal witha
dominantclass,achievethekindof"doubleconsciousness" that
also characterizeseconomicallyexploited and raciallystig-
matizedgroups. The conceptof double consciousnessis an
interestingone, but cannotbe applied in a naive manner.In
general,the issues dealt withby these anthropologists - the

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462 SOUNDINGS

respectiveadvantages and limitationsof insiders'and outsiders'


perspectives, the problem of objectivityand the question of
whetherone sub-groupin societyis more likelyto possess itthan
another- have occupied the attentionof major social theorists.
We cannot consider the problem solved, but neithershould we
expend our effortson tryingto reinventthe wheel.
This brings me back to the general position I argued in the
opening section of this paper: that gender studies should be
integratedinto mainstreamsocial science research. Let me em-
phasize here that the process has to work both ways. The
enduring contributionsto gender studies are being made by
those who are not only concerned withtransformingthe social
sciences,but also able to make use of the major past accomplish-
mentsof theirdisciplines.
* * *
Recent sex-role studies have been characterized by a con-
vergenceof scholarlyand politicalconcerns. The energygener-
ated by this merging of purposes has resulted not only in
contributionsto anthropological knowledge, but also in some
welcome changes in the respectiveroles of women and men in
the profession.
It may now be time for gender studies to move beyond the
stage where scientificand scholarlygoals were so closelytied to
politicaland personal ones. There is generallysome connection,
to be sure, but we should seek to make that connection the
subject of productiveintellectualstruggleratherthan an influ-
ence leading us to adhere unreflectinglyto a particular set of
concerns. Several studentsof gender have come to worryabout
the extentto whichwe have been projectingour own historically
specific situation onto the lives and experiences of those we
study;we need to be receptiveto encounteringthe unfamiliarin
the field of gender studies, as in ethnographic research more
generally.
The danger in too close an association between scholarship
and social reformism is not only in the limits it places on
intellectualinquiry,but also in the implicationthatour activities
as social, moral, and politicalbeings are dependent on what we
are able to discover in our scientificresearch. Loosening the tie
would have liberatingconsequences both for gender studies as
an area of anthropological investigationand for feminismas a

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ANTHROPOLOGYANDTHE STUDY OF GENDER 463
social movement. It is toward this stage that we are perhaps
movingnow.

NOTES

1. Therewere,tobe sure,important earlieranthropological contributions to


the cross-cultural studyof gender,includingthe well-known workof
MargaretMead and thedescriptions ofsexroledifferentiation thatcanbe
found,to varyingdegrees,in moststandardethnographic monographs.
Withtheexceptionofcertainculture-and-personality anthropologistslike
Mead,however, and thosefewethnographers whogavesexrolesa central
place in theirdescriptive work,genderwas notconsideredan important
focusforanthropological researchand theorizing and did notmobilizethe
energiesoflargenumbersofanthropologists untilrecently.In thisdiscus-
sion,I am concentrating on contributionsthathavecomeoutof thismore
recentperiod.
2. A discussion ofhowmarkedness operateson variouslevelsoflanguagecan
be foundin Lyons1968.The termis firstdefinedon pp. 79-80.
3. A similarpointcan be madeaboutage. It wouldbe interesting totracethe
paralleldevelopment of a sociologyof sex differences and a sociologyof
age differences.
4. I havehad occasiontodo a state-of-the-art surveyinan earlierpublication
(Shapiro1979). Othercomprehensive reviewarticlesincludeLamphere
1977,Quinn 1977,Rogers1978,and Tiffany1978.
5. As anotherMelanesianist has pointedout(Strathern 1981),Weineris here
doingsomethingverysimilarto whatMalinowskihad done beforeher:
settingup Trobriandman (or, in thiscase, woman),in oppositionto
Westernman(orwoman)as a modelforhumanity in general.This kindof
secondaryethnocentrism is an occupationalhazardof anthropology, an
understandable outcomeof the long,intense,and difficult businessof
tryingto learn about another culture. Commonlylabeled "Bongo-
Bongoism,"itparadoxically combinesa habitof undermining generaliza-
tionsbecausetheydo nothappentofitone'sownethnographic experience
witha propensity of viewingtheworldat largefromthevantagepointof
theparticular societyone has studied.
6. Rogers(1978:134-35)hasnotedthattheassociation ofwomenwithnature
andmenwithcultureisnotas straightforward eveninoursociety as Ortner
seemstoindicate.A moreextensive examination oftheconceptsofnature
and cultureinWesternsocieties, and theirdevelopment overtime,can be
foundin variousofthearticlesin MacCormackand Strathern 1980;other
articlesin thiscollectionaddresstheissueof howtheseconceptsdo or do
notfittheworldviewsof othersocieties.
7. Two important newcontributions tothisbodyofliterature aretherecently
publishedsetofessayseditedbyMacCormackand Strathern (1980) and a
forthcoming collectionof papers edited by Ortnerand Whitehead(in
press).
8. A more detailedexpositionof Friedl'sargument,and a discussionof
similarapproaches,can be foundin Shaoiro1979: 270-77.
9. A comprehensive discussionofthisissue,supportedbydatafromdifferent
geographical regions,can be foundin Boserup1970.
10. Rosaldo(1980) has also madethisgeneralargument.

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464 SOUNDINGS
11. Strathern, forexample,discusseshowgenderrankingservess a meansfor
expressing hiearchy amongmenin Melpasociety(HighlandNewGuinea),
and how the contrastbetween"big men" and "rubbishmen,"in turn,
informsthe way in whichsexual asymmetry itselfis viewed(Strathern
1976).
12. ShirleyArdenerhas editeda collectionofethnographic essaysdevotedto
pursuingthisline of investigation; Edwin Ardener'soriginalarticleis
reprinted in thevolume(S. Ardener1975).
13. Dickerson([1980] n.d.) providesan overviewof how therecentsex-role
literaturehas dealt withthe issue of male bias in anthropology,giving
specialattentionto thevariouspoliticaland theoretical
concernsthathave
motivatedthe inquiry.Milton(1979) and Strathern(in press) present
oftheconceptofmalebiasand theusestowhichitisput.
detailedcritiques

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