Playing with Categories
Day 6

"The Uses and Abuses of Anthropology..."
and Continued Metaphorization

Jen's comments on Ortner, Rosaldo, Alonso

On building arguments and honing concepts as tools...

Usefully, Ortner lays out her argument about the apparent universality of women's subordination with explicit attention to how she is conceptualizing "the problem" and imagining the ingredients necessary for an "answer."

The 3 levels of the problem as she sees it:
1. the universal fact of culturally attributed second-class status - what is the evidence for this, and how is it to be explained?
2. specific ideologies, symbols, structural arrangements that are variable
3. observable on-the-ground activities, that may contradict ideology (p. 22)

She also asks: what would constitute evidence that women are everywhere inferior?
Elements of cultural ideology (explicit); symbolic meanings that implicitly cast women as inferior; social-structural arrangements (p. 23).

NB she claims here that any of these kinds of evidence on its own, or in combination, would be enough to "prove" the subordination of women in a given society....this seems like pretty shaky logic.

See her subsequent autocritique in later article: she admits that her earlier mistake was to play up elements of male domination too much, to seize on them to label a society "male dominant" (p. 175). Suggests that we may need to work on being able to recognize egalitarianism in various forms. Elsewhere ("Gender Hegemonies"), she has suggested that there may be contradictory trends- i.e., male dominant and egalitarian - simultaneously at play in different contexts of the social life of a group, so that there is no one answer to the question of whether it is "really" a male dominant society or not.

Still, she seems to stand by much of her argument; the critiques force her to explain her original logic in subtler ways (remember Anne's discussion of "mutual metaphorization").


--original piece closely paralleled (and incorporated) Ortner's: part of the same edited volume, Woman, Culture, and Society, M. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds., 1974.

--she develops the dichotomy of "public/domestic" as the cultural but universal explanation for women's subordination. Women's roles of childbearing and breastfeeding create a division between the domestic and public. Aspects of the problem include:

-- space: women stay close to home, men can roam (hunting, politics)
-- authority: men distanced from intimate domestic life --> associated with control, sacredness, integrity
--achieved (men) vs. ascribed (women) status
--personality: women nurture and care for specific individuals, men's roles emphasize abstract rights and duties
--nature/culture (Ortner)
--women as anomalies: may have "informal" power but seen as witches, bitches!

Rosaldo's update is more "contrite" than Ortner's...

-- including the influence of the "Victorian precedendent" (401-409)
[see also Is There a Family? New Anthropological Views / Jane Collier, Michelle Z. Rosaldo, Sylvia Yanagisako]

--public/domestic assumes too much of what we should be trying to understand in any given context. Gender no more "primordial" than class, etc.

"I believe that gender is not a unitary fact determined everywhere by the same sorts of concerns, but instead, the complex product of a variety of social forces. The most serious objections to my 1974 account have demonstrated-with good cause, I think-that various measures of women's place do not appear to correlate among themselves, and, furthermore, that few of them appear to be consistently related to an isolable 'cause'." We need to ask how differences are created rather than assuming their existence." (401)

And while we are talking about "mutual metaphorization," anthropologist Sylvia Yanagisako points out one of the problems with applying the "public/domestic" dichotomy indiscrimately across cultures: it is a mixed metaphor.

"...a socio-spatial metaphor of authority [mixed] with a labor-specialization metaphor of differentiated functions" (1987: 111).

My point with all this is that, as Anne quoted Levi-Strauss, the debates around nature/culture and domestic/public have been "good to think." Provocative (if flawed) arguments spurred productive critiques and moved the conversation on to different planes. Earlier arguments were the building blocks of future - less ethnocentric, essentializing? - ones.

But wait -

Alonso is annoyed with people who call Rosaldo's work "essentialist." Why?
What do we think of these arguments?

Your postings:

Flora:I think I had always had a sort of existentialist view of the world, as I understand it from Anne. I thought that people really could make choices.

Samantha:I do not see how ... females and males, really have a choice/freedom (these words are so LOADED) in how their gender impacts their lives?...Rosaldo continues with a conversation about biology and I hope that we could consider this a bit more when discussing gender inequalities and where they come from.

Em: there is something in me bucking, shying away from what i see as the metal bit offered to me in some of these essays and ideas: anatomy is destiny. no no no. i don't want to be defined by my hole.

Kathryn: focusing on how women are constantly thrust in the domestic sphere and whining about women having to give birth and having to be the primary care givers doesn't seem very productive to me

Anna: Why is... the place where your children...are raised - looked down upon? It is quite probably one of the singlemost important jobs and yet we do not smile on it.

Alex: i would like to talk about alonso's closing statement in class, because i found it to be quite profound, but i didnt fully understand it: "a crippling split has emerged between feminists who believe in women and those who do not."

III. Anne re-metaphorizes the "split" as a series of ...

In the spirit of the Ortner-Rosaldo-Alonso theorizing and revisions of...
let's look at some of the arguments/building blocks for arguments you produced in your papers:

Weekend's homework:
Preface and forward to "The Order of Things," by great French philosopher/historian Michael Foucault;
an essay called "inside/out," by Princeton English prof/semiotician Diana Fuss.
By Sunday @ 5, post your responses to the readings on-line;
think particularly about their application to/extension of the essay you just handed in....

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