Women are playing a growing role in anthropology, as both students and professors. How is this affecting the field in terms of topics and analytic approaches? [JMcC]

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One of our sister OAC groups is "Feminist Anthropology," which has 61 members and appears to be reasonably active. Glancing at the list of members, it looks as if most are female. So the feminist element or stream or frame influential in anthropology more generally is present here on OAC.

It is curious that this demographic and perhaps ideological shift in anthropology, and its consequences for cultural anthropology, does not--from the lack of response here--seem to be a worthy topic of reflection. To me it would be quite interesting to consider if and to what extent any discernable general modification in anthropological perspectives has resulted from the major, perhaps dominant presence of women in the discipline.
Phil, for what it's worth, I note what crossed my mind when I first saw this discussion posted: It's an interesting question, but it's also what political folks in the USA call a "third rail" topic. The reference is to the third rail that carries the electric power to move subway trains. Touch it, and you're dead.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
One of our sister OAC groups is "Feminist Anthropology," which has 61 members and appears to be reasonably active. Glancing at the list of members, it looks as if most are female. So the feminist element or stream or frame influential in anthropology more generally is present here on OAC.

It is curious that this demographic and perhaps ideological shift in anthropology, and its consequences for cultural anthropology, does not--from the lack of response here--seem to be a worthy topic of reflection. To me it would be quite interesting to consider if and to what extent any discernable general modification in anthropological perspectives has resulted from the major, perhaps dominant presence of women in the discipline.
So what does that mean, John: that we take all of the people of the world as our legitimate subjects, but we are afraid to look in the mirror? Oh, dear.

Perhaps the one anthropology we don't really want to know about is ... the anthropology of anthropology.
No, Phil. All it means is that people wanting to engage in something besides Punch-and-Judy dust ups that are likely to tear apart an enterprise barely begun are letting this particular issue go for a while. It's not the end of the world.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
So what does that mean, John: that we take all of the people of the world as our legitimate subjects, but we are afraid to look in the mirror? Oh, dear.

Perhaps the one anthropology we don't really want to know about is ... the anthropology of anthropology.
Why must this be a "Punch-and-Judy dust up"? Or, why are people afraid that it would be that? I am puzzled.

My impression was that women consider their current place in anthropology as normal, and that feminists are proud of what has been accomplished. Is there any anti-feminist lobby in anthropology? Not that I know of. Is there anyone who is lobbying for a different demography? Not that I know of.

My original question is part of the more general question, Where are we now and how did we get here? Isn't this question part of the reflexivity that everyone recommends?
Could be. But, if I am wrong, what is your explanation for why no one else is speaking up? Could it have something to do with the way the question is posed, using the world "feminization," which is likely to be heard as implying a degradation from a more virile earlier state? Suppose you had written, instead, something along the lines of, "Women are playing a growing role in anthropology, as both students and professors. How is this affecting the field in terms of topics and analytic approaches?"

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Why must this be a "Punch-and-Judy dust up"? Or, why are people afraid that it would be that? I am puzzled.

My impression was that women consider their current place in anthropology as normal, and that feminists are proud of what has been accomplished. Is there any anti-feminist lobby in anthropology? Not that I know of. Is there anyone who is lobbying for a different demography? Not that I know of.

My original question is part of the more general question, Where are we now and how did we get here? Isn't this question part of the reflexivity that everyone recommends?
Well, they do say that the way a question is framed has a lot to do with how it is answered, or not answered, in this case. So, perhaps.
All members are invited to comment on this re-formulated question. Thanks to John for the new and presumably better wording.

As regards the old wording, why, if "feminism" has positive connotations, does "feminization" appear to some to have negative connotations?
"Women are playing a growing role..." This still needs to be refined. What exactly are we talking about? The number of women doing x relative to men (enrolling for courses, graduating, teaching, running depts, publishing and/or being cited in peer-reviewed journals, contributing to fora on OAC...), the influence or power that they have in the discipline (however that might be measured), and whatever else "growing role" might mean, in different contexts, institutions, countries. Maybe no one is replying because the question is too simplistic, subjective in tone, and still in some respects patronizing (or worse). The one male colleague I know who repeatedly complains to me about the "feminization" of the discipline does so in order to highlight what he thinks have been the negative consequences of this for rigorous thinking. I'm tempted to say that only a man could pose a question like this ;-) Otherwise I think we should be more precise in formulating statements about gender and anthropology as a discipline, privileging good description and analysis over rude assertion.
Good point, Martin. Would you, even though you are a man ;-), care to take a stab at a more precise, "good description"?
When I think of women's contributions to anthropology, I think first of Annette Weiner and Women of Value, Men of Renown. Weiner's restudy of the Trobriands fifty years after Malinowski brought home to me how much the classical ethnography I read was dominated by a male perspective and focused on the public sphere where men are dominant in most societies. Her bringing to our attention the importance in the Trobriands of the women's exchanges that accompany the male exchanges in the Kula and her thoughtful dismantling and reconstruction of Malinowski's views on magic demonstrated how much anthropology had to learn from closer attention to women. Women are, after all, half of humanity, and Weiner showed us how important it was to having women in the field who would bring not only new perspectives but also the ability to go places and to see things that men, as trapped in their roles as women are in theirs, would not.

Next I think of Ruth Behar, whose Translated Woman and Vulnerable Observer brings an added moral and motional dimension to what I learned from Weiner. I do not agree with Behar's position that anthropology is not science; but the brilliance of her writing and the depth of her concern compel my admiration.

I note, too, that when my wife and I were asked to write a chapter on Japan for an undergraduate reader on peoples and cultures in Asia, we wound up writing the following,

Part 2 explores a suite of common ideas about Japan, what it is to be Japanese, and the nature of Japanese society. We will look at where those ideas came from, the issues being addressed when these ideas were formulated and what has become of them since. Our approach will be highly selective, focused on the research of three remarkable anthropologists, who all happen to be women. One is an American forced to study Japan from a distance, one a Japanese who studied anthropology in Britain, did fieldwork in India, then brought her comparative perspective home, and one is a Japanese-American whose fieldwork in Japan tests her understanding of her own, partly Japanese, identity.

The women in question were Ruth Benedict (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword), Chie Nakane (Japanese Society), and Dorrine Kondo (Crafting Selves). There are male anthropologists who have done important work in Japan; names like Robert J. Smith, Harumi Befu, and Ted Bestor spring to mind. But their ideas do not dominate conversations about Japan in the way that Ruth Benedict's and Chie Nakane's do, and Kondo's explorations of stories that Japanese tell about themselves are a striking and useful counterpoint to the "cultural patterns" and "social structures" that Benedict and Nakane describe.

And how could I ever forget Mary Douglas, whose Purity and Danger and Natural Symbols have so massively influenced the way in which I think about ritual, symbols and taboos — in advertising and consumer goods as well as well religion and magic.

Thinking about these women and how their work has affected me, I find myself rejecting attempts to ascribe causal influence to the increasing number of women in anthropology, as if "women" were a category with categorical properties. I would like to see serious historical research that treats the contributions of individual women as seriously as the conventional histories of the discipline treat the contributions of their male counterparts.
In answer to Phil: my knowledge of the facts and figures is no better than anecdotal, and I second John's call for a historical account.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Good point, Martin. Would you, even though you are a man ;-), care to take a stab at a more precise, "good description"?

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