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InvisibleRebelSteve33
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Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles
    #1237356 - 01/21/03 04:48 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

Margaret Mead was a very famous anthropologist who made some very interesting and philosophical findings throughout her career. Today in my Sociology class, we learned about one particular finding she made, which was what I wanted to talk about in this post.

Mead studied the societies of many different people all over the world. Almost every one of them was dominated by males, and the gender roles of males and females were pretty much the same in each. But then she came across three unique tribes of people.

In one tribe, there was basically no difference between the men and the women. Both of them were what we, as Americans, would consider "female" in gender. They both took an equal part in raising the children. Nobody hunted, they simply all grew plants for food. They never fought and actually had no word for war.

In another tribe, there was again no difference between the males and females, but this time both of them were what we would consider "male" in gender. It was a tribe of warriors, and both genders were warriors! Also, both the men and women hated children and took no part in raising them.

In the last tribe, there was a difference between the males and females, but the gender roles were switched from what we would consider "the norm." The men were the emotional ones who cooked and cleaned the house and raised the kids, while the women were logical, rational, and dominant.

Apparently the point of all these findings is that there is no innate difference between men and women, because if there were, the role of men and women would be the same in every society. Neither man nor woman is born to be more dominant or more violent or more emotional or more intelligent. Boys aren't born to like blue, and girls aren't born to like pink.

I think it's safe to say that most people realize this to be true. I, for one, believe that besides the obvious biological factors, men and women are the same in every aspect and learn their gender roles from the society they live in.

However, I'm not sure if I believe that Mead's research and findings necessarily prove this fact. What if there are innate differences between men and women, but these are over-ridden by what we're taught by the society we live in?

I asked my teacher about this after class, and she said that if there were innate differences between men and women, they could not be over-ridden by anything (even the teachings of society). She used the example of how a certain species of bird knows what type of nest to build and how to build it, and no bird in that species ever builds a different kind of nest because building that particular type of nest is something that is innate within them and can't be changed by anything.

I said, "But birds don't have societies like we do. What if it is innate for every human female to be nurturing, but some of them aren't because what society teaches them is so strong."

She said that if being nurturing were an innate quality of the female gender, there would be no instances of infanticide or child abuse or anything like that.

I said, "But what if those things are caused by some sort of mental disorder or are actually caused in a way by the negative aspects of the society that those women live in. Don't you think that if our societies are strong enough to really make us who we are and determine how we behave that they could be strong enough to over-ride any sort of innate, natural instincts that we might have?"

She said it was an good question, but didn't really have an answer for me.

What do you guys think about the gender issue as a whole? And what do you think about the conclusions that were made from Mead's research and findings?

(Sorry for the unintentionally long post... Hope it was worth it in that it will stimulate some good discussion!)

-RebelSteve


--------------------
Namaste.


Edited by RebelSteve33 (01/21/03 04:59 PM)


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OfflineMetasyn
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Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: RebelSteve33]
    #1237390 - 01/21/03 04:55 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

Very nearly everything is a combination of nature and nature, of genetics and environment. There are certainly some innate differences between genders, which are either amplified or suppressed depending on the particular culture. Our culture tends to amplify the innate differences, and I think we're a lot more alike than most people think.


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InvisibleSclorch
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Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: RebelSteve33]
    #1237543 - 01/21/03 05:36 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

She said that if being nurturing were an innate quality of the female gender, there would be no instances of infanticide or child abuse or anything like that.

I said, "But what if those things are caused by some sort of mental disorder or are actually caused in a way by the negative aspects of the society that those women live in. Don't you think that if our societies are strong enough to really make us who we are and determine how we behave that they could be strong enough to over-ride any sort of innate, natural instincts that we might have?"


I think statistics would help us here. Statistics don't interpret anything... they just restate it in the form of probability.

Yeah, cross-reference instances of infanticide with the incidence of mental disorders...


--------------------
Note: In desperate need of a cure...


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: RebelSteve33]
    #1238091 - 01/21/03 10:31 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

The whole field of anthropology took a wrong turn near the beginning of the last century when Franz Boas put forth a premise that has lead them down a wrong path ever since.

Maggie Mead was wrong about most things because she didn't bother to inspect the premises she labored under. A common mistake but a deadly one as far as truth is concerned.

Peace


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InvisibleRebelSteve33
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Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: ]
    #1238910 - 01/22/03 08:41 AM (11 years, 8 months ago)

What was the premise put forth by Franz Boas that has led anthropologists down the wrong path?

And what do you mean when you say that Mead did not inspect the premises she labored under?  One hting I'm learning from reading Atlas Shrugged is that it's very important to check your premises! :smile:

Do you think that her findings were wrong in the case that I talked about?  I definitely do.  I think that humans do have some innate, natural instincts within them, but our societies are SO strong that those instincts can be and sometimes are over-ruled.


--------------------
Namaste.


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: RebelSteve33]
    #1243390 - 01/23/03 04:22 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

I didn't want this thread to get buried too far under the pile before I responded to it.  Lately the sound and fury has been blowing at a gale force so I apologize for my tardiness.

Anthropology was divided in its opinion as to what constitutes truth in its early years, enter Franz Boas.  Dr. Boas was Columbia University's first professor of anthropology but his background wasn't in it.  His formal training was in mathematics and physics, two disciplines of hard science.  So he superimposed the principles of empirical investigation into an area dealing with human nature.  This is where he and the rest of anthropology got into trouble.  Dr. Boas' students were prolific in their writings and many became known world-wide.  Maggie was only one of a rather large group.  His other students were Ruth Benedict, Robert Lowie, Edward Sapir, Alfred Kroeber, Paul Radin et al.

A quote by Goldschmidt proves instructive:

This empiricism, this concern with fact, with detail, with preserving the record, Boas transmitted to his students and to anthropology.  It is so major an element in anthropological thinking that the term 'armchair anthropologist' is one of opprobrium, and two generations later we still insist on field work as a requisite to any claim for anthropological competence.

The bottom line is that you can't show scientifically that a certain culture has certain values because the values do not translate into terms of empirical research.  The work on the nature of man is a philosophic enterprise, not a scientific one.

Let me recommend one other book if you want to rankle your professor and appear to be extra intelligent. :wink:

Theory in Anthropology by Robert Manners and David Kaplan

Here's a quote:

"Scattered throughout the anthropological literature are a number of hunches, insights, hypotheses, and generalizations.  They tend to remain scattered, inchoate, and unrelated to one anothe, so that they often get or are forgotten.  Thge tendency has been for each generation of anthropologists to start afresh.  Theory building in cultural anthropology comes to resemble slash-and-burn agriculture where the the natives return sporadically to old fields grown over by bush and slash and burn and plant for a few years."

Sociology, like anthropology, is, in this old professor's mind, bollox.

Carry on 


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: ]
    #1245911 - 01/24/03 01:11 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

Thanks.

I think you are trying to transpose the standards of empirical science to social science. You are correct in saying that this is not possible. But I dont think that it is therefore wrong to do so. In the social sciences we have a choice of either using the scientific method or of not using it. This allows us some 'objectivity' or else subjective and qualitative description. In psychology if we did not use the scientific method we might believe that eg. the more we reward a person for their opinion the more they will be commited to it whereas the counterintuitive is the case - the less we reward them for it, the more strongly they will adhere to it. Or we might think that a person would be more likely to help a distressed person if there were other people around (to appear to be doing the right thing) but research suggests they are in fact less likely to because responsibility becomes diffuse. The hard sciences are also not value free. In chosing one area of investigation over another a person is being guided by values about what is better and worse to study. Theory is separate from facts so there is what is observed versus how you explain it. Explanations can vary wildy and are value laden. Also expectations influence results in physical science as well as social science. They have (ironically) demonstrated this scientifically in quantum physics. In psychology we try to get around these problems as best we can by using controls, relying on a number of studies with similar results done with different populations by different researchers to draw conclusions, using an experiment facilitator who is not aware of the expected results, using very large subject groups, trying to pick subjects or assign them to groups randomly, etc.

I have heard of an anthropological study of Margaret Meads where she found women had a stronger sex drive in one culture compared to men, and one where women were considered to be physically stronger. In cross cultural psychology they investigate mental disorders between cultures and historically to determine which are more innate and which are culturally specific. Eg anorexia is relatively new and occurs mainly in western cultures, whereas schizophrenia and depression are universal. I don't see what the problem is with this method. You didnt explain why you thought Margaret Mead's studies in particular were bunk. Is there a metholdoligical problem with this method or did her studies have other methodological problems or were you saying hers were bunk because you think social sciences are bunk??

Re gender. There are more differences between individuals within the sexes than between the sexes. You can't generalise from classes to the individuals - it is a fallacy of logic. (Doing so in relation to sex constitutes sexism by the way.) You will always find an example of a woman who is physically stronger than a man or is emotionally stronger, and of a man who enjoys cooking and housecleaning or who is more nurturing. Whether on average women are innately more nurturing than men as a group, I don't know. I know, however, of a psych review study that pooled a massive number of experiments with better methodology and found differences between the sexes on only a few cognitive variables (men had better spatial intelligence and were better at mathematics and women had better verbal skills).


Edited by Anonymous (01/24/03 01:48 PM)


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InvisibleRebelSteve33
Amateur Mycologist
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Registered: 05/28/02
Posts: 3,774
Loc: Arizona
Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: ]
    #1246837 - 01/24/03 11:46 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

In the social sciences we have a choice of either using the scientific method or of not using it.

I suppose you are right... But I don't see how we can attribute something to society even if we do test it using the scientific method because there are so many other variables that could be involved. To me, the whole "science" of sociology seems subjective to interpretation. I put the word science in quotes because, by my connotation of the word, it does not belong next to the word social in any way. it all seems like guess-work and assumptions to me.

Can you tell me of a single case where it can be proved without a doubt that a certain variable is dependent on society? A case where nothing but society could be the cause??


--------------------
Namaste.


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: ]
    #1247416 - 01/25/03 08:15 AM (11 years, 8 months ago)

How much reading have you done on anthropological theory?


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: ]
    #1247931 - 01/25/03 01:15 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

I have read theory in other social sciences ie sociology and psychology. They share a number of criticisms and I was generalising those to anthropology. I reckon those generalisations are probably fair. Though I respect that anthropology may have some unique ones, and I am interested in hearing your views and answers to my questions.


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: ]
    #1247944 - 01/25/03 01:21 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

Thanks.

The workload around here is staggering at times.  I would participate a lot more if I could.  These means I have no idea when I'll get around to addressing this in detail.

Thanks for your contributions however.  It is nice to see you here. :smile:

Cheers


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Anonymous

Re: Margaret Mead, Society & Gender Roles [Re: RebelSteve33]
    #1248038 - 01/25/03 02:08 PM (11 years, 8 months ago)

But I don't see how we can attribute something to society even if we do test it using the scientific method because there are so many other variables that could be involved.

True. You could argue why study it at all. You cant put a society in a laboratory. Tthough there are disadvantages to lab experiments of social interaction because people's knowledge that they are being studied and the unnaturalness of the situation can affect behaviour and distort the results. And researchers can try and overcome the problem of other variables interferig with results by studying the same thing in different contexts, that is, in different societys, and using a variety of methodology to test one idea, and, as with psych research, drawing on the results of lots of studies and using large numbers of persons in their studies.

To me, the whole "science" of sociology seems subjective to interpretation

Well it is. Though, as I said, natural science isn't value free either. But sociologist can try and minimise how much their values influence their research.
.


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