Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture

By Fortier, Jana | Anthropological Quarterly, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture


Fortier, Jana, Anthropological Quarterly


Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. SHERRY B. ORTNER. Boston MA: Beacon Press,19%. 255 pp.

Sherry Ortner's essays, written over a span of twenty-five years, rekindled memories of graduate school debates. The collection brings her earlier writings together with her more distinguished contributions as well as two previously unpublished essays. Well known for her discussions of male and female social status differences, Ortner's early essays reflect this meditation. "The Virgin and the State," written while she was still a graduate student at the University of Chicago, explores why notions of female sexual purity and protection are structurally insignificant in non-state societies but are highly significant in state societies. "Rank and Gender" explores how men and women in Polynesian societies manipulate sexual and kinship rules in their pursuit of power and status. "The Problem of 'Women' as an Analytic Category" uses the story of the building of a Sherpa Buddhist nunnery to explore how female agents' authority, power, and intentionality are similar and distinct from their male counterparts.

These essays, all published prior to 1983, provide a useful summary of the major debates from that era, and of the ways the theories were shaped by emphasis on structures and categories. It is a little like looking back at feminist theory's disciplinary adolescence and reflecting on how Ortner's contributions helped shape the personality of feminist anthropology in the current era.

Perhaps her most memorable essay, "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" continues to give the reader much intellectual fodder concerning whether superior male social status is universal. In this essay, which is paired with an autocritique entitled "So, Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?," Ortner dissects three aspects of the gender relations controversy, notably differences in gendered social status, dominance, and relations of power as levels of analysis. For us to be able to interpret differences of status, power, and dominance is an important further step in elucidating the nature of gender relations, though I question whether it resolves the questions of what causes male dominance or the nearly ubiquitous superior social status of males. Similarly, in the autocritique Ortner puts aside the question of universality of the gender dominance and instead focuses on societies in which patterns of gender equity have been documented. Unwilling to play apologist for theories of universal male dominance, Ortner instead demonstrates that androcentric biases in ethnographic fieldwork and theory-making have blinded us to the realities of matricentric (gynocentric) social institutions and practices. Citing examples from small-scale societies in Southeast Asia and South Asia, Ortner concludes that gendered egalitarianism has been documented and deserves greater attention by anthropologists.

There have been numerous theoretical tropes throughout this century. Practice theory, in its fashion, has enabled us to "grasp and render," as one of Ortner's mentors aptly put it, the inchoateness of culture. Ortner hooks together the essays using her brand of practice theory, a unique blend of feminist insight and post-structural observations of cultural habit(us). In this set of essays Ortner uses the notion of "making" culture as a trope which both constructs meaning and enables agents to perform the construction. Ortner's revised practice theory continues to have explanatory power and to provide a much needed trope for the difficulties of grasping nuances of cultural life. In addition, this new form of practice theory is receptive to cultural anomalies, marginalities, and exceptional circumstances. As Ortner describes it,

One can do practice analysis as a loop, in which "structures" construct subjects and practices, but subjects and practices reproduce "structures." Or one can ... avoid the loop, ... look for the slippages in reproduction, the erosions of longstanding patterns, the moments of disorder and of outright "resistance" (p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.