Contemporary Native Women: Role Flexibility and Politics

By Miller, Bruce G. | Anthropologica, January 1, 1994 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Native Women: Role Flexibility and Politics


Miller, Bruce G., Anthropologica


Abstract: Some recent efforts to reconceptualize contemporary Native gender systems (1) argue that tribal and band political life is best understood by reference to social formations other than gender systems and (2) rely on poorly defined notions of one feature of the gender system, role flexibility. This article argues that these two issues are connected; differences in role flexibility by sex help channel the political participation of men and women. Several notions of role flexibility, each with different properties and implications for women's political role, are employed in the literature. A comparative framework of role flexibility is constructed, building on the work of Kopytoff (1991), and ethnographic examples are used to build the case that the analysis of gender (including role flexibility) is important in understanding Native women's recent successes in politics.

An interesting problem in the literature on Native North Americans is understanding how aboriginal gender systems have been transformed in the post-contact period, an effort made difficult by inadequate knowledge of precontact gender systems. One key aspect of these transformations is the focus of this article: scholars have been struck by the assumption of important political and economic roles in Native communities by women in the second half of the 20th century (Albers 1989 reviews this literature). Perhaps the most visible emerging position in clarifying the connections between gender and political and economic life is to argue that gender is not necessarily useful as a category of analysis, because gender is constructed fundamentally differently in Native communities than in non-Native communities; because gender is not a super-ordinate status in Native communities; because Native communities; frequently are egalitarian and structured around kin and not gender relations; and because changes in political life and in the allocation of work are not regarded as gendered issues by Natives themselves. For example, Albers (1989:160) argued that "many forms of work and leadership are not sex-typed in a fixed and narrow way." As an indication of this, she (ibid.:136) noted that "Importantly, when people achieved a prestige through channels most often utilized by the opposite sex, it was not perceived as a threat to established notions of femininity or masculinity (Spindler and Spindler 1979:36-37; Whitehead 1981:104-109)." Gender and other social roles are apparently not in conflict in such cases. Bourque and Warren, in describing the nature of sex roles in an egalitarian society, suggested that individual traits outweigh sex-linked traits in political life: "Sex roles, to the extent that they were marked at all, would be highly flexible and individually variable. In such a society, competence, and not sex, would determine how decisions are made, resources allocated, and activities undertaken" (1981:48). Initially scholars have benefited from the realization that the nature of Western gender systems, with highly partitioned male and female roles, has created difficulties in understanding fundamentally different Native systems. This realization led correctly to questioning whether an emphasis on gender in generating new explanations of Native social organization would produce the insights it has for Western societies. Such a position can mislead as well as enlighten, however, and I argue that in some communities contemporary Native political life cannot be understood without accounting first for gender, and cannot be explained adequately by reference to other social processes and institutions. This article is intended as a corrective. I do this, in part, by examining whether individual traits outweigh sex-linked traits in political life, and whether Native women have moved into new political and economic roles without drawing reactions in their communities. I suggest that in some cases debate on women's political role is not carried out publicly, but nonetheless is significant. …

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

Contemporary Native Women: Role Flexibility and Politics
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

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.