The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia

The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia

The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia

The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia

Synopsis

In the most original and ambitious synthesis yet undertaken in Melanesian scholarship, Marilyn Strathern argues that gender relations have been a particular casualty of unexamined assumptions held by Western anthropologists and feminist scholars alike. The book treats with equal seriousness--and with equal good humor--the insights of Western social science, feminist politics, and ethnographic reporting, in order to rethink the representation of Melanesian social and cultural life. This makes The Gender of the Gift one of the most sustained critiques of cross-cultural comparison that anthropology has seen, and one of its most spirited vindications.

Excerpt

It was an early hope that feminist-inspired scholarship within anthropology would change not just ways of writing about women or about women and men but would change ways of writing about culture and society. That hope has been realized to some extent through experimentation with narrative modes. the present exercise is an experiment that exploits orthodox anthropological analysis as itself a literary form of sorts. Its style is argumentative.

Although part of the impetus for this exercise comes from outside anthropology, there is also an internal necessity to it: I am concerned with an area of the world, the islands of Melanesia, where gender symbolism plays a major part in people’s conceptualizations of social life. Few ethnographers can avoid the issues of gender relations. Few to date have thought it necessary to develop anything one might call a theory of gender. By ‘gender’ I mean those categorizations of persons, artifacts, events, sequences, and so on which draw upon sexual imagery—upon the ways in which the distinctiveness of male and female characteristics make concrete people’s ideas about the nature of social relationships. Taken simply to be ‘about’ men and women, such categorizations have

In this work, ‘gender’ as an unqualified noun refers to a type of category differentiation. I do not mean gender identity unless I say so. Whether or not the sexing of a person’s body or psyche is regarded as innate, the apprehension of difference between ‘the sexes’ invariably takes a categorical form, and it is this to which gender refers. the forms ‘male’ and ‘female’ indicate gender constructs in this account.

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