Women and Men: An Anthropologist's View

Women and Men: An Anthropologist's View

Women and Men: An Anthropologist's View

Women and Men: An Anthropologist's View

Excerpt

At the time of this writing, an intellectual and political controversy is going on in the United States over the question of sex roles. Those on one side of the argument maintain that the innate biological and psychological differences between the sexes are the necessary and effective causes for the rights and duties assigned to men and women in all societies. Still on the same side, a rather more sophisticated argument is that the model for the social roles of the sexes in human society is one originally adapted for savannah-dwelling primates, modified by the development of hunting among early humans. The contention is that because human beings have depended on hunting, always a masculine specialty, as a basis for subsistence for millions of years of their evolutionary history, and on other means of subsistence for only about 10,000 years, there have been too few generations for the physical qualities of the human body and its behavioral concomitants to have changed appreciably (Tiger and Fox 1971).

The political stance of this entire group of antagonists is frequently, but not always, that because sex roles as they exist are essentially "natural," they should stay about what they are: major change would be unsuccessful, or would exact too high a price in emotional strain and consequent illness. Indeed, according to this view, the deviations in sex roles from those originally adapted to hunting societies have already caused much damage. At the opposite extreme is the position that sex roles are a function, not of biological heredity, but of social and cultural conditions. Those who take this view hold that the inherent physical and emotional characteristics of both men and women permit a wide range of variation in relationships and activities. The political stance is that this range of possibilities must be exploited to its limits to remove unnecessary differentiation between the roles of men and women.

According to this second view, it is because contemporary societies have not deviated sufficiently from what are falsely thought to be the "natural" roles that there has been so much physical and psychological stress among both men and women. It is also argued on this side that women, in particular, have been subject to . . .

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