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

By Marilyn Strathern | Go to book overview

5
Power: Claims and
Counterclaims

Interpretations of sexual antagonism in the Papua New Guinea Highlands have never taken men’s claims at face value. I do not mean as to whether their domination over women is effective but in reference to the way the claims as such are promoted. For these are seen to express anxieties on men’s part about their ‘real’ control of women’s powers, and hence indicate both the extent to which these powers present a challenge and the extent to which men’s social institutions fail to acknowledge an ultimate dependence upon women. Withdrawal into all male activities, it is held, by denying also asserts the power of the excluded sex.

A conundrum runs through anthropological analyses of male and female initiation/puberty rites: when a category of persons claims ritual powers (through secret knowledge, cult engagement), is it because they have or because they do not have comparable powers in other terms (in daily life, in politics)?1 The conundrum takes many forms but is most perplexing in relation to the initiation of boys into all-male associations or cults. Do such male rituals imitate female capacities (‘envy’) or supersede them (‘superiority’)? Are men compensating for what they lack or appropriating what females possess? Do ritually made statements reflect distributions of secular power or are they a sop to lack of power? Beliefs may be regarded as simultaneously exaggerating and reversing social realities, but such equivocations also accept certain of

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

Table of contents

  • Studies in Melanesian Anthropology ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Anthropological Strategies 3
  • 2- A Place in the Feminist Debate 22
  • Part One 41
  • 3- Groups- Sexual Antagonism in the New Guinea Highlands 43
  • 4- Domains- Male and Female Models 66
  • 5- Power- Claims and Counterclaims 98
  • 6- Work- Exploitation at Issue 133
  • Part Two 169
  • 7- Some Definitions 171
  • 8- Relations Which Separate 191
  • 9- Forms Which Propagate 225
  • 10- Cause and Effect 268
  • Conclusion 307
  • 11- Domination 309
  • 12- Comparison 340
  • Notes 345
  • Notes 347
  • Bibilography 385
  • Bibilography 387
  • Indexs 407
  • Author Index 409
  • Subject Index 413
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