Beyond the Second Sex: New Directions in the Anthropology of Gender

By Peggy Reeves Sanday; Ruth Gallagher Goodenough | Go to book overview

In a society like the Yoruba, where deference and power flow along the multiple channels of age, gender, seniority, wealth, and political position, the relative empowerment of women vis-á-vis men may be crosscut and even reversed, as Sandra Barnes describes in her essay. Analyzing the situation of urban African women, Barnes shows that property holding opens the door to power and authority as well as to the public world of urban politics.

She investigates what she terms "the structure of opportunity," particularly as it applies to women in the city of Lagos. She examines the processes by which women move from being without property and dependent on others to being owners who can co-opt the productive labor of others. It is this that enables them to reach the economic independence necessary to engage in competitive transactions in the political arena.

Yoruba ideology supports both the subordination of women and the contradictory position that "men and women are equally capable of performing society's valued and essential tasks." The urban women of Lagos (perhaps like urban women across tropical Africa generally), elect not to contest the terms of this contradiction so much as to exploit it. Despite the structural conditions that hinder their entry into the status of house owner they are achieving it, and by virtue of their effort are trading domestic subordination for domestic autonomy, with attendant access to positions of public power.

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