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

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

Caroline Bledsoe's chapter, set in modern Sierra Leone, deals with the conjugal and career options of young Mende girls of school age. In a work documented by contemporary newspaper references as well as field obsevation, Bledsoe details the intricate maneuvering of girls, their parents, and possible suitor-patrons over the issue of the payment of school fees. Western-style schooling increasingly is viewed by the Mende as a path of escape from constraints of village life. For young girls, access to the greater wealth and personal autonomy of the urban, modern world hinges on school fees and the question of who pays them.

Bledsoe's focus on practice and potentialities allows her to highlight contradictions and conflicts that the various social actors encounter as they pursue their strategies -- yet the world she describes is firmly set in the framework of local custom. The processural nature of African marriage -- what she calls "conjugal testing" -- is of particular interest, as it forms the traditional backdrop for prolonged negotiation and maneuver among all the participants. What emerges in this study is a richly detailed picture of social change in the making.

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