The research and stories written by the feministethnographers of our readings echoes the numerous decisions and challenges thatwomen encountered during their journey to share their lived experiences. LouiseLamphere’s article examines Elsie Clews Parsons early writings, specificallythose that emphasized the need for independence and choice. Parsons wasparticularly interested in Native American gender roles and how women weretreated in varying societies in hopes of understanding the culturalconstruction of gender and how living in a patriarchy is damaging.
Similarly,Janet L. Finn recounts the works of two Native American women, Ella CaraDeloria and Mourning Dove. Deloria and Dove were both deeply devoted to theirstudies and experienced similar challenges as women of color within their respectiverelationships to their mentors and to the position of the ethnographer. GracielaHernandez observes Zora Neale Hurston’s writings and how they attempted toexpose the unjust relationships that existed between the subjective ethnographerand the communities they studied. Margaret Mead in her book, Coming of Age, soughtto discover whether adolescence was a time of stress caused by biologicalfactors or a result of an individual’s cultural surroundings. Mead argued thatfor adolescent girls living in Samoa, their upbringing was not a stressful timein comparison to the Western expectations of adolescent behavior because theydidn’t have the same personal conflicts.
Sherry Ortner’s essay “Is Female toMale as Nature is to Culture?” attempts to decipher the underlying logic as to whywomen are universally seen as inferior to men. She argues that women’s subordinateposition is a result of the human thought process regarding culture as superiorto nature, and that culture is a man’s way of suppressing nature. Ortnerfurther speculates that a woman’s body and psychology symbolically representsnature, while men bare a greater resemblance to culture, hence women are seenas secondary to men. Joan Bamberger, in her article “The Myth of Matriarchy:Why Men Rule in Primitive Society,” explains three myths established in severalSouth American tribes. Bamberger then argues that women are still not equal tomen nor are they free from men because such myths still exist and “to free her,we need to destroy the myth” (Bamberger, 280). In her essay “Women in Politics,” Jane Collierstates that it is typical for ethnographers and native informants to viewpolitics as a male activity, often times excluding women from politicalgatherings, thus being deemed as inapt to hold any political office.
Instead, womenare simply seen as being engrossed with domestic and childrearing duties, and areessentially used by men as pawns in the political atmosphere, but are not givenfair political recognition. Although the readings have a shared emphasis on theposition of women in issues of power and authority, some of the most prominentideas that I took away was from Sherry Ortner’s comparison between the weightthat gender holds and how they resemble nature/culture. In like manner,Margaret Mead’s account of Samoan adolescents exemplifies how influentialaspects of our identity, such as gender, can be in how we formulate ideas aboutourselves and how we connect with the changing environments we experience throughoutthe different stages of our lives.
In a historical moment when politicaldecisions are increasingly influenced by unequal power relationships, I believethat by employing the feminist methodologies discussed in the readingsmentioned previously can individuals change conventional culturalrepresentations of gender, language, and identity.