Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? Author(s): Sherry B. Ortner Source: Feminist Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn, 1972), pp.

5-31 Published by: Feminist Studies, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/09/2013 17:48
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


Feminist Studies, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Feminist Studies.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions





derives of anthropology Much of the creativity for the demands from the tension between explanation on the one hand and cultural of human universals parwoman provides on the other. ticulars canon, By this to be us with one of the more challenging problems The secondary status of woman in society dealt with. fact. a pan-cultural is one of the true universals, cultural the specific that universal Yet within fact, of woman are incrediand symbolizations conceptions and even mutually Further, contradictory. bly diverse the actual treatment of women, and the relative power from culand contribution of women, vary enormously in the ture and over different to culture, periods Both of of particular cultural traditions. history and the cultural universal these fact, points--the variation--constitute for explanation. problems in the It goes without that my interest saying I wish to see genuine is more than academic: problem and culof a social come about, the emergence change of human tural in which as much of the range order The universaliis open to women as to men. potential that it exists the fact subordination, ty of female and economic within arrangement, type of social every


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

of complexity, indiof every degree we are up against something very that can not be something very stubborn, profound, and roles a few remedied tasks merely by rearranging even the nor in the social by rearranging system, economic structure. whole to sort of out the levels it is important First, can be enormous. For exThe confusion the problem. culture of Chinese on which aspect depending ample, different we we looked at, entirely extrapolate might In of women in China. the status concerning guesses the female of Taoism, the ideology yin, principle, the male principle, are given and yang, weight; equal of these "The opposition, and interaction alternation, the universe."2 all in to two forces rise phenomena give are and femaleness Hence we might that maleness guess culof the Chinese valued in ideology general equally the other on at the social ture. structure, Looking descent we see the strong principle, hand, patrilineal structure and the patripotestal of sons, the importance is China that conclude Thus we might of the family. the archetypal Next, looking society. patriarchal wieldroles at the actual power and influence played, in women Chinese made by contributions ed, and material of which are, all quite upon observation, society, women "really" to say that we are tempted substantial, in the status of (unspoken) deal a great are allotted that a on the fact focus we might Or again, system. is the central (most-worshipped, Kuan-yin, goddess, and we might in Chinese most depicted) Buddhism, deity to say about as many have tried to say, be tempted and earlycultures in pregoddess-worshipping China is a that historical "actually" societies, we must be absolutely In short, of matriarchy. sort before to explain, clear about what we are trying it. explaining of the problem. three levels We may isolate (1) The second-class attributed of culturally fact universal are Two questions to woman in every status society. what what do we mean by this, here. First, important And fact? is a universal this that is our evidence estabthe fact how are we to explain having second, it? lished and social (2) Specific ideologies, structural arrangements symbolizations, to pertaining

and in societies cates to me that


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

from culture to culture. vary widely for any at this level is to account of factors in terms cultural particular complex of level to that culture--the standard specific onAnd observable (3) anthropological analysis. contribuof women's details activities, the-ground cultural with often at variance etc., tions, powers, the and within constrained assumpalways ideology, be officially that women may never tion pre-eminent of direct This is the level in the total system. now feminist-oriented often observation, by adopted women which The problem anthropologists. concerned with the first is primarily This paper of the universal level devaluation of the problem: cultural It thus depends not upon specific women. taken of "culture" data but rather upon an analysis the in world. a sort of as process generically special the of A discussion of the second level, problem and relative in conceptions variation cross-cultural another be for valuations of women, must postponed deal of a great crossentail since it will paper, it will As for the third cultural research. level, I would consider that from my approach be obvious to focus it a misguided endeavor only upon women's and unvalued, actual, unrecognized though culturally understandin any given without first powers society, and deeper assumptions ing the overarching ideology of the culture trivial. that renders such powers in What do I mean when I say that everywhere, in some degree known culture, woman is considered every that I I must stress to man? First of all inferior am talking I am saying about cultural evaluations; own terms, each culture, that in its own way and in its What would constitute makes this evaluation. evidence, that when we look at any particular it consociety, women inferior? siders Three types of data would be evidence: a) elements that of cultural statements and informants' ideology devalue roles, women, according them,their exlicitly milieu their their and their social tasks, products, the men male less than and correlates; b) symprestige such as the attribution of defilement, bolic devices, of inas making a statement which may be interpreted


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ferior and c) social rules that valuation; prohibit women from participating in or having contact with some realm in which the highest of the society are powers to reside. felt three of data may all These of types be interrelated course in any particular system, but not necessarily. Further, any one of them will be sufficient to make the point of female inusually in any given female exculture. feriority Certainly clusion from the most sacred rite or the highest political council is sufficient evidence. Certainly explicit cultural women (and their tasks, ideology devaluing sufficient is evidence. etc.) roles, products, Symbolic indicators such as defilement are usually sufficient, in a few cases in which men and women are although to one a further indicator another, polluting equally is required--and far as as have researches is, my available. ascertained, always On any or all of these we find women subordicounts, nated to men in every known society. The search for a genuinely let alone egalitarian, matriarchal, culture, has proven and it is important for the woman's fruitless, movement at large to face An example fact. up to this from one society that been on the good has traditionally of the ledger side the status vis-a-vis of their women will suffice. Crow, Lowie points Among the matrilineal out that in the offices "Women...had honorific highly Sun Dance; become directors of the Tobacco they could and played, if anything, a more conspicuous ceremony in it than the men; they the sometimes part played were not in the Cooked Meat Festival; hostess they nor from seeking or doctoring from sweating debarred "Women [during menstruation] a vision." Nonetheless, this and horses rode inferior evidently formerly for of loomed as a source contamination, they were man or men a wounded either to approach not allowed A taboo still on a war party. against lingers starting times." at these their objects coming near sacred before Lowie mentions, enumerating just Further, rituals in the various of participation women's rights Dance Sun one there was that noted above, particular be to that was not bundle Doll by unwrapped supposed we find: trail this a woman. "According Pursuing the and most others, informants to all Lodge Grass not only took precedence owned by Wrinkle-face doll


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

but of all of other whatdolls Crow medicines other doll to was not supposed soever....This particular be handled by a woman....3 In sum, the Crow probably a fairly provide typical and rights, in case. Yes, women have certain powers them in some that this case high comparatively place Yet ultimately the line is drawn; menstruapositions. to warfare, one of the most valued is a threat tion of the tribe--one central self to their institutions the the most sacred of tribe definition--and object to the direct of women. is tabooed and touch sight could be ad infinitum, Similiar multiplied examples The onus but I think it is time to turn the tables. that female to demonstrate suborus is no longer upon it is to those dination is a cultural universal; up the point to bring forth counterwho would argue against the I take status shall universal secondary examples. from there. of women as a given, and proceed of women relative to men is a If the devaluation fact? this cultural how are we to explain universal, the case on biological determiWe could of course rest inherent There is something in the nism: genetically of the species that makes them the naturally males in females, that is lacking dominant sex; "something" women are not only naturally suborand, as a result, in general, with their dinate satisfied but, quite them protection and the since it affords position, to maximize the maternal that pleasures opportunity to them are the most satisfying of life. experiences Without a detailed refutation of this into going posiit is fair to say that to convince it has failed tion, few in academic This is not to very anthropology. are irrelevant, nor that facts biological say that but it is to say men and women are not different; on signififacts and differences that these only take the framework of of superior/inferior within cance defined value culturally systems. the case If we are not willing to rest on genetic we have only one it seems to me that determinism, We must attempt to interpret other way to proceed. of other of female subordination in light universals the structure the human condition, built into factors of the most generalized that all human beings, situation


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

in. find themselves For example, in whatever culture, of human being has a physical body and a sense every of other of a society indiis part mind, non-physical and and an inheritor of a cultural viduals tradition, however mu3t engage in some relationship, mediated, to in order or the non-human "nature" realm, with is born survive. (to a mother) Every human being to have an interare assumed all and ultimately dies; and society/culture has est in personal survival; momentum toward) in (or at least own interest its the lives that transcends and survival continuity And so forth. individuals. of particular and deaths of the human It is in the realm of such universals for the we must seek an explanation that condition devaluation. fact of female universal the into the problem, in other I translate words, the in be there could What following question: simple of and conditions structure existence, generalized culture that would lead every common to every culture, that thesis is women? to devalue my Specifically, seems identified woman is being with, or, if you will, culture that devalues, to be a symbol of, every something at a defines as being culture that something every Now it seems than itself. order of existence lower catethat would fit that there is only one thing that sense. in the most generalized and that is"nature" gory, is engaged "culture," or, generically, Every culture, and sustaining of generating in the process systems etc.) forms of meaningful artifacts, by means (symbols, the givens of natural transcends of which humanity them controls them to its bends existence, purposes, culture We may thus equate interest. in its broadly or with the of human consciousness, with the notion of human consciousness of (i.e., systems products and technology), by means of which humanity thought however and assert to rise above control, attempts over nature. minimally, are and "culture" of "nature" Now the categories is no of human thought--there of course categories find some world where one could out in the real place of or realms the two states between actual boundary that some cultures is no question And there being. the two between a much stronger articulate opposition that has even been argued than others--it categories intuit or do not see (some or all) peoples primitive and state the human cultural between any distinction 10

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the state at all. of nature Yet I would maintain that the universality of ritual betokens an assertion in all human cultures of the specifically human ability to act upon and regulate, rather than passively move with and be moved by, the givens of natural existence In ritual, the purposive of given forms manipulation toward and culture regulating order, sustaining every makes the statement that hurelations between proper man existence and natural forces depend upon culture's its toward the contributing special powers regulating overall of the world. process These points are often articulated in notions of and pollution. culture has purity every Virtually some such notions, and they seem in large part (though of course, to be about the relationship not, entirely) between culture and nature.4 A well-known of aspect beliefs is that of purity/pollution cross-culturally natural of pollution--polution (for these "contagion" the unregulated with purposes grossly equated operaon natural tion left to its own devices energies) and overpowers all it comes in contact with. spreads Thus the old puzzle--if is so strong, how pollution can anything be purified? When the purifying agent is introduced, rather than become why does it purify itself? The answer in line with the present polluted is that is effected in a ritual argument, purification context--that as a purposive acpurification ritual, that self-conscious action tivity pits (symbolic) natural is more powerful than those against energies, energies. In any case, that is simply culmy point every ture and the asserts distincimplicitly recognizes tion between the operation of nature as such and the of culture consciousness and its (human operation and that the of distinctiveness products), further, culture rests the on fact that it can under precisely most circumstances transcend natural and turn givens them to its culture Thus culpurposes. (i.e., every at some level of awareness asserts itself ture) to be not only distinct but superior in power to, from, and that of sense and superiority distinctiveness nature, rests the on to transform--to"socialize" precisely ability and "culturalize"--nature. now to the issue of women, in my iniReturning tial the arguon the subject, I formulated thinking ment as follows: the pan-cultural devaluation of 11

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

be accounted woman could for, quite simply, by postuidentified or symbolithat woman is being with, lating to man, who as opposed associated nature, with, cally culSince it is always with culture. is identified and transcend to subsume ture's if nature, project of nature, then culture woman is a part would find it "natural" to subordinate, not to say oppress, her. While this be shown to have considerable could argument The the case. it also seems to over-simplify force, I would like to defend and elaborate formulation on, women are seen is that closer as being "merely" then, than zmen. That is, culture still to nature equated that more or less with men) recognizes unambiguously in woman is an active its processes, special participant but sees her as being, more rooted at the same time, or having more direct connection nature. with, in, The revision but I seems minor and even trivial, of think cultural it is a more accurate rendering the argument women. Further, concerning assumptions in these cast terms has several analytic advantages I will these over the simpler discuss formulation; here the be that It might stressed later. simply the for would account still revised panargument even if woman cultural of women, for, devaluation seen as with nature, she is still is not equated a lower of being, order less transcenrepresenting The next question than men. is why dental of nature that she might be viewed way. It all and the of course with the body, begins to women alone. natural functions specific procreative at which We can sort three levels out for discussion fact absolute has significance. this physiological more more involved (i) Her body and its functions, her of the time with seem to place life," "species to men, whose physiology as opposed to nature, closer of culture. them more completely to the projects frees Her body and its functions (ii) put her in social to be at a lower that are in turn considered roles orders order of culture, in opposition to the higher Her traditional social of the cultural (iii) process. because of her body and its functions, roles, imposed her a different in turn give structure--and psychic her physiological like this structure, again, psychic more and her social is seen as being nature roles, "like nature." 12

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

that woman's is seen as My argument physiology "closer to nature" has been anticipated, with great and and a lot of hard data, subtlety cogency, by de Beauvoir. De Beauvoir the physiological reviews of the human and functions structure, development, that "the female, female and concludes to a greater extent than the male, is the prey of the species." out that and processes She points many major areas function of the woman's no apparent for body serve the health and stability of the individual woman; their on the contrary, oras they perform specific of discomfort, sources functions, ganic they are often and danger. The breasts are irrelevant to perpain at any time of a sonal health; they may be excised funcwoman's secretions life. "Many of the ovarian tion for the benefit of the egg, its maturapromoting tion and adapting the uterus to its in requirements; to the organism as a whole, respect they make for than for regulation--the woman rather disequilibrium than to her is adapted to the needs of the egg rather own requirements." is often uncomforMenstruation it frequently has negative sometimes table, painful; emotional and in any case correlates involves bothersome tasks of cleansing and waste-disposal; and-a point de Beauvoir that does not mention--in many her cultures a woman's it interrupts routine, putting in a stigmatized various state restrictions involving In pregnancy, on her activities and social contacts. of the woman's are vitamin and mineral resources many her channelled the into fetus, nourishing depleting own strength and energies, childbirth and finally, itself is painful and dangerous. In sum, de Beauvoir that the female concludes to the "is more enslaved than the her more is manifest."5 male, species animality De Beauvoir's meant to and is seems in be, survey all fairness to be, purely It is descriptive. simply a fact that more of woman's proportionately body space, for a greater of her life-time, and at a percentage her to certain--sometimes health, great--cost personal and general is taken strength, stability, up with the natural the reproduction processes surrounding of the species. in structure, Further, physiological the woman is weaker than the man, "her grasp on the world is thus more restricted; she has less firmness and less that in steadiness available for projects of she is less out."6 capable general carrying 13

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

De Beauvoir the negative goes on to discuss implito the species" of woman's cations "enslavement and in relation to the projects weakness general physical in which humans engage, which culture projects through and defined. is generated She arrives thus at the crux of her argument: "Here we have the key to the whole mystery. On the biological level a species is cremaintained but itself this anew; only by creating the same Life in more ation in repeating results only But man assures the repetition individuals. of Life Life while Existence [i.e., transcending through goalhe transcendence action]; oriented, meaningful by this creates of values that all deprive pure repetition In the animal, the freedom and variety of male value. are is activities vain because no project involved. what he does for his services to the species, Except the the species, in serving is immaterial. Whereas he the face of the earth, human male also remodels he shapes the he invents, new instruments, creates In other woman's future.7 words, body seems to doom the male, on the her to mere reproduction of life; must other natural creative functions, hand, lacking his to) assert (or has the opportunity creativity the medium of through "artifically," externally, he creates In so doing, and symbols. technology transcendent eternal, relatively lasting, objects, the woman creates while beings. only perishables--human This formulation opens up a number of important the great It explains, for example, insights. puzzle the destruction of male activities of why involving as it and warfare) have more charisma, life (hunting to than the female's to give birth, were, ability de Beauvoir's Yet within create life.8 framework, that we realize that is the it is not the killing and valued relevant and of warfare; hunting aspect rather it is the transcendental cultural) (social, nature of these as opposed to the naturalactivities, "For it is not in giving of the process of birth: ness above that man is raised life but in risking life has been accorded that the animal; is why superiority but to forth not to the sex that in humanity brings that which kills."9 associif male is everywhere (unconsciously) Thus, to nature, seems closer and female ated with culture, is easy to grasp, the rationale for these associations


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the implications of the physiofrom considering merely and At the same male female. between contrast logical be cannot to the woman however, consigned time, fully obvious that for is of it nature, perfectly category human being, endowed with human she is a full-fledged of the human she is half consciousness as man is; just the whole without whose race, enterprise cooperation would callapse. She may seem more in the possession she thinks of nature than man, but, consciousness, having and speaks; and she generates, communicates, manipulates She participates in and values. symbols, categories, but human dialogues also not only with other women, never with men. "woman could As Levi-Strauss says, even in a become just a sign since and nothing more, a person, and since insofar man's world she is still be recognized as she is defined she must as a sign [still] as a generator of signs."10 full the fact human consciousness, Indeed of woman's to culture's her full involvement in and commitment proover nature, of transcendence enough, ject may, ironically of "the woman probanother of the great explain puzzles lem"--woman's universal acceptance nearly unquestioning of her own devaluation. For it would seem that as a conscious human and a member of culture she has followed out the logic and reached of culture's cularguments, the men. ture's As de Beauvoir conclusions with along the it: "For she, is an existent, she feels too, puts to and her not mere is urge surpass, repetition project but transcendence a different future--in her towards heart of hearts of the masculine she finds confirmation the men in the festivals that She joins pretensions. the successes celebrate of the males. and victories Her misfortune destined is to have been biologically of Life, for the repetition when even in her own view Life does not carry reasons for its within itself than that life itare more reasons being, important self.11 memberIn other consciousness--her woman's words, evidenced in it in as culture--is were, ship, part by the fact her own devaluation that and takes she accepts of woman's Because of view. culture's greater point the natural functions involvement surwith bodily a seen more of is as she rounding part reproduction, her conbecause of than men. nature in Yet, part in human social and participation sciousness dialogue,


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

she is recognized in culture. as a participant Thus she appears intermediate between culas something ture and nature,lower on the scale of transcendence than men. functions Woman's physiological may thus tend in themselves to motivate (in the semantic sense) a view that a view of woman as closer to nature, she and the world, of herself as an observer herself, would tend to accept. from Woman creates naturally her own being, within men are free or forced while to, cultural create that to, is, through artifically, and in such a way as to sustain In culture. means, have tended woman's functions addition, physiological her social to limit and to conmovement, universally fine her universally to certain social contextswhich in turn are seen as closer That is, not to nature. the her but situation social only bodily processes, in which her bodily locate her, may have processes as she is And insofar that permanently significance. associated these of the culture) with (in the eyes the decisive add social loci, weight (perhaps they to of the load) to the view of woman as closer part to confinement I refer woman's course nature. hereof context to the domestic as a "natural"extenfamily of her lactation sion processes. that female Woman's body, of all like mammals, for the milk after and generates during pregnancy The the of new-born survive feeding baby. baby cannot formula breast milk or some highly similiar without it is in direct at this of life. relaSince stage to a particular child tion with a particular pregnancy the mother's that its lactation body goes through the nursing mother between processes, relationship bond and all other and child is seen as a "natural" and makeshift. as unnatural arrangements feeding Mothers and their culture seems to feel, children, children since as they together. Further, belong are not yet strong to engage enough get beyond infancy and not yet and unruly in major work, yet are mobile of understanding various they require dangers, capable and constant Mother is the "obvicare. supervision of her for this ous" person as an extension task, the because or "natural" bond with children, nursing childinfant involved with and is she has a new Her own activities are oriented activities anyway.


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

and low levels thus circumscribed by the limitations of her children's she is conand skills; strengths "woman's fined to the domestic place family group; is in the home." concircle Woman's association with the domestic to nature in tributes to her being seen as closer and children infants In the first several ways. place, of be Infants nature. considered might easily part like aniare barely human and utterly unsocialized; excrete without mals they do not walk upright, they Even slightly older chilcontrol, they do not speak. under the sway of culdren are clearly not yet fully social ture; they do not yet understand duties, responand their their and morals, range sibilities, vocabulary of learned One can find implicit is small. skills recogand nature between children of an association nition the majority For example, in many cultural practices. for adolescents of cultures have initiation rites (priwill return to this marily for boys, of course--I point below),the point of which is to move the child into fullfrom a less-than-fully-human state ritually do not and culture; and many cultures fledged society who die at early ages, hold funeral for children rites social on the explicit notion that they are not yet full It is ironic for boys' that the rationale beings. is that the boys in many cultures rites initiation accrued from being must be purged of the defilement around mother and other women so much of the time, when in fact it might be the case that some of the women's from being around children so much defilement derives of the time. The second major problematic of women's implication ambiance derives close association with the domestic between the family from certain conflicts structural The imand the society at large in any social system. in relathe of "domestic/social opposition" plications develof women have been cogently tion to the position and I merely wish to show its releoped by Rosaldo12 The notion that the vance to the present argument. unit--the domestic family charged with reprobiological members of the society--is and new ducing socializing the network to social entity--the superimposed opposed of alliances and relationships which is the society, is also the basis of Levi-Strauss' argument in The of Structures Levi-Strauss argues Elementary Kinship.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


this is present in every social only that opposition but further that it has the of system, significance The unithe opposition nature between and culture. the versal incest and rule its of prohibition ally, that the risk of ensures a exogamy, seeing biological family become established as a closed is system the can no eliminated; definitely biological group stand and the bond of alliance with longer apart, the dominance the another ensures of social family over the biological, and of the cultural over the And while cultures not all natural.13 articulate the a radical and the between domestic opposition as such, it is hardly social contestable nonetheless that the domestic is always subsumed by the social; domestic are allied units with one another through the enactment of rules which are logically at a higher and which level than the units create an themselves, is logically at a higher emergent unit--society--which level than the procreative units of which it is com-

posed. women are associated with and indeed Now, since more or less to the domestic confined milieu, they are identified with this of social/cultural order lower What are the implications of this for organization. the way they are viewed? if the specifically First, function of the family is biological (reproductive) then the as in Levi-Strauss' stressed, formulation, and hence with nature family, woman, is identified But this is as opposed to culture. pure and simple, the too seems more obviously pat; point adequately formulated the family as follows: (and hence woman) lower-level, represents fragmenting, particusocially laristic to intersorts of concerns, as opposed familial which represent relations, higher-level, Since sorts of concerns. universalistic integrative, men lack a natural to basis generalized (nursing, child their for a familial care) orientation, sphere of activity of interfamilial at the level is defined seems And hence, relations. so the cultural reasoning to go, men are the "natural" of religion, proprietors of cultural and other realms ritual, thought politics, of spiriand action in which universalistic statements tual and social Thus men are idenare made. synthesis humof all in the sense tified not only with culture, to nature; an creativity, as opposed they are identi-


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

in the old-fashioned with Culture and higher of human thought aspects etc. law, --art, religion, the logic of cultural Once again, here, reasoning with and man infra-culture woman with culture, aligning At is clear, and, on the surface, compelling. quite be fully to nature, the same time, woman cannot consigned are aspects even within of her situation, for there her demonstrate the domestic which undeniably context, the It without in cultural goes process. participation that of course, for nursing new-born except saying, devices infants can (and even here artificial nursing it has there reason cut the biological is no tie), why else who to father or anyone as opposed to be mother But even assuming identified care. remains with child emotional reasons that other and conspire practical to show it is possible to keep woman in that sphere, as logically that her activities there could put her the thus of in culture, demonstrating squarely category her as less the relative of defining arbitrariness feeds woman not only cultural than men. For example, caretaker and cleans children in a simple up after of their the primary is in fact agent operation--she the newborn It is she who transforms socializati.on. a cultured into infant from a mere organism human, it manners and the proper ways to behave teaching On member of the culture. in order to be a bonafide she functions the basis of her socializing alone, is as purely a candidate of to be a representative culture Yet in virtually as anyone be. might every there is a point at which the socializatior society of boys is transferred to the hands of men. The boys are considered, in one set of terms or another, not to have been "really" their socialized entree yet; to the realm of fully human (social, status cultural) can be accomplished We can still see only by men. this in our own schools, where there is a gradual inversion of proportion of female to male teachers as one progresses the most kinderup through grades; are female, teachers most university garten professors are male.14 Or again, we might look at cooking. In the overof societies the woman's is whelming majority cooking No doubt work. stems from practical this considerations--since she has to stay at home with the baby, fied sense in particular of the finer


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

that she perform the chores that it is convenient are centered But if it is true, in the home. as Levithe raw into has argued,15 Strauss that transforming the cooked may represent, in many systems of thought, the transition then here we from nature to culture, have woman aligned with this important culturalizing which could easily process, place her in the category Yet when a culover nature. of culture, triumphing ture (e.g., France or China) develops a tradition of haute cuisine--"real" cooking as opposed to trivial domestic cooking--the ordinary high chefs are almost Thus the pattern that in the always men. replicates conarea of socialization--women lower-level perform but when the culture from nature to cutture, versions a higher level ot the same tunctions, dcatinguishes to men. is restricted the higher level In short, we can see once again the source of than men with woman's appearing more intermediate A member to the nature/culture dichotomy. respect have and more of culture, to stronger yet appearing she is seen as somedirect connections with nature, thing in between the two categories. The notion that women have not only a different locus from men, but also social body and a different a different is most controversial. structure, psychic does have a I would like to argue that she probably draw will but I different structure, heavily psychic that on a paper by Chodorow which argues convincingly but rather is that psychic is not innate, structure feuniversal of the probably generated by the facts male socialization Nonetheless, my point experience. is that, if we grant such a thing as the (non-innate) characteristhat psyche has certain feminine psyche, the cultural view tics that would tend to reinforce of woman as closer to nature. that aspect of It is important that we specify the dominant and the feminine psyche which is really or irraIf we say emotionality universal aspect. in those traditions we come up against tionality, various parts of the world in which women functionally and are, and are seen as, more practical, pragmatic, non-ethnoThe relevant, than the men. this-worldly concentric dimension seems to be that of relative the vq. relative creteness abs+-ractness(nD-ijrnate) with concrete tends to get involved feminine personality


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

rather than with abstract and people, feelings, things. entities: it tends and particularism; toward personalism feminine the Chodorow a of view accepts personality these that she states "female lines; along ego qualities...include more flexible less (i.e., ego boundaries insistent self-other orientadistinctions), present tion rather than future and relatively orientation, detached and less greater subjectivity objectivity." She cites various which have tended studies to confirm that this is indeed a relatively accurate picture of the female are prithese studies personality; taken from Western Chodorow marily although society, that in a broad way the difference between suggests male and female men as more personality--roughly, or category-oriented, women as more subobjective or person-oriented--are universal."16 jective "nearly The thrust of Chodorow's very elegantly argued is that these differences are not innate or paper but arise from "nearly unigenetically programmed, versal of family features that structure, [namely] women are largely or entirely for responsible early child care and for later (at least) female socializathis a crucial [and that tion, in male is] asymmetry and female She the introduces development." objectrelations theorists' distinction between "personal" and "positional" identification as psychological processes, identification" "diffuse "personal being identification with the general behavioral personality, and attitudes of someone one loves traits, values, or admires," identification" "iden"positional being tification with of another's specific aspects role," rather than with the whole person.17 Chodorow argues because the mother is the early that, of socializer both boys and girls, both develop identifipersonal cation with her. The boy however must ultimately shift to a masculine role which involves identity, an identification with the father. Since building father is almost more remote than mother always (he is rarely involved in child and perhaps care, works away from the home much of the day), building an identification with father a positional involves male role as a collection of abstract elements, rather than a personal one with father as a real individual. as the boy enters the larger Further, social he finds a world in fact world, organized


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

and universalistic around more abstract criteria,18 thus his earlier in the previous as indicated section; and is reinforced him for, socialization prepares he will have. by, the type of social experience identihand the personal For girls on the other can created in early fication with mother infancy female role the process into of learning persist and present mother is immediate Because identity. the learning to the daughter of role identity, during the continuity to be a woman...involves "learning to her and development of a girl's relationship idenon generalized and is based mother, personal to than on an attempt with her rather tification 9 roles learn defined categories." externally the girl and of course This pattern for, prepares later role in central her reinforced is fully by, in the become involved she will life--motherhood; role formal few of women, characterized world by in relationand differentiations,20 specifically with her children again involving "personal ships anew. and so the cycle identification," begins to at Chodorow demonstrates, my satisfaction that the source of the feminine least, personality than rather structural in social lies arrangements the sigfor my purposes, innate differences. But, as a "feminine is that, insofar nificant perpoint and particucharacterized by personalism sonality," an albeit universal has been a nearly fact, larism, then of social unconscious rrangements, by-product to the such a psyche having may have contributed cultural universal view of women as somehow less modes dominant That is, woman's than men. psychic into relaher to enter would incline of relating culture see with the world that might tionships immanent and embedded more "like as being nature," tranlike rather in things as given, than, culture, the superand transforming through things scending and transpersonal of abstract categories imposition tend to her objects Woman's relationships values. more to be, like nature, unmediated, relatively in a tend to relate men not only whereas direct, often more mediated ultimately, way, but in fact, to the mediatmore consistently and strongly relate or and forms than to the persons ing categories themselves. objects


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

If women indeed have this of psyche sort (albeit as a product it not of social is arrangements), to see how it would lend weight to a difficult view of them as being to nature." Yet "closer unmode at the same time, sort of psychic this and role a powerful in important deniably plays For though unmediated the cultural relatedprocess. end of the ness is in some sense at the lowest embedded of human spiritual and functions, spectrum than transcending and syntherather particularizing that of relatedness at also stands sizing, quality the upper end of that That is, mothers spectrum. tend to be committed to their children as individuals, clan of sex, affiliation, beauty, regardless age, in which the child or other of categories sorts which Now, any relationship might participate. of course, has this mother and child quality--not just but any sort unmediaof highly personal, relatively ted commitment--may be seen as a challenge to culture and society "from below," insofar as it reprethe fragmentary sents of individual loyalpotential But it may ties over the solidarity of the group. be seen as embodying the cement or synthesizing also culture "from in that for and above," agent society and human values above it represents generalized social beyond Every particular loyalties. category that must have social transcend society categories but every must also personal genloyalties, society for all erate a sense of ultimate moral unity members and beyond above social those Thus that categories. be to of mode which seems women, which psychic typical and to tends to disregard "communion"21 seek categories and with while others, directly personally appearing of view, from one point infra-cultural is at the same levels time associated of the culwith the highest we see a tural And once too, thus, again, process. with resource of woman's apparent greater ambiguity culture to and nature. spect to here has been to attempt My primary purpose Inof status the women. universal secondary explain felt and I challenged strongly tellectually personally, with before it had to be dealt I felt by this problem; soin any particular an analysis of woman's position of be Local variables could undertaken. economy, ciety


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

values and social structure, history, political ecology, within could variations and world-view--these explain not explain the univerbut they could that universal, the ideology And if we were not to accept sal itself. it seemed then explanation, of biological determinism, unito other reference to me, could by only proceed of the human cultural Thus the situation. versals outlines of the approach--although not of general the particular deteroffered--were course solution and not mined by the problem itself, by any predion my part for global structural lection abstract analysis. I argued the universal devaluation of women that be explained that woman is seen could by postulating as "closer to nature" than men, men being seen as the high ground of "culmore unequivocally occupying The culture-nature is itself ture." scale a product culture of culture, seen as a special being process the minimum definition of which is the transcendence, and technology, of of thought by means of systems the natural of course is givens existence. This of but at an analytic I that some argued definition, level culture in one notion this every incorporates the performance form or another, if only through of ritual of the human ability to manipuas an assertion the core of the In any case, late those givens. with why woman might showing paper has been concerned tend to be assumed, in the most diover and over, sorts of world-views, of every verse and in cultures than to be closer of complexity, to nature degree men. Woman's physiology, more involved more of the with time with woman's association life;" "species the structurally domestic subordinate context, charged animalfunction with the crucial of transforming cultured like infants into "woman's psyche," beings; to mothering molded functions by her appropriately own socialization, and tending toward greater personthese and less mediated alism modes of relating--all more directly make woman appear to be rooted factors and deeply in nature. At the same time, however, her "membership" and fully participation necessary and can never in culture is recognized by culture be denied. in between Thus she is seen as something an intermediate culture and nature, posioccupying tion.


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

has several This intermediacy, further, implicafor analysis, depending upon how it is read. it answers of of course, First, my primary question than seen as lower for is woman men, everywhere why even if she is not seen as nature pure and simple, less transcendence seen as achieving she is still than men. Here intermediate means of nature simply of being from culture on a hierarchy "middle status" to nature. "intermediate" Second, may have the significance some sort of syntheof "mediating," i.e., performing function between or nature and culconverting sizing here not two ends of a seen as ture, (by culture) but different two as sorts of continuum, radically The unit the and hence in domestic world. processes as its woman who in virtually case every appears prione of culture's is crucial mary representative, agenof nature into cies for the conversion culture, especialof children. to the socialization ly with reference continued viability Any culture's depends upon properly in that socialized individuals see the world who will and adhere more or less culture's terms unquestioningly The functions of the domestic to its moral precepts. controlled in order unit must be closely to ensure this outcome as far as possible; its as an stability institution must be placed as far as possible beyond We see this of the integrity question. protection and stability of the domestic group in the powerful fratritaboos incest, matricide, against parricide, are of injunctions These sorts and so forth. cide,22 that so vital for society clearly they are made to order rooted in the fundamental of existence; appear them is to act "unnaturally," and the to violate are often automatic and supernatural sanctions rather than merely social and dependent on the vagaries In any case, of human moral will. insofar as woman the primary of socialis virtually agent universally the embodiment and is seen as virtually of ization, the functions of the domestic tend she will group, to come under the heavier and circumrestrictions Her (culturally which that surround unit. scriptions intermediate between culture and defined) position here having the significance of her medianature, tion between conversion functions) (i.e., performing culture and nature, would thus account not only for tions


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

but for the greater restrictions status, her In culactivities. placed every upon virtually her permissible activities are more sexual ture, than man's, circumscribed she is offered closely and she is a much smaller of role choices, range direct afforded access to a far more limited range of the social she is almost institutions. Further, socialized to have (and the contexts universally in as an adult reinforce her having) a she lives and generally more conservative narrower set of attiand views than men; this tudes of course is another be related mode of restriction, and would clearly wellfor society of producing to her vital function socialized members of the group. intermediate woman's Finally, may have position the implication of greater symbolic ambiu_ity.23 The point here between is not so much her location culture and nature, as the fact of marginality pe to the "centers" of culture, and the se in relation of meaning in a margiwhich is inherent ambiguity of culnal position. of the "margins" If we tnink ture rather than as upper as a continuous periphery, the notion and lower boundaries, we can understand meet--that that as we say, extremes, they are easily into one another in symbolic transformed thouqht, and ambiguous. and hence seem unstable are quite relevant These points to an understandand imagery concerning ing of cultural symbolism in cultural conAs we know, female women. imagery variable structs of various is astonishingly kinds traa single cultural within in meaning; frequently and even polarit embodies dition divergent radically ized In the discussion of the "female ideas. psyche," the psychic with women I said that mode associated and the top of seems to stand both at the bottom the scale That mode of human modes of relating. with others to cause tends more directly involvement of social in themselves than as as representatives mode can of one kind or another; this categories be seen either as "ignoring" (and thus subverting) a higher or "transcending" (and thus achieving synthesis social of) those depending upon categories, how culture cares to look at it for any given purfor both the subThus we can account easily pose. evil menstrual female versive eye, symbols--witches, the feminine mothers--and sympollution, castrating her lower 26

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

of transcendence--mother merciful bols goddesses, female of and the savioresses, justice, symbols of feminine not actual (but strong symbolism presence of art, and ritual, women) in the realms religion, the penchant of Further we can understand law. like all feminine marginal symbols, symbols, polarized in rather one another into to transform magical ways: to sainthood can be redeemed the whore, it seems, than the faithful housewife. more easily between If woman's viewed) intermediacy (culturally of generalhas this culture and nature implication characteristic of marginal of meaning ized ambiguity a better to account in then are we phenomena, position in for those cultural and historical "inversions" Wiiilcn womlen are in some way or another symbolicaily A number and men wlth nature. with culture aligned ot cases come to mind: the Siriono, among whom, to Ingham, the raw, and maleness" according "nature, are opposed to "culture, the cooked, and femaleNazi Germany, in which women were said ness;"24 to be the guardians of culture and morals; Euroin which be man was to said love, pean courtly the beast and woman the pristine exalted object-of thinking a pattern that for example, persists, and there are among modern Spanish peasants;25 other of cases this inThese sort. undoubtedly stances of course, all cultural (in fact, symbolic still detailed of constructs) require analysis cultural but the Roint of woman's data, qeneralized with respect to culture, and particumarginality tne from the Doint of larly polarized ambiguity, view of culture, of %he reminine lmoae of interpersonal relations, may at least lay the groundwork for such analyses. In short, the postulate that woman is viewed as to nature closer than man has several implications for further and can be read in several analysis, different If femaleness is read simply as ways. a middle on the scale of culture to nature, position then it is still than culture seen as lower and thus accounts for the pan-cultural that assumption women are lower than men in the order of things. If it is read as a mediating element in the culturenature then it may account in part relationship, for the cultural to devalue not merely tendency women but to circumscribe and restrict their func27

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

since culture must maintain control over tions, and its for the mechanisms (pragmatic symbolic) of nature into culture. conversion And if it is read as an ambiguous status between culture and the to account the for nature, ambiguity may help fact that, in specific cultural and ideologies symbolizations woman can occasionally be categorized as "culture," and can in any event be assigned widely even polarized and divergent meanings in symbolic Middle status, functions, systems. mediating ambiguous meaning--all are different for difreadings, ferent contextual of woman's assigned interpurposes, mediate status between nature and culture. of course, it must be stressed that Ultimately, the whole scheme is a construe of culture rather than a given of nature. Woman is not "in reality" to (nor farther from) nature than man-any closer both have consciousness, But there both are mortal. are certainly reasons why she appears to be that The result circle: is a vicious various way. aspects of woman's situation social, (physical, psychological) to nature," lead to her being seen as "closer while the view of her as closer to nature is embodied in her situation. institutional forms that regenerate The implications for social change are similiarly circular: a different cultural view can grow onl, out of a different a different social actuality, social out can a different of grow only actuality cultural view. Women cannot change their bodies. But it seems that the different between unlikely physiological men and women would be adequate to motivate the devalued view of women were that view not lent further and psychological variables disweight by the social cussed above. While I am not prepared to put forth a detailed and cultural renovation, program of social it seems clear that the way out of the circle involves to and women womin, society's allowing participate en's actively the of fullest range appropriating, the culsocial and activities within roles available Men and women can, and must, be equally involved ture. in projects of creativity and transcendence. Only then will women easily be seen as aligned in with culture, culture's with dialectic nature. ongoing

This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Notes The first of that version was presented paper October 1972 as a lecture in the course "Women: at Sarah Lawrence I reMyth and Reality" College. ceived from the students and from comments helpful in the course--Joan Eva Kollisch, Gadol, my co-teachers and Gerda Lerner. A short of the lecture version was delivered at the American Association Anthropological in Toronto, In the interim, November 1972. meetings I received excellent critical from Karen Blu, comments Robert Michelle and Terence Rosaldo, Paul, Turner, and the present version of the paper, in which the of the argument thrust has been rather significantly was written in to those comments. changed, response I of course retain for final its form, responsibility which will in Michelle and Rosaldo Louise Lamappear Culture and eds., (Stanford: phere, Society Woman, Stanford The paper this Press)later University year. is dedicated to Simone de Beauvoir; The Second Sex, in 1949, the best in my opinion remains published of "the woman problem." statement single comprehensive 1. in 2. R. The Man_of G. H. Siu, M.I.T. Press, 1968), Many Qualities p. 2. (Cam-


Robert 3. The Crow Indians Rine(New York: Lowie, hart and Co., 1956), pp. 61, 44. While we are on the subject of oppression of variwe might ous kinds, note that Lowie secretly bought the most sacred this in the tribal doll, object reperfrom its the widow of Wrinkled-face. toire, custodian, She asked but this $400 for it, was "far beyond price so he ultimately [Lowie's] means," got it for $80 (p.300). B. Ortner, American AnthroSherry "Sherpa Purity," ist and Purification Beliefs 75:49-63; and Ortner, folo Britannica Practices," (forthcoming). Encyclopedia 5. Simone tam Books, 6. 7. Ibid., Ibid., de Beauvoir, 1961), pp. p. pp. 31. 58-59. The Second Sex (New York: Banand passim, 239. 24, 24-27 4.



This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

8. it is one of the more Indeed, of cultural in most that, thought woman is associated concordances, than with life. 9. Ibid.

egregious injustices cultural symbolic with death rather

The Elementary Structures 10. Claude Levi-Strauss, J. H. Bell and J. R. von Sturmer, trans., Kinship, Beacon R. Needham (Boston: Press, 1969), p. 496. 11. De Beauvoir, Second Sex, p. 59. in Rosaldo

of ed.,

12. Michelle and Lamphere, 13. 14. Levi-Strauss,

Z. Rosaldo, Woman.






I remember male having my first I and remember excited grade, being was somehow more grown-up.

in fifth teacher that--it about

The Raw and the Cooked, 15. Claude Levi-Strauss, trans. and J. and D. Weightman (New York: Harper Row, 1969). Structure and Feminine 16. Nancy Chodorow, "Family in Rosaldo and Lamphere, Woman, pp. 14, Personality," from Woman refer cited numbers of articles 1. (Page to manuscript pagination.) 17. 18. Ibid., p. 26. pp. 17-18; Chodorow,

"Introduction," Rosaldo, Structure," p. 15. "Family Chodorow, Rosaldo, "Family

19. 20.

Structure," p.

p. 18.



21. Chodorow, David Bakan, Beacon Press, 22. Nobody

Structure," p. 13, following "Family The Duality of Human Existence (Boston: 1966). to care much about sororicide.



This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions




24. John American

Raw or Cooked?" "Are the Siriono M. Ingham, 73:1092-1099. Anthropologist is rather discussion itself, ambiguous Ingham's "... associated with animals: women are also since the contrasts and man/woman are evidently man/animal women as is the means of acquiring similar...hunting A careful of his well as animals." reading (p. 1095) are mediators data both women and animals that suggests between in this nature tradition. and culture 25. Julian Pitt-Rivers, of Chicago University "Introduction." of the Sierra (Chicago: People and Rosaldo, 1961); Press,


This content downloaded from on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:48:26 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful