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Symbolic Aspects of Male /Female Relations in Greece Introduction Loring M. Danforth The papers presented here under the title "Symbolic Aspects of Male/ Female Relations in Greece" represent a continuation of the early work done by John Campbell and Ernestine Friedl on the position of women in rural Greece. They also mark the application of more recent theoretical work on the anthropology of women and gender roles to the ethnography of rural Greece. The authors of these papers strive to remain faithful to the perspectives adopted by both the men and the women of rural Greece toward their social roles, their intrinsic natures, and the relationships between the sexes. In this way these authors successfully avoid the patricentric bias that has characterized much anthropological writing in the past and focus proper attention on the ideology and cultural models of women which are so often "muted" (to use Edwin Ardener's term) and therefore overlooked by anthropologists. While the authors of these papers make use of the oppositions between public and private, culture and nature, sacred and profane, purity and pollution, which have been formulated to deal with the symbolic aspects of male/female relations, they all recognize the limitations and weaknesses of an approach to gender roles and symbolism that relies exclusively on a paradigm of binary oppositions in which women are associated with the private, the natural, the profane, and the polluting (see particularly Dubisch, this volume). They recognize that the complexity of male and female symbolism calls for a more 157 158 Loring M. Danforth refined application of structural analysis, for more careful interpretation (what Clifford Geertz would call "thicker description"), and for a greater sensitivity to the context in which symbols for male and female are used. Regardless of whether their approach to the study of gender roles is feminist, Marxist, structuralist, semiotic, or symbolic, the authors of these papers all acknowledge the polysemous quality of symbols and emphasize the importance of ambiguity, ambivalence, paradox, conflict, and mediation in the analysis of symbolic systems. In this way their contributions to the study of the symbolic aspects of male/female relations in Greece attempt to do justice to the richness of rural Greek culture. In "Semantic Slippage and Moral Fall: The Rhetoric of Chastity in Rural Greek Society," Michael Herzfeld argues that "the lament for lost virtue" (the claim that women are no longer as chaste as they once were) should be understood as a symbolic act, an artifact of a particular ideology, rather than as a factual statement of some literal history of sexual morality. With an appropriate warning as to the dangers of cross-cultural comparisons and the difficulties of demonstrating continuity through time, and with an admirable sensitivity to "the hidden semantic divergence" between katharevousa and dimotiki, Herzfeld examines the changing meanings of the terms γάμος and εξωτικά. He concludes by showing how the phenomenon of semantic slippage enables Greek villagers to perpetuate "an immutable sense of recently corrupted morality" and maintain their "moral theory in the face of repeated violations." Ruth Mandel, in "Sacrifice at the Bridge of Artà : Sex Roles and the Manipulation of Power," applies the techniques of symbolic and structural analysis to the well-known folk song "The Bridge of Arta." Mandel demonstrates convincingly that this song is an expression of the marginal or liminal position occupied by women in rural Greek society. She argues that it is the wife of the master builder who must be sacrificed so that the bridge will stand, since, as an affine, she is both δική (an insider, a relative) and ξÎ-νη (an outsider, not a consanguineal relative). A woman "is expendable, yet her incorporation into the patrilineal unit is essential to insure its continuity. Her presence is required to secure the foundation of both the lineage and the bridge—yet not to sustain it." Mandel goes on to discuss other aspects of the mediating position women occupy in rural Greek society, pointing out that women serve as a link or bridge between their families of origin and their families of marriage, as well as between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Jill Dubisch's "Greek Women: Sacred or Profane" is an examination of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 157-160
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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