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Greek Women: Sacred or Profane Jill Dubisch INTRODUCTION There has been a recent tendency in the anthropological study of gender to view men's and women's roles and the symbolism of male and female in terms of sets of contrasts which serve to organize social and conceptual realms within any particular culture. Such analyses have often followed the lines suggested by Lévi-Strauss1 and Ortner2 who propose that all cultures have categories of "nature" and "culture ," and that every culture seeks dominance of the latter over the former by trying to regulate or control natural processes through cultural means. Such categories are, in turn, related to both gender roles and status. Women, according to Ortner, because of their involvement in the biological processes of menstruation, childbirth, and nursing, are seen as being closer to nature. In addition, their bodies place them in social roles seen "to be at a lower order of the cultural process than men's."3 Women are associated with the domestic unit, which stands in opposition to the larger society with which men are involved. Women's concerns thus are particularistic, centering on their familial and other personal relationships, as opposed to the higher level, integrative concerns of the male public world. Therefore, men are the purveyors of the universalistic, of religion, ritual and politics. It is this, according to Ortner, which helps to account for the universal subordinate position of women. Drawings on such oppositional analysis (though not necessarily following Ortner), characterizations of rural Greek women's relationships to religion, and to the spiritual world generally, have often proceeded in terms of oppositions between sacred/profane, purity/ pollution, religion/magic, good/evil, public/private, with women 'Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked (New York, 1969). 2Sherry Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?" in Rosaldo and Lamphere, eds., Woman, Culture and Society (Stanford, 1974). 'Ibid., 3. 185 186 Jill Dubisch representing the profane world, and the realm of danger, disorder and individualized magic, as opposed to men's association with the sacred and pure and the male public and social world.4 Such analyses, though accurate in some respects, can leave the impression that in rural Greece women and religion are almost antithetical to each other. This impression is misleading for several reasons: 1) Such descriptions may fail to separate social from symbolic roles so that women as social actors are confused with symbolism based on opposition between maleness and femaleness. This leads to an underplaying or ignoring of women's roles within the sacred sphere, roles which are important in the on-going religious life of the community, especially as it is related to the family. 2) The symbolism of male and female is more complex than a simple dichotomous analysis would indicate. Both men and women have sacred or divine aspects, and both partake of pollution and sin, though in differing degrees. Moreover, it can be argued that in certain contexts it is women who represent "culture" while men are seen as closer to "nature." 3) In some situations a distinction may have to be made between men's and women's views of their roles and natures. This is often difficult to do since women's cultural models may be "muted."5 However, such a distinction may be important if we are to determine the extent to which men and women share the same models or subscribe to divergent ones. GENERAL VIEWS OF MALENESS AND FEMALENESS IN GREECE The importance of the division and separation between male and female as both a basic element of social structure and a key dimension of the symbolic system has long been noted in the literature on the Mediterranean generally. In Greece the natures of men and women, as described in ethnographic accounts, are perceived not only as different , but also in many ways as being in opposition in a manner which crystallizes fundamental cultural values. These oppositions may be viewed by the members of the culture as justification for the allocation of social roles. 'Examples of such analyses can be found in at least some parts of the following works: John Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage (Oxford...


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pp. 185-202
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