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1 Introduction People’s folk tales are . . . their autobiography and the clearest mirror of their life. —Ruth Benedict (1931)1 I n the first decades of the twentieth century, American culture underwent violent transformation. In addition to the very real political and geographical changes wrought by the First World War, the emergence of modernism in art, culture, letters, and philosophy created a chaotic world for intellectuals. Seeking ways to make sense of the new world in which they found themselves, many looked to other cultures—especially those defined in “the West” as “primitive”—for answers. For many in the United States, especially anthropologists, Native American cultures seemed ideal places to find new traditions. In essence, it is as if these early anthropologists looked through a window at Native American cultures, fully believing that what they saw through that window were the Native American activities on the other side of the glass. In fact what they saw through the glass were Native American activities as well as their own reflections. What they recorded in their texts, however, did not always distinguish the difference between Native Americans’ actions and anthropologists’ reflections. Anthropologists attempted to make sense of issues that concerned them in their own culture by researching Southwestern Native Americans. Drawing from the issues they felt most vital in their own 2 INTRODUCTION culture, they determined the foci of their research. Those who craved peace looked to Indian cultures to examine war and forms of mediation that seemed to have eluded Europeans. Those who desired greater social justice sought in tribal cultures new ways for people to interact. To early anthropologists, Euro-American culture seemed fragmented and divided. The Victorian culture against which they rebelled dwelt on dichotomies that provided sets of conflicting opposites—such as good/evil, right/wrong, and even us/them—to define the world. For a significant community of women scholars who focused their research on the Native American cultures of the American Southwest, these dichotomies seemed especially clear regarding gender (male versus female), sexuality (heterosexual versus homosexual, “normal” versus “abnormal”), and nature (natural versus made, “primitive” versus “civilized ”). These scholars—including Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Benedict, Gladys Reichard, and Ruth Underhill—created a feminist ethnography of the region that emphasized the roles of women in Southwestern societies in determining the norms of each culture. Southwestern Indians provided case studies of differing social and gender systems through which to build on a feminist critique of patriarchy. To do so they focused on ways that patriarchy had come to define limited gender and sexual roles and identities, and “unnatural” ways of being. In contrast, this community of feminist anthropologists saw Native American cultures as providing for multiplicities of genders and sexualities , and for a more “honest and natural” way of being. As part of their critique of patriarchy, this community of feminist ethnographers set out to illustrate the ways in which women were united across cultures. While their experiences would be determined by cultural variations, these feminist anthropologists built an argument that social structures—such as patriarchy, patrilineality, matrilineality —acted in roughly the same ways on women across cultural differences. Thus, in theory, the struggles of a Tohono O’Odham woman against patriarchal control would follow roughly the same contours of—and provide lessons for—an equivalent struggle by an urban, Anglo-American woman. Women’s experiences within a more egalitarian or matrilineal society would shed light on the ways in which a women’s lack of power would shape women’s experiences in a patriarchal culture. The feminism these scholars developed through 3 INTRODUCTION both their ethnological writing and other writings (in fiction, personal writing, and sociological writing, for example) was both historically situated and highly intellectualized. J. Stanley Lemons, in The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s, distinguishes between “hard-core feminists,” who “put women ’s rights and women’s emancipation above all other considerations,” and “social feminists,” who also wanted emancipation but tended to subordinate this to social reform.2 Since the kinds of activities that Lemon defines as “hard-core” tended to be defined as women claiming their rights in public, and what he defined as “social feminism” was a more private movement, historians perceived that feminism as a political movement had died out after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Lemons’s distinction has all but defined studies of feminism in the 1920s. However, Nancy Cott, in The Grounding of Modern Feminism...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826338709
Related ISBN
9780826338686
MARC Record
OCLC
779183263
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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