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138 6 “Is She Not a Man?” Elsie Clews Parsons (to Zuñi informant Margaret Lewis in 1915): “In referring to a klath’mana (man-woman) is the pronoun ‘she’ always used?” Margaret Lewis: “They do not use the word ‘she’ in their language . The word explains itself. “Kwash lu otsi deáme? (Is she not a man?)”1 R esearch into gender identity came to fascinate a large number of feminist women anthropologists who worked in the American Southwest. In part, feminist anthropologists studied gender identity because to do so gave them the opportunity to critique patriarchy, the core of their feminist anthropological agenda. With these critiques, they sought to make arguments about the unity of women across cultures. The study of gender also legitimated women scholars’ presence in the anthropological profession. It emphasized women’s fitness for a variety of tasks in their own Euro-American society, including anthropological research. It also illustrated that female anthropologists, as women, had special access to women informants in other cultures. Feminist anthropologists’ research regarding gender identity focused on such “traditional” aspects of women’s lives as marriage, childrearing, and women’s power relative to men’s. However, feminist 139 “IS SHE NOT A MAN?” anthropologists’ assumptions about gender come out most clearly in their writing about man-women and cross-gendered individuals. By focusing on man-woman gender identity, women anthropologists depicted Native American cultures as more open than Euro-American culture to gender (and sexual) variance. In doing so, they expressed their beliefs that “primitive” cultures owed much of their stability to their ability to accommodate a broad variety of gender identities. With this argument, feminist ethnographers put forward a feminist agenda for their own culture: that the Euro-American cultural inability to deal with women’s ambition and abilities prevented not only the personal achievement of women, but the harmony of the entire culture. Native American traditions of gender crossing, they argued, provided positive examples of ways to channel women’s ambitions and abilities. The cross-gender traditions—called “man-women,” “twospirits ,” or, offensively, “berdache”—on which Parsons, Benedict, Reichard, and Underhill focused in their work illustrated the construction of both masculinity and femininity in Native American cultures .2 Leslie Marmon Silko has documented this tradition of comfort with gender fluidity in her essay, “Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit.” Before the arrival of Christians, Silko argues, “a man could dress as a woman and work with the women, or even marry a man without any fanfare. Likewise, a woman was free to dress like a man, to hunt and go to war with the men, and to marry a woman. In the old Pueblo worldview, we are all a mixture of male and female, and the sexual identity is changing constantly.”3 A man-woman is a morphological , or biologically masculine, male who occupies a role that European and Euro-American witnesses do not traditionally associate with male gender.4 Man-women lived as women, and informants reflected their status as women within the tribe; as a result, informants present the man-woman role as a gender identity. However, because it was often so difficult for anthropologists to accept the legitimacy of man-woman femininity, ethnographic texts define “man-woman” as a sexual identity, in direct contradiction to both informants’ perspectives and anthropologists’ own field notes. More recent studies of the man-woman have perpetuated this focus on the man-woman as a sexual identity. They focus on man-woman same-sex sexual relations, without any concrete evidence disproving 140 CHAPTER 6 the possibility of heterosexual relations between man-women and women and despite evidence that at least raises the question of its possibility. Ramón Gutiérrez, who focuses on power relations related to sexuality, presents the man-woman role alternately as a gender identity (when discussing interaction with the Spanish) and as a sexual identity (when discussing the man-woman within the tribe) and so tends to defy classification.5 Many scholars of gay history or the history of sexuality, such as Will Roscoe and Walter Williams, tend to group man-woman gender experiences under a “gay” umbrella.6 Some scholars, including the anthropologist Ralph Linton and feminist historian Harriet Whitehead, have challenged the definition of man-woman as a sexual identity and have argued against manwomen ’s homosexuality.7 Whitehead and Walter Williams, especially, emphasize man-woman identity as a “third gender” within Native American societies, with “male...

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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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