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183 8 Strands of Knowledge The strands of knowledge in the Southwest always remained tangled. —Esther Schiff Goldfrank (1978)1 T he feminist anthropologists addressed in this study represent many different strands of knowledge. As the first generations of women scholars to emerge as professionally trained anthropologists , they marked a transition of the discipline from amateur avocation to profession. They represented the emergence in the social sciences of a feminist critique of patriarchy that grew out of First Wave feminism. Although they shared their focus on feminism as a critique of patriarchy, they varied quite a bit in terms of personal styles and research concerns. Ruth Benedict focused chiefly on broad comparisons of psychological aspects across cultures. Much of her research in more general terms argued against prejudice, especially racial and gender prejudice. Elsie Clews Parsons focused her research on reconstructing the lives of women as mothers and daughters and on folklore and religious tradition. Gladys Reichard’s research focused mostly on religion and linguistics, but her ethnographies and life-history work examined Navajo women’s lives, with weaving traditions at their center . Ruth Underhill’s work emphasized the Tohono O’Odham, focusing on both gender roles and ritual poetics. The feminism of the four ethnographers examined in this study grew out of intellectual trends and political forces that swirled around 184 CHAPTER 8 them in the first half of the twentieth century. These included modernism , the concept of the “New Woman,” and shifting paradigms of sexual identity. For these women ethnographers, contests over the definition of gender and sexuality consumed their interest intellectually as well as politically. Feminist ethnographers especially shared a common commitment to feminism and to researching the roles of women in various cultures. Their feminism focused on providing a critique of patriarchy, examining the ways in which patriarchal control had thwarted the development of individual women and contrasting this with the development of women’s roles in more egalitarian and matrilineal cultures. Partly because of their First Wave feminist agenda of challenging assumptions of women’s inferiority, and partly because of their knowledge of and interest in the occurrences and situations of gender equity, they laid the groundwork for defining gender as socially constructed. They certainly saw gender as a cultural construct that also changed through time. They assumed that Southwestern Native American societies allowed for a broader range of sexual expression and behaviors than was common in their own society. Finally, they assumed that naturalness provided answers for many of the dilemmas that plagued modern industrial America. As a rule, these women set out to prove that gender identities resulted from cultural, rather than physiological, definitions.2 Further, research about gender became an important way to assert their own legitimacy as anthropologists and scholars. According to Carol A. B. Warren, during the 1920s and 1930s, gender was “part of the structural grounds upon which negotiation took place.”3 Thus, by examining the social construction of gender in Southwestern Native American communities , women anthropologists could also examine the gender constructs that limited their career options and opportunities. Inaddition,feministresearchersrecognizedthatmanySouthwestern tribes treated men and women more equally than did their own society . This made it easier, many believed, for women to conduct research there than in patriarchal cultures. As Ruth Bunzel recalled, “Zuni is a woman’s society. The women have a great deal of power and influence, so it’s a good place for women to work.”4 Among the Pueblos and the Navajo, women anthropologists found societies that seemed to them to be more egalitarian regarding gender than was their own. As Florence 185 STRANDS OF KNOWLEDGE Hawley Ellis remembered, “When the Pueblo Indians think of you as a woman, I don’t think they think of you as a lower creature the way our men tend to do.” In fact, the relatively higher status afforded women in many Southwestern Native American societies transferred as well to women researchers, according to Ellis. “These Pueblo women are given an equality that is then passed onto the rest of us when we come into the picture.”5 Of course, Southwestern Native American cultures had differing views of the place of women. The Apache and the Tohono O’Odham were patriarchal societies. Those who worked among these tribes— for example, Ruth Benedict among several Apache tribes, and Ruth Underhill among the Tohono O’Odham—did not record the special challenges that working in a patriarchal culture may have posed for women anthropologists. In...


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